Jump scares, anxiety, screaming and the feeling of being terrified. We have all experienced these feelings at least once in our lifetime while playing horror or scary video games. The horror genre has a vast history in the gaming world. From titles such as Resident Evil to newer games like Outlast, we can all agree that the horror genre in video games has come a long way from its roots.
The first ever horror video game was Haunted House for the Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first console that released before the widely known Atari Pong home gaming system ever did.
Haunted House was a two-player experience that you could enjoy with a friend. The owner of the game would put a plastic overlay on top of the TV screen with two blinking lights. One person would play as a “ghost,” and the other would play as the “detective.” Person playing as the detective would leave the room while the person that controlled the ghost hid their blinking light somewhere in the game. Once the detective came back into the room, he had to explore throughout the game’s map layout and find where the ghost was hiding. Not scary in the least, but it introduced the mechanic of cat and mouse that would be adopted in future series.
One of the earliest games to feature the horror genre is a survival horror video game by the name of Monster Maze in 1981. What is the most interesting about this game is that it didn’t feature the stereotypical vampire or zombie monster that was popular during that time, but a big Tyrannosaurus Rex. You couldn’t fight the T-rex in the game, you had to run away and hope it didn’t kill you. Notifications would appear displaying the T-Rex’s “anxiety level”. As you can see, the sense of being chased by something that could do harm to you was an ever rising fashion.
In 1996, Capcom released what would be the first of the “survival horror” game series that we would all come to know today. It was supposed to be a simple remake, but Resident Evil constructed a new world in the history of horror gaming. Resident Evil revolutionized the survival aspect of the survival genre used in video games by centering in on the experience and emotions brought in the game. The use of limited resources, monsters and enemies that give no chance of survival to the player and characters in game that had a more human characteristic aspect to them brought the game to life. The overall success of this game had a positive contribution to the franchise and helped the success of the PlayStation sky rocket in sales. Capcom quickly released Resident Evil 2 in 1998 with better graphics, great story and tons of secrets to be found. Many developers and companies soon hopped on the bandwagon and attempted to replicate the game; most of them never gained traction and popularity, but there was one particular game that recreated the survival horror franchise and became an instant success.
Silent Hill was one of those “replicated” games from the Resident Evil era that had a great success in the gaming business. It had the same survival horror aspect as RE but improved upon it in many ways. SH introduced an immersive narrative story that focused on a father searching for his missing daughter in a mysterious town covered in fog. Introducing the psychological horror element in a relatable scenario such as finding your lost daughter is what made the game a fan favorite to many. This drove Silent Hill to automatic success in a most terrifying way.
The two games emphasized on exploration and solving puzzles while surrounded in this spooky atmosphere. Resident Evil played more on the traditional jump scare and low quality voice acting, which was due to the fact that they were presented with a low buddet in order to make the game. Silent Hill took their horror genre in a different direction, with disturbing creatures and a deserted scary town which brought a sense of uneasiness to the player. Both games featured combat in their system, but was a secondary aspect to the gameplay. The primary feature was basically to run away.
By the time the PlayStation 2 and Xbox was released, survival horror games had established itself as one of the most popular genres in the gaming market. Titles such as Fatal Frame and the Siren games brought in the Japanese horror inspiration and brought combat almost entirely out of the gameplay.
Around this time, the generation’s console horrors were in the time of the “golden period.” Developers could generate realistic scares through refined visuals and audio animations.
Some of the best horror games didn’t just happen on console by the way. In the past five to six years the PC indie scene has churned out some of the best horror games to date. With an emphasis to explorations, atmosphere and well-crafted storytelling, indie developers were able to show their skills to the whole world without having to dive into a big budget to prove their stance in the gaming world. Frictional Games, the company that made their mark in horror game history created the unforgettable Amnesia: The Dark Descent, considered to be high up on the list as one of the scariest games ever. The game does many things right that adds to the overall experience for those who play it. It does an amazing job in scaring the people who play this game. The setting of Castle Brannenberg, where The Dark Descent takes place, the ominous background noises and lack of self-defense is the reason this game is everyone’s favorite horror game which was influenced by PC developer Headfirst Production’s Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. The sense of always being watched and not know what made that sound gave me chills that ran down my spine. I guess I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie when it comes to horror games! This is the sole reason The Dark Descent is one of my favorite horror games to date.
In the years that followed, we did have some flops in the horror industry that are noteworthy. Dead Rising 2, Resident Evil 6, Amy, The Darkness 2, Alice: Madness Returns and F.E.A.R. 3 could not deliver the same horror as other titles. Fortunately we were gifted with great efforts like The Last of Us and Metro: Last Light that focused on the apocalyptic setting.
We are currently living in the horror game renaissance; we are seeing games from indie developers such as Slender: The Eight Pages, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Outlast and the sad cancelation of Silent Hills’ PT. These are all examples of what is called modern horror. No combat, dark visual atmosphere and first person.
Bloodborne was fun hack and slash horror title while Until Dawn and SOMA featured better adventure horror gaming with high production values.
We can agree that today’s horror games are mainly indie, putting themselves apart from the AAA companies. With the release of VR platforms, people will have another way to be able to get that adrenaline rush from horror games. Games in the past might not scare us anymore, but there will always be the next title that revolutionaries the meta of scary games right around the corner. We have many great horror games to look forward to that include Allison Road, Outlast 2, Friday the 13th and Routine.