I love survival horror games. Ever since I first played Resident Evil on the original PlayStation, survival horror games have been a staple of my gaming diet. And what makes an effective and successful survival horror game for me is not so much the jump scares sprinkled throughout each game, but more so the way developers use disempowerment, tension, uncertainty and fear of the unknown to provide thrills and chills.
An aspect of this psychology that some videogames successfully implement is occasionally what you can see in as much as what you can't. For example beings, creatures or monsters that can at first appear harmless or dead (but are actually dangerous) help add to the fear factor and overall creepiness of a game.
Here I have compiled a list of passive and unpredictable creatures and monsters that I have had both the pleasure and misfortune to encounter in some of the horror games I've played.
Please be aware there are quite a lot of spoilers in this list.
The Proxy in SOMA are mutated and bloated masses of veins, a typically terrifying sight to behold.
The Proxy are completely blind and reliant on sound, so they won't attack you on sight. You're safe from a distance as they can't see you but they can react to smaller things click of your flashlight. If they hear you, they'll start sprinting at you with ferocity.
Going back to what I said in regard to fear being in some of the things you can't see, The Failed Experiments lend themselves well to this aspect of terror.
Invisible to the naked eye aside from the electrical currents seen in the water, the Failed Experiments lurk at the edge of the shadows. Upon first introduction, these mobs won't attack you -- as long as you stay away from the water. When you begin to get close, though, your lantern will start to flicker like the other creatures in the game, adding an extra sense of creepiness to the encounters.
The Shibito in Siren: Blood Curse are reanimated corpses and look like zombies, but unlike zombies, they display a level of intelligence and operate day to day tasks as if they are on some kind of autopilot.
Not all of these creatures have fully succumbed to the the evil in the village. The Failed Shibitos are the villagers who refused to submerge in the red water and are rotten beyond recognition. What's more, most of the Shibito are absolutely harmless to the player.
Another harmless and very unnerving Shibito is found alone in Siren: Blood Curse it's a massive abomination of mutated head that screams it's completely harmless -- but totally horrifying.
You will be surprised to find that the majority of the massive crowds of zombies in Dying Light are quite passive in the early stages of the game which helpfully allows you to traverse the open world with relative ease although they'll still try and take a bite out of you if you get too close. At least until you're introduced to the more aggressive and ferocious Zombies later on in the game.
What adds to the general tension when you're working your way through the hordes is often hidden in amongst the crowds of passive zombies are the aggressive ones who will run, climb and hunt you down from the second they see you. I found this added a sense of panic and dread as there will be times you'll have no where to run.
There's a lot of things that Dead Space get right as a survival horror, from the isolated atmosphere to the fantastic sound design.
Two aspects of horror that Dead Space certainly nails for me is the fear of the unknown and the jump scares, the game manages to do a good job of combining the two without falling into the predictable 'closet monster' territory.
No more is this evident when you come across one of the various tortured souls. They are totally harmless but absolutely add another layer of creepiness and the occasional jump. Especially the ones that were stuck to the walls like in the above image. These grotesque things reminded me of both Hellraiser and Event Horizon which were no doubt heavy influences for Dead Space.
Xbox 360 launch title Condemned has a thick and dense atmosphere and the aggressive and unpredictable villains work in harmony to provide us with a very creepy game, add in the stalking mannequins and the developers Monolith just about gave me a nervous breakdown.
On the surface you'll come across what looks like harmless but creepy looking mannequins none of which attack you on first your approach turn around and you'll find that some of them have moved. This is a memorable part of an already scary game and what makes this so effective is you never know what is harmless and what isn't, unless you catch it moving.
I found Outlast to be one of the most intense and scariest videogames I've ever played. For my money it combines everything a horror game needs and I don't scare or jump easily when I play horror games.
The truly disturbing atmosphere is only matched by the even more disturbed inmates, who will either chase you down and kill you if you don't run and hide or they are going about their own business doing something either weird or vile.
You'll never feel safe when you approach an inmate as you're afraid that they'll stop whatever they are doing and turn their attention to you. It's very unnerving and will keep you on the edge of your seat every time you're in their presence.
Layers of Fear is a game that mixes psychological, mind-bending scares with some well-timed jump scares. It's true horror's power lies is in its ability to trick your senses, and in this sense, the mansion itself comes to life. It actively works against you and at times, it lulls you into a false sense of security -- which it exploits to the fullest as the game goes on.
There are so many ways the house itself acts to deter your senses from the renaissance era paintings' changing expressions and the vanishing doorways. The Mansion could be the most elusive and certainly the most original NPC on this list.
When horror games add in enemies and NPC's that may or may not potentially harm your character it can add an another way to misdirect the player adding a layer of psychological horror.
Adding a feeling of unsurety to the players sense of vulnerability and helplessness can truly add to the immersion and add to the claustrophobic nature of the surrounding atmosphere.
Ultimately what makes an effective horror game is the feeling of helplessness, it's unpredictability and the ability to scare you effectively if you're unsure in what to expect from characters/enemies and sometimes the environment around you as seen in Layers of Fear.