Tomb Raider is ostensibly an action game, but it’s filled with an unusual amount of very specific horror imagery for an action game. It’s smart about how and when it uses these visual cues, and it’s clear that the developers understand how this kind of imagery affects us as gamers and people and even what such imagery represents within the greater context of the horror genre.
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A couple of weeks ago at the 2013 Game Developers Conference, EA showed off a 17-minute demo of the upcoming Battlefield 4. It’s unusual (but awesome) for such a substantial gameplay video to be released at the same time as a game’s official announcement, but this is also a unique situation. The demo wasn’t just showing off Battlefield 4, it was also showing off the Frostbite 3 game engine that runs Battlefield 4 and that will run most of EA’s major next-gen games. This demo was meant to show off the graphical future of all EA games.
With all that weight on its shoulders, I’m left wondering, though: “Why feature a first-person shooter?”
There’s a moment in Tomb Raider when you sneak up on two men that are arguing with one another: One of them has just killed a fellow comrade because: “He wouldn’t shut the fuck up. It was driving me crazy. Sun Queen this, Sun Queen that. All that goddamned praying and chanting. I couldn’t take it.”
“You coulda just knocked him out,” says the still living comrade, and the murderer responds, “I lost my temper. The place brings it out in me.”
That’s about when the conversation ends, and I shoot them both in the head with an arrow. It’s an instinctive action at this point. I’ve been trained to kill Solari before they see me, life is just simpler that way, but those words stick with me for the rest of the game: “The place brings it out in me.”
The combat in Crysis 3 is broken thanks to the Predator Bow. It’s a one-hit kill weapon with nearly unlimited ammo that you can shoot while camouflaged. This makes the whole game very easy, too easy for a $60 shooter. It doesn’t provide the expected level of challenge, and there’s no compelling story to make my quick progress worthwhile, yet Crysis 3 is still satisfying. I enjoy playing it, I get pleasure out of playing it, but not when I play it as a shooter. Crysis 3 is only good when I approach it as a stealth game.
This post contains spoilers for Dead Space 3.
Dead Space 3 isn’t a horror game in the traditional sense. It’s not about isolation or helplessness or any of the things people have suggested good horror should be concerned with, but there’s still an undeniable kernel of horror at its core. In the end—and only in the end—does that kernel manifest as a tricky but brilliant kind of mythic horror. Like the most memorable stories of H.P. Lovecraft, Dead Space 3 is guided by a philosophical horror that wants to remind you that mankind is insignificant compared to other forces in the universe.