Lunchtime Discussion: Isolation

Isolation is a very powerful feeling. I may be either a scaredy cat or a bit paranoid but I hate walking back from a club by myself, and I easily get freaked out when my flatmates are away on holiday. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has these feelings, it’s probably an evolutionary thing. When you look at human society it’s obvious that we evolved to live in groups, probably to avoid predators. It’s the same reason that birds fly in flocks and buffaloes move in herds, it’s much harder for a predator to pick you off when you’re surrounded by a group.

Given that I’ve talked in the past about how poorly games can convey emotion, it’s actually surprising how isolated a game can make you feel. I’m not a huge fan of survival horror games, quite often I get frustrated by the puzzles that dominate the genre. However there are a few I like and a big part of that is just how completely and utterly alone these games can make you feel, coupled with the despair of fighting off a huge army of the undead or dinosaurs (and why hasn’t there been a zombie dinosaur game?).

Dead Space 2 is probably a stand out in this regard; Dead Space may also be but I haven’t played that. I’ve only played Dead Space 2 once, for about ten minutes in the middle of the very, very crowded Eurogamer Expo. Even in that situation it managed to make me feel cut off and extremely scared. When a game can do that then it’s truly something special.

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There are some games outside of the survival horror genre that manage to instil the same feeling of being completely and utterly alone, Halo: ODST being one that sticks in my head. Whilst I didn’t actually like the game overall, the over-world sections managed to make you feel that you may well be the last human left on the planet. There’s a section in Reach that manages to convey something very similar, but amplified a hundred fold. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you’ve played the campaign you’ll know the part I mean.

So do you love games that manage to feel you alone? Does it enhance the fear factor a lot? Are there some games that just don’t manage to pull it off?

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25 Comments

  1. Dead Space is the standout title for isolation, but I think Siren Blood Curse nails it better, mainly because of all the early mission in Dead Space made you feel like a trainee on their first day at work “go over there and fix that, come back over here and fix this”

    Siren Blood Curse is another underrated game PS3 exclusive that nowhere near enough people have played, it’s proper poop your pants scary, but I suppose the genre lends itself better to ‘isolation’ than others.

    Siren Blood Curse has the filmed on camcorder look about it that many recent horror films seem to favour… check it out, rent it buy it it’s damn good once you get over the kooky control scheme, and even though you actually play a whole team of people (the camera crew) the isolation is magnificent and haunting, but you won’t be playing it alone in your house at night.

  2. “it’s much harder for a predator to pick you off when you’re surrounded by a group.”

    Lol. That made me think about Modern Warfare 2.
    Surrounded by a group is like asking for a Predator. =P

  3. I think the problem with many horror games is that they don’t seem to understand what it is that makes people scared. Relentlessly having things jump out of the eternal darkness gets pretty boring after a while. Good survival games are ones where your only weapon is your wits or a very limited ammo supply. Resident Evil 1 and 2 were quite good but they had that stupid movie thing of ‘lets split up’! Why?

    • Yeah.. I really hate all those ‘let’s split up’ moments..

      • Although not all of them were by choice.

      • Yeah but they are always really contrived ways of making the game feel lonely again

  4. Isolation can be good for horror titles, but I think if a game managed to get it right a survival horror game where your in a group would be even scarier. Imagine walking through a tunnel, in the dark and you and your group only have a limited amount of tourches. Light sources randomly spinning here and there, was that a noise made by your group, or something else. Your group members walk into your tourch beam, is that a zombie, BANG, nope sorry just shot someone your surposed to be rescuing. And then what if your group got slowly picked off one by one. “Hey wern’t there 8 of us, where’s Perry?”

    • Oh sorry about that. I just stabbed perry in the leg. Increases my own survival chance everybody else is an easier target.

      Why are you looking at me like that?

  5. I really liked Silent Hill 1 and 2 and they definitely were highlights of games with isolation. I think the sound effects were really effective at making me crap my pants too and I found this was especially true with Dead Space.

  6. Remember picking up Dark Sector and trying the multiplayer once. Got an amazing sense of isolation as I was the only person playing it……

  7. FEAR. Whilst not necessairly being a great game, its AI more than made up for it and some of its more compelling moments. Granted i dont get frightened by any movies or anything; but i did manage to stay up until 2am in the dark just to frighten myself to enhance my experience and isolation in the game

  8. I’m suprised no ones mentioned Fallout 3, the eerie isolation and trekking for hours through the remnants of civilisation without actually seeing anybody was quite powerfull.

  9. I enjoyed the HL2 mod Dear Esther for the feeling of isolation it gave me (looking forward to the remake). A game doesn’t have to be a horror to make you feel isolated, Shadow of the Colossus is the only game where I saw and did nothing for so long and was still compelled to carry on. Flower is also a very lonely but beautiful game.

    • Philbert makes a great mention about Shadows of the Colossus. The isolation is staggering but it forces you to explore the land that much more. Looking for signs of life at every turn although when you find “life” it’s bloody awesome and frightening at the same time! :-) It also helps accentuate the bond you have with Agro (your horse) and is still so highly regarded as an emotionally invested game.

      Another game where isolation builds incredible beauty is Limbo. Utterly alone and yet the quiet discomfort is also simultaneously calming and visually compelling all at the same time. You truly feel alone during that.

  10. Dead Space does this well. Although Condemned and The Darkness make a good effort of making you feel alone in those worlds.

    Enjoyed reading this article – cheers ;-)

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