I would never call myself an expert on horror. I’ve watched a ton of horror films and played my weight in horror games so I’m no stranger to the tricks and tropes of the trade, either. I’ve gained enough of a reputation to be considered an aficionado, though, somewhere closer to an expert than a layman. What I do know is that after spending probably half of my life taking in an appreciated horror media is that I know what works for me and what doesn’t.
Something I’ve talked to a few folks on Twitter and in my life about is not necessarily what is done well or isn’t but what actually works to give you the creeps and keep you entertained. When it comes to films, for instance, a solid slasher movie will keep me watching while a lot of movies with possession or vampires don’t tend to strike the right chords for me. On the other hand, I know people who have the exact opposite inclinations. Some people are claustrophobic and can’t take certain camera angles. I know plenty of folks who can’t stand when movies victimize children because it feels like low hanging fruit for the sake of a reaction.
Games are a little different, though. There’s another level of immersion because you’re the one controlling the person going through the ordeal. By extension, these things are happening to you and if you want to finish the game, you’re going to go through a gauntlet of jumps, creeps, and “You Died” screens to see the end and find salvation. How do you know which horror games are for you, though? Do certain mechanics work more effectively toward embedding that dread into your bones? Are there effects that make you roll your eyes a bit or get so frustrated that you need to put your controller down for a minute to compose yourself?
Allow me to open up my own discussion with five ways that games can creep me out- and four ways a number of games have rubbed me the wrong way while trying. As always, since this is discussing a multitude of game mechanics and situations from video games, there will be spoilers below. Nothing that will ruin a game entirely, but it may take some of the punch out of some scares you might not want ruined. Consider yourself warned!
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare
Remedy Entertainment/Microsoft Studios
Genre: Action Horror
Back in 2010, Remedy Entertainment created some buzz by creating an atmospheric little horror title called Alan Wake. As an XBox 360 exclusive, the game gathered enough of a following to bring it from “popular” to “cult” status over the course of a few years. It seemed absolutely certain that with how strong the lore was behind the game and the amount of horror and action fans it appealed to that the company would put out a sequel to capitalize on its reception and expand on the questions left in the air from the ending.
What we ended up receiving was Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. To say it wasn’t what the public expected would be an understatement, though it was still well regarded. Released in a pretty unceremonious fashion, American Nightmare found itself as an XBox Arcade exclusive. Not only was the general populace not expecting it due to a lack of advertising, but there was no physical edition to speak of, making the game fly under the radar for a lot of folks.
Given the sudden resurgence in enthusiasm for the series from the release of Remedy’s latest project, Control, I felt like it would be a good time to jump back into American Nightmare with some fresh eyes (and also having finished up my own Alan Wake review recently) to see how the game would sit with me. While I’m not a huge fan when atmospheric titles flip the switch to become pulp action-oriented, I truly enjoyed the setup that Alan Wake created for the possibility of a franchise or other games set in the same environment and with some of the same characters. Just how far did American Nightmare stray from the path it had beaten for its journey, though, and did the franchise suffer as a whole due to the way it was handled? Continue reading
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan
Supermassive Games / Bandai Namco Entertainment
Genre: Survival Horror Adventure
While I haven’t written about it quite yet, I’ve been pretty upfront about the fact that Until Dawn is my favorite game on the Playstation 4 and ranks among my top horror games period. As someone who has been entertained by horror for over half of his life, this may sound surprising, but it should also speak to the merit of Supermassive Games and the project that they put together. Horror is not an easy genre to navigate, and they found an interesting way to make a compelling story, interesting cast, and tense mechanics to bring the story of Until Dawn to life.
With that, it should be less of a surprise that when I ran into the Namco Bandai booth at PAX last year, my first stop was to see The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan, the company’s follow-up to their cinematic sleeper hit. While the demo was short, it got me excited to see how the game would play out and what the game would do to stand out from its predecessor. What I played, though, did nestle the game onto the list of my most anticipated titles from the show.
In interviews on The Dark Pictures and what exactly the anthology would entail, it has been explained that Man of Medan is the first of eight planned titles, two of which will be released each year meaning we will most likely see a title every six months. The weight being placed on the flagship game, in that case, is a great one then. While Until Dawn did surprisingly well, it seems reasonable to wonder just how well Man of Medan does to live up to Supermassive’s first game and to set up the remainder of a large undertaking for the developers.
As with most current games, I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers but be forewarned- there may be some bits here and there that could be considered “spoilery”. Continue reading
Warp / Panasonic / Acclaim
Genre: Horror Adventure
Gaming in the 1990s was living in an age of wonder and innovation. In no way is this meant to nullify the decades before that sealed the foundation of gaming technology, but in retrospect, the 90s feel like they were a turning point in the medium’s popularity. The majority of the people I talk about games with can remember systems like the Atari and Colecovision consoles, but their fondest memories always come back to systems like the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and later on, Sony’s Playstation console.
When I first got my Playstation, I rented two games. One of them was Final Fantasy VII which showed off just how much the new system could do graphically as well as content-wise. The other was a little game that I couldn’t remember much about after a few years called D. What I did remember was the protagonist and some scene involving a mirror… maybe? It was very fuzzy but I remember not spending much time with it for one reason or another.
Shocking, I’m sure, that when I had the chance to go back and play the game again recently, I took the chance gladly. D and its sequels have gained a solid cult following over the years. I’ve read up a bit on how bizarre and interesting the games are on a variety of levels for the sake of research but managed to avoid any major spoilers. Being able to head back into D semi-blind after nearly 20 years seemed like a task I’d be willing to take on, especially heading into the Halloween season.
Secret of the Stars
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Video games have a variety of ways that they can gain notoriety over time, but they tend to fall into one camp or another. One way is that the game is so well-made, fantastic, or charming that the general public can’t help but fall in love with it. There are a vast number of games from the golden age of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis days that I can think of off the top of my head when I think about the games that captured my attention and have stuck with me to this day.
Then, there is the other way; the way that may not be considered quite as positive as the first. There is a selection of games that miss the mark in such a grandiose way that they become cult classics, revered for the mess of positive and negative elements that they bring to the table. These are the games that are not so universally terrible that they can’t be played, but the ones that effort was put into to make into a game that could walk alongside its technological brethren and hold its head high as one of their equals- and managed to miss the point of why those games were so successful.
Tecmo’s Secret of the Stars is one of those games to me. Before I got the chance to play it, I had heard so much about how terrible the game was but hadn’t really heard exactly why it was awful. It wasn’t that I doubted the people saying these things about the game. Usually, when I haven’t heard of an RPG from the early 90s era by this point, I feel like there’s something off about it that has kept it in mind blind spot over the years. I felt like I would be letting myself down to not at least try to forge through Secret of the Stars and see exactly why it has been panned by so many people, though, and much like some other games I’ve reviewed here, I turned the game on with an open mind in an attempt to analyze it to the best of my abilities.
Let’s see how that went, shall we? Continue reading