Saturday, October 29, 2011

Games that should be scary...but aren’t.

The horror genre is a Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from some very disparate parts. For every inventive effort like Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, skin crawler like Limbo or out-and-out pants wetter like Amnesia, there’s a gun-toting mis-step like Resident Evil 5, a horror game that forgets to do anything scary. Now that it’s Halloween the TV is full of scary movies and the internet is full of scary game lists, so we thought we’d buck the trend and bring you our list of horror games that just aren’t scary. Some of them are bad, some of them are brilliant, but all of them could happily be played in the dark without unease...

Dead Space 2
You know how we said that some of these games were brilliant? Well Dead Space 2 certainly qualifies. Isaac Clarke’s second battle with the mutated undead features many improvements over the already impressive original; there’s a greater sense of purpose, new weapons, more variety to the environments and some excellent zero G sections. Despite all that, however, it never musters the fear that Dead Space managed. Both games rely on excellent sound design and the diminishing returns of shock value, but where Dead Space pulled unstoppable bosses, wandering tentacles and claustrophobic stalker sequences from its sleeves every time the old it’s-not-really-dead trick wore thin, Dead Space 2 seemed content to be a little more action-oriented. We actually preferred it to Dead Space, but it didn’t give us the fear.

Condemned 2
First person melee combat is rarely a success, and the Condemned series deserves some recognition for pulling it off effectively. Filling the city first with homicidal hobos, then with homicidal anybodies is a grand idea, one that leaves you feeling constantly threatened, while the visceral thuds and splats of the combat get you right in the gut. Sadly, the other thing that gets you right in the gut is the head-bob effect. We at Megabits have hardy stomachs, we think that curried seafood and espresso is a perfectly acceptable breakfast, our guts can take whatever you want to dish out, but ten minutes into Condemned 2 and we felt like we’d drunk a bottle of engine oil. Between shoddy textures, lifeless environments and the inability to play for more than ten minutes at a stretch, Condemned never had a chance to wrap us up in its grubby, rag draped horror.

Dead Rising
It’s actually to Dead Rising’s credit that it’s not very scary. When your setting is so clearly paying tribute to the end-of-the-world classic Dawn of the Dead then you need to find a tone of your own in order to avoid being a rip-off rather than an homage. Dead Rising has the irresistible odds, the inescapable setting and the unpredictable humans that made Dawn of the Dead so terrifying, but it also has a photographer in a summer dress and sunhat bludgeoning mall zombies with a cash register (how meta). The endless combinations of silly outfits, colourful characters and ridiculous weaponry constantly defuse the tension, and the game is all the better for it.


Ah, F.E.A.R. An unexpected classic, a game that took that most gung-ho of genres, the FPS, and replaced all its bombast with spooky apparitions, convincingly human and crafty AI, and a general sense of dread. Such a shame that F.E.A.R 2 decided to do away will all the spine tingling dread and replace it with Mech-Suit battles in which your miniguns and rockets mow down entire rifle brigades of enemy cannon fodder. It was fun, but it wasn’t scary. Also, and all developers need to take note of this, there comes a point when blood might as well be red paint. If you want gore to still be bothering me by the end of the game, it’s better not to inure me to it in the first five minutes.

Metro 2033
A rusting, frozen post-apocalyptic world. Dark, half-collapsed tunnels, and howling skinless mutants, radioactively booted off the evolutionary ladder at a point somewhere between animal and human. With humanity already on the brink of extinction, the stakes, setting and monsters of Metro 2033 should have combined into one terrifying whole. Maybe they did, but you’ll never notice, as you’ll spend the entire game working the bicycle pump that powers your insubstantial air gun, rather than using the real bullets that double up as currency and therefore must be saved. This tension adding concept must have looked great on paper, but in practice it knocked the game’s balance just far enough off kilter to become irritating, and that constant annoyance was enough to distract you from any potential scares on offer.

Rise of Nightmares

Our hearts were certainly pounding throughout SEGA's Rise of Nightmares but that was largely due to the frustration of trying to use Kinect to navigate those dungeons. Walking into a wall repeatedly while being chased by a blood splattered nurse, only to turn randomly and walk into her repeatedly had an almost Benny Hill feel to it. What is scary is that some people still believe that FPS games could eventually be controlled using Microsoft's clever camera. We hope it's true but based on our experience with the beasties in Eastern Europe, we have our doubts right now. (Make sure you watch the video below!).

(Photo: Pedro J. Ferreira)