For a game to be successful at striking fear into a player it has to combine multiple elements. The better these elements combine, the better effect the game will have upon the player. And while playing on someone’s fear isn’t a new idea in gaming, the advances in technology have made it more and more possible to strike a particular chord in the player. Some older games, like Psycho on the C64, or Friday the 13th (on either the NES or C64), and Elvira on the Commodore Amiga had their moments, but there are three games that quickly come to mind that brought even more cold sweats to me as I played.
The most recent scary game I played was called “Amnesia: The Dark Descent”. The game was a fairly typical first-person puzzler the puts you in a deserted castle that you need to find your way through. That part of the game isn’t what makes it memorable; what does is that the game pretty much makes you afraid of the dark. It uses a gimmick of having to power light sources with limited resources or else your sanity slips. But even worse, around any creepy corner a zombie-like creature could pop out and chase you. You cannot fight this foe, you must run from it to live and to stay sane. Amnesia uses the ambience it creates very well. There are sounds of ghastly events that happened in the recent past echoing through the corridors of the castle. And as your character gets more and more terrified, his heartbeat and breathing escalates, creating quite a tense feeling of dread. As the player, you will welcome the chance to stand in the light just like the persona you are playing. Your heartbeat will rise as well, and when you hear the moaning of that creature appear out of nowhere you will be wanting to cry out. Play Amnesia in the dark with headphones, and you’ll probably need to take frequent breaks just to calm yourself.
Onto the next scary game: one can hardly bring up fear without bringing up, well, “F.E.A.R.” FEAR is a FPS that weaves the story in and out of real-time and the player’s shadowy past. (Having a lost or foggy memory is a common theme among all these games. Indeed, the idea of being in a certain situation where you don’t exactly know why you are there seems to strike the right nerve in these games.) As a FPS, it does very well with tough opponents, decent AI, and cool weapons. But that is a dime-a-dozen these days. What makes FEAR stand out is the fact that it will shake you up when you least expect it.
Early on, FEAR uses a couple of quick flashes that work very well. I actually think this was underused as it was fairly effective at giving the player a quick jolt. But as you make progress, what was just a normal office building where you piled up the body count becomes a silent, dark, and foreboding place. There will be a hiss in your communications gear, and… what was that? Some shadowy figure just walked through the room! You turn around, and outside the window you see the silhouette of a little girl who definitely wasn’t there a moment ago. Yes, FEAR takes on what has become increasingly popular through recent years from Japan: little girls can be downright creepy! In FEAR, you will feel much more comfortable when you are wildly outnumbered by men carrying heavy weapons then you will in a dimly-lit office in the presence of a child. Tread lightly, you don’t know what’s at the top of that innocent looking ladder!
While Amnesia and FEAR were good in their own respects, only one game comes to mind as being the all-around best.
“The 7th Guest” was a game that blended various elements of storytelling and gameplay in a well-done, cohesive way that made it one of the most interesting, frightening, frustrating, and fun games of its time. Boiled down, The 7th Guest is a puzzle solving game, and that is meant quite literally. You are set in a dark, abandoned mansion where you have to solve the puzzles of a lunatic toy-maker in order to make progress.
Okay, that sounds all well and good, but what makes The 7th Guest scary? Why is it better than other games in the genre? First and foremost, just like in any decent horror movie, it’s the music that really builds the tension. The 7th Guest has a complete soundtrack included, and the main theme, in various forms, plays throughout the game. The interface itself was intuitive and cleverly done, and the use of live-action characters added to the game’s overall feel. The story was interesting and compelling and the puzzles were fun, difficult, and numerous. Overall, the game wasn’t outright scary for the most part, it was more eerily creepy and really drew the player in to the atmosphere it created. However, I remember getting quite a chill when turning left, and all of a sudden a ghost of a women floated from one door to another. Nice touches like these were dispersed throughout and added greatly to the feel of the game. The acting was good (well, good enough) and the main villain was perfectly cast for the role. The 7th Guest will always be a favorite of mine, and I wish there was a game like it today that would engulf me as much as T7G did.
So, those are three games that quickly came to my mind when talking about scary games. What others can you think of?