You Are Not A Horror Game Fan If This Game Remains Unpurchased

In Video Games on December 10, 2010 at 6:24 pm

I’m not actually a fan of horror games, or more accurately, a horror game fan.  Hollow words, I realize, from the man that started his internet career on a horror gaming site and still maintains friendships with holdovers from that horror gaming site, and most especially given the title of this post, but I digress.

I’m a fan of good games.  I like interesting ideas, brave concepts, well-executed ideas and creativity in general (but not too creative; let’s ground things with a proper narrative and keep our tone consistent, shall we?).  These combine to form the derived characteristics that determine the game’s overall quality.  Different genres vary in what they need to focus on to keep their game good, and for horror games that value is immersion.

Succinctly: the less you recall that you’re playing a game, the more a game can scare you, as there’s less and less separating you from the fate of your avatar.  Sometimes this is as simply an engrossing presentation, a plot that “doesn’t let you go” as book jackets are wont to tell.  Graphics can bump things up a bit, but this is to taste; the more detailed it’s supposed to be, the more glaring the graphical inconsistencies and limitations.

The interface plays a huge part.  For years we’d been protected through pausing and saving, granting a reprieve or an opportunity to shove the controller at someone less traumatized.  Resident Evil used to give us entire rooms with comforting music where enemies would never spawn or enter; even Resident Evil 3‘s Nemesis dared not enter.  Even Silent Hill allowed us to break from combat to reassess, bandage up and tarry forth anew.

Knowledge is power, and knowing that the game is and isn’t capable of can be damning to a horror game’s brio and panache.  Fear arises when you are assailed by unseen foes from every shadow, and death lurks just out of the corner of your eye.  When you learn that such events are scripted into the game and not something your enemies are inherently capable of, then fear leaves the game like so many enlightened patrons of Hannibal Lector’s fine cuisine.

So it’s natural that players should be limited in time, scope and ability to  divine the inner workings of a given horror game.  Camera angles should be claustrophobic and uninformative; health should be given as the shuddering breaths of your avatar, fully measured in their final moments; saving shouldn’t secure the area; and menus need not apply.  With all of this, all that’s left is you and them, and they’ve got a head start.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent knows all of this.  It even tells you it knows when you boot up the game, as it basically tells you the game will automate a few of the more mundane processes like saving, and explicitly tells you to just concentrate on playing the game.

There are menus, but the game is skimpy on how much it tells you.  For example, you have a lantern, but it needs fuel and can give away your location and attract attention.  How long does it burn?  How sensitive are those prying eyes?  Don’t know and the game’s not telling.  Does that grunt mean the enemy saw you?  Maybe.  Try hiding if you’re that scared.  Does this place hide you enough?  We’ll find out, now won’t we?

Amnesia takes place entirely in the first person and your interaction with the environment is mouse and physics based, which means to turn a crank, you need to pantomime the turning motion with your cursor.  This does wonders for immersion, as these simple actions are all rendered in real time and you aren’t spared with a cut scene.  Become startled or frightened and your hand twitches, you’ll be set back because your fear prevented you from moving forward.  And the plot is one of those great, scratching-inside-of-your-skull insanity-laden western kind of psychological horror, the kind you might also see in something by Lovecraft.

The developer that made this game also made Penumbra, another criminally neglected series of horror games, but I do believe Amnesia outshines its predecessors.  It’s also available this weekend on steam for a song (9.99 USD) so if you have a PC capable of doing it justice, I’d go for it.

  1. I’d heard about this game and was planning on buying it once I get a more gaming oriented PC set up, which I’d been planning to do for the Old Republic and PSO2.

    But at $9.99…? My laptop will probably run it from what I’ve seen. Might be worth the coin to get it now.

    That aside, the thing that intrigued me about this game is the inability to fight.

    To be clear, I disagree to a point on save points dampening the horror in a game. I’ve had enough times, mainly in Silent Hill, where I’m reluctant to step outside because I’m once more exposed, and view it as the equivalent to hiding in a (spacious) closet.

    That aside though, I’ve found horror games work best when one (for whatever circumstance) can’t fight back, is unable to confront the darkness. Mainly since this is my natural impulse, to face something until it becomes less scary.

    To this point, Resident Evil 3 was only scary to me when I was being chased by something I couldn’t fight. Clock Tower 3 was a thrill save for the shoddy boss fights since the game didn’t allow you to defend yourself, encouraged you to hide and hope things went away for a time. Silent Hill largely works best for me before something shows up, when I just know that something is nearby.

    So, yes, from all I’ve seen Amnesia will be good times. I respect a horror game that is willing to punish you for just looking at the scary thing that’s coming to eat your face.

    • Yeah, I probably overstated the saveroom thing. And it’s not as if you can’t pause your game in Amnesia anyway. But I totally agree, and neglected to mention, in regards to being unable to battle your enemies. I don’t even think you should get a clear look at them, but in this game that basically means death since you lose your mind if you stare at the creepies.

      But oh man, there have been times where my guy is freaking the fuck out and tripping balls because his sanity dropped too low. I’m talking about head rolling back, muttering and basically being completely vulnerable for a minute or two until he gets a few marbles back. Nice little feature of that, is that being near a light source restores your sanity, so then I huddled around a candle I lit in the back of a room for a few more minutes until he could take leaving.

      Good times.

  2. Alan Wake (a fantastic game that all writer/gamers should play to the point that claiming to be both and not playing this game is in fact a sign that you should quite one or the other for you are posing) is good at making one respect light as well. There were many times I huddled under street lamps content in knowing that I was safe. But there were also times that a lamp would blow out and I would have to run as fast as possible. Because it was dark, and there were these things…

    This Amnesia game sounds interesting, I enjoy horror games, and movies, and always hope one will actually get too me. I like immersion, and as such usually play games only at night in complete darkness.

    Not so happy about the lack of fighting back, I find it annoying more than scary. Who doesn’t get annoyed with the protagonist in a movie when she won’t simply shoot the bastard? Silent Hill the movie did this, featuring a woman who ran from a canary. I, as a real person, can fight back in most situations; telling me I can’t fight back leads only to annoyance and frustration. Telling me that I can fight back but probably shouldn’t because Cthulu will laugh at me and I will lose is far more effective.

    The original Alone in the dark did this. You had a sword, but if you missed a monster and hit a wall it might break, so you were inclined to be very, very careful or you would lose your weapon. There were also some situations that you could not face, even for all your insurance powers so it was best to not open the door.

    I like having to use the mouse to turn a crank; horror games are one of the places that such actions do work. I tire of QTEs in games now a days, wishing I could just push a button and have the door open, but horror games do feed well on that tension. I recall feeling that F.E.A.R. would have done well had you been required to actually ‘hold’ the climb button to stay on the ladder or such, as I was surprised so bad at one point that I actually leapt back.

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