Experienced Points: Why Did Silent Hill 2 Work So Well?

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Oct 31, 2018

Filed under: Column 63 comments

My Escapist column this week is yet another nudge to an industry that has forgotten how to make psychological Japanese horror. This is particularly frustrating to me because I dig character-driven stuff, I love mind-bending stories, and I really appreciate a game capable of creating a sense of foreboding dread.

At the same time I don’t have a lot of patience for overly convoluted lore, I hate straightforward “defeat the bad guys” style stories in my horror, I’m sick to death of action schlock, and I despise jump scares. This industry doesn’t put out a lot of horror titles, but when they do they work hard to make sure it’s the opposite of everything I might be interested in.

Before you jump in with, “Ah-ha! Shamus, clearly you haven’t played X!”, note that I address this at the end of the article. When Amnesia: The Dark Descent come out and made a big splash, I went poking through other horror titles coming out of the indie scene. I found a lot of attempted imitations, but I never found anything particularly good. Maybe I just had bad luck, but after wasting money on several duds I concluded I was panning for gold in a landfill and gave up.

I’ll admit I’m incredibly picky when it comes to horror games.

  • I don’t want the game to kill me constantly because that shatters the mood and makes it less scary. At the same time, I want there to be some sort of real threat of failure and not just a bunch of toothless spooky noises.
  • I prefer supernatural, unknowable threats to well-defined ones. This means I think an angry spirit is more frightening than a dude with a gun. At the same time, I don’t want the story to be completely vague about what the evil force wants and what it can do, to the point where it all feels arbitrary.
  • I want there to be an interesting story or premise to explain what this supernatural hocus-pocus is, but I don’t want the game to bury me in ten minutes of backstory and lore.
  • I want the main character to be isolated and alone, which means I don’t want them to have some buddy character helping them out. At the same time, it would be nice if they had someone to talk to once in a while so we can see what makes our character tick.
  • I don’t want some overproduced showcase of cutting-edge rendering techniques, high detail, and massive draw distances. The world should be a little surreal, a little fuzzy, and a bit hard to comprehend. At the same time, it would be great if it didn’t look like the invasion of PlayStation 1 potato people.
  • If we’re going to have combat, then it shouldn’t be empowering and fun. At the same time, it shouldn’t be clunky and frustrating. Good luck finding the sweet spot between those two.

Am I being reasonable? Probably not. But that’s what I’m looking for.

Happy Halloween!


From The Archives:

63 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Why Did Silent Hill 2 Work So Well?

  1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    In the article you posit that Silent Hill 2 partly worked so much because that’s what most of us westerners discovered first, but as someone who discovered all Silent Hill games at the same time much later on, I can tell that no, SH2 really is special. It’s a bit of lightning in the bottle since everything makes the ambiance work, including its flaws, like the awkward voice acting. The only problem is that it’s a slog that puts off most people, and pays off at the end…

    The closest experience I had to SH2 was Detention. It checks the good boxes, it’s unsettling Asian horror overlaying a very personal and tragic story, top notch environmental storytelling instead of lore dumps and jump scares, a normal world giving way to horror and madness little by little… I strongly recommend it.

  2. JDMM says:

    You played Alien Isolation? It doesn’t tick all of those boxes (the Alien is pretty well defined) but it does tick some of them and some are mind-dependent (the 1970’s sci-fi aesthetic could give you a feeling of something surreal and odd or you could just think it’s too clean and crisp)

    If we’re going to have combat, then it shouldn’t be empowering and fun. At the same time, it shouldn’t be clunky and frustrating. Good luck finding the sweet spot between those two.

    It doesn’t strike me as too difficult, just make every encounter cost. I remember people saying Dead Space I was only scary on hard because on hard the cost of every encounter was tipping to the point that you didn’t necessarily want to fight because you only have so much medpacs and bullets

  3. Asdasd says:

    I don’t think it meets your criteria exactly, but I played this little indie game called Mad Father that I thought was pretty good.

    It’s a very small scale survival horror with a pretty good story. The low fidelity vibe was perfect for me because while I like to be spooked as much as the next person, I really hate gratuitous torture porn, can’t stand when edgelord storytellers get license to wallow in human suffering for scene after scene, and can’t see the point in endless jump scares, all of which seem to be synonymous with big budget horror.

    1. MelfinatheBlue says:

      Ooh, looks cool. And double ooh, on sale.

      Thanks for the rec, now I have a nifty new game to look forward to!

  4. KotBasil says:

    I think the last horror game what was to my liking was Lone Survivor. Far from perfect, but it really reminded me of the best parts of Silent Hill 4 (I still consider this game to be underappreciated part of SH series).

    1. Nessus says:

      Silent Hill 4 is definitely one of the “good” SH games, and it is unfairly underappreciated/unremembered.

      2, 3, and 4 are the “holy trinity” of the SH franchise, IMO. 2 had those psychological character themes. 3 had the strongest atmosphere & visual design, and solidified/defined the art style of the franchise.

      4 threw a lot of people with how it changed things up, but it has a quality of really accurately capturing the feel and logic of the kind of nightmares one has while sick. It kind of sneaks up on you: at first it just feels different for the sake of different, but over a few sessions it percolates your brain, and continues to pickle in your memory long after you’ve finished the game. The way it feels in your memory later feels uncannily like remembering a particularly humid nightmare.

      1. Mattias42 says:

        Never got the backlash against 4, myself.

        The idea of your home just spontaneously closing off and swallowing you is immensely creepy all on its own… and then this impossible hole just opens up, and you’re so close to starving you NEED to go through it?

        I mean… yeash. What does it take to impress some people?

        I will say this though: The protagonist of 4 could have been a Resi style giant block of tofu, and it wouldn’t have changed much. He’s a real weakness of the game. Worst and dullest protagonist in the whole series—and I’m counting the Western made ones in that list.

        I get what they were going for, an average every-man thrown into this type of mess instead of a broken soul pulled into the madness… but Team Silent took that idea way too far, and I think the game as a whole suffered deeply for it.

        1. jbc31187 says:

          I’ve never played 4, but isn’t one of the complaints being that the escort missions are just too damn hard? The character you’re escorting is immortal, but she’s slow, gets in the way of your own attacks, and is a big goddamn magnet for all enemies- as in, they’ll target her before they target you. And the multiple endings are dependent on how much damage she takes, so you’re punished for her suicidal AI and a poor combat system.

          I think the easiest fix for such a problem is to tie the endings to however much health she has at a certain point, as opposed to how many times she takes damage. Then, you have a moral choice between spending rare healing items on your companion, or hoarding them for yourself.

          1. Amy says:

            The game surprisingly does have that feature, although it’s opaque enough I’m not surprised people didn’t find out about it: there are candles in game you can use to excorsize the damaging hauntings from your apartment in the second half of the game, and you can use them while in the main game world to heal her, which visibly reflects it as she becomes less bloodied battered – if you heal her up enough you should be able to get the good endings even if she got tons of damage. But it’s not the standard healing items you take, and it’s a slow over time effect that I’m not sure your told about.
            The game already has you prioritizing healing items, since the hub apartment stops healing you as you get into the second half of the game, and damaging hauntings mean the Expected Value of health gained from a visit could be negative, and if you’ve chugged healing items through most of the game the latter half gets really harsh. It’s a wonderful betrayal of your sense of safety, but it certainly can make the lategame harsh and it certainly kills a lot of the goodwill people felt towards it

        2. Nessus says:

          From what I recall, most of the backlash centered around the mixed 1st and 3rd person aspect. For some reason I never understood, that seemed to throw a lot of people. I remember reading a lot of reviews and comments that said it felt like a half-baked experiment, or that it felt like the game was being indecisive.

          I never understood those complaints myself, as the game’s reasons for it are obvious, and it succeeds at fulfilling those reasons.

          I suspect modern audiences wouldn’t find it jarring, as games that allow the player themselves to switch perspective
          with a button/keypress, or that switch perspective automatically under predefined conditions have become a common-ish thing. The idea of not locking the player to a single perspective for a whole game being weird or jarring was an artifact of a less developed era.

          For myself, the first time I played it I was thrown by the differences in mechanical and art style to the previous games, as well as by the locations generally (not universally, but a lot of them) feeling smaller and more soundstage-like. It didn’t feel like a Silent Hill game to me at the time. Once I realized the game was good in its own right I was fine with that stuff though.

          But yeah, the PC is only a technicality away from being a silent protagonist. Everyone else in the building gets personality and development (even the people we only “meet” through notes), but he’s basically just a stick of chalk in a shirt. I kept expecting the game to drop a another shoe on either some preexisting relationship to Eileen or some reason for Walter choosing him beyond just “whoever was unlucky enough to be in that apartment when the right time came around”, but nothing ever came.

    2. Jabberwok says:

      Was going to name drop Lone Survivor. I think it fits a lot of these criteria. I enjoyed what I played, though I never finished it. I’m not much of a horror fan, and getting a good night’s sleep was hard enough already…

  5. Mr. Wolf says:

    The PS1 didn’t have potatoes, it had paper craft.

    1. TMC_Sherpa says:

      Woah hey now. I’ve seen (and built) a couple pretty amazing paper models in my day.

      I am willing to meet you half way and say origami. There is (usually) less room to cheat shapes if you can’t cut the paper.

  6. Daimbert says:

    I bought Fatal Frame and Silent Hill 2 at about the same time for my PS2. I’ve never managed to finish Silent Hill 2 — and never even PLAYED Silent Hill 3 yet — but finished the first Fatal Frame game and got about halfway through Fatal Frame 2, and played Fatal Frame 3 for a little bit before getting distracted by something else. Fatal Frame, to me, manages to do the things you’re looking for in a game better than SH2 did. The character is a vulnerable teenage girl, her only weapon is a camera, the encounters are not frequent but are threatening, each night ends with a boss fight, and the backgrounds of the ghosts and the mansion are explained but don’t require a lore infodump. You aren’t even really saving the world in any of them, and the stories can be quite poignant and even grey given the setting. In Fatal Frame 2, you do get a buddy, but the buddy makes sense given the various relationships, doesn’t help with the fighting, and adds to the creepiness by sometimes babbling about odd things. And is critical to the true ending.

    I’d like Fatal Frame sequels that managed to keep doing what the original games did, or maybe games like it. Silent Hill 2 didn’t really grab me the way they did, nor has any other horror game I’ve tried since then.

    1. Nessus says:

      I’ve only played FF2, but I can vouch for it as well. Aside from being from that weird era where better controls were already commonplace, but some developers still clung to tank controls for horror games for… reasons, it’s IMO on par with the Silent Hill series.

      Doesn’t have the character-driven story and theme strength of SH2, but mechanically and atmospherically fantastic (aside from aforementioned tank controls).

      And I say that as a big fan of the Silent Hill games (well, the first 4, at least).

      1. Daimbert says:

        The series never did the psychological aspects of SH2, but the first game is a far more personal story than the second one. And the third delves more into the psychological as it features survivors of the first two games, or at least people who had direct links to those events.

  7. Christopher says:

    Silent Hill 2 has been a problem and a half to find. When I got a used PS2 in like 2009, I managed to pick up many of the classics, but Silent Hill 2 just wasn’t around. It’s only become more of a bother to find, unless I wanna dive into that HD port everyone says ruins it all.

    1. Solraczaid says:

      I actually have a copy of Silent Hill 2, I’d be willing to trade you it for another game! Hit me up at [email protected]. Yeah, I just made the e-mail account for this.

      1. Christopher says:

        Hey, if it’s a PAL version, I’m all ears. I’ll dig up my PS2 folder and see what I can offer in return.

  8. Darren says:

    Amnesia: The Dark Descent bored us to tears, but Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (which was made by a different team) freaked my boyfriend and me out enough that we just walked away from it. It didn’t lean hard on jump scares, and it took awhile before a monster even showed up, but the increasingly upsetting atmosphere and disturbing attitude towards pigs and people made up for it.

    To reiterate what was said above, Alien: Isolation ticks a lot of your boxes, although the game is certainly far too long and I’ve found that people who are good at identifying AI patterns found the Alien itself a bit too predictable.

    I have not played them myself, but maybe the Yomawari games? They certainly seem like something different in the horror space and are very Japanese.

    1. RFS-81 says:

      I really liked Amnesia: The Dark Descent, until I approached the end, and I don’t think I’ll get a lot out of a replay. They’ve done everything right with foreshadowing the threat, in my opinion. First, you only hear doors, then you see some shape moving in the distance, then you have to run away from it, then you get cornered in a room. That really got my pulse racing. But in a similar situation in the end, I felt like: Ok, I’m going to crouch behind this barrel, are you *happy* now, can I continue? On the other hand, I have no idea how they could have made this more interesting without devolving into DIAS gameplay.

  9. Matt Downie says:

    The scariest game I’ve played recently was A Hat in Time.

  10. RCN says:

    Except for the supernatural, I’m pretty sure you described System Shock 2 with your preferences in horror.

  11. Hal says:

    Am I allowed to think it’s funny that you wrote basically the same column 4 years ago?

    I mean, I get it. The things that made it good haven’t changed and the inability to grasp those things haven’t either.

    Still, it’s at least a little funny.

  12. Sarfa says:

    I think some of the best horror games I’ve played over the past two console generations were Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne (especially Bloodborne with it’s very lovecraftian setting).

    They do kill you a lot, so they don’t fit that criteria very well, but they also fold this into the games mechanics so that death is a form of the game continuing rather than it ending and sending you back to a menu. The threats are frequently supernatural and borderline unknowable, and while you can find explanations for things if you dig deep, it’s rare for that to be forced on you in clumsy lore dumps. The protagonist is lonely and alone but does occasionally meet members of a cast of characters who range from eccentric to disturbing- sadly the protagonist has little to no characterisation of their own. While the games are graphically good, the environments are full of nooks and crannies which might (and frequently do) have horrible stuff waiting to ambush you, so the threats associated with low visibility are there. Combat is fun and the main part of these games, but it’s hard and punishing which means while it can be very satisfying it doesn’t usually feel very empowering.

    The fact that no one seems to be marketing these games as horror games though does make me suspect that these games ending up as not bad horror games was accidental.

    1. Geebs says:

      I agree, the Souls games do a fantastic job of killing you a lot, in a horror-adjacent setting, in a way which mostly sidesteps the total deflation of fear that usually happens when a horror game kills the player.

      I think it’s because they mostly remove the element of randomness that modern horror games rely on, and because they pretty much never try to do stealth. There’s nothing like having to learn, through repeated failure, the precise bounds of the AI’s largely arbitrary vision cone to turn apprehension into irritation.

    2. Nessus says:

      I only sort of 1/3 agree.

      On the pro side, I love how Dark Souls manages to create the feeling of a world that is ending. Not just an empire or an era or a civilization, but an actual world that is in the final stage of terminal illness or old age. It’s a high fantasy world that feels existentially rotten and “wrong” and exhausted. In terms of lore and setting it’s ripe horror material.

      Gameplay wise, I very much disagree though.

      The death mechanic doesn’t really feel different to me than a standard die-and-respawn mechanic. Yes, the stuff and XP you retain (or don’t) is persistent in a mechanically different way, but it’s still just another minor variation on the bog standard die/respawn/repeat dynamic, and it feels like it. Even lore wise it does as little as possible to sell the idea that you’re not dying and reloading, just being temporarily set back.

      The mechanics also veer far, far away from the sort of disempowerment that horror thrives on. It’s “hard”, but in a very arcade-y way. It’s freeform, but very precise and crunchy predictable sort of challenge that emphasizes the mechanical system over everything else. That’s why it attracts hard-core gameplay fanatics like flies, while horror fanatics are more ambivalent or indifferent. It also isn’t inherently disempowering at all, it just shifts the burden of empowerment from character to player.

      The map design is VERY arcade-y. The maps are very well decorated to look like castles an shantytowns and such, but the layouts have not even a fig leaf of verisimilitude, and are VERY blatantly designed by stringing together greyboxed encounters and micro-arenas with no thought as to how these places worked within the actual world. It’s a random-room dungeon crawler where the GM meticulously reordered the random rooms for max combat dynamics.

      The bonfire save/respawn system works HARD against it as a horror game as well. It runs face first into Shamus’s first criteria and keeps on running.

      It’s a great game, but IMO it’s less of a horror game than the likes of Resident Evil or Dead Space at their worst. It’s more like a modern(ish) remake of Castlevania or Gauntlet.

      I haven’t payed BloodBourn, but from the lets plays I’ve seen it’s pretty much a cosmetic/lore reskin of Dark Souls. Victorian visuals and lovecraftian lore give it a much more explicit horror spin, but the same gameplay and level design aspects working against it being actually scary.

  13. Nick Powell says:

    I think certain parts of the Metro series flirt with this style of psychological horror, but then every time they immediately ruin it by having an NPC character follow you around shouting instructions and opening doors for you, or forcing you into an awkward combat encounter. It’s a real shame, especially since the setting has so much potential.

  14. Joshua says:

    “I prefer supernatural, unknowable threats to well-defined ones. This means I think an angry spirit is more frightening than a dude with a gun.”

    How I learn towards Horror Films as well, for those I’ve actually watched. I have little interest in watching a human serial killer*, and would rather see something supernatural**.

    * Only exception I can think of is Wes Craven’s Red-Eye, which I thought was good. I saw the Hitcher (original), and it’s almost supernatural in the sense of what this one guy is able to get away with, but not sure it counts. The unexplained ability of the villain to get away with doing whatever he wanted just annoyed me.

    ** One criteria though is that the supernatural horror has to be powerful and scary, but not omnipotent/omniscient. I hate it when a film/story sets up a villain as this all powerful being the entire way through, and thus cops out at the last minute to give the protagonists an actual chance to beat them.

    1. Daimbert says:

      I’ve ended up watching a number of cheap little horror movies lately — got a couple of them cheap, started watching them and decided to write about them on my blog, and kept doing it because writing about them was fun, and unfortunately generally more fun than WATCHING them [grin] — and I noted a couple of things about natural killers vs supernatural ones. For stories featuring natural killers, it’s far easier to come up with a motivation for them that’s understandable and believable and doesn’t require a lot of exposition to set up. We can all pretty much get most of the common motivations for serial killers and the like. However, like you said, they have a disadvantage in that what the killer does has to make sense. If they can appear places they shouldn’t or survive damage that should really have killed them, then we roll our eyes at the movie and are taken out of the horror.

      Interestingly, Happy Death Day does BOTH a natural and supernatural horror, with a natural killer killing the heroine over and over due to a supernatural Groundhog Day set-up. It’s also one of those few horror movies that I actually liked, even though it’s not really all that scary most of the time.

      1. Liessa says:

        The ‘Groundhog Day’ thing reminds me of the game Shadow of Memories. It’s not exactly horror, but I remember finding bits of it quite creepy back in the day.

    2. Nessus says:

      Same. For me it’s combination of two things:

      1) Human killers aren’t anything special. They’re just the news, or the true crime section at Barnes and Noble. Same with sharks, tigers, diseases, etc. I don’t know why, but in order for something to be scary for me in fiction, it kinda has to be something from “outside” my known world. For some people it’s the opposite. I dunno.

      1)I don’t sympathize with mundane human killers, but being a mundane human myself, I have a different reaction to them than I do to “other” threats (including mundane “others”, like sharks or tigers). Threats that are “other” have a something extra that makes them able to be scary. Wheres dangerous humans don’t make me scared (at least in the safe space of entertainment media), just angry and disappointed. It’s like no matter how exotically fucked up the baddie’s psychology is, or how powerful he is, the fact that he’s still just a human makes my brain read him as “asshole” rather than “monster”. Instead of wanting to run from the man with the knife, I want to step through the screen and kick his ass (even if doing so would plausibly get me killed). I spend these movies in a state of increasing frustration rather than fear.

  15. Trupie says:

    I quite enjoyed Condemned; Criminal Origins. It was rather unique as horror games go, because it DID have a solid combat focus without being schlock. It focused on very visceral melee combat in first person, but each encounter was still frightening because fights were still long and difficult. If two or three people gang up on you at once it can get VERY overwhelming very fast. Guns existed and were powerful but ammo was beyond scarce and there was no HUD, no reticule, and you had to check how much ammo remained manually. Only real weakness is once you get the taser upgrade it tends to trivialize the combat that made the game so effective.

    1. Distec says:

      The first Condemned is a game I only played once, but still stands out in my memory. And I believe it resonated so much with me because it nailed some of the vague ambiguity I typically associate with dreams and nightmares; a semi-Lynchian tone and feel where mystery is constantly gnawing at the back of my mind, and I’m not sure how much of what I’m witnessing should be taken at face-value. But you’re just cresting around and orbiting a loci of evil rather than being submerged straight into it ala Silent Hill (at least until near the very end). There’s one foot in reality with the city, the bums, and the police procedural elements; and another foot in the surreal, with its somewhat disjointed sequencing, strange characters, and unclear urgency.

      Then the sequel came and ruined all of that mystique.

      Looking back on the first Condemned, I can see how some of the qualities that endeared me to it could be the results of lack of time, incomplete writing, and rushing to stitch things together before a deadline. But if that’s the case, this brought about a pretty happy accident.

      1. slug camargo says:

        Apparently not many people know this, but the whole ancient cult and mind-controlling buzz-devices nonsense that played a big part in making Condemned 2 come across so stupid and in-your-face were already mentioned in the first game.

        The thing is, that information only appeared in documents that you had to unlock by collecting crap that was hidden throughout the game. And even then, you had to collect almost all of them to get to that part of the backstory.

        But yeah, whatever the reason behind it, the way the storytelling of the first Condemned came out was fantastic.

  16. Mintskittle says:

    So, I don’t like horror in general, but I’ve been watching Loading Ready Run’s Talking Simulator, and one of the games they played is Layers of Fear.

    Now it’s been a while since I listened to those episodes (I can’t watch other people play first person games for long without getting nauseous), but I think Alex and Cam had positive reactions to it, so it may be worth checking out.

  17. BlueHorus says:

    One of the other things about Silent Hill 2 was that it wasn’t – necessarily – about your fear. One of the most memorable bosses to me resembled a bed with struggling figures on it – it’d be goofy (especially its ‘I sit on you!’ attack) except for the atmosphere and the way the game makes it clear that this is very relevant to one of the NPCs you meet.
    (I even think she spends the boss fight crying in the corner? I might be mis-remembering, though)

    Meanwhile the impression I get of something like Dead Space is that it’s doing its best to scare the player, which means they have to stick to general stuff, like jump scares or LOOK AT ALL THE DEAD KIDDIES or OMG HUEG NEEDLE IN UR EYE!!!! Are you scared yet?
    Also Issac Clarke doesn’t seem to have a personality, from all the accounts I’ve heard.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Bah, humbug!
      My link failed. I meant to link this as a comparison to Dead Space’s approach to horror.

    2. slug camargo says:

      Yep, that fight is just as you remember it. Also, the walls had an unsettling organic-looking texture, with a bunch of window-like holes that pulsated constantly; which was quite clearly all aiming to hammer home the point.

      Your point about “your fear vs their fear” is interesting. I remembered an article I read a while back making fun of how the scary parts in modern horror movies were so obviously directed to the viewer and not the movie protagonists. They used The Ring 2 as an example, where a completely clueless character was looking around a house, and the ghostly-apparition-du-jour was always peeking from behind him, in a way that the thing seemed to be more interested in playing hide and seek than actually haunting the guy.

    3. MelfinatheBlue says:

      Just watching that fight was hard as I’ve seen people I care about completely shut down (C-PTSD) as a result of fear and it’s terrifying. Not only are you really scared for your loved one, but it’s also a punch in the gut about how fragile our minds can be.

      Of course, that scene is also horrifying as a reminder of what some adults can do to kids.

  18. slug camargo says:

    There’s a pretty low-profile movie called Absentia that embodies pretty much everything I’d like to see a horror game pull. If that movie could somehow be translated to videogame form, I think it would tick most (if not all) the items in your list.

    Fun fact: The movie was written, directed and edited by Mike Flanagan, the guy behind the recent Netflix hit The Haunting of Hill House.

  19. ccesarano says:

    I find the timing of this interesting as TheGamingBrit just posted his thoughts regarding his lack of excitement towards Silent Hills and why he didn’t think it would really be the salvation of the franchise. He has also since posted a response to all the dislikes and accusations that he insisted the game would be “bad”, which… that’s been happening with him a lot lately.

    Regardless, “not getting” Silent Hill certainly seems to be the main trend. Once I learned more about Silent Hill 2 and what its iconic characters represented, it always seemed tone deaf how Pyramid Head effectively became the series mascot and every Western created game or the films felt the need to shoehorn him in. It’s like that Western obsession with the big bad monster or slasher lurking around the corner was the only angle people understood, and completely shrugged off the actual psychological implications of what Pyramid Head was intended to represent.

    I can’t really recommend games, but I figured I’d recommend some videos discussing games. I was going to link some analyses regarding the game Detention, but I see Errant Signal has covered that which means you’re likely already familiar with it. Critique Quest, who now works for Rock Paper Shotgun I think, had a look at several different horror games, with the above mentioned Yomowari being one of them (which I intend to snag on Switch… eventually… when money is less drained…). However, ValkyrieAurora covered an old PS2 game called Haunting Ground, and holy cow does this seem like a really fascinating title. I haven’t really dabbled much in Silent Hill, but when it comes to the psychological angle of horror, it feels like that game gets the style closest. Unfortunately, being a niche PS2 game, it’s gonna be as hard to find and play as a copy of Silent Hill 2.

    Which I actually have an original Xbox copy, which is backwards compatible on Xbox 360. I should give it a spin some time. I didn’t get very far in it, wasn’t really able to tolerate the controls at the time, but I think I’d like to give it another go.

    1. jbc31187 says:

      I think the best way to use Pyramid Head, and the most true to his character, is just as a cameo. The PC turns the corner and sees- Pyramid Head!!

      Except PH isn’t doing anything. He’s just standing there, staring, maybe coated in cobwebs. Because he’s just a prop that Silent Hill the entity has no use for right now. And now YOUR monster comes through the door while you’re distracted.

      Or, Pyramid Head is up and about… chasing your male companion, and ignoring you. Which gives you the player a little insight into his character, and why you might not be safe traveling with him…

  20. You know, I bet you could make quite an interesting horror game that kinda used the premise of the Wool stories. Basically, you’re wandering through a blasted post-apocalyptic landscape, but you’re wearing a gas mask/goggles that replaces the view with Shiny Happy Fun Land. The stuff you need to explore is in the apocalyptic landscape, but you can only see the “real version” for so long because you start to choke and die.

    You must constantly search out resources to replenish your suit. There’s always time pressure whenever you take your mask off to complete your tasks as quickly as possible. So you’re always a bit rushed, but that’s also the only time you can see what’s ACTUALLY THERE and interact with it.

    You’d get all the benefit of being able to use AAA graphics from the Shiny Happy Fun Land version. In addition there are numerous types of frights that you could do that revolve around the fact that most of the time you can’t actually tell WHAT you’re dealing with. I think it’d be really nerve-wracking and scary in the way Shamus likes.

    1. Furo says:

      Dunno what are the Wool stories, but it seems pretty interesting indeed.

      The literature analog that comes to mind is “The Futurological Congress” by Stanislaw Lem. Except there it’s chemical, and there’re more than two reality layers :)

  21. Jabrwock says:

    Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was so disappointing for me. Great premise, good atmosphere. So much promise. And then they squandered the mood with bad writing and forced combat sections. The best bits were were the game was screwing with effects to simulate something like schizophrenia, or when the game has you sneaking around, terrified of being spotted. Credit to Rutskarn for piquing my interest in trying out the game, although he can eviscerate the game better than I ever could.

    1. Syal says:

      A fishman, after being shotgunned in the back at point-blank range: “I HEARD SOMETHING!”

    2. Mousazz says:

      Ah… I love CoC:DCoTE. Then again, it might be pure nostalgia – I was 12 when I first played it. Nonetheless, I replayed it recently, and finished it 4 times in a row.

      Yes, the writing is basic at times, and the combat really takes away from the edge that was established in the escape/hiding portion of Attack of the Fishmen. And worst of all, the developers failed to bring the mechanics together into a harmonic gestalt of horror.

      And yet, each of the mechanics individually were some of the best I have experienced. The inhuman growls of the fishmen, the whizzing of the bullets when a shot misses you, the lack of any HUD, the shakiness when Jack aims the guns too long, the healing system that forces you to heal up in a safe environment while you’re slowly bleeding out, the use of morphine to give that extra kick after losing a lot of health or having your extremities broken, the wonderfully recreated sickly atmosphere of rotten fish and gutted corpses that permeates Innsmouth… And, of course, the sanity mechanics, which warp Jack’s vision and hearing, and gets him to mutter to himself or hear otherwordly voices in his head.

      I loved it as a kid, and I love it now. It’s a janky game, and it’s definitely not for everyone – then again, I’m surprised something as unpolished as the original Deus Ex doesn’t have the same reception.

  22. Liessa says:

    Regarding the bit in the article about fog helping to create atmosphere, that made me think of Morrowind (even though it’s not a horror game). These days there are a lot of mods for MW that increase draw distance, but they only serve to highlight the game’s outdated models and textures, and the fact that most of the major settlements are ridiculously close to each other. I honestly prefer the game with the original fog in place.

  23. etheric42 says:

    Does Subnautica count as horror? Because I’m scared to death nearly every time I play it.

    And I have a hard time even looking at the concept art for the stand-alone-expansion.

    1. galacticplumber says:

      Yes, yes it does, and it even meets pretty much all of his criteria but the supernatural stuff.

      The majority of the enemies don’t actually kill you immediately, and the more dangerous ones telegraph their presence harder and from further away.

      New enemies/hazards are introduced at a steady clip pretty much right up to the end with the pretty much being a nod to the part where you take your hard fought knowledge of how to travel the world and its horrors to collect some necessary resources.

      Most of the game being underwater with a great deal of verticality cuts maximum viewing distance, and makes the entire every direction not in your vision cone a blindspot as opposed to simply right behind you.

      Even if a monster doesn’t kill you you can still die to simple drowing if you’re not careful, thirst or hunger if you’re irresponsible, or in some later areas poisoned/cooked alive by the environment itself. Oh also irradiated, briefly, in a relatively early game area, but you’re meant to have a rad suit before you even go in their and the game makes it very clear. Not likely to actually kill you, more of a progression gate.

      Also there’s several stories of other people who were in the same position as you to piece together, the local wildlife to learn about, and lots of good flavor text on the equipment you learn to build by crawling over the graves of your dead brethren.

  24. drbones says:

    You’d probably have a hell of a time with Cryostasis: The Sleep Of Reason, assuming your computer can run it. The game takes place on a crashed and abandoned Russian icebreaker suffering from a bad case of Weird Philosophic Time Stuff, which has killed all the crew and forced them to revive as freakish, guilt-riddled ice monsters. All you have to fight with are half-frozen Soviet firearms and whatever trash you can safely swing around (the first weapon you get is a padlock and chain wrapped around your wrist). The game fits all of your criteria, but suffers from one major problem related to performance: because it was made in Ukraine, the game was made for computers running on beefy single-core processors, apparently making it run like molasses on multi-core processors for no good reason. It’s definitely worth a shot, if you can stomach some more Metro-grade Slavquality.

  25. RFS-81 says:

    I was surprised that Silent Hill 2 has become so expensive for the PC. (The PS2 version still seems to be fairly cheap.) I bought SH 2 and 3 long after release (maybe 8 years ago), and I don’t remember paying all that much for them. Huh, I never knew they’re collector’s items.

    I recently watched this video about the rise and fall of Silent Hill. (’tis the season…) They briefly touch upon the remastered versions of SH 2 and 3. Apparently, Konami had lost the source code for the release versions, and the developers of the HD versions had to start from earlier dev-builds. Kind of like BBC taping over early Doctor Who episodes…have we learned nothing?

  26. Cordance says:

    It seems what you need to do to pan for gold in this area is watching streams of people playing horror games. That way you can dip your toe in and figure out if its broken garbage fairly quickly. Not going to get you the perfect game because your not going to watch the whole stream assuming you want to play it. It should significantly up your chances of finding the jewelry boxes thrown away that have a chance to have gold in them.

  27. Darker says:

    One of the best space survival horror games I’ve ever played was Project Firestart on C64. This was largely because of its non-linearity. Whether you survive or not depends on you deciding where to go or what to do next, rather than how well you manage to do at the next scripted encounter with the space zombies.

    Now get off my lawn :)

  28. MadTinkerer says:

    Have you tried Delta Rune Chapter 1 the Delta Rune Survey program for Undertale fans?

    It’s not NOT a psychological horror game, but it’s a lot shorter than Undertale, so you should be able to get all the way through it.

  29. Lars says:

    IIRC you liked SOMA. It made one of your Top of the Year Lists. Alien Isolation work in that direction as well.
    Another direction: White Chamber
    An Indi-Free-4-All-Point-And-Click-Adventure in the Horror Genre. I was surprised how good that worked.

  30. Tony says:

    I bet you knew this comment section would turn into “recommend me a horror game”!

    DreadOut does seem to tick all your boxes!
    – Failure doesn’t set your very far back, progress-wise, but each time you die, whatever god revives you makes you run through the void a bit longer to get back in. In that way dying punishes you, but doesn’t make you repeat content that will no longer be scary. Even the revival is kind of explained in-universe, dampening the immersion-breakage.
    – All the threats are based on Indonesian folklore, so they’re definitely supernatural. Being Indonesian, they won’t even be a familiar kind of spooky ghost. (Scary floaty ghost-lady is pretty universal, however.)
    – The story is there in scattered lore, but the cutscenes are not very occupied with explaining it to you.
    – There are other characters, and sometimes you talk to them. They’re mostly gone outside of cutscenes.
    – Graphics are pretty good for an indie game! They throw some cool effects in there for some specific spirits.
    – Combat consists of slowly luring the spooky ghost around and taking pictures of them in the right situations. It’s interesting , but not adrenaline-pumping. Some ghosts can only be stunned, if that.

    I won’t pretend it’s perfect or anything, but I’d give a solid Not Bad / 5

  31. Gautsu says:

    I almost think it’s easier to insert great horror segments into games than to make great horror games. I’m thinking of like, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines hotel level. Or the quest to find the snuff tape. Or even the first time the flood were introduced in Halo. The mannequin level in Condemned and the Doll Factory in Condemned 2. Making something consistently scary through an entire play through I think by necessity either takes a shorter game or an aesthetic that I don’t think most game companies or movie studios understand.

    That being said I kind of miss Eternal Darkness’s high jinx, and The Suffering’s creature design and aesthetic (probably helped that I played the Suffering during my second year in Iraq when things we’re still pretty hot. Being scared all day every day almost made playing scary games cathartic).

  32. Carlos García says:

    I just have one thing to say: “screw empowerment of the player”.
    In a game I want a challenge. For me that’s the essence of a game.
    For all I hear complaints about games being now too handholdy, too easy and stuff, whenever a game makes some degree of challenge, people fill the forums with whines about how hard it is, asking to nerf everything.

  33. RFS-81 says:

    Has anyone played Darkwood? I just got it from the GOG Halloween sale.

    It’s a survival-and-crafting game, but with a horror theme. It takes place in a village that’s isolated by a forest growing out of control. During the day, you scavenge for resources to keep the lights on in your hideout and barricade it, and to build weapons. During the night, *things* are coming. There’s also some story going on about escaping the forest, but I didn’t get very far yet. I’m also not sure yet if I find it genuinely scary, or just “horror-themed”. Getting stuck outside while night was approaching was definitely tense. You can see your position on the map only if you’re near a landmark. I got lost and just barely made it back. Also, the art style is totally creepy.

  34. Chauncey Gardiner says:

    If you’re a SH2 fan and can make time for a classic film, check out Solaris (1972). The plot is almost identical (a creepy alien location with a mind of its own creates a copy of our protagonist’s dead ex-wife for him; he welcomes this as a second chance with her, but he’s saddled with guilt over her death), but you trade the immersive potential of interactivity for a tightly-directed, more-focused execution of the concept.

    At minimum, the two pieces make for a striking case study in the artistic benefits of each medium.

  35. Natomic says:

    Hey Shamus, do you still have an xbox 360? If so, you can run the original xbox port of Silent Hill 2 on it. Those copies, called Silent Hill: Restless Dreams, also happen to be cheaper than original ps2 copies, have better graphics, and additional content.

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