Context Sensitive: The Enemy Within

Mr. Mike

New member
Mar 24, 2010
Haven't touched a single horror game. I don't know, they just don't seem to appeal to me. Suppose I'll give them a chance one day. On one of those days where you have nothing to do but don't feel like you have any games to play as you stare at your massive collection of discs.

Internet Kraken

Animalia Mollusca Cephalopada
Mar 18, 2009
Horror games, on the other hand, present you with an enemy that's not so easy to sum up. It's a thing, a force, a something that adheres to rules and laws completely other than the ones you know, rendering the total of your accumulated knowledge to that point completely moot. The life experience you've used to stay alive - stuff like physics, chemistry, even good old fashioned common sense - is now worthless. If there's anything more terrifying than that kind of naked helplessness, I don't know what it is.
This is why I think even games that aren't supposed to be scary can end up terrifying you. When you fight an enemy that is unknown, you don't know what to do. How do you kill something that is completley alien? You can't do much other than desperately pump bullets into it. But how much does this actually hurt it? Is it being significantly damaged? Or is this all just wasted effort? When you don't know what to do, you begin to panic. And you end up getting freaked out.

But this is leads to my problem with most horror games I've seen. Right after you kill this abomination, another one will wander into the room. And then another. And another. You end up fighting some many of these things that the creature that was once bizarre and unknown has become part of the routine. It no longer scares you, since it has become predictable. And this is why I like the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series. The vast emptiness of the game is bad from a game play perspective, but it's very important to keeping you immersed. The game doesn't constantly throw enemies at you when you are crawling through some abandoned complex. In another thread a user described how this works;

Scrumpmonkey said:
Oh God the empty Jupiter plant was so very paranoia inducing. I couldn't take the isolation, your so far from the nearest freidly STALKERS yet there's... nothing! Never underestimate the fear induced by finding a giant empty power plant. The lack of an eniemy firstly makes you think "What the hell are they about to trow at me?!" I kept expecting things at every turn but there was... nothing!

Secondly coupled with the atmostphere it begins to play on your mind, you can feel allpowerfull when slaughtering bandits but all alone is a semi-dark ruined power plant you start to really feel the lonliness and desolation of the place. Nothings happening but nothing breaks the tension, it just builds and builds until you want to sprint out of the place and seek out the nearest hug.

Game designers need to learn that less can be more. I would have loved to wonder the ship on Deadspace some more doing some exploration without encountering a soul just the feeling that something was very wrong.
I had the same feeling as him when I was playing. That area would have been a lot less scary had the game constantly assaulted me with enemies. Instead, it kept me thinking that something was lurking around the corner. I was constantly on edge, expecting something horrible to lurk out of the shadows at any moment. If the game had filled that area with tons of enemies, I wouldn't have had this feeling. There would be a greater chance of me dying, but that wouldn't have mad the game feel scary. If I had found a bloodsucker hiding in every room, it would have become predictable. Instead I had a fear of the unknown because I hadn't encountered any enemies. I was scared of monsters that only existed in my mind. The game let me stir in my fear. It's difficult to explain, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that the absence of enemies can be a lot more terrifying than their constant presence.


New member
Mar 13, 2008
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 know I'm gonna sound like a fanboy, but another good example for this is the level 'Two Betrayals' in Halo. Throughout this level, you find yourself fighting for your life against an almost neverending amount of Floods, some of which are sneaking around with rocket launchers. When you get to the ground level for the first time since you entered the coridors, however, you feel relief that there are only Covenants out there (even if they have all the dangerous vehicles)

Also, I agree that Silent Hill 2 is creepy. Through most of the game, you carry either a meelee or ranged weapon. However, at some point, to keep going further, you will have to leave it all behind for a while. You got no weapons, no light, no indication of how close the monsters are. Sure, there isn't a lot of enemies in your path, but still...

Marine Mike

New member
Mar 3, 2010
I personally found Fallout 3 deeply disturbing; definitely not, or was designed to be, horror. But with the ample gameplay time inside the vault growing up was enough time to actually put my mindset into that of a post-apocalyptic vault dweller. I remember a distinct unease about leaving the vault for the first time.

System Shock 2 was a horrifying game. You wake up in immediate danger with no idea what is happening to your ship, and if you get really immersed you realize that the ship is the only one capable of getting you back to Earth sometime during your lifetime. The sounds, the atmosphere, the audio logs all provide a bone-chilling experience.
That glitchy background noise when SHODAN talks... creepy.


New member
Feb 24, 2008
Have fun with the controls in System Shock... mouselook is overrated anyway, right? Great game though. SHODAN is an amazing character.

And if we're talking about good horror games, I have to put in a mention of the Penumbra series. The developer, Frictional Games, is a little indie company, so it isn't the high-budget production you get with Dead Space and such... but they have a better understanding of the horror genre than any big developer. Penumbra shows just how viable and awesome the horror genre is, and puts in a good word for the adventure genre while its at it.

The best way I can explain Penumbra... I was about 6-years-old when I played the original Myst, and I got the sequel, Riven, when it came out a few years later. I love the series to death, but I can never recapture the feelings I had when I first played those games. I was younger, less aware of what games were capable of doing, and perhaps less jaded by modern graphics. Playing Myst, I constantly had the feeling that someone or something was standing right behind me, looking over my shoulder. I was in this very believable world, and I had no idea what to expect from it. Of course, there isn't anything behind you in Myst. Black-screen trap books aside, there is no way to "die" in Myst.

Penumbra gives that same feeling, as you carefully sneak through the world, praying that nothing hears you. You get that same feeling that something is lurking out there, ready to kill you in the blink of an eye, and you haven't even seen it yet. But unlike in Myst, you're right. And it will.


Eats With Her Mouth Full
May 3, 2010
Can I join the chorus of System Shock lovers? My boyfriend made me play SS2, and I was terrfied the entire time, despite the fact we were playing in bright light, in multiplayer mode and had the music turned off (at my insistence, I am a wuss). I think it is the tension - you never know what is going to happen next, and even if you do have some idea, you never know when its coming. Or if you have enough ammo. Or if you will have fast enough reflexes. And it didn't matter if I knew I had the money to be able to afford to die - because I didn't want to! I have never cared so deeply about my character's survival in any game, ever. Mostly, its just a nuisance, a drain on my time and money. In SS2, I wanted my character to live. For a game that uses 4 polys for each hand on the character and doesn't give you any backstory, that kind of emotional involvement for me is amazing. And thats why I consider SS2 so special.