I have to ask myself this: why write about a genre that scares the living crap out of me?
Well, I suppose in much the same way as I recently wrote about Sex, Nudity and Violence in video games; it’s a theme that’s been a constant hit with fans since Resident Evil in 1996 and shows no signs of abating in its popularity. Quite the reverse actually and as graphics and sound become even more intense, there’s no let-up in the scream fest.
But whilst sex and nudity both play an incidental part in many video games, with violence being a more central core, none of these aspects of gaming have ever made me shudder or shocked me in the same way as a true shock horror game has, ever.
Clearly, the horror genre isn’t for everyone and many have tasted it on the big screen, never to return. Who can forget the furor over The Exorcist in 1973, when many viewers ran screaming hysterically from the cinema, with some actually fainting or vomiting in the foyer? Priests were consulted and actually anointed some viewers before the film, or so we are told. Ironic then, that the queues of excited, smiling theatergoers to view the film at its opening, went round the block several times and hardly anyone was smiling when they came out.
Even today, this film has the power to shock, much as Psycho, Hellraiser, Nightmare on Elm Street and others are able to, more from what you can’t see than what you can, which is, let’s face it, the very essence of horror.
Let’s all just get on with each other shall we?
I’ve played a few horror survival games, most recently Dead Space, only because it was a free give-away on Origin and I’m a sucker for a freebie and let’s face it, who isn’t? I knew the game would be a little scary, it had been given a decent write up and so I cracked on as a space engineer, who battles the polymorphic undead ‘Necromorphs’ on board a stricken interstellar mining ship.
First of all, I was tasked to reach the other side of the spaceship after most of my colleagues had been torn to pieces by creatures that simply jumped out through air vents with very little warning. Being told to creep around a seemingly empty spaceship that makes creaking, metallic sounds and lights that flicker on and off, with nothing more than a small wrench to defend myself with, seemed a tad one sided to say the least. The shock of finding four of these necromorphs bearing down on me, with knives for arms, without a rocket launcher or an M16 to hug, sent me to the quit button pretty darned quick I can tell you, and the ‘..are you sure you want to quit?’ dialogue box, was pretty much a no-brainer.
Probably one of the most seminal survival horror games and still a big hit today, is System Shock 2, which was released in 1999. Again, you find yourself on a problem spaceship, with nothing more than a monkey wrench, but this time the enemy is the on-board computer, SHODAN.
System Shock 2 is notable for its use of sound, the atmospheric sound track and revolutionary RPG element, which allowed for upgrading weapons and skills. At least when confronted with infected crew members and deformed midwives bent on feasting upon your mortal being, some decent armoury is available.
This game I managed to finish, perhaps because the shock factor was more subliminal and the spine didn’t tingle as much as I feared it would. Its spiritual successor, Bioshock never actually shocked me however, which was a relief, as it tended to play on your moral judgement a lot more.
What is your shock limit?
My limit may well be when I start to tingle at the back of the neck. That moment when you’re casually walking down an alley and one by one the lights go out behind you, strange scurrying noises can be heard in corners, footsteps are approaching from the distance and all your senses are on full alert. Possibly your first instinct is to find some sort of weapon. I mean, running from or towards some unknown beast without at least a crowbar for defence, just won’t do, will it?
I had a similar feeling when DOOM 3 was released in 2004 and saw the initial press material, which promised some very shocking and diabolical imagery and I bought the game simply because the legendary John Carmack’s name was on the box. Ultimately, although atmospheric and beautiful looking, I never actually found it very scary. Sure, it made me jump once or twice, but the monsters were a little predictable and many of them looked exactly the same……
…..which is not something you could say about The Evil Within. This game, which is due for release in October, oozes malevolence by the bucket load and if the reactions from these players is anything to go by, horror fans are in for a brain melting, pant wetting shocker:
Warning: contains graphic content which may be disturbing.
Outlast is another survival horror, this time set in a remote psychiatric hospital and your only weapons are a notepad and camcorder. Is that all I’ve got?
Now look, if I can’t reason with one of these characters, at least give me a baseball bat or heavy instrument or it simply isn’t viable.
I’m not saying I would never play another survival horror game; I’ll probably have a go, but I’m sure I’d never finish. Of course, it could be that this genre contains too many unknown quantities with which one simply can’t rationalise, negotiate or blow away with a large weapon and so I’d prefer to take my chances with a slightly more even ended fight, thanks very much.
How about you? Would you also consider these other titles? Or like me, scurry to a safe place under the bed or preferably in it?