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The 10 Most Overlooked Horror Game Tropes!

Today’s a special day. A couple weeks ago, completely out of the blue, I was sent an excellent feature by a fellow games writer named Joe Donnelly, who currently resides at Beefjack. Tropes are all too prevalent in our favorite genre, but most of the following have flown under my radar until Mr. Donnelly sought them out and brought them into the light.

Read on for the 10 most overlooked horror game tropes!

Written by Joe Donnelly, @deaco2000

1. Artistic license to completely mis-represent science.

Aside from the obvious biological contradictions regarding the living dead, chemistry is grossly misrepresented in horror games. How could one possibly know the ph values of mixing unlabeled chemicals to create ‘acid’? Likewise, mixing strange green, red and blue herbs doesn’t necessarily equate to a potent healing antitoxin. I should know – I tried this at a music festival once and woke up three days later naked and confused in the middle of a field.

Main offender(s): Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Resident Evil series.

2. Obvious shortage of qualified tradespeople.

Zombie stricken towns appear to have a vast shortage of lift engineers, electricians, carpenters and plumbers as there always seems to be broken down lifts, malfunctioning garage shutters, jammed or completely broken doors, and blocked toilets/baths. Those who claim the labour market is faltering are job hunting in the wrong towns.

Main offender(s): Widespread.

3. Lack of decent housekeepers.

Keys and key objects are always found in the strangest of places. Is it too much to ask that the keys remain in the corresponding locks, the cogs stay fitted to the correct contraptions, or the unusually lightweight stone statues are left on their matching activation tiles? Whoever keeps leaving keys in the toilet pan clogged with blood and gore can cut it out, now.

Main offender(s): Widespread.

4. Abandoned research facilities have an abundance of ammunition and similarly-sized camcorder batteries.

Research facilities tend to be sensitive areas, however it isn’t unusual in horror games to find ammunition strewn throughout their grounds, alongside matching heavy-duty weaponry. Likewise, you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find a load of camcorder batteries stuffed in drawers and on shelves in such establishments. And even if you did – you certainly wouldn’t expect them all to be the size you’re looking for, would you? How many times have you found yourself turning your house upside down in search of double A’s and all you can find is AAA?

Main offender(s): Outlast, Resident Evil series.

5. The mechanics of sound operate the same in every horror-stricken cityscape.

Aside from the perpetual groans of the living dead, red handled gate valves seem to cause every corresponding mechanism to chime out the same melodic cackle: three similar creaks; two slow followed by one fast. Likewise, metal gates all seem to have locks which require oil as they laboriously hark out the same squeal. We’ve already established these towns lack reliable handymen, however, so perhaps all this is of little surprise.

Main offender(s): Widespread

6. Remarkably inconsistent symptoms.

The viruses and otherworldly afflictions suffered in these towns appear to affect people, animals and insects in a variety of inconsistent ways. Whereas humans and dogs largely become zombified or catatonic, some creatures seem to just get bigger. Spiders, scorpions, moths, alligators and sharks grow to approximately ten times their original size. Unfortunately, if your vocation is nursing you may notice a stretch in height, followed by extreme swelling of the hands and arms, thereafter resembling giant punchbags.

Main Offender(s): Resident Evil series, Silent Hill 4: The Room.

7. Inanimate objects prove impenetrable barriers.

Although saving the world from pandemic infection appears to come second nature, inanimate objects such as IKEA flatpack cupboards, or stacked canteen dinner trolleys prove too much to overcome. Often, a complete and lengthy detour is required in order to find a way round such impassable road blocks.

Main Offenders(s): The Walking Dead, Silent Hill: Downpour, Clock Tower

8. Misunderstanding of the concept of invisibility.

Crouching in a ‘stealth’ position and tippy-toeing around like a cartoon robber apparently enables invisibility. What’s more, by acting out such caricature behaviour, enemies fail to hear the quite obvious sounds of their mates being strangled to death – even those nearby who completely rely on sound. If I were to tip-toe into my local grocer, nick a loaf of bread and tip-toe back out, I’d be in jail. Probably with a black eye courtesy of an unhappy shopkeeper.

Main offender(s): The Last of Us, Dead Space series.

9. Unrealistic artistic ability to craft items and keys from household goods.

If Sesame Street and Blue Peter taught me one thing, it’s that arts and crafts are bloody hard work. Yet when faced with a zombie apocalypse, artistic flair appears to come to the fore. Especially with rags. And sugar. For the record I’m fairly positive that it’s impossible to craft a manhole lifter from just a wax doll, a horseshoe and a lighter.

Main offender(s): Silent Hill 2, The Last of Us.

10. Gross architectural discrepancies.

Who in their right mind designed these places? The Spencer Mansion, the Raccoon PD HQ, the Brennenburg Castle, the Mount Massive asylum? Aside from their perplexing layouts, the land alone must have cost a fortune! And why do they all have such absurdly spacious sewer areas? These ‘storage spaces’ must undoubtedly incur unnecessary expense as far as maintenance is concerned. Not to mention the fact these areas regularly attract infestations of giant spiders and crocodiles and moths. Opting out of maintenance results in malfunctioning elevators and clogged drains and broken doors and creaky gates and red handled gate valves in need of oil.

Main offender(s): All of the above.



  • Nasher

    I’m not sure that all these are so much overlooked as just accepted as limitations of gaming. For me it stands out when you effectively battle the same human over n over more than the same monster (Alan Wake was especially lazy in this respect but at least they had a reason in the plot for everyone being a fuzzy shadow monster) I can accept 1,000s of monsters all alike but not the same 3 guys in the same uniform and equipment (and the same AI reactions).

    We expect a specific door to resist a rocket launcher for this very reason.. yes it’s silly but it’s that or break/limit locations, as long as such obstacles are not stumbling points (i.e. you got suck and can’t find your way and have resorted to trying every door in a hotel) and your path onward is clear.

  • SaltSlasher

    If this is satirical, than spot on my friend, but if your serious, then you need to give it a rest.

    When your talking about PS1 games, which is the target area of the best of these, and are when the first issue of these games were released.

    PS1 and PS2 mechanics were tight, they used simple tricks to make things cheaper and more effective. Of course people can invent new mechanics, which these studios did, more or less, but considering the time they were made, which some are made before “Toy Story” in 1995, the first fully computer animated movie, it is inventive what they could do with a 3rd person game. For those who don’t know, technology was barely capable by late 90’s, and was extremely expensive(even by today’s standards), and the work was monotonous, just like animation was back in 20th century, before technology was invented to help them. That same contrast of animation then(before 1950’s) and now, is same distance between “movie/game” technology of the now and from what it was in early 90’s.

    I, alone, could make resident evil 1 from scratch on my home computer, using free software in about 1-2 years. In 1996 when RE1 was released, it probably took millions of dollars and a couple years to get it developed by a team of people.

  • Rick-Taylor

    The layout of Spencer mansion always bugged me. 1 bathroom in the main house and 3 in the guest house. Beds in the save rooms, all that wiring and mechanics withing the mansion yet no electrical panels or elevator motor rooms. I just attribute this all to the fact that the mansion is just a giant facade for the laboratory underground.

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