This is a very intriguing topic, and I wish I had more time to respond to it thoroughly. I tend to agree with Zero Punctuation on the subject, as defined by his review of Amnesia: the Dark Descent here
. Namely, that the best way for games (and films, and books for that matter) to convey horror
in the true sense is to leave most of it up to your own imagination. Horror writers throughout the centuries, from Poe to Lovecraft to King, are well familiar with this fact. The best way to scare the bejeezus out of someone is to give them the suggestion
of the monster--a silhouette, a heavy footstep upon the stair, the sound of heavy breathing on the phone--and then let the audience's own imagination fill in the details. The reason is that whatever nightmare they come up with, without fail
, will be several orders of magnitude scarier than anything you could possibly create.
I won't disagree with Inkidu entirely, but I have played both Dead Spaces and my personal opinion is that both fail to convey horror as well as, say, Amnesia or the Silent Hill Series. It succeeds at terror
, yes (thank you, Oniya!) -- who wouldn't be terrified when a necromorph leaps out of a wall at you! -- but the gore is just so over the top, very literally in your face, that you become desensitized quickly about the second or third Necromorph and then it becomes mundane. I did enjoy the first Dead Space, but I found myself yawning throughout the second one until Isaac returned to the Ishimura
Amnesia was a wonderful little game, in that it took away entirely
any pretense of being able to fight, leaving you with just the options of (a) Run, or (b) Hide. Brilliant. However, its shortcoming was exactly that that Inkidu mentioned, in that if you died, there was no real penalty. You just started in the same place, with the same equipment you had before, ready to give it another go. In some places this makes sense--the Water Lurker levels, for example--but in the catacomb levels it robs both the horror and
the terror from the game. If you had to revert all the way to the last point at which you saved--which could have been an hour or so ago--then it would really give you a reason
to run like a headless chicken at the first glimpse of a monster.
Silent Hill 2 is upheld as one of the benchmarks of what a real horror (not terror) game should be. The interface is clunky, and the graphics are, by today's standards, primitive; but in addition to one of the most dread-inspiring, soul-withering plots I've ever seen in a computer game (which includes elements of euthanasia, child abuse, rape, infidelity, and suicide) it successfully inflicts upon the player the growing sense of existential dread that comes from realizing that, yes, the entire town--including the buildings, the houses, the streets themselves--really does
hate you. It hates you with a pervasive, alien resentment that is, for the most part, passive-aggressive; but it doesn't just want you to die, it wants you to suffer
. And it will reach into your head and pull out anything it needs to accomplish this.
The best horror scenes are those which turn the safe and familiar into the unfamiliar and threatening. The best example I can think of was in the game Resident Evil 2 (yes, Resident Evil!). As the rookie police officer Leon Kennedy, you have to navigate through the Raccoon city Police Department headquarters, now crawling with zombies and other creatures. Pretty standard fare so far. But there was this hallway that you have to run down a few times in order to access some of the other rooms; halfway down the hall the camera view changes abruptly to show you a window--a typical, ordinary window--that you have to walk past. And, when you do, absolutely nothing happens
. You shrug, keep moving, and promptly forget about it.
This happens about two or three times as you have to re-trace your route as new doors become unlocked, new paths open, etc. And then, after the fifth or sixth time of running down this hallway, you pass by this window, and--BAM! The glass shatters, and a dozen zombie hands grab onto you and try to drag you out into the street. I believe I literally screamed and fell out of my chair when that happened. I fell into the game's trap hook, line and sinker. It lulled me into a false sense of security, and then it pounced.
But, yes, I maintain that in terms of existential dread and horror, you can't beat Silent Hill. Perhaps the best line in the series is in Silent Hill 3, when Heather describes to Vincent some of the bizarre and grotesque monsters that she killed, and Vincent stares at her and says:
"Monsters? They looked like monsters
Of course, in the next breath he admits that he was only kidding; but even so, for a moment, it makes you (and Heather) draw back in horror while you consider the horrible ramifications of the statement. Pure genius.