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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The best horror games to play right now

Video games are a unique medium that is well-suited for horror. But what are the best horror games out there?
Miles Dompier via Windows Central
Video games are a unique medium that is well-suited for horror. But what are the best horror games out there?

Spooky season is upon us, and many people are looking for horror media to enjoy during the time of ghouls, goblins, costumes and candy. The theaters are saturated with horror movies, “The Simpsons” is preparing to air its 34th “Treehouse of Horror,” and I would like to recommend a few horror games that I enjoy.

Video games offer an interesting opportunity for the horror genre because they have something that no other medium does: interactive audience engagement. It is the connective tissue of most games and allows for different scenarios to be presented than what might be shown in another medium.

Games can be engaging without dialogue and with minimal interaction between characters, since combat, exploration and puzzles can be used to keep the player interested. This is the approach taken by the 1996 game “Resident Evil” and its 2002 remake of the same name. The games isolate players to build up tension, preying on their loneliness to scare them, while keeping them engaged with puzzles and combat.

“Resident Evil” is often referred to as the birthplace of survival horror, a genre based on the aforementioned pillars of exploration, combat and puzzles. The game takes place in a vast, maze-like mansion, with the player taking on the role of a lone officer in the S.T.A.R.S. search and rescue unit. Separated from your comrades, you are forced to escape the mansion alone while also avoiding contact with its inhabitants –zombies, mutant plants, mutant animals and giant insects.

A central piece of “Resident Evil’s” original core gameplay was resource management. Combat was less about reflexes and more of a puzzle, and the player was forced to conserve a limited amount of ammunition and medicine. Exploration was made more tense by the presence of powerful enemies and the game’s unconventional control scheme, which presented a choice between expending valuable resources to make an area safer or awkwardly navigating past an enemy, risking damage but saving ammo for boss fights.

These elements formed the foundation for the original, its first two sequels, and a myriad of other horror franchises, few of which achieved the same level of success as “Resident Evil.” But after those first two sequels, the formula for these games was becoming stale, and the team at Capcom decided to reinvent the series – same characters, same developers, completely different game. Thus, “Resident Evil 4” was born, and the gaming world was changed forever.

While the original trilogy of “Resident Evil” titles were survival horror games, “Resident Evil 4” is a pure action game, and the game that invented the modern style of third-person shooters. The gameplay is still tense, with resource management and positioning remaining the core elements of combat, but these elements are used to conjure up different emotions.

Many people argue that “4” is not a true horror game because its focus is on action rather than terror, but I think that the tension created by the desperate “backed into a corner” moments of its more stressful combat scenarios creates an adrenaline rush that rivals the scares of the first game in the series.

In addition to its combat, “Resident Evil 4” also presents a much more interesting story than the original trilogy – not necessarily a compelling or smart one, but much more entertaining and silly. You play as Leon S. Kennedy, the protagonist of “Resident Evil 2,” formerly a rookie cop, now a secret service agent tasked with rescuing the president’s daughter from a cult in Spain. Their mission? To infect her with a mind-control parasite and send her back to the U.S. where she can convince her father to give the cult more money. 

It’s a stupid premise, but it’s very funny, and the game gets progressively stranger as it goes on, with some bizarre poorly written dialogue in the second half that never fails to make me laugh. But as silly as the story is, it is never so at odds with the gameplay that it reduces the tension of combat encounters.

I love “Resident Evil 4,” and if you’re looking for an experience that has the tension of a horror movie, but that is more fun than scary, I would highly recommend it.

The last game I want to talk about is called “Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs,” which on its own is an amazing name. Like “Resident Evil,” much of the horror in this game comes from isolation. The player is left alone in a vast Victorian estate, solving puzzles and avoiding half-pig, half-human monsters as they descend deep into the mansion’s industrial underbelly.

But unlike “Resident Evil,” tension is not produced through combat or resource management. The game features no combat at all, in fact, and forces the player to run and hide from threats rather than engage them head-on.

The story is the primary motivation in “Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs” – more so than the few brief puzzles or monster encounters. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this game’s ending had a huge emotional impact on me when I first played it, and I still think about it a lot.

Basically, the core of this game’s story is centered around this question: Are humans more valuable than the suffering we inflict on each other? If this sounds like an interesting concept to you, I recommend giving this game a shot. It’s just as scary as “Resident Evil,” but is much smarter and more subtle than both of my previous recommendations.

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    Sarah Frances Frances JarrattNov 8, 2023 at 10:41 am

    Great job, Grady!