For whatever reason I've been thinking a lot about the general Genre of Horror in media, and the way it can vary so greatly and what I like and don't like about it.
It could be because I very recently saw "The Conjuring 2," which was a fun enough movie and had some really masterful scenes in it, albeit a bit predictable. In particular I was fond of the usage of posters in the main house that the spooky scenes took place in, during the day, they were simple friendly faces in the background. Posters of band members from the appropriate time. But during the night-time scenes, they turned more distorted, darker... (also that nun painting scene wow)
Anyway, I've been thinking about what I like and dislike about what the Horror genre has to offer. In particular with video games. I love Horror Games. And in recent years I've seen a really unfortunate focus grow in on Horror Games, where they're so heavily reliant on simple gore and violence for the sake of being "shocking." I feel that after a while an audience can become pretty accustomed to such content, and that is the point at which a Horror Game crosses into more of an Action Game sort of territory, for me.
"Tension" based horror
I like Horror Games that build you up in tension levels, that get you emotionally invested in the story and then tear it away from you in the worst way. People will always cite the original three Silent Hill games for this system, I think. With some Resident Evil thrown in and all the games that copied it back in the day in some way.
The original three and, in my opinion, even the fourth Silent Hill games are probably the best examples of what I love to see in a Horror Game. Lots of tension, psychological issues, symbolism, meaning underlying almost everything... These are all really strong in Silent Hill 1-4. They get pretty gory and violent, but it's not so over the top as to disenchant you with the visuals. It comes in waves of calm tension and then builds to something that I've always found truly meaningful.
Some other examples are probably the earlier incarnations of Resident Evil (from the fourth game on, in my opinion, it becomes and Action Game series), and the Fatal Frame series.
Some less well executed examples would be the Clock Tower (and in the end, Haunting Ground) series, Alone in the Dark, and other games which lack a bit of originality in enemy design or story line, but still successfully build this tension I crave so much from these games...
"Action" or gore-based horror
Outlast is a good recent example of this type of game. Don't get me wrong, I like these games too, but somehow they satisfy me less than what I classify as games that would rely more on tension than shock value.
Like I said, Outlast is a good example. It's pretty over the top as far as gore and violence goes, and there are a ton of opportunity for jump scares. A lot of recent Horror Games go more toward this flavor, in my opinion. It's made it hard for me to like many current examples of this genre... I get weary of them. I want my quiet tension back. Even the Silent Hill series gave way to this type of action years ago.
Horror that may or may not be horror after all
So, in my search for such a theme in games, I've found it elsewhere.
Alien: Isolation is normally categorized as an Action-Adventure game. But in my opinion it had far more traditional Horror Game elements. You're extremely limited of resources to protect yourself with, even saving the game leaves you vulnerable, and you're almost constantly stalked by some form of enemy. Not much in this game is friendly to the player, and it leaves the player on edge, successfully tense and nervous of every little noise or movement...
Altus' Catherine is another example. The story line is successfully mysterious, and the game play is mainly puzzles and a sort of "Visual Novel" type of action and speech selection. I would very much count this as a Horror Game in a sense, despite the game play not being your traditional sort. It challenges one's personal views on interpersonal relationships, and brings up how society views such things. Many of the bosses are horrific, overly-sexualized monsters, much like the enemy designs in the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei series. This game can make one fairly uncomfortable.
And speaking of Visual Novels and feeling fairly uncomfortable; lets talk a bit about VN's as horror games...
Visual Novels as horror
VN's are notorious in today's gaming landscape. They range from the soft, near-exclusively pornographic NekoPara and Sakura Swim Club, to the silly, innocent ridiculousness of Hatoful Boyfriend and Butter Me Up (a Gordon Ramsay and Paula Deen dating sim). These games are very often surprisingly deep, and rife with storytelling ability simply because of the platform of having the audience read through what the creators have written, often from a singular character's point of view.
With this in mind, it's not hard to imagine that someone, somewhere out there has turn this genre creepy and horrific, right?
There are, and likely I'll get into them on a separate blog entry. But suffice to say I think the VN genre can add a lot to the Horror Game genre...