A History of Horror
Horror is an everpresent form of media, and has been around since the early days of black and white movies, or dusty books from time since long gone. In gaming, horror certainly existed in the early years, be it not in a very heavy collection. Due to graphical limitations, startling people wasn’t very easy up until computers and consoles began experimenting with three dimensional enviromnments.
Time has shown that graphical limitations may have in fact attributed to the fearful aspects of some titles, and it would seem, no matter how unfortunate it sounds, that horror in gaming has been on a very persistant, yet gradual decline as of late.
There are various type of horror games, focusing on different elements of tension and fear. Psychological, Survival and Visual.
Survival horror, as one has commonly heard and seen, tend to be the main archetype of horror. Despite survival horror tending to stick a player in a terrifying environment they also leave the player to take care of their supplies. Adding a sense of tension to the game when a player runs low on health, or ammunition, which incorporate the mindset of fight or flight, generally, you won’t have the supplies to take down every enemy, or push through every fight, bringing the player to have to choose to pick their battles. Survival horror is all about rationing, and despite whether or not a game brands themselves as ‘Survival’ horror, a game that gives their players near endless supplies of ammunition and health are in fact not survival horror.
Pychological horror is a genre of horror games that doesn’t exactly focus on pop-up scares, or loud, intrusive noises aimed to startle their players. A Psychological horror game focuses on atmosphere, and environment. A fear of the unknown is its biggest strength. These games give a sense of lonliness, hopelessness. Psychological horror tends to incorporate elements of survival horror, having scarce supplies to sustain yourself. However, survival horror and psychological both differ in terms of how they aim to scare their players, rather than the tension of managing supplies.
Visual horror, are very straightforward games, and by far the weakest of the three. Focusing on pop-up scares, on relying entirely on the scare factor of their monsters, these types of horror games generally load the player up with more ammunition and healing supplies than they’ll ever need, and their horror factors consist of sudden loud noises, and things appearing on the screen suddenly. Visual horror, has for better or worse consumed the horror markets as of late, whilst the previous two types of horror have been gradually fading from existence.
Haunted House is arguably the first horror game released, it was released for the Atari in 1982, back in the day, I suppose someone could have found it to have been a terrifying experience back in the day when it was still a fresh title, but today, well, it has aged. Regardless, Haunted House was inevitable the harbinger of horror games. Many more horror games came after this one, each one having a cheese factor to it, and not much of a horror factor.
But no matter, these games, such as Ghost Manor, Chiller, Maniac Mansion and Splatterhouse all began to pave the way for horror. The problem, was that these were all very arcadey games, and this was entirely due to the technology at the time, innovations to the genre didn’t come in truckloads, perhaps a feature here and there would test the time of gaming, but for the most part, these were merely the beginning of horror.
It’s horrifying, honestly.
It was 1989 when horror met an advancement of sorts, a sign of how things were to be in the future of gaming. Capcom had released Sweet Home. Which, is arguably the first survival horror game to be released, even though it would take several years before the idea caught on. For its time, Sweet Home was rather revolutionary, if not overlooked. Featuring RPG-style combat, perma-death and multiple endings. The game featured five characters, who had specific skills that would aid the party throughout the game, but without the ability to revive a fallen party member, one had to make sure to play very carefully, to make sure they don’t lose their vital party members.
Sweet home had item management, and one had to make fickle use of the items they had available. For its time, it had a lot of features that would become commonplace in games to come. Capcom truley was a revolutionary company in the times of retro gaming.
It would seem, Sweet Home nearly marked the end of horror on consoles, as it would be nearly six years until horror began to be seen on consoles once more. In this six-year gap, however, horror made a trek over to PC gaming, and came now the time of some rather disturbing games. Dark Seed being the most notable series in this timeframe, seeming to inspire Horror-Based adventure titles. It featured the art of H.R. Giger, and some rather horrific visuals. Being an adventure game, it was limited by its technology, but unlike retro consoles, it was able to provide horrifying, mature themes, and a thick, menacing atmosphere. Alone in the Dark, Phantasmagoria and The 7th guest were other notable adventure games from this timespan.
In 1996, began the biggest rise in horror that most recall, and have fond memories of. For one, Resident Evil was released, as was Clocktower, and the adventure game Harvester for computers to name a few.
Resident Evil takes the usual role of the father of survival horror, and likewise, that puts Capcom into the same boat. Resident Evil really set in motion horror games to come. Resident Evil had heavy item management, as well as conversation in it. The zombies in it were slow enough so that you really didn’t have to fight every enemy you encountered. Of course, later on you’d run into some quicker enemies, but generally, most things could be quickly fled from. Despite the tank controls, movement was still a very viable option.
Resident Evil has an emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving, the game didn’t hold your hand, it just sort thrust you into the Mansion, and left you to figure out the dark secrets that lurked within. It had a cheesy plot, in both the direction and of course, the notable voice acting.
I don’t think anyone expected Resident Evil to become as big as it is now, and Capcom certainly didn’t expect it either. It’s a shame they don’t trust one of the series that made them so big anymore, and shy away from the base mechanics of resident evil now. Though, despite there being 6 official resident evil’s now, the first game in the series wasn’t considered the best, no, the sequel is and was considered the best game in the series by a majority of fans.
In 1998, the sequel to Resident Evil was released, Resident Evil 2. Featuring two playable characters, and multiple different experiences depending on which characters you decided to utilize. It was improved in every way compared to the first game, exactly how a sequel should be. Originally, of course, Resident Evil 2 was going to end up being less-so what it is today, as the original project entirely was scrapped all-together, which turned out to be a good idea in the end, Capcom really was in sense perfectionists back then, always questioning their design choices.
1999 was a very good year for horror. For one, Resident Evil 3 was released, and it was a very high quality installment to the series. Not to mention Blue Stinger, System Shock and Silent Hill all came into existence this year.
Blue Stinger was a Dreamcast game, which was very much a survival horror game, replacing medkits and herbs with namebrand soda pop, and firearms with gun fists and light sabers. It had a silly plot, goofy characters and some questionably difficult areas to deal with, but man did Blue Stinger have personality. Dreamcast was a dying system, and Blue Stinger went down with the ship, perhaps it’s for the better. Owners of the Dreamcast will certainly remember this oddball survival horror game, for better or worse.
System shock 2 was a computer title, and a precursor to the Bioshock series we all know and love today. In Bioshock, you’re trapped under water, in Infinite, you’re trapped in the Sky, and in System Shock, you’re trapped in a space station. All of these games have similar horror aspects, mainly residing on the fact that, oh shit, we’re in a place we really shouldn’t be in. System Shock 2 has aged, for sure, but it’s still a very creepy game, especially by the standards of recent horror games, and for all intents it’s a much more involved, in-depth experience than any of the Bioshock’s, for better or worse.
But, in my opinion, the most substantial game released in 1999 is by far, Silent Hill. A game that is still creepy today, its questionable graphics actually adding on to the experience. The enemies didn’t hide in closets, they were always in plain sight, their presence, even when they weren’t in plain sight we noted, with the fuzzy sounds of your pocket radio. The game utilized shifting camera angles, distant, looming noises, and generally spooky, mysterious environments that simply had a menacing feeling about them. Silent Hill created tension without giving the player any reason to feel tension, and it worked well. The game was psychological and atmospheric, it knew how to get under a player’s skin, and it wasn’t afraid to do so. Silent Hill caught all gamers off guard when it came out, I don’t think anyone was expecting a game to make them feel so uncomfortable throughout.
In the early 2000’s, Silent Hill 2 eventually came, Silent Hill 2 taking the reigns generally as the scariest game of all time. Other Survival Horror games came and went. Carrier, Extermination, Martian Gothic, Undying, to name a few. Not many really making names for themselves, or at least not pushing the genre very much. There was one exception at least, and that was Fatal Frame. and game utilizing nothing less than a camera to protect yourself from the spooky spirits about. Fatal frame, was without a doubt, scary. Perhaps relying a bit too much on jump scares, it still has instances of atmospheric tension. Games like Fatal frame and Clocktower took the concept of just, filling the spooky opposition with bullets. Sometimes intangible or unstoppable enemies are scarier than threats you can simply mow down with a machine-gun.
2002 brought a Remake of the Original Resident Evil for the Gamecube, the Thing, Eternal Darkness and another entry into the Clock Tower series, to name some. 2002 was a good year for Gamecube’s horror, not only because of the Remade Resident Evil, mind you. Eternal Darkness is considered a classic by many, it featured multiple characters, multiple timelines, all revolving around what was essentially a central plot spanning the ages. Eternal Darkness, was, without a doubt a survival horror game. despite the fact it featured magic and swords. The biggest feature in Eternal Darkness was, well, insanity. Your character could find themselves dismembered, beheaded, the game would threaten to delete your save data, or claim it to be corrupted. Visual errors and the like would occur. Insanity is a ‘theme’ that has played only a fickle role in gaming, Eternal Darkness inevitably making the fullest use of it to date, with other horror titles dipping into it just barely.
2003 marked the third entry into Silent Hill, Silent Hill 3. Most consider it to be an inferior title to Silent Hill 2, however it was just as scary, perhaps lacking in its overall plot, but the enemy designs in Silent Hill 3 were downright horrifying, it would seem, with each new Silent Hill title, the enemies got more and more disturbing. Not to mention, another series got a new entry, Resident Evil Outbreak. Outbreak was an interesting, if not, temporary take on Survival horror. It was online, for one, and featured four player, stage-based co-op. Outbreak featured 10 playable characters, each with their own specialized traits. Unlike most resident evil’s, Outbreak featured a tangible infection, every character could be infected when bitten, and each character could feasible turn into the undead, giving the game a sense of tension unseen in past or present Resident Evil titles. The game was difficult, meant for four players, being alone, limping through a dark hallway was always a terrifying prospect, not knowing if your allies were long gone or still fighting towards the inevitable goal.
2004 brought two rather controvertial games, and a very action-focused horror title, which may have attributed to the more action heavy horror titles seen in present time. Manhunt was one of the controversial titles, the subject matter entirely causing it to recieve a lot of questionable looks. It was a stealth game through and through, you played the role of some gentleman being hunted down in what was a snuff film, of course, throughout the course of the game your character was the one hunting the hunters down, it was gritty, even by today’s standards, but still nowhere as lude as any horror movie you’d be able to see for the past few decades.
The other controversial game was Silent Hill 4. Which wasn’t even meant to be a Silent Hill game, Silent Hill 4: The Room, put you in, a room. Of course there was a giant hole in said room that could take you to a hellish realm of sorts, but the room itself was the creepiest part about the game. As things you encountered out in this other world, would slowly start to follow you back into your room, their appearances seemingly random, putting you on edge when you’re essentially in your ‘safe house.’, the game did well to put a feeling of dread and anxiety on the table. The creature designs were pretty top-notch as well. The game suffere from measly escort-based scenario’s, ghosts, and a convoluted plot. But if the game were just called The Room, as apposed to Silent Hill 4, it’d have gained a better reputation.
The Suffering and Doom 3 were both released in 2004 as well. I never saw Doom as a horror game back in the day, I thought both Doom I and II were fun, they were completely enjoyable experiences, but even in my young state of mind, I didn’t find them scary. I consider them to be more-so action games. Doom 3, however, took a more horror-based approach. It utilized shadows and monster closests to startle players, loud, sudden noises, it is the definition of a jump scare-based game, and unfortunately, Doom 3 seemed to have been the harbinger of horror games to come. The Suffering was much like Doom 3, enemies enjoyed waiting around corners, and things liked popping out suddenly to give you a startle. The Suffering did, however, have some of the coolest monster designs, and the gameplay was actually very solid. For all intents it was a very solid game, but its horror aspects were very loose.
Both Doom 3 and The Suffering were both very solid games, but they weren’t as scary as games that came before them, 2004 was really the beginning of the end for horror games, it marked a steady decline in horror, for an emphasis of action. Perhaps The Room could be to blame as well, but inevitably the blame is to be on all, consumers and producers alike.
In 2005, FPS Horror games started to become more common, perhaps Doom 3 had some influence into this, F.E.A.R, Condemned and Call of Cthulhu are three in particular that come to mind. Both RE4 and Cold Fear were released. Cold Fear being the result of RE4’s inevitable success. Don’t get me wrong, Resident Evil 4 was a hell of a game, solid, polished, satisfying. But scary? No. Tense? Yes. Resident Evil 4 is a bittersweet situation. It’s too good of a game to hate, but it’s also a game that led Resident Evil down the path of mediocrity it is today. It was very action-packed, unrealistically so. Leon could backflip off of a three-story building and take it like a champ, he had inhuman reflexes, and inhuman agility. Perhaps Capcom merely wanted to try something new, or perhaps they just wanted to have a little fun with this entry. Resident Evil 4 had a scrapped version, much like how Resident Evil 2 had 1.5, Resident Evil 4 had 3.5. The difference is that Resident Evil 3.5 actually looked very decent, it looked scary, it was dark, atmospheric. Players argue that its supernatural themes would have jumped the shark as far as Resident Evil is concerned, but, a parasite making tentacle-like hosts out of farmers is a bit of a divergance from Resident Evil as well. Inherently, both the offical version and the scrapped one would have diverted from the core concept of Resident Evil, and I suppose Resident Evil 4 was good enough to look past all this.
F.E.A.R was a very solid shooter, with some decent horror aspects to it. For all intents F.E.A.R is a very good game, its name, however, detracts from it in the end. F.E.A.R could have been held by its own action-based merits, smart AI, fluid gunplay, and tough enemies. The fact that it featured an evil little girl is a bit generic, but they get props for trying. Call of Cthulhu however, was a very atmospheric horror title, and one of the more tense experiences in gaming. Condemned, on the other-hand, was more of the same sorts of jump scares you come to expect these days, but inherently it was a solid shooter all the same, be it more or less reliant on jump scares. You can’t exactly blame Condemned though, as it featured humanoid enemies, with tidbits of hallucinations.
It would be a couple years until horror started to rear its head again, in 2007 various titles were released, once again controversial, Manhunt 2 would see the light of day, initially sporting an AO rating, one of the rare occourances of such, the game was however, toned down to pop back into an M rating. The Darkness also saw the light of day in 2007, but it isn’t so much the usual horror game, as, you in fact play the horror, you are the the terrifying menace.
System Shock had finally seen a spiritual successor after many years, Bioshock, which was a massive success in terms of reviewers, sales and reception by fans. Bioshock was an interesting horror game, as it wasn’t exactly the enemies that caused the fear, they existed, they were dangerous, and of course Big Daddies weren’t scary because of how they looked, they were scary because of their presence, how intimidating they were. Bioshock was, by far, a very atmospheric game, the whole setting was creepy, had a sense of dread, had a sense of a time long gone. The city of rapture could be clearly seen through the dust and wreckage as a place that once held spectacle, and it can be seen clearly as a place that fell apart in a devastating course of actions.
2008 marked the sad end of a franchise, at least in the eyes of fans. Silent Hill Homecoming came into being, despite the game itself being rather solid, if not average. It, by no means held up to even Silent Hill 4 in terms of fear factor, plot or consistency. The best aspect of Silent Hill, was to see the world around the main character collapse into a prison of their own woes, and fears and regrets. Homecoming, however, was just a mess, roughly thrown together settings and themes to try and stitch up a coherent plot. It had no substance, no personality, it tried far too hard to cater to old fans by throwing in fanservice, rather than trying to push out their own take on Silent Hill. On the other-hand, 2008 also brought a rather.. interesting Horror title back from the grave, Siren: Blood Curse, Siren actually is and was a very solid horror franchise, perhaps a little wonky, it definitely put dread into players. Blood Curse in particular allowed for players to see from their enemies eyes, which added a surprising level of anxiety to the experience.
2009 brought both dread and hope to the horror genre. On one had, we got Dead Space, on the other, Resident Evil 5. Resident Evil 5 was the first HD Resident Evil. Despite that, it recycled things from Resident Evil 4, a last generation game. It was action-based, and it seemed like they were trying to make it as cheesy as possible, even if the ‘cheesy’ original games in the series were merely hampered by the technology of their time. There is little about Resident Evil 5 to be enjoyed, and despite all that, Capcom persists in ignoring the faults and still moving forwards with their ‘action’ focused take on Resident Evil. Dead Space, though, was generally creepy, the enemies were menacing, they were a threat, the game had thick atmosphere, being trapped in space with vicious monsters certainly would be a foreboding situation. Unfortunately, Dead Space condoned in the shameful act of relying on jump scares, but graphical limitations really weren’t an issue anymore, so games needn’t rely on sound, or mystery to put fear in their players, they can now be more visual when it comes to things.
A couple years later, Horror took a prime step towards good. In 2010 we saw three rather strong horror franchises, new games, new hope for horror. Metro 2033, Alan Wake and Amnesia. Alan wake gave gamers high hopes during its painfully long development time, gamers saw it as the next Silent Hill, and despite it falling short, it was still a very quality game, having its own merits, and the whole aspect of fighting darkness, literally, was an interesting plot to take into account. Amnesia, however, made darkness both an ally and enemy. It’s rare, the concept anyways, you couldn’t fight your enemies, your only options were flight or flight. You ran, hid, or barricaded yourself into relative safety. Taking a note from Eternal Darkness, you had to watch your sanity, looking directly at the enemies would cause you to lose your mind, staying in pure darkness would take a toll on your sanity. This feature, kept you from looking at the enemies, and the fact you had to run and hide, forced you to keep your distance from them.
Metro 2033 actually doesn’t really call itself a horror game, but, it is. Metro is a good game, a very underappreciated title, it doesn’t exactly rely on jump scares, nor does it rely on any sort of spooky factor. The world was nuked, your characters live underground, and menacing abominations live on the surface, some of which managing to make their way underground. The monsters in Metro are indimidating, strong, and they make a player feel anxiety and stress just by anticipating their arrival. Metro 2033 is entirely a visual horror game, but it does it right, that doesn’t mean it isn’t atmospheric, the world itself is well made, looks appropriate and is rather immersive.
Unfortunately, the coming years didn’t do much for Horror. Capcom had released both Resident Evil Revelations, and Resident Evil 6, both of which recieving mediocre reception, the glorified global praise of their classic titles still an unattainable goal. Indie titles have seemed to take up the slack of Horror games that these companies and producers seem reluctant to do. Slender is ridiculously popular, and has no merits to have such high reception, Cry of Fear is a mere mod that does horror better than these AAA titles being released. Dead Space and Bioshock have both received installments, Deadspace gradually detracting into a more action-based experience and Bioshock while still a substantial franchise, slowly weaning itself away from horror in particular.
When it comes down to it, as the years come and go, so does horror. All of the major horror franchises we’ve come to know have long since abandoned what made them capable, and even new horror franchises had abandoned what made them successful.
Horror is still a very popular genre, people like being scared, people like tense atmospheres, their hearts racing, brow speckled with sweat. When it comes down to it, the golden age of horror came and went and at this rate, it won’t even be an applicable genre anymore.