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Thoughts on Resident Evil 7 and the Genre of Horror
Posted: Posted May 10th
Edited May 10th by Laxan

I've been playing Resident Evil 7 on PS4 with my best friend and we're about to reach the end, I believe. It's been an enjoyable time, but also frustrating. We can tell that Capcom is really trying to capture the essence of horror. It's miles of tension and scares above its predecessors, even against the almighty yet cartoon-like Resident Evil 4. And that's why it's a tad disappointing; an exercise in frustration.

Some glaring issues are the enemies. Many have been too much of a hassle to kill. When you do attempt to kill a plethora of enemies and end up dying repeatedly because you're running low on ammo or just cannot get a grasp on how to properly finish off an enemy due to their constant contorted movements of the body (not to mention apparent invincibility frames after taking a shot), it seems optimal to run. Unfortunately, many enemies seem to block your path forward and so cannot be bypassed by running. We have discovered that enemies will vanish and sometimes not reappear when you run back and then return a moment later. This, however, isn't scary enemy design. It is frustrating. That you can neither kill the enemies reasonably without dying or at least run away from them to continue forward is telling of their flawed designs. Dying repeatedly on boss battles is much the same in creating frustration rather than scares.

The redneck atmosphere just doesn't do it for me. Now, I'm sure the Japanese are frightened by low-intelligence over here in the States as much as the next educated fella. But for someone like myself who lives close enough to these white trash hicks to smell the unchanged diapers and beer accompanied by KFC, it just isn't a scary tone to go for. It kind of reminds me of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But it's not quite creepy or disturbed enough. This may be a personal nitpick, though.

The art direction seems lacking. I commend Capcom for taking a stab at true horror instead of cheap action thrills that RE had become known for, but something seems missing. It could be the first person perspective, but I'm not so sure. P.T. was amazing and probably the scariest thing I ever played while retaining a first person gameplay setting. Speaking of P.T....

I got to thinking about the state of horror games. Is this truly the highlight of the genre today? I've seen a lot of praised horror games released today, but none seem to come close to a sincerely terrifying experience. What happened to the incredible atmosphere of the days of Silent Hill? Why have developers failed to follow the standard set by Silent Hill 3, the greatest horror game ever made (from my playing experience), for great horror in video games?

I know I'm gushing over the Silent Hill games, but that franchise should be the blueprint for great psychological horror, which RE7 seems to be attempting to go for (or at least a cash in on P.T., the precursor to the cancelled Silent Hills game to be directed by Hideo Kojima....therefore most likely would have been the greatest horror game ever made). I mean, even save points are scarier in Silent Hill 3! You gotta make even save points filled with horrifying tension somehow!

Anyway, RE7 isn't an unpolished or even bad game. It just isn't hitting the psychological horror nerves that I crave and felt with SH, SH3 and P.T.

Perhaps my best friend and I will become successful enough in the gaming industry to create our own horror title someday....

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There are 5 Replies

Can't say I personally had that problem with enemies. I never really found them all that much trouble, in terms of how to kill them. Unless we're talking about the bosses. Some of them I was not super into. Mainly because I don't think the slower gameplay style lent itself to "boss battles" like that. But for the "common enemies" that make up the bulk of it, I thought they were fine.

Dying because you might be running low on ammo is sort of the point of "survival horror." A lack of resources increases the tension. Ammo can be pretty scarce, so you best make sure your shots count. I quite like that aspect of it, and when I died because I ran out of ammo, I felt frustrated at myself for not taking my time to line them up. I don't think I ever really felt frustrated at the game. I also don't know that being able to just run by enemies is particularly smart design for a horror game, and having them disappear after a while definitely feels kind of silly to me. I feel like it would have been less tense or scary to know that I could just avoid them altogether. Knowing that I have to take them out, with a limited amount of resources really increases the tension for me, at least. I appreciate that they seemed to very deliberately design enemy encounters. It allows them to create a specific experience to maximize the horror of one's first playthrough.

That also serves as the downside, of course. The problem with a game like RE7 where enemies spawn at the same points every time is that it's really only scary once. An enemy pops out of the ceiling while you're in the basement, you're caught off guard and struggling to readjust. But if you die and have to do that part over again, well, you know it's coming and you can prepare for it. Makes it easier, and the scare is gone. That's why I sort of prefer something like the xenomorph in Alien: Isolation. Not knowing when or where exactly it will appear means that replaying a certain stretch never feels identical. The second time through a section is just as tense to me as the first.

The setting is just going to be about personal preference. I found the house secluded in the bayou to be a great horror location, and the Baker family's brand of crazy intimidating. Things fell apart for me when they got to the ship and had more of an industrial setting. (That's also where the game picked up its pacing and became more of an action shooter, which I think also sort of fails in the face of its slower gameplay design.) I appreciated the western/eastern hybrid of horror aesthetics.

I think one thing to keep in mind when you chastise "horror games" overall is just that not everything is trying to be a psychological horror. Horror works when it gets in your head, but that doesn't inherently fit it into a "psychological horror" genre. (For reference, "The Shining" isn't horror in the same vein that, say, "Friday the 13th" is. The former would definitely be an example of "psychological horror" though.) "PT," in my opinion, straddles that line. It starts off as psychological horror, but definitely includes plenty of classic horror or ghost horror/jump scare horror elements throughout. (I partially love it because it mixes elements of different horror styles.) And that criticism is entirely predicated on personal preference. Things that you don't find freaky might be things other people do. Referencing movies again, I know a ton of people who thought "It Follows" (another psychological horror film) was really scary. I thought it had moments, and while I loved the film overall, didn't often find it scary.

I recently played Oxenfree, which isn't really a "horror" game, but has horror elements to it. It's a little indie 2D cartoon-ish choice-based game, but I found the way it utilized sound design really went a long way to make me feel surprisingly uneasy throughout. I love shit like that. Sound design is huge for horror. That's an element I found a bit lacking in RE7 (especially compared to, say, PT.)

Posted May 11th by Jet Presto
Jet Presto

I'm going to preface this by saying that my opinion isn't the most solid, as I've not played REVII myself, but I have watched multiple people do full playthroughs of it.

The redneck atmosphere just doesn't do it for me. Now, I'm sure the Japanese are frightened by low-intelligence over here in the States as much as the next educated fella. But for someone like myself who lives close enough to these white trash hicks to smell the unchanged diapers and beer accompanied by KFC, it just isn't a scary tone to go for. It kind of reminds me of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But it's not quite creepy or disturbed enough. This may be a personal nitpick, though.


I feel somewhat similarly. There's a familiarity to the scenery that I don't find conducive to the intended experience. There's not enough about it that's "off" in order to make the atmosphere threatening. Dark woods and run-down houses are part of my everyday life.

I got to thinking about the state of horror games. Is this truly the highlight of the genre today?


Essentially, yes. Before that, it was Outlast. Before that, it was Amnesia. The horror genre is suffering and it doesn't seem like we get more than one game at a time (at least is terms of games that people recognize as at least decent).

The three scariest games that I've played that were released in this decade were DayZ, imscared and Cry of Fear. None of these made it big. DayZ made a run at it, but they didn't get their shit together in time and then the battle royale clones swooped in with a more marketable design and everyone stopped caring about DayZ. imscared had "bad graphics", so no-one cared, even though it did the metafictional horror theme much better than more successful games that got released afterward. Cry of Fear was some Swedish guy's Sourcemod game, so no-one cared, even though the atmosphere was impeccably crafted.

The culture has evolved out of caring for good horror games. DayZ was hard and complex as shit, besides being completely emergent in narrative, all of which constituted a significant barrier to entry. imscared was lightweight in order to facilitate the metafiction aspect, so the graphics were minimal and not attractive to casuals. Cry of Fear was a foreign mod for a game that only the crustiest of the PC master race (and random Brazilians) still play, so it got little exposure.

The industry is driven a lot more by internet entertainers now. Stuff that facilitates content creation tends to be the stuff that content gets made of (duh), so exposure tends to be higher for stuff that's faster-paced and easier to understand - stuff that puts on a good show. Putting on a good show is not the essence of horror. It's easier to understand the situation when you see that a burly naked guy with a machete is running at you, but there's a lot less of an opportunity to evoke a sense of confusion, mystery or numinous fear.

Posted May 11th by nullfather
nullfather

The normal enemies became easier to kill with practice, but the constant deaths made it feel more frustrating than scary in the early hours. I feel the way the molds move made us miss a ton of shots, thus felt like we were wasting ammo when they could have moved in a less jagged form but remained intimidating. It just felt too awkward to shoot enemies for video game standards. And I know that having limited ammo IS the point of survival horror (big Silent Hill fan here). But when you feel the game itself is making you waste ammo on enemies instead of it being the fault of your own, it comes across as clumsy. Going back to SH as an example, when you would leave a room and come back, enemies would generally have been moving about in the room and would not generate in the same spot....which RE7 does. It's not scary when the game spawns enemies like that. The lack of enemy variety doesn't help things.

Sound design IS part of the problem, yes. Maybe RE8 will improve on this aspect. I DO like what Capcom is going for. It just needs to live up to higher standards of horror in my opinion.

I have been planning to pick up Alien: Isolation.

The greatest horror is psychological horror, though. That's why I specifically seek it in these kind of games, and RE7 did not fully deliver on that front. When a game can mess with your mind and disturb your senses to the point where you have to put the controller down or you literally defecate--THAT is when a game has achieved true terror in my mind. I know horror can be deemed scary or un-scary on a person-by-person basis depending on whatever a specific game is going for (like, I think Resident Evil 1 through 3 are not scary in the slightest). But I believe psychological horror trumps them all in terms of truly scaring players. I want to play these games to experience terror, not just play a fun video game.

To put it lewdly, if I'm not pissing myself in fear, the game has failed to scare me and I'm left disappointed. I want terror, dang it!

Speaking of 2D, Lone Survivor: Director's Cut is supposed to be a great 2D horror game. Any recommendations?

I checked out DayZ and I'm not sure that's what I'm seeking in terms of horror. It seems to depend on other players to make the situations intense, yes?

What about those other two games? Are they worth looking into?

Is Amnesia: The Dark Descent really worthy of all the hype? I've seen clips and the castle setting is kind of...eh. It might be the art style. It could be one of those games you just have to play to understand. I guess it just didn't look that scary to me.

I've got my eye on this Agony horror game, but I'm doubting it will actually be scary. Plenty of nudity, though! Bleh!

Edited May 11th by Laxan
Laxan
 

I checked out DayZ and I'm not sure that's what I'm seeking in terms of horror. It seems to depend on other players to make the situations intense, yes?


It's a little complicated, because it does rely on the presence of other players but only to a very certain extent. The optimal experience in DayZ (at least in my opinion) is mainly lonely, with the occasional human player appearing out of the woodwork as if they were a boss fight. There's a lot of elements in DayZ that don't work in the "run to the center of the map and fight everyone" style of a battle royale game. DayZ is essentially a large-scale survival horror game and thus requires a slower build of tension in order to understand exactly how fucked you are in terms of food, water, ammunition, medical supplies, etc. I certainly have played on empty servers and the tension is mostly maintained, but without at least one other player, there's no possibility of the big bomb dropping: finally seeing another intelligent being - and they want you to die.

What about those other two games? Are they worth looking into?


I would definitely recommend both of them. imscared is cheap and relatively short, so it doesn't require a lot of investment compared to the interesting ideas that it presents. Cry of Fear is straight-up free and actually pretty similar in gameplay style to REVII.

Is Amnesia: The Dark Descent really worthy of all the hype?


I don't know. I played it for a little bit, but I generally don't like games where you can't fight back against anything in even a token fashion. I dropped it pretty quickly.

I've got my eye on this Agony horror game, but I'm doubting it will actually be scary. Plenty of nudity, though! Bleh!


It doesn't look scary to me, but I generally like the art style anyway.

Wait, there's nudity in it? Now I'm more interested.

Posted May 11th by nullfather
nullfather

To put it lewdly, if I'm not pissing myself in fear, the game has failed to scare me and I'm left disappointed. I want terror, dang it!


I mean, this is sort of the tricky thing about horror games. The benefit to something like "PT" being a short demo-type experience was that, provided you know how to solve the puzzles, the experience can take less than an hour. People pick up "PT" and play it in one sitting. A full video game like RE7 is a bit different. It's comparatively short by video game standards - I think I beat it in about 8 or 9 hours? - but that's still far longer than a film, or even one of those extreme haunted houses. Designers of video games generally want people to keep playing the game. I can get through "PT" (which I adore above almost anything else horror-related) because it's short. But I'm not going to lie: if "PT" were a 10 hour game, I would almost certainly never finish it. I would play it for a day or two, then put it down and almost never pick it up again.

Kojima talked about this, if I remember correctly. The idea that he could cram as much as he wanted to make "PT" the most horrifying thing he could because he didn't have to worry about keeping players engaged. It might not be something you are particularly interested in, but it's pretty fair for designers to approach it through that lens.

(I also like feeling unsettled as well. So if a game is just trying to make me piss in terror, I'm not going to be inclined to like that game very much. Seems a bit odd to be praising the virtues of psychological horror while saying that if you're not pissing your pants, it's failed.)

Posted May 11th by Jet Presto
Jet Presto
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