They Don't Make Horror Games Like They Used To
With the advancement of technology and ever modernization of computers, game developers now have the means to create greater and more complex games than say 10 to 15 years ago, and this has benefited long standing games like Zelda, Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear in numerous ways; creating something that is immensely enjoyable for people to play.
Unfortunately with every passing year, the horror genre continuously declines to the point that most of the new releases are simply not even "horror" in essence anymore and begs the question: Why don't developers make good horror games anymore?
Powerful systems and a lack of creativity
The problem is not the capability of modern day technology, but the lack of ideas and creativity to utilize this. I remember reading a while back that the iconic Silent Hill's "eternal fog" setting was actually due to the developers attempting to overcome the Playstation's hardware limitation when it came to rendering the entire town's open space.
The developer, KCET, decided to place the fog in order to mask areas of the game that are being loaded with the dense fog, which in turn help with the game's FPS and its setting.
Now our PCs are very powerful, but the developers simply do not step up to the plate and utilize it to create something more enriching. They simply stick to well used, or rather, overused ideas such as darkness, mist, the same combat system, the same enemy types repeatedly instead of creating something new and exciting.
Yes, graphics. While it may be the key element that allowed games like Battlefield, Call of Duty, Heavy Rain, Uncharted and so many other games to thrive with their realistic graphics, keep in mind that the creation of these high-end graphics take a very long time.
In the words of a publisher it means more money spent, which also means more money should be earned and anyone who truly loves horror also knows that this is not the most profitable genre in any platform, not just in games.
While graphics don't solely affect horror games, it does hit it the hardest, if you're asking why, then it's because great horror games rely on more than just realism, it needs to play with your head. A good example of this is the Silent Hill series, which used to rely on a creeping fear of what's beyond what you can currently see, but now with the advancement of graphics, horror games are leaning more towards the "Action" side in order to reel more people into playing their games.
The butter of video games, the thing that makes you play a game no matter how horrible or glitchy it is. Unfortunately, this is something that horror games have been amazing at... ignoring, that is. Time and time again, I find myself purchasing a horror game with the same story, except with different names for monsters or bosses, just take a look at zombie themed horror games *cough* Resident Evil *cough* while I seriously did enjoy the first few with their amazing atmosphere and a constant fear of death, lately all the stories have been the same:
Someone is sent/goes to some City/Country and all of a sudden it turns into zombie breeding ground
What's sad about this is that a lot of games have been released and all of them have followed the same story formula, something that is a constant plague in horror games, they always follow a story that they know will work and they will keep rebuilding this story over and over and over again until people either just get tired of them or they find some other more profitable shooter game.
This is exactly the reason why I've always loved small indie horror games like Ib and Corpse Party or a better graphic variant, Amnesia, the creator of each of these games were not afraid to create a new plot for their game, which is sometimes, something small like changing the location.
If the story is the butter, then this is the bread video games. A good solid gameplay mechanic can create tension just as easily as sound effects and atmosphere can, sometimes it can even do it better, which is exactly the problem that I keep finding in most horror games that I've played in the past 5 years, you are way too powerful in the universe.
You have every means to kill every creature that you may chance upon, it doesn't matter if you only have a knife, you will be able to kill it and this is something damning in a horror game, you just aren't going to fear something that you know you can kill anytime. Games like Amnesia and Siren on the other hand, knows how to keep you terrified and with your back against the wall by utilizing polished and well planned battle systems (Siren) or just completely removing them in order to make you feel more vulnerable in the environment.
The failure of the current generation of Silent Hill, Resident Evil and other like games is that they try too hard to cater to all gamers that they are completely destroying the horror essence of the game by throwing in too much combat and letting people think "Oh, I can just kill it." instead of "Oh, I can kill it, but should I?" Plus this also ruins the atmosphere, something that's very apparent in Resident Evil 6, where the ridiculous amount of shooting, constantly drowns out the tension that you receive from the background music.
Spoiler alert, publishers! Guns do not make me feel vulnerable and afraid, it makes me feel powerful against that horde of zombies.
I am a huge fan of horror, but I also often find that the moments before you actually see the ghost or the monster are actually the most terrifying moments of playing that particular game, however, once the "evil" actually shows itself, it always turns the experience a bit sour for me. While I do love Amnesia and its amazing atmosphere, my very first meeting with a gatherer was, disappointing, the creature didn't scare me at all, in fact I laughed when I saw it which of course caused a game over for me.
The creatures are supposed to be terrifying, grotesque or simply something unbearable to look at, while this doesn't necessarily have to be Silent Hill level monstrosities , it does help if there is something extremely disturbing about them, such as the Regenerators and Crimson Heads of Resident Evil or the Long Armed Man of Fatal Frame. Common Zombies and Ghost simply do not follow up on any tension which may have been created prior to the creature itself appearing, which also causes gamers to lose a large amount of fear while playing the game.
While there are a lot of horror games out there which have disappointed me and have sometimes been less scary than games which aren't even supposed to be horror games, I'm still very much a horror fan and am still looking forward to more horror games in the future. After all there are some promising titles for this year, Before Dawn is something that I'd very much like to see and I hope that it won't disappoint.
Let's just hope that the titles that we've all played since childhood would finally pick up themselves from whatever pit they've been thrown in. I'm looking at you Konami.