With the rise of horror Let's Plays and social gaming (such as the PS Share function), the genre of horror has been getting a massive boost this console generation. Games like Amnesia and Slender kickstarted the rebirth of horror gaming, and the release of Outlast made sure that plenty of gamers were on board (especially since it was free on PS4). For a horror fan such as myself, a renaissance of fear is a godsend. We now have a plethora of titles releasing, such as Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within, Silent Hills (hell yeah!), Until Dawn, Dying Light, and even more beyond that. Hell, I remember when the only horror game I had to look forward to was Resident Evil 6, and now there are so many that I can't even afford to pre-order them all. However, with so many developers jumping onto the spook train, I think that it's important to highlight what works in a horror game and what doesn't. This isn't to say that I don't want developers to explore new, creative ways to scare gamers; I'm just aware of past horror failures that I'd rather not see repeated. So without further ado, the do's and do not's of the horror genre.
DO have jump scares. Nothing is quite as frightening as something unknown suddenly popping out at you, except for maybe the anticipation of a jump scare. Which brings me to:
DO NOT rely solely on jump scares. Jump scares are a fantastic way to scare gamers, but without a solid atmosphere, it's just one jump after another and it starts to lose it's fear factor. Keep us in anticipation, make us dread to turn the corner. The key to making someone afraid is to keep them wondering what's going to happen next, and if your formula is jump scare + jump scare + jump scare, the unknown starts to become pretty damn known.
DO have action of some kind. I'd like to see developers get creative with this. It's bad to have explosions and gunfights at every turn, but without something interesting the game starts to get a little stale. Let's look at Silent Hill 2, for example: You have a pistol, as well as a variety of melee options. However, bullets are extremely difficult to come by, and the melee options are slow are unreliable. This not only makes every monster that much scarier, but it's also a guaranteed "Oh shit!" at the beginning of every boss battle. You don't need combat for action, though. It can come in the form of a chase scene, or a monster encounter that requires you to think outside the box to survive (the Kaernk in Amnesia is a perfect example of this).
|[Resident Evil 6]|
DO NOT overdo it on the puzzles. You're trying to stump the gamers, but you want them to progress eventually. The puzzles should be hard, but not 'half an hour wandering back and forth' hard. A big offender of this was the free demo for the new Silent Hill game, P.T. There were so many points where I had to look up not only what to do, but what in the hell the controls were. There's a part where you have to press R3 and look at a specific point, and in the beginning P.T. gives you the impression that there are no controls besides walking. Many people were stuck at the ending especially (I couldn't even beat it, because there is no clear way to trigger the ending), and as much as I enjoyed the horror aspect of the game, that is simply NOT how you handle puzzles. Make the player baffled, not overly frustrated.
|[Silent Hill 2]|
DO NOT make your story crystal clear. There are horror games out there with constant cutscenes and lengthy, explanatory dialogue. That's fine and dandy for adventure games, but this a horror game! Like I touched on before, not understanding what's going on is scary. Amnesia has you waking up knowing nothing, and you find out what the plot is by reading notes scattered around the castle. Rarely is anything explicitly given to you, and even when it is, you can piece it together with the notes you've found to make realizations that some players would have missed. In Silent Hill, you don't even truly grasp what's going on until the very end, and even then it requires some thinking. Feed the story to the player piece by piece, don't shove it all down our throats at once.
|[Amnesia: The Dark Descent]|