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It’s about time: horror games are making a comeback

Wednesday, 20th August 2014 08:46 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Silent Hills – is horror making a comeback? We’re delighted to think so.

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Have you played P.T., the “playable teaser” available on the PlayStation 4?

The free demo was announced during Sony’s gamescom 2014 conference, and was later found to be a stealth announcement for Silent Hills, a game by Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima and filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, starring The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus.

I am slightly in awe of the gamers who discovered this on their own (Twitch streamer Soapywarpig is believed to have been one of the very first; watch her playthrough here). Not just because P.T. is a bit opaque, failing to give you the command prompts you need to uncover its secrets – but also because it’s terrifying.

As soon as the secret inside P.T. went public, my Twitter exploded. A friend I respect began by sneering at the collaboration and deriding Silent Hill as a franchise past saving – and bare hours later was back online swearing up and down that Silent Hills will be incredible.

A colleague of mine who is well-known for enjoying horror confessed to me, in a private message, that P.T. had made them scream. Another told me flatly they’d loaded it, played for a minute, and then deleted the file in terror.

This trailer for P.T. really didn’t give much away.

If you’re the sort of person who loves boasting about how horror never scares you, then no doubt you’re running off to the comments already to wave your dick about. For everyone else, who actively buys into scary things because being scared is the point, let’s talk about how traumatised we are.

P.T. is very bare bones (a walking simulator, if you’re one of those dull people that think every game needs “real mechanics” to entertain). It’s a first person game set in an empty house. All you can do – as far as you know at the beginning – is move, and look.

I think, thanks to years of third-person games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Dead Space and more, that we had forgotten just how deeply frightening first-person perspective can be. The limited field of view. The restriction on how fast you can turn your view. These are tension providers.

Playing Gone Home – which is not a horror game, but which can be very frightening in the same way that wandering a strange empty house at night can be very frightening – reminded me how scary first-person perspective can be. But we should never have forgotten. There’s a whole generation of PC gamers with thumbprints on their hearts, left there by the careless moulding of System Shock.

This is where I gave up on Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and spent a week sobbing.

It’s amusing, in a bitter way, that one of the more common negative reactions to P.T.’s position as a Silent Hills teaser argue that first-person doesn’t suit the series. I think it does. Much more than Resident Evil, which has always had guns as a primary problem solving tool (after “just run past them, wevs”), Silent Hill is about exploration and problem solving. There’s no reason why that can’t be done in first person, and the powerful effect of P.T. proves that, I think.

That it’s a reboot is another sore point for fans, but I personally am not against reboots; they don’t take anything away from the old canon, but they give some core ideas a chance to be overhauled rather than just die off completely. It’s hard to nail down what makes Silent Hill so special. I’d argue that it’s the densely-packed psychological themes; here’s a really great reading of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories that unpacks its themes in such a way that this red-headed stepchild suddenly becomes one of the most interesting releases in a series packed full of reasons for intrigue.

I think Kojima and del Toro have nailed whatever it is, though. (Some fans seem to agree, unpacking the teaser for clues tying it to the greater franchise.) It’s not just the echoed and subverted franchise themes (the radio news focusing on the violence of fathers against their children, for example), but the deep sense of the unknown. You learn the rules quickly. You know vaguely what’s ahead. But you can never predict what form it will take, and when it comes, it reaches into your guts and squeezes.

And here’s me similarly giving up on Daylight. People find this amusing. Bastardi.

P.T. scared the fuck out of me; I’m not ashamed to admit it. I loved it, and I can’t wait to play Silent Hills – in short bursts. In daylight. With friends.

I think plenty of people feel the same, and I think it’s obvious – from the names attached, from the production values of the demo – that Konami is throwing huge resources at it. I feel that Silent Hills might be just what we’re constantly begging for in comment threads – a genuinely scary mainstream horror game. Certainly Kojima wants you to shit your pants over it.

I say “mainstream” because there are loads of alternative scares out there. As with every major gaming trend of the past decade or more, indies led the way. Amnesia: The Dark Descent was one of a small bunch of terrifying games that helped revitalise interest in a genre stymied by soulless, big-budget sequels (looking at you, Capcom) and it was followed by a minor snowball effect, so that quite recently we’ve had games like Daylight and Outlast, among others.

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Now that’s what I’m talking about. Old school boyeeeeeee!

Now, mainstream horror is catching up. If it lives up to its potential, Silent Hills could be just the kick up the bum the industry needs to realise it doesn’t have to water horror down with gunplay in order to sell to action fans.

Bethesda has thrown the bank at The Evil Within, the elevator pitch of which is “creator of Resident Evil makes the game he couldn’t make at Capcom”. Sony is in on the movement, with Until Dawn, and if the Creative Assembly delivers on its promise that Alien: Isolation will be scary as all heck I think we can chalk it up under the same trend.

Even Capcom, which I constantly refer to as “that dinosaur”, seems to have raised its doddering nose to the wind and smelled which way it’s blowing at long last. Resident Evil 7 remains firmly unannounced, and instead the publisher is doing a remake of Resident Evil (the original game with graphics that don’t make your eyes bleed! Exactly what we’ve always wanted) and, apparently, a sequel to Resident Evil: Revelations, a game which shocked us by being really rather good.

Let these projects be the first of – if not many, than some decently terrifying mainstream horror titles, which is a great deal more than we’ve had for a while. We’re ready.

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