Today I am writing to you about a game, it is a divisive game. A game that has been praised to hell and back by those that like it and pretty much outright ignored by the rest of the world.
Rock paper shotgun has called it the best game you’ve never played.
Yup, today I want to talk about Pathologic.
Pathologic is a 2005 survival game developed by Russian studio Ice-Pick Lodge. It was released in Russia in June 2005 to a strong positive response. It was then released to English audiences in 2006 to a less positive response, in large part due to a poor translation. A re-release with a new translation took place in October 2015 and currently a remake is in progress, with part of it being released in 2019.
Today I want to write to you about a plot-heavy RPG Maker game called Misao.
Misao is a survival horror and puzzle game developed by Sen and Miscreant’s Room released in May 2011. A remastered version was later released on Steam in October 2017.
Overall, my feelings towards this game are mixed. While I was playing it, I enjoyed it. It is mysterious and fun with effective jump scares and a gripping plot. There are also lots of scares that are not jump scares, it is creepy as hell in places, violent in others and tricky in some.
However, when I started writing this blog and got thinking about this game, I started to remember certain things about it that I was not a fan of. There is a weakness in some of the characters and the game has a few moments that feel unnecessary and gratuitous, at least to me.
As I said above this is a plot-heavy game, it also has multiple endings and I will be discussing this below, as it is exceedingly difficult to talk about what makes this a fun and interesting horror title without discussing the plot fully. Because the epilogue is considered the ‘true’ or ‘good’ ending.
So, if you have not played the game through then this is your warning, stop here and avoid spoilers.
I also want to put a trigger warning here, this game involves sexual assault and rape of high school students, not to mention a lot of violence.
Today I am writing to talk to you about the Rule of Rose, a survival horror game by Punchline. It came out on the PlayStation 2 and was first released in 2006 by Sony Computer Entertainment in Japan, by Atlus in America and by 505 games in Europe.
The game is set in England in 1930, and revolves around Jennifer who becomes trapped in a world ruled by young girls. The game director describes the game as an interactive movie, which should give you an idea on the gameplay.
In a nutshell this game is wonderfully creepy, getting the balance of story and disempowerment just right to keep you on the edge of your seat. The aesthetic and setting are powerful, giving the game both atmosphere and tension. The character’s, both the player character and the side characters you interact with are wonderfully developed and nuanced.
Once again, my letters return to the realm of horror videogames, an awesome immersive experience designed to suck you in, chew you up and spit you out.
The game I want to talk about today is Layers of Fear.
Layers of Fear was released in February 2016, and was developed by Bloober Team. It is an amazing horror game, it’s an exploration of the human psyche, which is chilling and likely to leave you uncomfortable.
I did some research before playing this game and wasn’t sure I would ever end up playing it much less writing about it, as it sounded like something that relied on jump scares in order to be scary which is not my favourite kind of horror game. However, I am very glad that I gave it the benefit of the doubt as while jump scares are present its the slow burn story that is the truly terrifying aspect of the game.
I’ve talked a lot in the past about how I think videogames are a marvellous medium for Horror, they are more immersive than simply watching a film, and to an extent, I think they can be more immersive than books. In books you do not control the character’s, you’re effectively watching them, although in your head rather than on a screen. Videogames allow you to experience the story but still retain an element of control, which in turn makes you responsible for what happens. That little person on the screen is you and if you make a stupid decision and die then it’s your own fault.
Sadly, even though on the surface videogames seem like such a good tool for horror so many creators struggle with making this work. This is, in part, down to the fact that a lot of videogames are meant to be empowering, they make you very powerful or highly skilled and it’s hard to feel fear when you’re like that. Take Batman Arkham Asylum as an example, this is a creepy game on-premise, your sneaking around a mental institute, which for the large part is an old mansion with graveyards, secret labs etc. All the inmates have busted out and are roaming the grounds hoping to find and kill you. Creepy right? But one thing lets the creepy factor down, YOU ARE BATMAN. How scared can you be when your playing as Batman, Batman! The guy who took on Superman, the guy with a gazillion weapons, super skills and the ability to almost-fly (seriously the grapple is amazing, as is the glide function). How can you be afraid of some low skilled, mentally unwell thug when your frigging BATMAN.
F.E.A.R is generally known as a horror game and certainly has horror elements, but in my humble opinion suffers from a similar problem to Batman. That being that for a horror game to work you need to disempower the player. Take away their control, make them powerless in a world where there is a real element of danger. This goes against the nature of a lot of games (though this is slowly changing), including F.E.A.R
A good horror game should really not have much in the way of combat (in my opinion), but F.E.A.R not only arms you to the teeth but it also has a function called “reflex time” where you can literally slow down time so you can murder enemies. Hard to feel disempowered when your playable character has the power to control frigging time! That’s not to say the move isn’t bloody cool, it really is, it’s fun and neat and EMPOWERING which is why it both entertains me (gleeful laughing whenever I start the “reflex time”) and annoys me. The maker of the game even says that “defeating enemies with style” was part of the goal. Hard to be terrified when your stylishly dispatching baddies with ease.
PLOT here be spoilers
Plot-wise the game is far more action than horror, in my opinion, F.E.A.R even stands for First Encounter Assault Recon. In a nutshell, a chap has attacked and killed a lot of people, you and you military team are sent in to stop this person.
While you hunt the perpetrator you also witness lots of paranormal activity, including a child in a red dress. As you go on you learn the background of the perpetrator, how he was made to be a telepathic military leader. It is also revealed that he is the son of the girl in the red dress.
The girl in the red dress is telepathically linked with the perpetrator despite being in a coma. You also learn that there was another child born of the girl in the red dress. The perpetrator is trying to free the girl in the red dress. There’s a big showdown and you learn that you are the other child of the girl in the red dress.
The perpetrator is dead, the girl in the red dress is freed and everything gets blown up.
What I Liked
First of all I do not think this is a horror game, it is an action game with horror elements. For it to be a true horror game there has to be a feeling of vulnerability, a sense of disempowerment and this game does not provide that.
I know I’ve been rather critical towards this game, at least in tone if nothing else. But it really is a lot of fun to play. I very much enjoyed it. My only bugbear is when this is labelled as a horror game. Just because there’s an element of paranormal goings-on dos not make a game a horror game.
The game does not disempower the player, you do not feel afraid or vulnerable in this game, you are a bloody super spoiler that can control time and as the game goes on you learn that your also the son of a powerful telepath which makes you a super powerful telepath as well. It’s a lot of fun, it really is, but it’s not horror.
I would recommend this game, as I keep saying it is fun. But if you’re looking for a proper horror experience you won’t find it here. If you want something more creepy but where you can still shoot stuff and have super powers then go play Bioshock (the first one, oddly effective considering I can make fire come out of my hands) if your looking for a truly disempowering feeling then you could try Little Nightmares, Limbo, or Amnesia The Dark Descent.
If you want an action game with a paranormal twist then play F.E.A.R just don’t expect to be truly afraid.
Continuing our discussion about Horror Video games today I would like to talk about Dead Space, a sci-fi horror game that has a well-earned place in the hearts and minds of many.
Story – SPOILERS AHEAD
In a nutshell, the story is set well into the future, on a starship designed to mine ore on a massive scale. The ship has sent out a distress signal and that’s where we come into the story. We’re part of the rescue team, Isaac the engineer to be precise. When you crash land (because of course, you do) most of your team is brutally murdered by space monsters (because of course, they are). The ship is falling apart and it’s up to you to fix them so you and your two surviving teammates can stay alive long enough to get off the ship.
They are immersive and engaging, much more so than films and television shows which are passive. They are like books in that they have much more time to tell a great story, more time to build tension. But they surpass books in that you have much more freedom in video games, when reading a book you are following a character through their story, sometimes you might be doing so from inside the character’s mind but still you are a passive follower. In a videogame you are the main character, you might have a linear story to follow but it’s you that this is happening to.
I love how video games really get you involved in the environment and story around you. I will always remember one of my earliest exposure to horror in video game format, it was Silent Hill and I immediately felt more afraid than I ever had watching a film or even reading a book. It took me forever to complete the damn thing because I had to keep stopping and wander off to do something else to reassert to my brain that I wasn’t really that character. It was brilliant!
So in light of my love for the genre and this medium, I plan on writing an entire series about horror in video games. I will be discussing some popular entries in the genre and explaining why they are awesome!