Context Sensitive: The Enemy Within

Susan Arendt

Nerd Queen
Jan 9, 2007
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Context Sensitive: The Enemy Within

The most terrifying videogame enemy you'll ever face lives in your mirror.

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Lvl 64 Klutz

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Apr 8, 2008
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I like Silent Hill 3's motivator the best. Run away out of a survival instinct? Or keep going out of sheer curiosity? It's strange to think that we as humans desire the truth more than we dread the dangerous unknown.

However, Silent Hill 3 also adds another feature to add to your final paragraph: Frustrating puzzles. Nothing pulls me out of a horror game faster than running around the same area trying to find that one item or clue I keep passing.
 

dnadns

Divine Ronin
Jan 20, 2009
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I just started to replay System Shock and while it is a good classic, it did not age very well. I'd suggest that you try to get some plot info/cutscene videos from the first one and go straight for the sequel.

Of course, if you like to have a game that actually requires you to use the "notes" section of the manual and textures that can make it hard to distinguish a switch from a wall, just go for SS1. Then again, it pains me to say this as I still can remember playing the game in the old days and it still holds that nostalgia value for me.

In addition to playing it, also check out the podcasts at Irrational Games which discusses some really nice anecdotes about the time when System Shock 2 was done.
 

Jared

The British Paladin
Jul 14, 2009
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I always find the self-preservation model works best with me. Like in Dead Space. Your trapped, and your on a ship with a bunch of things which want to go "OM NOM NOM" all over your face.

So, you work hard to get everything ready so you can GTFO outta dodge!
 

Susan Arendt

Nerd Queen
Jan 9, 2007
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Lvl 64 Klutz said:
However, Silent Hill 3 also adds another feature to add to your final paragraph: Frustrating puzzles. Nothing pulls me out of a horror game faster than running around the same area trying to find that one item or clue I keep passing.
Ugh, so true. It goes from tense to frustrating to "why am I playing this, again?" very quickly.
 

Thedutchjelle

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Mar 31, 2009
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You could argue that any game that puts your life in peril does the same thing, but I don't think that's necessarily true. A guy with a gun may be dangerous, but he's a concept you can wrap your head around. His threat is one you can quantify - bullets plus fleshy bits equals ow - and so the fear he creates is manageable. Because you understand him, you know, or at least can take a reasonable guess, how you can defeat him and survive the encounter
This so much. In STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl, there is this very spooky lab called X18. It's inhabited by some sort of ghost enemies not seen before in the game. After you managed to find some documents, you fall unconscious. When you wake up the facility is flooded with bad guys with guns. I was actually relieved I was fighting those guys, even though there were far more dangerous than the creepy mutants, just because I knew what they were.
 

Avatar Roku

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Jul 9, 2008
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Very interesting article, I love this sort of psychological analysis. Particularly good point about Dead Space; I think the conflict of logic vs instinct had occurred to me before, but I never thought it through to that point.

When you were talking about Silent Hill, I think I realized why most people don't find my favorite horror game, FEAR, scary. The game gives you two reasons to continue (curiosity about Alma and Fettel, and your superior giving you orders), but for the scares to be effective, you have to give yourself a third (wanting to make sure that Fettel and the Replica soldiers can never do something like this again). The game tries to really set you up to be disturbed by Fettel to such an extent that you'd want to stop him (i.e, showing his cannibalism), and they try to put a human face on the Replicas' victims via phone messages to motivate you to stop them, but at the end of the day, it's up to the individual gamer whether or not they form that connection. If they don't, the game just loses its scares in favor of making you sit there thinking "why is he going on? Screw orders, I'd be getting out of there", whereas making that third motivation makes you think that you actually would continue on, and it just gives you that necessary extra immersion.
 

MNRA

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Jun 8, 2009
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You know what? You should really, really play system shock!
 

PHOENIXRIDER57

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Mar 2, 2010
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First of all, super well written.

Second of all, super good points about having to really get into the game. It should start with the game though. The story and gameplay has to invite the gamer in, and then the gamer needs to surrender to it and really put themself into the story. I couldn't get into Condemned, but I WAS Isaic from Dead Space while playing that.

Oh, a third of all, anyone ever hear of Extermination. I really liked that game. Started to really pour on the scary in the later half of the story.
 

Fearzone

Boyz! Boyz! Boyz!
Dec 3, 2008
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Survival horror could work if the true objective were to be horrified and survive.

Let me break it down. Horror is a combination of confusion and disgust. I'd argue you have to have both to be horrified. Horror is when you see the part of an underlying evil, but can only understand bits and peices of it, and so the full scope is uncertain. When full knowledge of the adversary comes together, there still might be disgust and anger and even fear, but horror at that point doesn't quite capture the vibe.

For example, the movie Alien was a horror flick, whereas Aliens was an action flick. Same enemy, more of 'em in the second one, and same basic problem, but two different levels of understanding and preparedness.

So horror can be done if you come up with a rich story about a great evil, then scramble up all the pieces of the puzzle and only give half of them to the player. One fills in the missing spaces with their own fears.

Now for the survival part: if the objective is to kill the boss, that isn't exactly survival--that's domination. If the objective is something other than killing the boss, such as rescuing your daughter, and the boss is unbeatable so you have to evade it and get out of Dodge with your duaghter alive, through actions like running, sneaking, and hiding, that I think can be a perfectly workable and fun game.

If one needs to actually kill the boss to fully reap their gamer catharsis, you already got plenty of games that will do that.

Now, I'm all for the survival-horror MMO where the two classes are farmers and peasants and you can choose between pitchforks, shovels, and torches.
 

RWillers

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Mar 17, 2010
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One of the things I love and hate about horror games is that all changes depending on the "mood" of the place you're in.

Personally, a good setting in real life (dark room, late at night, alone, no sounds but those from the game itself) can really put me in the game and feel like I'm character X trying to survive. For example, I remember when I played Dead Space with the above setting for my room, I wouldn't run and every little sound in the game would scare the hell out of me.

However, the setting can also ruin the game, at least for me. When I played SH: Shattered Memories I made the mistake of playing it with the lights on. Suffice it to say, for me the game lost the potention it could have had.

Of course this has little to do with the developers themselves as they cannot influence on us beyond what's on the game, but I think having the right mood and real life setting is one of the most important factors to really enjoy a horror game.
 

dochmbi

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Sep 15, 2008
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Thedutchjelle said:
This so much. In STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl, there is this very spooky lab called X18. It's inhabited by some sort of ghost enemies not seen before in the game. After you managed to find some documents, you fall unconscious. When you wake up the facility is flooded with bad guys with guns. I was actually relieved I was fighting those guys, even though there were far more dangerous than the creepy mutants, just because I knew what they were.
I felt the same way in Metro 2033, it's so relaxing to be fighting normal guys with guns :p
 

seditary

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Aug 17, 2008
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Reminds me of the Clock Tower games, bloody brilliant all the way until you actually fought and defeated the bad guys.

Running away and hiding like the scared little girl you really are is very exhilarating.
 
Feb 13, 2008
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A wise man once said, I forget who, that the reason we enjoy horror so much is that it's small chunks of horror. In our lives we face so many unimaginable terrors like war, nukes, corruption and disease; that it's cathartic to see a horror we can face - be that the Flood, BLU team or even little bejewelled blocks out of order.

To experience real horror though, you need something so vast that you can't take hold of it, but small enough that you can still picture it.

That's why making horror games is still such a skill - and why games such as Fallout 3 aren't the horrifying places they actually would be. The human mind just can't comprehend the enormity of the downfall of civilization, so we daintily skip through the radiation as if it was another health counter.

Turn out the lights though, and even fully armed, we're terrified. Add in a children's music box and flickering shadows, and...


[sub]Boo![/sub]
 

Avatar Roku

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Jul 9, 2008
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The_root_of_all_evil said:
That's why making horror games is still such a skill - and why games such as Fallout 3 aren't the horrifying places they actually would be. The human mind just can't comprehend the enormity of the downfall of civilization, so we daintily skip through the radiation as if it was another health counter.
That was one reason I loved the Pitt so much. It still fell short in that regard, but it was still closer than vanilla Fallout 3 was. It depicted a society that managed to pick itself back up, but relied on horrendous slave labor and raiding nearby areas to stay alive at all. Add in the disease that creates the Trogs, the hellish cityscape (which is still somehow nicer than real, modern day Pittsburgh), and an overall situation wherein whether or not to kidnap a little girl is actually an ambiguous choice, and the entire expansion is just horrifying. I mean, it's not scary, per se, but it manages to be so disturbing.
 

Outright Villainy

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Jan 19, 2010
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The_root_of_all_evil said:
A

That's why making horror games is still such a skill - and why games such as Fallout 3 aren't the horrifying places they actually would be.
I dunno, some of the vaults are pretty damn creepy, I can't remember the last time I was creeped out as much as by some of those vaults... *shudders*
 

Pipotchi

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Jan 17, 2008
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Thinking about it I cant remember anything ruining the immersion in System Shock 2, the audio logs, security alarms, respawning enemies, limited ammo. Everything was tense from start to finish, there is no interludes no 'safer zone Just 12 hours off unsettling horror. It was actually hard work emotionally.

I am gonna go play it again this weekend.

and the spiders they made the most horrible skittering noises when they came for you hudder
 

Zombie Nixon

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Sep 3, 2009
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Just listening to the music from System Shock 2 still sends chills down my spine. SS2 is the best game I've ever played.

The original System Shock has actually aged pretty damn well, especially for suck a complex game. It's obviously old and the control scheme is dated, but it's still scary, still exciting, and as an experience it holds up to any current gen game.
 

AndreyC

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Mar 18, 2010
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Very well written text. I love Horror games too, and I feel like the newer "Survival Horrors" have been letting us down, because they lost the focus when it comes to make you "fear the unknown".

For instance, my all time favorite Horror game was the classic Clock Tower, because it's a game that really makes you feel helpless. There are no guns, no way to beat the enemies. All you can do is run and make some diversions. Some may feel frustrated by playing it, because they're not looking for the fear. They just want some ugly guys to show up, and some guns to take them down. I like it when the game buils an atmosphere that can make you identify yourself with the character you're playing with. If you have a character that is too heroic or idealized, you can't really get into the game and... be afraid at all. That's my opinion for Horror Games.

As I've said, Clock Tower WAS my favorite Horror game. Until Siren came up, for the PS2, and later Siren 2 (PS2 also) and Siren: Blood Curse (westernized remake of the first one for the PS3). For me, Siren is the absolute definition of what a true Horror game can be. Creepy atmosphere; very REAL and HUMAN playable characters (they all die in one shot or two... yeah, you die a lot in this game). Clever gameplay with puzzles that always involve strategic ways of dealing with undefeatable enemies or just passing through them without dying; Scary, intelligent and IMMORTAL enemies; and last but not least: Intense, compelling, and VERY complex storytelling. You're constantly mindfucked while playing it, you can't just sit and watch the game, you really have to work the timeline on your mind in order to truly understand the cause of everything. You feel like the characters you control: lost in a mess of supernatural events. If you just play the game and don't really try hard to understand the plot, you'll end up just like them: you'll just know the tip of the iceberg. However, if you read and organize all the archives on your mind, if you try to see the link navigator in a chronologic order, you'll have a better understanding of what really happenned there. The game doesn't give you everything for free, you can finish it without understand anything, but you can go ahead and try to figure the "puzzle" that is the storyline and it's very satisfacting when you start understanding the truth behind the horror.

This game doesn't get very good reviews, because it's not exactly an easy game to get into. You really have to put some effort in order to get sucked into the game. But when you do, you'll realize how underappreciated this masterpiece is. Hell, I found this game on a bargain bin on some retail store and I thought it was some underground bad game. But it's really an EXCELENT game. But, as you said, and more than any game, it needs you to want to be sucked into the game.