Jump scares are death of horror games
It seems like every other game that comes out now is a horror game. The gaming community is flooded with them. Those on PC know what I am talking about; tons of horror games are all over Steam and the Internet. I’m sure a new indie horror game comes out just about every day.
This wouldn’t be a bad thing if the games were good, but sadly they aren’t. Five Nights at Freddy’s and Slender are prime examples of this. But what is it about these games that makes them so bad? They rely too heavily on jump scares, and not enough on the other elements that go into a great horror game.
I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of grief for saying I hate Five Nights at Freddy’s and, I’m sorry, but it needs to be said. These games are horrible. (Unless they are intended to put me to sleep, then they are doing a great job.) This game is based solely on jump scares, and those get really old and predictable really fast. The whole point of the game is to sit in one spot and shut doors before the animatronics get in the room with you and kill you. The game lacks creativity; nothing is exciting about sitting there closing doors and worrying about the “monsters”. The game gets very predictable after less than an hour, because it's so easy to tell when the jump scares will happen. But that doesn't stop the Five Nights at Freddy’s developers from making one or sometimes two of these games every year - which certainly doesn't give them enough time to worry about silly little details like story and suspense.
This is also true for Slender: The Arrival. The Internet made a big fuss about this one, but it honestly has to be one of the worst horror games I have played. The story was boring, and the scares were pathetic. The game requires you to do nothing but collect papers and turn on generators. It has what it calls a “story”, but the story is nothing more than a girl looking for her friend in the woods. She then encounters Slender and runs to find the pages. This happens for a few levels, and then the there is one final level where you walk up a hill and into a building and see a dead man. Then the game ends. It's got a little more suspense than FNAF, but still...this was the game that everyone went crazy over?
These game are two of the most popular in the horror game community, and I just don’t get it.
Aaron Pokoj, a metal guitarist and avid horror game player like myself, shed some light on this phenomenon:
“With the rise of the 'Lets Player', horror games have become more focused on cheap scares than actually being scary. Jump scares and 'pewdiebait' litter the scene, as game developers sacrifice atmosphere and story for those cheap scares.”
Is there any hope for the horror genre?
Games like Outlast and Amnesia are the little rays of sunshine that make me think there is a future for horror games. Outlast has a great story, great scares (that aren't just jump scares), and a great setting for a horror game. The game actually got my heart racing and made my palms sweat. Amnesia also has a great story and setting. Both games leave the character weaponless with no way to fight back. Both games make the player think on their feet as they run from the monster and try to find a way to hide. If the player is unable to find a place to hide, they are brutally killed, and the player is left shocked and with their heart pounding.
These games recognize something that Slender, FNAF, and every other jump scare game out there does not: monsters popping out at you does not a horror game make. You need an engaging narrative that forces you to keep playing even when it freaks you out, a really atmospheric setting to immerse you in a terrifying world, and lots of suspense to keep it from becoming boring and played out.
I have played god knows how many horror games, and the sad thing is that most are bland rehashes of the FNAF formula. But more complex and well-crafted games like Outlast and Amnesia give me hope. Once gamers start getting as tired of jump scares as I am, maybe we'll see more game like them.