Horror games and shinny graphics?
I’ve been playing Silent Hill 1, and as I play I keep wondering one thing. Is it mandatory for horror games to have current-gen, cutting-edge shinny graphics, or can horror games get away with not-so-great graphics?
I don’t really play all horror games out there, because I only play the ones I find interesting, or the ones people gift me. For example, I play Fatal Frame and Silent Hill because I absolutely love the series, and I recently got the HD remake of the first Resident Evil game to get a good idea of another horror classic. I loved Haunting Ground, and I’ve also played and liked Amnesia (albeit not as much as I like any of the others I’ve mentioned). Someone got me a copy of Slender: The Arrival but I completely hated it, then a copy of Outlast and I liked like the first third of it… so on and so forth, the list goes on.
Outlast is one of the better looking games I’ve played, but hasn’t caused me nearly as much horror as, say, Haunting Ground. In part because I found Outlast to be more of a “shock horror” than “real” horror (not “psychological horror,” btw, since that’s a completely different thing).
In other words: Outlast felt like the game version of “The House of 1000 Corpses” while Haunting Ground felt like the game version of “The Shinning” (crappy ending and all, heh).
And here comes Silent Hill…
It’s a rare thing when a horror game makes me say “ok, this is enough, I can’t go on” because of the feeling of uneasiness (this only happens to me in the “Otherworld” sections of the game, BTW). To be honest, I got the same feeling when I was playing the first minutes of Outlast. More specifically this part:
When I got into this room I was like “crap… I don’t want to be here, that dude is weird, that other dude is weird… and that dude is just sitting there watching the static? what the… crap… this place is horrible. I want to leave.”
If you’ve played the game, you know this was a pretty average room, meaning that it didn’t have any sort of eye-opening symbolism, weird creatures or a massive amount of corpses (I keep wondering where all those 1000’s of corpses in Outlast came from, because there were 100 times more corpses than dorms in the entire game). However, there is something about that room that made me wanna stop the game right there, and I kept thinking how cool the game was going to be.
It turns out that was the only part of the game where I felt that.
Silent Hill gives me this constant sense of dread and uneasiness that makes me not want to keep on playing. It’s definitely nothing to do with graphic fidelity and how well things in the game look, because the graphics are really bad for today’s standards; I think it’s more about the environment and the place you’re in.
Getting the obvious out of the way: it’s a combination of graphics, music, and sound. Yes. Music and Sound in Silent Hill is completely unnerving. The “music” is a constant banging on the head that adds to the whole experience.
But good music and sound usually wouldn’t help if the game looks horrible.
After thinking about this for some time, I figured maybe it had something to do with what the environment is, and what I expected it to be. It’s like two completely contrasting ideas in my head, fighting to figure out which one is right and which one is wrong.
You can always set your game in an abandoned something something, and the town of Silent Hill feels like an abandoned something something, so there’s nothing special. Until you arrive to the Otherworld (as I said above).
What I mean is this: In the Otherworld, you’re in pretty much the same place (the same town, same school, and all), however, it looks like a completely different thing. For example, you go to the school, and you’re in the school, but then something happens and it looks like you’re in hell, but you’re still at the school, and you know it because the layout is the same, the rooms are the same, but what was originally a school has turned into something completely twisted, unreal, and even hellish. At least to me, the game was playing with my expectations of what a school looks like and what that specific school looked like.
That doesn’t mean I’m advocating against cool graphics. Of course I like cool graphics as much as the next guy, and I’d completely love to see Silent Hill with modern graphics.
It just made me think that maybe horror games don’t really need those shinny graphics if they can find ways to present their ideas in a creative way. In other words, “if you can’t compete with visual fidelity, compete with style.”