Each month the Cinelinx staff will write a handful of articles covering a specified video game-related topic. These articles will be notified by the Gamerlinx banner. Gamerlinx, like our Movielinx counterpart, is an exploration and discussion of our personal connections with the world of gaming. This month our Gamer’s Club is putting the spotlight on Horror Games, so for Gamerlinx we wanted take a look at the best and worst games to play this Halloween season!
Everyone knows I’m a weenie when it comes to the Horror genre in general. This isn’t limited to only movies, but also extends to the video game sphere. In fact, there are times I would argue I’m more terrified in a game because I’m the one having to force myself to keep moving forward! It’s not like a movie in which you have no control over what happens, though in some games this has helped alleviate the fear factor.
Despite my horror-squeamishness, it’s impossible to NOT fall in love with The Last of Us (which I literally just finished another playthrough for the Remastered version). While many gamers now reflect more about the game’s emotional impact and overall story, it’s important to remember that at several points, the game is downright creepy! The first encounter with the infected and hearing the Clickers is an experience that still resonates with me as a defining moment in the game.
While the game features a few “jump scares” every now and then, that’s not what Last of Us relies on in order to bring the goods. TLOU is all about atmosphere. The feelings you have on walking into a new area and exploring different aspects of the decrepit post-apocalyptic world, is what drives the creepy feeling. The game practically oozes a spooky vibe, with each new area bringing it’s own unique feel to it, making you wonder what sinister things could possibly lie within.
One of my favorite moments in the game, is when Joel and Ellie (along with a pair of other survivors) stumble upon an abandoned “village” underneath the the ground in a city water/sewage system. The lead-up to this is interesting as you find notes of a survivor who’s been at sea and comes ashore when his supplies run out. While hiding out in the sewers he comes across more people and, despite his reservations, manages to create a society of survivors, including a school for kids. All this is revealed in scattered notes and from your own observations (very clever storytelling going on).
It’s obvious, however, that something went horribly wrong. As you enter the underworld “village” it’s clearly abandoned, inferring that something bad took place. This alone heightens the fear level since you have no idea where everyone went, and why this place, which seemed thriving, went under. You can guess as to what happened, but that only puts you more on edge. As you continue to explore, the full picture comes into view.
While having to face down the now infected inhabitants of the society is scaring in it’s own right, it’s the fate of these people (who you’ve never met) that will haunt you long after you leave the area. Knowing that these were good people, people who tried to live better in a society that’d gone to Hell, and trying to educate children and give them a chance at “normalcy”, but all of it was wiped away by one open door…That’s the kind of thing that stays with you. It’s a chilling reminder of the harshness of the world around you in the game, and that the stakes are higher than ever.
The sound design plays into all of this nicely as well, and not just on this particular scene. Oftentimes the barest whisper of a sound, hinting that infected are nearby, or lurking just around the corner is enough to get your heart racing. This audio atmosphere is present in every location throughout the game. While oftentimes they turn out to be nothing you have to deal with (like animals), they still serve to keep the tension level high. So high in fact, that you feel genuine fear about what could be coming up, and a great sense of relief if nothing comes of it.
This ever-present threat of danger, crafted from the game’s atmosphere is where the true genius of The Last of Us comes into play. Beyond that, however, the game’s mechanics does a great job of making you feel as though you’re in a constant life or death struggle. So many post-apocalyptic, or zombie, games put you in the role of a lone badass who’s able to handle anything that happens with style and ease. Some games take it even further (like Dead Rising) and challenge gamers to find the most unique and awesome ways to dispatch your enemies. The point being, there’s no sense of “dire straits” in most games along these lines.
The Last of Us makes every encounter feel threatening and significant. Supplies are in short supply, and going into a situation guns blazing will not work out (though it can in the later sections by saving smart) and you’ll find yourself out of the item you need, right when you need it most. The game forces you to play smarter than that, making you analyze each situation to determine if it’s worth expending resources on or not.
This constant resource management adds another layer of tension from the mechanical level. More importantly, it put me (the player) in a position of thinking in terms of survival. I felt some serious panic when I was facing down a group of enemies coming my way, and I suddenly found myself out of ammo or supplies to craft the necessary weapon. It only happened to a me a few times in my second playthrough, but when it happened, the fear was legitimate.
Coupling this with the emotional appeal of the characters and you have a sense of immersion not present in many other games. I can’t tell you the last time I so thoroughly put myself in the mindset of the characters in order to play through the game. I know one of the biggest complaints about The Last of Us was it’s simple gameplay mechanics. While they are relatively simple, that’s not the point. The game is designed to make you play in a different way than you normally do; bringing depth to an outwardly simplistic system.
The Last of Us as a horror title hits you from a variety of angles. From the survival aspect of scrounging for supplies and struggling to make it through every encounter, to the horrifying enemies you face down, and the amazing atmosphere throughout. All of these elements work towards one goal: to provide genuine and long-lasting thrills and scares based on the experiences you’re put through. So if you’re looking to get spooky and frightened this Halloween season, I can’t think of a better game for you to play.