What makes an effective horror game? What is it about titles like Darkwood, Resident Evil 7 or the timeless classic Silent Hill 2 that make our toes curl and keep us watching our backs hours after we’ve put down the controller?
Horror games – good ones, anyway – are all about making the player feel weak. Monstrous beasts lose their impact when you can blow off their head. Think of Resident Evil 6, which was essentially a zombie shooter with the Resident Evil name slapped on it. Then consider how you tense whenever hearing the ominous clicking of the infected in The Last of Us – you know that if you get caught, you may well be screwed.
But monsters and how you fight them are only part of the story. Some of the best horror titles will make you feel so alone that if you were to scream, you’re acutely aware that no one would hear you. This is done best when the environment closes in on you. Darkwood’s pitch black forest, with only a small cone of light for vision, does this perfectly. Or Resident Evil 7’s abandoned plantation. Even when you do meet people in these environments, they are madly aggressive, or as weak and helpless as you are, only adding to the hopelessness of your situation. It’s being left on your own, amidst the dark, knowing you might well be too weak to fight, that truly makes a great horror title.