Ghosts. I don’t like ghosts, I don’t like ones with broken necks, bleeding eyes, long arms, or disembodied heads. They can sod right off, the lot of them. This ghost bigotry comes courtesy from playing through the Fatal Frame series of games (or as it’s known here in Europe, Project Zero). It’s been such a long time that I’d almost forgotten that games could actually be scary, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Looking at the current market of horror games it appears that game developers have also forgotten how to make a good scary game. Resident Evil 5 seems to have given up with the scares and is shaping up to be a third person shoot fest with a buddy, it’s about a chainsaw and a chest high wall away from becoming Gears of War. Monolith forgot what Condemned was all about and instead produced a game about a superhero with shouty powers. Dead Space lacks any real atmosphere. And the less said about Alone in the Dark 5 the better (Fire bullets).
What happened to the games that made me hesitate to even play them (as I type this Fatal Frame sits at the end of my bed taunting me, daring me to play it), games that drew me so far into their own twisted world that I’d have to check the closet and creepy little dolls had to be expelled from the house before I slept, you know, just in case. It seems Survival horror is drawing it’s last breaths, as the market moves away from deep psychological horror drenched in tense atmosphere towards a more mainstream acceptance of action horror (surely that’s an oxymoron).
But you know who’s missing out the most? The kids.
The new generation of gamers may never know the dread of walking into a room full of dolls and instinctively shitting yourself on the spot, knowing what’s to come. They will never be filled with dread everytime a radio blares static, or thick fog covers the roads. Never tensing up when encountering an apparently empty room, and screaming like a child when something appears just out of your peripheral. Truly they are missing out . . . What? Don’t look at me like that, it’s a good thing to be scared out of your wits, builds character (and the transformation is complete, I have become my dad now to go into the garage to saw some wood).
Joking aside even though you may be shrieking like a baby and soiling yourself like an incontinent grandparent every step of the way through the game, you are loving every damned minute of it. It’s the adrenaline rush of being scared and overcoming that fear. It’s the sense of achievement to actually make progress in the game. It’s making it through a tense moment in Penumbra where you see a mutant’s shadow loom from around the corner and waiting for it to turn around, without going mad and trying to throw a clipboard at it screaming “just bugger off!” (play the game and then judge me). It’s the pure terror of finding out that your clever plan of running into the next room means nought to the ghosts in Fatal Frame as it glides through the wall and straight at you (well it seemed clever at the time OK).
Though like I’ve said maybe I’m giving too little credit to the new generation of gamers, maybe they won’t look at Silent Hill and say, “Ugh I won’t play that I can physically count the polygons.” Of course there will be a few of the new generation that will look back through the annuals of gaming history to find the beautiful scares of Clocktower, Silent Hill and Darkseed, but by and large it’s likely that many will only remember Silent Hill as a movie, Resident Evil as a third person shooter, and Alone in the Dark for having pretty fires and little else. Maybe I am being too overtly worried but it really does sadden me to think that a new wave of gamers may herald FEAR as the scariest game they’ve played. And that notion is more scary than most of the games I’ve mentioned.
They won’t know games that are just drenched in tense atmosphere. Games that don’t think more blood equals more horror but use it sparingly for more impact. The characters they play will be mute macho men that can defeat hordes of men and beasties that they are simply told to just identify with, rather than playing a character that you slowly learn is as flawed and weak as the rest of us through a multi-layered story slowly unraveling the mysteries of both the game and your character.
But there is still hope yet on the horizon, Fatal Frame 4 is to be released this year for the Wii (although I have my worries after playing Obscure 2, but I will trust Tecmo), and indie developers Frictional Games will continue their success of Penumbra with the work in progress title Unknown. Finally someone’s thinking of the children! Someone’s going to scare the living crap out of the children. That makes me happy.