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Can Triple A studios still make effective horror games?

I was watching Daz Black playing Lunch Lady when I had the question pop into my mind. Obviously, the answer was ‘yes’, right? But then I looked back at the horror games I had played recently and there were few, if any, big titles in there where I felt genuinely scared.

We at CommieGamer decided to put out a survey to ask the horror fans of the internet what they thought about it. First, however, I must explain my train of thought that led to the question.

My first experiences with horror were all very different from each other. I saw Jaws once as a 3-year-old and developed a healthy fear of bodies of water, but fascination at the mysteries and creatures the abyss held. I played the first Resident Evil game on my older cousin’s PlayStation 1 when I was roughly 7 and had to stop playing as soon as the first zombie turned around.

Around the same time, I bought my friend a copy of Night of the Living Dummy for his birthday and couldn’t look at the cover because of Slappy’s eerie face. Despite these experiences, my love for horror as a genre has only grown over the years.

When the Resident Evil Village trailer came out, I saw everyone’s favourite vampire giant Lady Dimitrescu, and instantly knew what the internet was going to do to the character and her covenous family.

Nonetheless, there were some scares to be had in the game, and there was a lot of positive feedback about it. Hopefully, Resident Evil continues its trend of being good. But still, other games such as Evil Within were touted as dives into fear yet weren’t all that scary. Half of the monsters honestly look like someone started drawing them and never stopped.

Then we arrive at titles like Lunch Lady, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender, The Forest, SOMA, and hundreds more like them. Games not made by industry giants like Capcom or EA, but by indie developers, and no genre arguably did better in the indie games movement than horror did. The vast majority of the titles that came out during this era were genuinely scary, and some became insanely popular in mainstream culture.

These Indy Devs need therapy

So, then the survey went out on the internet. We received 78 responses, admittedly a limited pool, but we did get some interesting insights from said pool of answers.

When asked how often people engage with horror gaming content, meaning anything from playing the game itself from watching a streamer play it, these are the answers we received.

We also asked what horror games, if any, people were most recently scared by, and the most popular answer was Resident Evil Village, followed closely by SOMA, and then Outlast. This little cut of the answers shows that Triple A titles can still be scary at the very least, though two indie games beat out popular franchises like Silent Hill, The Evil Within, and Dead Space, so the question still had some weight.

The most interesting result came when we asked about player preference. Did the players prefer the indie horror games, or their big studio counterparts?

The answer was a perfectly even split. This was extremely surprising, even purely from the perspective of research in general. A 50-50 split is quite rare. Though it must be said that it does somewhat prove that big studios can still make effective horror games.

Hopefully, they’ll continue to get better. Resident Evil 7 revived horror in mainstream gaming, Resident Evil 8 made it stick, now we all must watch, from behind our sofas of course, if the big businesses continue to up the ante with horror, or the smaller studios crawl in unannounced.

In my honest opinion, I do think indie games do it better. I’ve found myself getting more and more invested and sinking more hours into random horror games I find on Steam or Epic than I do the bigger names. Part of the appeal of Slender or FNAF is that the movements are simple and jagged, as opposed to games like Dead Space, where each individual Necromorph wants its 15 minutes on camera but moves very fluidly.

You know what, I can hold it.

Don’t mistake me, I still stand by Silent Hill 2 as one of the best games ever made, but I generally think the minds of the indie developers are where the best horror games do lie. The lack of the triple A “sheen” only makes things scarier.

Look out for Episode 3 of The Gaming Manifesto podcast where we will be discussing this research in depth.

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