Welcome once again Coffin Hoppers! Thankfully Hurricane Sandy neither washed away nor blew us away (heh), and we still have power, so I’m back and ready to go for the last few days. I have a couple of fun posts left in me, and want to share them with you.
I mentioned a few days ago that, after writing, music is one of my great passions. Video games come a close second, though it took me years to figure out just why. The medium offers something that so few other artistic experiences afford: agency on the part of the viewer. True, sometimes that agency can be an illusion, but even then it draws the viewer/player deeper into the work itself. Games are still trying to find their identity as a medium, but there have been some sterling examples of where it could go in the future. This post is dedicated to those horror games that have found a voice.
I’m aware that some of you may not be gamers out there, so I’m going to be approaching this post from that angle, rather than solely appealing to the hardened gamers amongst us (you know who you are). I’d love to hear the viewpoints of core gamers, though: have I missed a great horror game that I should be experiencing? Please, let me know!
First, for core gamers, Amnesia and System Shock 2 just missed this list. Maybe next time. Now, my top five scary games:
5. Limbo (PC, Xbox 360, PS3). At first blush, Limbo does not seem like a scary game, and is certainly not in the same vein as the games below. It’s a 2D puzzle platformer, for starters – for you non-gamers, this means that you need to perform both well-timed jumps and must figure out certain environmental clues to avoid death and progress to the next section of the game.
Limbo is an indie game, which means that it doesn’t have the cash or the horsepower to go toe-to-toe with the major releases below. It still manages to make this list by making up for its technical deficiencies with a charm and atmosphere that is difficult to surpass. The game also manages to tell a story without a bit of dialogue, spoken or written. As the story progresses, you learn that this is a dead boy on the very edge of hell, chasing after his sister, who may or may not be dead herself. The environment also tells of subplots, such as a place where the children have turned upon one another. The whole thing is a very spooky affair, and well worth your time and frustration with solving the puzzles.
4. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (Gamecube). Here’s an oddity. Eternal Darkness was the first “adult” title on Nintendo’s Gamecube; for whatever reason, Nintendo had acquired a reputation for only publishing kid-friendly and family-friendly games during the previous generation, and so Eternal Darkness was the company’s first concerted effort to distance itself from that label. Did they succeed?
Uh, not only yes, but hell yes. The game itself is a third-person action game in the vein of Resident Evil, with you handling multiple characters in a story that spans across time. The core gameplay is pretty conventional – run, shoot, etc. – but the game does a lot of tricks to mess with not just the characters in the game, but with the player as well, breaking the fourth wall with something called the Sanity Meter. As your character’s sanity drops, you begin to see strange things in the game, from characters hallucinating to telling the player that the game deleted all of its save data to a fake blue screen of death. That last one got me.
The story itself is a Lovecraftian affair which I will not spoil here – please, go check it out for yourself.
3. Resident Evil 2 (numerous platforms)/Resident Evil remake (Gamecube only, for some reason). These days Resident Evil is either an action shooter or the punchline to a joke, but once upon a time the game could deliver some genuine scares while also being campy as hell. Resident Evil 2 is a good example of the scary-yet-campy lineage of the series, with the Resident Evil remake nicely showing that this game could just straight out scare your ass.
This branch of Resident Evil games are what’s called Survival Horror, which are a cross between adventure games (where you have to find certain items to progress), action games, and shooters. The Resident Evil games in particular are infamous for their “tank controls”, which require the player to think of their character as more of a remote-control robot or tank rather than having context-sensitive controls that evolve with changing camera angles. It makes for a frustrating experience, and players have debated for ages over whether the controls were intentionally difficult to amp up tension (I fall into this category) or just poorly designed.
These games are also known for their resource management. Bullets and healing items are scarce, and often the correct decision is to run from the enemy rather than trying to face it down.
For the five people who might not know the story, it’s about an evil corporation that accidentally releases a bioweapon virus that turns people into zombies – and far worse things. They haven’t aged as gracefully as some of the games on this list, but they’ll always be in my heart for the scares they delivered as the medium matured.
2. Dead Space (PC, XBox 360, PS3). Ohhh I so wanted to give this the top spot. Dead Space is an evolution of the survival horror genre; it takes what was right about the genre and adds on some elements of action games, managing to keep things fresh, active, and scary all at the same time. The controls are intuitive, the actions fairly straightforward, and the graphics just flat-out amazing at times, even all these years later.
Dead Space tells the tale of Isaac, an engineer brought to the derelict “planetcracker” mining spaceship Ishimura to figure out what is wrong and get the ship back on track. In the course of his investigation, Isaac finds that the missing crew has been transformed into alien “necromorphs” and other horrific beasts.
He also discovers that this horrific event may not have been unplanned – and, in fact, may be part of a much larger conspiracy.
The game delivers thrills, scares, and visceral gameplay that can’t be missed, and be sure to check out the lesser but still brilliant sequel, Dead Space 2.
Silent Hill 2 is a game-changer. Where Dead Space took the genre and evolved it, Silent Hill 2 made that innovation possible. Don’t get me wrong, the first Silent Hill game is also a classic, but it’s stuck in some of the same thinking that produced the original Resident Evil games. Silent Hill 2 truly innovated by giving you better control over your character and giving you a much better view of what was going on within the game.
The Silent Hill series also innovated with its storytelling. The voice acting was still pretty laughable and it had its cheesy moments, but something about the cheesy moments in Silent Hill came off as more unsettling, as if you were witnessing creatures who were play-acting at being human and just not quite getting it. Take this scene, for instance:
It also delivers some genuinely creepy, scary moments. Take this one:
The story itself is also stellar, introducing twisted psychological elements in which the player is sometimes not sure if they’re in our world, a parallel world, or the protagonist’s head. They recently upgraded the visuals for Xbox and Playstation 3, so there’s no excuse not to pick these up. Go do it now!
This year I’m participating in the Coffin Hop Blog Extravaganza, which brings together over 100 horror authors in a week deadicated (see what I did there) to terror, all leading up to Halloween, naturally. The Coffin Hop is not just about discovering new authors, it’s also about fun prizes. If you haven’t read to this point, here are the rules for entry: all I want is your comment. One comment is one entry, at a limit of one person per post. Don’t worry, I have at least five posts lined up for the next week so you’ll get at least five entries.
And the prizes…
Five eBooks from the Emissaries of the Strange. That’s package #1. I’m giving away three of these.
Package #2 is a complete collection of my works, including the Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Room 3, due for release on November 12th. I’ll also happily replace your ARC once the book launches, but this is a chance to read something a bit early. I’m giving away five of these packages.
All entries must be in before Midnight EST on Halloween night. I’ll be drawing the winners on November 1st and announcing them right here. So be here for it all!