Usually, forms of media that are designed for scares don’t provoke too much of a reaction from me. The Dead Space games in particular never really had me at my wit’s end; they were atmospheric, for sure, but the biggest scares I’ve had in gaming were from when I was younger. Banjo Kazooie, Super Mario 64 and Sonic are amongst the most frightening games I’ve played. Why? It’s the water.
The unavoidable deep – usually inhabited by some freaky monster with a one hit kill – always made me tense up. I need to get out, now was always my reaction whenever I missed a jump or needed to collect a note, ring or coin.
Whilst I’ve only really got two games in my Steam library designed for the creepy factor, Alien Breed 2: Assault fits the bill and I’ve not played that either, so we’ll take a look at that along with two games from developer Frictional Games in this spooky edition of Steamlog. If you’re still confused about what we’re doing here, have a look at last week’s introduction to the series.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a game that deserves to be at the top of everyone’s scariest games of all time list, simply because that’s exactly what it is – it’s a game that makes me shout, cover my eyes and has my heart pumping extremely fast… when I’m sitting on the title screen.
Amnesia starts off slowly, taking you through a tutorial and building the tension as the main character, Daniel, who suffers from amnesia, finds notes and journal entries from his past self. Floors creak, doors open and wind howls as you travel through the mysterious castle, trying to escape the horrors within.[drop]These horrors are intensified when Daniel finds himself in a dark area; a mechanic which is formed brilliantly by making his lantern reliant on oil, and the tinderboxes needed to light candles or torches being in limited supply. This darkness, coupled with the games sanity meter – which will show how Daniel feels about the situation, and how much more he can handle – makes for a greatly crafted horror game.
And there’s a water section. It’s not the deep, murky water that scared me when I was younger, but a shallow, flooded corridor filled with boxes and bookshelves. There’s something in the water – some freaky monster – that splashes around as soon as you dip your toe in, tearing you apart if you don’t get out of the water soon enough.
It’s an extremely frightening section, bettered only by encounters with the main monsters themselves: grotesque, bloody sack-things (that’s the best description I can give, I never stuck around one for long) that stumble around and aren’t afraid to face you directly, where you’ll have to hide away, in a cupboard or likewise, before your foe catches a glimpse of you.
The visual effects, the horrifying sound effects along with the darkness and the sanity feature make this one of the scariest experiences out there. This is an unmissable fright-fest for lovers of the horror genre. I’ve yet to complete it and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to, if the scares are exponential. Make sure you bring a friend and some extra trousers, or you may live to regret it.
Alien Breed 2: Assault isn’t a scary game. It’s a horror game, for sure, but the isometric perspective and all-guns-blazing approach mean that it’s not a game to play if you’re wanting a frightening experience.
It’s fun, though; taking control of an engineer named Conrad, you’ll fight your way through waves of alien, insect-like foes – the titular alien breed. Assault rifles, shotguns, flamethrowers, grenades – all of which can be upgraded – amongst other items and weapons help you to dispatch of these horrid enemies, though conserving ammo can be crucial; the game can be very tense when enemies swarm Conrad, especially when ammo reserves are running low.
It’s quite a linear game, however, and the backtracking doesn’t help the repetition either – some nice cutscenes, sequences and boss fights split this all up into nice, playable chunks, though and it’s bound to be a blast in co-op.
Alien Breed 2 was the first game in the series I played. It’s a decent, action-orientated isometric shooter with some good mechanics, though it has some design flaws.
Penumbra: Overture is another horror game from Amnesia developer Frictional Games. Released over two years before Amnesia itself, back in 2007, it’s – naturally – a lot let polished and loses some of the scare factor.
It’s still creepy, though; the game starts off in a dark, abandoned mine, you’re left with limited supplies and there’s groans, scuttles and roars as you sneak – which is a great mechanic in itself, with the enhanced night vision when you’re hiding adding to the atmosphere – through the areas to find the equipment you’ll need to solve each puzzle.[drop2]The puzzles themselves range from good, problem solving point-and-click style affairs to extremely simple word games. They’re not bad, but they aren’t anything special, either. Functionally, the game is very similar to Amnesia – the immersive door opening mechanic clearly lifted from this game.
And the scares? Well, they’re not very prominent so far, though there have been a few creepy sections including an annoying, zombified dog, massive spiders and screaming behind locked doors.
It’s odd playing Penumbra after Amnesia, as it feels very rough around the edges – Frictional definitely learned a lot over two years. I don’t think I’ll continue on with the game, as Amnesia is a better product for pure scare factor and a better game, mechanically, overall.