I’ve been a horror fan for most of my life. When my friends were doing whatever it is kids do outside, I was in my room exploring the foggy streets of Silent Hill, or being mercilessly picked on by SHODAN. The atmosphere, monsters, music — I instantly fell in love with it all. Over the years my love for this genre has grown, and so has the list of things I’ve grown to dislike about being a horror gamer.
I’ve compiled a short list of things that have soured my experience as a horror fan over the years, check them out after the break.
Don’t get me wrong, some horror games have done amazing things with multiplayer. For all the controversy Dead Space 3 inspired, the fact that its co-op is entirely optional — meaning, if you play it alone you don’t have an AI companion — was a very smart decision. Demon’s Souls, and its sequel Dark Souls, both integrated multiplayer in a way I’ve never seen done before. You can leave notes for other players, summon them for temporary assistance, or open your world to invasion by malicious players.
Then there are games that tack on multiplayer just so they can slap it on the back of the box to sell a few more copies. Dead Space 2 took Left 4 Dead’s multiplayer offering and awkwardly threw it into its fiction. It was an unbalanced mess. The same goes for Condemned 2 — one of my all time favorite horror games, nonsensical ending notwithstanding — which tacked on a (mostly) awful bundle of multiplayer modes. I say mostly, because I actually really enjoyed Crime Scenes, where the bums hide evidence that the cops have to find.
Contrary to the angry of many horror fans, multiplayer can actually add to the experience. Unfortunately, more often than not precious resources that would’ve been better spent on the single-player campaign are invested into a multiplayer mode that’s void of any real creativity or innovation, so the game can sell some more copies.
This definitely isn’t exclusive to video games. I’m sure all of you are all too familiar with the annoying cliches we’re inundated with in so many horror films. Medicine cabinet mirrors, splitting up the group, investigating noises, the car won’t start, bad cell reception, an unkillable killer, tripping during a chase — I could go on for a very long time.
Unfortunately, horror games have been busy creating a similar arsenal of annoying cliches, including monster closets, an over reliance on jump scares, clumsy controls, 10 second flashlight batteries, a lead character with amnesia, that good guy was actually a bad guy reveal, the enemy that chases you and refuses to die (I’m looking at you, every goddamn Dead Space game).
Horror games need something like Scream or Cabin in the Woods — a game that pokes fun at the tired cliches in a clever way — because it’s getting out of hand. Even something like controls, which has been mastered in many games, is still something this genre has trouble with. Even a AAA title like Resident Evil 6, which certainly took some steps in the right direction, still doesn’t control very well. It’s ridiculous.
The “What Is Horror” Debate
I suppose it stems from having my opinions read by thousands of people every day, but this one bothers me a lot. If I had a nickel for every time someone read one of my articles and told me a game I mentioned is or isn’t horror, I’d probably have a pool full of nickels right now. I’d have a butler made of nickels, a suit of armor crafted from nickels — basically, I’d have so many nickels I wouldn’t know what to do with them.
For the most part, horror is relative. Just because Resident Evil 5 didn’t scare you, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a horror game. I consider Diablo III to be a horror game, because you’re in freaky environments fighting monsters. You probably don’t. That’s okay. We can still be friends.
Horror isn’t black and white. It’s a genre that encompasses a broad variety of themes, stories and perspectives. In video games, you have survival horror, action horror, indie horror, and my new favorite, weird horror. So please, let’s stop this pointless argument.
While we’re on the subject of subgenres in horror, let’s talk about the often heated debate of survival horror versus action horror. Believe it or not, there’s actually room for both. In fact, these days I actually prefer the latter. The reason action horror has become so popular is it’s more accessible. It streamlines everything we love about the genre and presents in a way that’s easier to swallow. The controls are inspired by action games, the cameras are dynamic (as opposed to the static cameras in the early Silent Hill and Resident Evil games), there’s less of an emphasis on impossibly hard puzzles, etc.
Put away your pitchforks, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with survival horror. I love the early horror games, and I still play them often. Silent Hill 2 is still my all-time favorite game (horror or otherwise), and thanks to the recent surge in quality indie horror games, the survival horror genre is having a renaissance, of sorts.
The point is, action horror and survival horror are both here to stay. I know you’re angry that Resident Evil has been straying further away from our beloved genre with each new game, but that doesn’t mean our favorite subgenres can’t coexist. Hell, if Resident Evil and Silent Hill have proven anything it’s that these franchise can dabble in both subgenres at the same time. Resident Evil 5 and 6 were more action oriented, but then you have Revelations, which was more of a horror game.
The Cancelled Games
Let’s stop being angry so we can all get really, really sad.
Unfortunately, because the horror genre is a niche market, we’ve seen fair number of promising titles get the axe. Sadness, Nightmare Creatures III, Condemned III, Possession, Winter, Harker, Call of Cthulhu: Beyond the Mountains of Madness, Call of Cthulhu: Destiny’s End, City of the Dead, maybe even Mikami’s Zwei and Del Toro’s inSANE (there’s still hope for those last two).
I’d keep going, but I’m afraid my violent sobbing will ruin my keyboard.
Lack Of Originality/Creativity/Innovation
I feel as if this is something that most of us can get behind. Innovation in the AAA horror space has been growing stale over the years. Obviously, there are plenty of games that still attempt to be creative (the underappreciated ZombiU is a great example of this), but many of our favorite franchises are losing their luster.
Sadly, this lack of originality can be seen in every genre — it’s an unfortunate side effect of being at the end of a console generation, when developers are saving their more brilliant ideas for the new consoles — but when I try and think of a truly innovative idea that’s come from one of the bigger horror franchises in the last five or so years, it’s tough to come up with anything.
This is one of the many reasons why I love indie horror, because lately it’s been the best source of brilliant new ideas. Mark Hadley’s Slender: The Eight Pages, Dean Hall’s DayZ, Frictional’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent — some of the most memorable horror games of this generation have been indie developed. Between the open-source Ouya console, GameStick, and Microsoft and Sony’s bigger focus on supporting indie devs, I’m certain the indie horror genre will see even more growth in the next console generation. I only hope the rest of the genre can keep up.