Horror can be atmospheric rather than situational. Are abandoned tombs, inky black catacombs in which echo the shuffling, dragging footsteps of fleshy horrors, and the occasional giant mass of flesh, eyeballs, and tentacles glaring balefully at the player scary enough for you?
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: I have a soft spot for horror games. As a rule, I do not have a soft spot for horror films (although I’ve got a soft spot for movies with zombies in). I am fairly certain that the reason for this differing feelings about the genre lies directly in the lack of control that one has when watching a horror movie—I am totally okay with stomping around a mansion infested with zombies, because at least I’m smart enough to know that if something starts eating me alive and I don’t have any bullets left, it was my fault for being foolish with my ammunition. My problem with horror films is that I tend to spend a lot of time shouting at the characters for acting as if they are characters in a horror movie. Horror games don’t have that same baggage (except in cutscenes, at which point all bets on my shouting at the television are off), because if anyone is making a bad decision, it is probably me.
I got to thinking about horror games after reading a bunch of reviews about Dead Space 2 that complained that the Dead Space series just hasn’t been that frightening because you generally have the ammunition required to survive a situation. This, apparently, goes against the survival part of survival horror, which in turn means that to call Dead Space a horror game at all is a misnomer—except that there are other types of horror games out there. Or maybe there aren’t, and the problem is merely a definition of “survival horror” that is just too strict. I decided that the best thing to do would be to take three games, all of which I consider to be “horror games”, and see on what each relies to drive its horror element. Deciding on the three games was a bit of a trick, and I know that I will catch hell for not including a Silent Hill game in this analysis, but to be honest, I’ve yet to play any of them (I swear it’s on my list of things to play). So instead, the three games that I’ve selected are: Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness, and the game which got me thinking about this in the first place, Dead Space.