A teeth grinding look into horror/action games on a quest for improvement
I’m no fan of action - horror. So much is my dislike for it, that i’ve put pen to paper almost 5 times now, each of which has turned into a tiring rage fest.
To avoid this again, i’m going to not talk about my dislike of the crossover genre, no matter how dreadful I think it is, and instead talk about how it can work or minor changes that could exponentially improve it.
Stress ball at the ready, it’s time to wade into the itch that I cannot scratch:
Ammo? Ah no.
We’ve all heard the frustrating click when the magazine has run out, and the big boss monster is not gleefully stomping up to us unopposed. I’ve played through so many action-shooter-horror games where the main aim seems to be depriving the player of enough ammo to do it without the accuracy of a vet doing a rectal exam. I get that it’s all there to create a feeling of hopelessness and what not, but in so doing it explicitly denies players who have a bad aim from progressing too far in the story. Now, there is a quick-fix, which is to always have a weaker-but-not-ridiculously-so weapon with unlimited ammo to at least give you a chance. Resident Evil always tried to do this by giving you a knife, but I have my reservations about it in 5 and 6. These are the games where zombies now have guns for some reason, and if you’re trying to take down a zombie militia with a single knife, you’re going to have a bad time - trust me. In earlier games, and traditional zombie style segments, this isn’t really an issue.
I remember my friend and I played through Lost In Nightmares, the DLC for RE5 where you’re in a mansion, and there are some big stompy guys with big-ass anchors for some reason. We found out that it was possible to beat the whole mission without firing a single shot, through the use of knives as well as hazards that are dotted around. It wasn’t easy, but we did it. If you’re always going to be able to beat the game, even if it is a challenge with your backup weapon, I think that we’re okay, but it needs to reflect the challenges that you’re going to face. And remember, we don’t all want to play on easy mode, just to get past that one boss we died to a million times because we ran out of ammo.
It’s in the diegesis, silly.
Zombies with guns. It pisses me off more than it probably should, but we’re at a stage now where zombies in some games are just as capable as the people whose brains they want to eat. If that’s even what they want to do any more. Maybe they all have human dreams now, like becoming accountants and settling down with a cat called Mr.Tiddles.
It’s the bizarre crossover between just having people that you shoot - which is fine if you want to make an action shooter, and zombies which are meant to be just a bit scary, which I don’t think they can be whilst they’re pointing a Magnum at you and screaming about when you should have filed your tax return.
I love rule breaking in horror films and games which, to be honest, have become broadly formulaic and a bit dull. But there are certain conventions that you can’t break without destroying the soul of the genre, and turning your zombies into people is an example of exactly that. It comes down to the very essence of zombie-horror, and how they’re meant to be a semi-relatable other, who we’re able to assume the morality of, but see our expectations flipped when we become aware that, despite their human appearance they are actually very different. If your zombie is running, talking, shooting, and taking piano lessons, you’re not subverting our expectations, instead you’re just telling us that this is a human.
That sounds very dangerously close to a rant, but hopefully you can see my point. Let me just grab a tea quickly and calm down with some lovely thrash metal.
Assess your Assets
Early ‘horror’ games, like ‘Ghouls n Goblins’ , were for the most part just side scrolling action games with a simple asset change to have ‘scary’ looking enemies. Whilst I don’t begrudge them doing this at the time, I think now we need to consider what the game we’re playing actually is. In the aforementioned zombie shooters, if you replaced the glowing eyes and slight bloodiness of the characters you’re shooting at as well as the soundtrack, you may as well have just made Call of Duty; if your game relies on minor asset changes in order to make it a horror game, I would argue that you haven’t made a horror game. To earn that title, you need to look beyond the action and put horror at the very core of what you’re doing. Look at Silent Hill. This is a great example of a ground-up horror series. The setting, characters, story, soundtrack and symbolism is all there to push forward that you’re playing a horror game, not a shooting game.
What do you think about horror-shooter games? Let me know!