Op-Ed, Video Games

Games with Amazing Environments: Horror Edition

A good setting is vital to a video game. While good gameplay can carry a game, a great environment with that gameplay takes it that next step. When talking about in game worlds there are so many different ones that deserve credit. It’s almost impossible to narrow down the list to just a few. The following are a few that deserve credit, in the horror genre, as being some of the best worlds to be explored by gamers. Whether impressive in their size, detail, or just aesthetically appealing these worlds are great to explore.

Dante’s Inferno

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While it doesn’t have the most unique gameplay, Dante’s Inferno does really shine in it’s environment. This game does a great job interpreting the epic poem about an artist’s journey through hell. Each one of the levels has a unique look to it and paints a vivid picture of what that level of hell is supposed to represent. Lust is stormy, Greed covered in rivers of melted gold, and Treachery portrays an icy world. Aside from the levels themselves Inferno also highlights other features mentioned in the poem, like the rivers of blood, and individual parts of the larger levels. Inferno can be disturbing, and it’s no surprise that it made people uncomfortable. However, if you are going to take a work of literature and put it into a game it’s the details that are important. Inferno doesn’t turn away from being disturbing, it is supposed to be an interpretation of hell. Instead it embraces it and makes a dark and screwed up environment. It’s worth playing to experience seeing the poem brought to life.

Dead Space

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The Ishimura is one of the scariest game environments that many gamers have ever played in. It’s dark, bloody, and terrifying. The setting can make or break a horror game, and in the case of Dead Space the Ishimura makes it. Gamers feel isolated and trapped within The Ishimura not wanting to go further, but being forced to. Add in the awesome moments of being in space and they’ve created a recipe for a setting that is both awesome and scary.

Bioshock

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While Bioshock borrowed gameplay elements from the System Shock series, the world it’s set in is brand new. Rapture is a brilliant mix of art deco and sci-fi elements, it’s very easy to get sucked into this game. The Bioshock franchise hasn’t stopped with that game. The follow up managed to expand on Rapture, while honoring what made it so amazing in the first place. Infinite took gamers out of Rapture and into another setting, this time in the sky instead of under the sea.

Silent Hill

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In large part Silent Hill gets it’s place because it’s impossible to think of horror “locations” without thinking of Silent Hill. A town shaped by tragedy that has seen better days, and the Otherworld of Silent Hill. Corroded, dark, and filled with enemies that just want to see you die. There is so much about Silent Hill to hate, and yet we as gamers love it. The older games were masters of atmosphere with the fog, lighting, and feeling that you would never actually be safe.

Alan Wake

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A strong environment feels especially important in horror games. Alan Wake may have mixed reviews for it’s actual gameplay, but the setting is truly scary. Darkness surrounds the world of Alan Wake, and the isolated town is finely detailed. Be it the actual town that reminds the gamer of Twin Peaks, or the forests, or the ultra creepy corn fields, Alan Wake keeps the gamer in an interesting and ultra creepy environment. This dark atmosphere serves this game well, adding to the fear and holding the player in.

Eternal Darkness

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Eternal Darkness moves the player through many different characters, settings, and even times. It’s a terrifying game that challenges players to push themselves through a game with challenging enemies and puzzles, as well as an unforgiving sanity meter. The icing on the cake to make this game horrifying is the settings. They are all dark and richly detailed. The Cathedral especially stands out for gamers as being a terrifying setting in the game. Eternal Darkness fills its environment, with blood, bodies, and a dark atmosphere. Having such a terrifying environment is part of what makes gamers feel so trapped. This is a key element in horror games and Eternal Darkness does not disappoint.

Video Games

Games That Could Have Been Great

There are a number of games out there that hold so much potential. They are games that vary in execution, some of them are actually good while others are down right horrible. What they have in common is the fact that they could have been so much more.

Spryo: Enter the Dragonfly… but it was rushed

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Spryo: Enter the Dragonfly was the first Spyro game for the PS2 and Gamecube. It was set up to do really well too. The series was still popular and adventure games like it (such as Ratchet and Clank) were doing very well. The game was rushed though, it released earlier than planned and suffered greatly for it. The game was shorted significantly, didn’t really innovate the series, and on top of all that suffered from some serious glitches. The game is nearly impossible to play because of it’s technical flaws. When the game is playable it’s a decent amount of fun and shows great potential, more of the game is spent resetting it than actually playing it though. Not only was the game itself terrible, but it is considered to be the main cause of Spryo’s fall from fame.

 

Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance… but there is just too much going on.

Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance (like it’s name) has just a little too much going on. It continues the popular Kingdom Hearts series only adding in a few more bells and whistles. They included characters from World Ends With You. There is also a plethora of gameplay inclusions using both the touch pad and buttons, as well as the way you work with your team. The basic problem, there is just way too much happening in this game. Everything suffers slightly because it feels like no attention was paid to actually perfecting all these different aspects. It has one of the weaker stories in the series, rushed character development, and gameplay that doesn’t feel fleshed out. All in all it’s an ok game, but maybe had a few aspects been pulled the remaining ones could have shined.

Saints Row 4… but it was just a little too crazy.

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The Saints Row series has gone through a lot of changes over it’s life time. It started as a subpar GTA clone, then embraced the power of humor to set it apart. Saints Row 3 took the humor to a pretty big extreme, then Saints Row 4 decided to double up on that. The game is just crazy, it adds crazy new gameplay features, and over the top story lines. The problem is there is no substance to back up this level of crazy. There is fun to be had, but honestly what the game really needs is some more heart.

Duke Nukem Forever… but, well we all know

Honestly at this point we’ve all said the same things about this game. It was delayed too many times, there are just no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Some people enjoyed the game, and there is fun to be had. The problem is the game was just sent back to the drawing board so many times that it sort of got lost in the process. In the end a game that was anticipated and hyped to no end was just an average game. There was nothing that stood out, innovated, or recaptured fans love of the series. If Spryo proves that games shouldn’t be rushed, this game proves that some games need to be given up on.

Assassin’s Creed 3… but it takes forever to start

Assassin’s Creed 3 is not a bad game, in fact it’s rather enjoyable. Not the best in the series, but a decent installment. There is one major problem in my opinion, and that is the game just doesn’t seem to want to start. First you play a little introduction with Haytham, it’s pretty clear you won’t be playing as him for the full game, but whatever it feels a lot like a tutorial. So you help Haytham, have a pretty big plot twist then take over the main character of Connor. The problem is you start as child Connor and do ANOTHER tutorial like set of missions as he grows up. Once he grows you think “finally the game will begin” and yet… That’s right more tutorial like missions. It’s hard to stay excited for the game when you just keep waiting for it to start. I am not one to complain about story heavy games, but honestly this game really just needed to get on with it.

Silent Hill 4… but it shouldn’t have been a Silent Hill game.

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Despite what many (myself included) believe Silent Hill 4 was always meant to be a Silent Hill game. However the rumors that it was originally not connected to the series are pretty reasonable. Frankly I am of the belief that it just shouldn’t have been part of the series. The main point with Silent Hill 4 is that they wanted it to be completely different and “take the series in a new direction”. The problem is, it ends up just feeling disconnected and unsatisfying. The plot is interesting, but feels like all the “Silent Hill” inclusions are forced. The gameplay isn’t bad, but feels like a total departure. Honestly slap a different name on the game, remove the references to Silent Hill, and you have a decent survival horror game. The problem is the Silent Hill part sets up expectations that the game is unable to live up to.

Condemned 2: Bloodshot… but magic and honestly I’m not sure

The biggest problem with this game is they had a great foundation. Condemned was not perfect, but it was a really great and underrated game. It suffered from some issues but all the sequel really needed to do was flesh out what was already there. Instead they left the problematic things problematic, and then threw in a bunch of other stuff like magic and a convoluted plot. The game still suffers from technical issues like the first only now it was drowning in a bad story, and is just another horror action game rather than survival horror. At the end of the day it boils down to wasted potential.

Video Games

The State of Horror in Video Games

With the news of Silent Hills being canceled, and Del Toro swearing off of game design. The question over the state of horror games is once again being brought up. I would argue that for a long time there have been two types of horror genre. Horror Action, and Survival Horror.

For me the divide between the two comes from where the emphasis lies. Action Horror- Combat, Survival Horror- Well survival. It doesn’t mean that all action horror doesn’t include instances of just having to survive, but that is not the emphasis of the game. Or that survival horror doesn’t have combat, but again not it’s important feature.

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Some examples. DOOM can easily be defined as action horror, combat is clearly the main focus of the game. As such the game supports this with a large variety of weapons, and gives you incentive to fight as often as you can. There are still moments in DOOM where you have to just run though, that combat is not the solution to the problem.

Survival Horror on the other hand seems to have spawned from the days when gameplay didn’t really allow for much combat. As such it’s not the main focus. Silent Hill was really in control of this genre for awhile, the games focused heavily on puzzle solving, and running from enemies instead of fighting them. There is of course combat, but facing off against too many enemies will actually punish you in this game rather than help you.

These days though the line between the two is getting more murky and really action horror has taken over, but under the guise of being survival horror. For me the most notable example is The Evil Within. The Evil Within promised that it was going to bring back to real and true survival horror, and in some ways it did. There are plenty of enemies that you can’t in fact fight, lots of having to run, hide, then run some more. This feels like survival horror, but it’s not. At the end of the day regardless of how much running and hiding you do in this game the emphasis rolls around to being on combat. You fight wave after wave of enemies and for the most part the solution to problems ends up being “fight” rather than “survive”.

Yet this game really held itself in the esteem of being a true “going back to the hay day of survival horror” game. The question is how did we let this happen? And why?

I think it’s because on the side of action horror the divide of what makes it what it is has gotten blurry, while on survival horror side it’s gotten more strict.

Survival horror seems to exist almost exclusively in indie games, and when it says survival horror it means it. You cannot actually fight your enemies you can ONLY survive the encounters. Games like Amnesia, and Among the Sleep are notable examples. There is no such thing as combat, you are a character that can only make it through by running, hiding, and puzzle solving.

This type of survival horror is great, it’s scary, challenging, and interesting. I personally love playing these games. However they shouldn’t be the only survival horror that gamers get to experience anymore.

While on the other hand action horror has been divided into true Action Horror, and Action Horror that wants to disguise itself as survival horror. I mentioned The Evil Within as a notable offender in this instance. The game simply put wants to pass itself off as survival horror while still wearing all the dressing of an action horror game.

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This leaves fans in a rather hopeless state. We either get the most extreme version of survival horror, or we get what’s really action horror just trying to pass itself off as something else. Gone are the early Silent Hill games, Fatal Frames, Clock Towers, etc.

Silent Hills PT really seemed like it got it though. It didn’t say “yeah we know what you are looking for” like The Evil Within, then just handed more of the same. PT was really just a survival mode but it felt like old Silent Hill, it felt like it was on the path to creating Silent Hills: We Actually Can Give Fans What They Want. Only now it’s canceled and the PT part is being pulled from consoles. So fans are once again snapping their fingers in disappointment because oh man so close.

So what do I think the state of horror is in video games? Good for the most part. Indie developers are thriving, the action horror market is bringing some good titles. You can even find some good scary levels in non horror games. However we are missing that one piece, it’s a piece that is important and that many gamers (myself included) are salivating over… hoping that it will show up. Maybe Silent Hills wasn’t the answer, but it did certainly raise the question so perhaps some other developers will jump on that missed opportunity and bring us what we’ve been waiting for.