Horror games are hard to do. It takes work to create the right atmosphere to scare players out of their seats. Developers have to invest time in world-building, visuals and sound all in the name of creating nightmare scenarios.
In many ways, it’s the exact opposite of what studios strive for. Instead of designing a soothing and comfortable experience, horror-game developers aim to elicit unease and anxiety. For players, that adrenaline-soaked fear pays off when it’s combined with compelling gameplay and produces indelible moments.
The memories of horror games are often more vivid than for an action-driven shooter. That emotional rush stays with players.
This Halloween season, three titles are trying to produce the same feelings. Each one has a different way of doing it, but all of them rely on a strong atmosphere to stir dread into players.
The first on the list is The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan. Produced by veteran studio Supermassive Games, it carries over many of the gameplay elements of the team’s surprise hit Until Dawn. Both games follow a group of young people who encounter a ghastly set of circumstances.
Man of Medan is essentially a video game version of a slasher flick except it gives players the agency to control the characters. Ever watch a movie and yell at the main character to stay away from the closet? Well in Man of Medan, players can make it happen.
Players will control five characters who have been kidnapped by fishermen in the Pacific Ocean. That’s when the group runs into a ghost ship and board it looking for shelter and treasure. The only problem is that horrors lie within, and players have to navigate the scenario.
Success depends on minigames that emerge as players explore the ship. Sometimes they’ll have quicktime events as they’re chased by maniacs. Other times they’ll have to control their heartbeat via a rhythm-based minigame.
The one flaw is that the secret behind the Ourang Medan ghost ship is fairly predictable, and once they figure it out, players can keep the cast alive as they endure the frightening adventure.
Erica from Flavourworks offers players a way to control the outcome of a story, but the developer takes away the granular control. Instead of moving characters around and exploring a beautifully crafted vessel, this interactive thriller acts more like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel that features full-motion video.
Players follow Erica Mason, a woman with a tragic past. Her mother died when she was young and her father was murdered. One day, she receives a package with severed hand and that causes her to take shelter at the Delphi House, a mental institution that her father helped establish. The staff there care for her, but something isn’t right.
The game can played using a Dualshock 4 but it’s best experienced with an iOS or Android device. Erica uses Sony’s Playlink technology to make a phone or tablet a controller. That’s how players will choose what actions the protagonists takes. Players can choose dialogue options or perform more action-oriented manoeuvres such as lighting a lantern.
Erica has a surprisingly engaging narrative and the choices the developers give gamers can be agonising. All of it depends on how players interpret the facts given to them and decide whom to believe as they dig deeper into the mysteries of Delphi House. The game is reminiscent of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, but with better gameplay elements.
This game has a Mature ESRB rating.
Bloober Games isn’t a well-known studio, but its latest project, Blair Witch, will draw attention to it. The first-person horror game takes place two years after the events in the 1999 cult film. Players take on the role of Ellis Lynch, a former police officer with mental health issues as he joins the search for a boy named Peter Shannon, who went missing in the woods.
With a dog named Bullet at his side, players will venture into the forest and immerse themselves in the creepy atmosphere. Compared to Man of Medan and Erica, Blair Witch moves at a slower pace. Players use the dog to sniff out for clues for the boy, and they will rely on a walkie-talkie and cellphone to contact the outside world. Because it’s set in the past, players should expect the inconveniences of the 1990s, such as bad cell reception and the lack of GPS.
The lack of modern-day conveniences raises the fear in the game as players explore the dark woods with limited resources. Visually, the game is striking and that realism will make players buy into the experience. The drawback for Blair Witch is the puzzles and its impact on exploration. Both can be obtuse, leaving players frustrated with the game’s lack of direction. It’s a delicate balancing act that Bloober doesn’t always get right.
Still, the game has its moments, but it’s more likely to be embraced and enjoyed by fans of the movie.