Lest it be unclear by now for those of you who faithfully read my blog, I’m a pretty big fan of the horror genre. This is certainly true for movies (evidenced by the several such reviews I’ve put up for them) but is also true for video games. I absolutely love good horror video games.
The problem is, there aren’t really a lot of those. There are certainly plenty of horror video games, I’m not arguing otherwise. But there aren’t a lot of good ones. To make matters worse, when a good horror game gets made it usually turns into a series. And horror series inevitably turn into action/adventure series with a horror flavor.
Take, for example, Resident Evil. The original Resident Evil was a fantastic game, albeit very of-its-time. You played as a member of a fictional special forces team fleeing from monsters in a forest. You become isolated in a large mansion in the woods. Things rapidly go awry, as the mansion is full of zombies, mutants, death traps, and secret laboratories.
The game did a great job of keeping you on your toes. The atmosphere was consistent and unnerving. The enemies, while now genre staples, were new and hard to anticipate at the time. The camera angles were static, making it hard to see what was happening clearly amidst the periodic chaos. You couldn’t move and shoot at the same time, forcing you to balance running to safety and actually fighting.
The topper on the cake was the incredible scarcity of resources. You had a plethora of weapons to use to fight the undead, but ammo was at a premium. Herbs, the only way to regain health, were few and far between. Perhaps most notably, you had to spend an ink ribbon, a finite pickup, in order to even save the game.
It’s the kind of classic title that persists into the modern world. The graphics were bypassed moments after the game released, and a number of the core gameplay mechanics are now considered rather quaint. But the fact of the matter is the game was, and still is, just plain fun. More than fun, it was scary.
The problem is, the series isn’t like that anymore. Resident Evil 4, while undeniably a good game, altered the core structure from horror to action. The two titles to follow only made matters worse, pulling the franchise farther from its horror roots and deeper into blockbuster territory. Resources became common, coop became the norm, and massive boss battles ruled the day.
Games like Outlast and the Silent Hills: Playable Teaser have striven bring the genre back to its roots. A new craze has swept the gaming industry of dark, slow, atmospheric horror games, and I couldn’t be happier.
Which, in an incredibly roundabout fashion, brings me to today’s topic. The game I’m going to be describing today is a horror game that focuses on the player. They’ll be making a number of choices throughout the game that will shape the narrative experience.
At the onset of the game the player will understand practically nothing about the situation they’ve been thrust in. They’ll be presented with a binary choice. For example, the character might suddenly lurch awake from a nightmare because of a noise outside the room. The player will have to choose to either investigate the noise or stay and try to remember their dream. The story unfolds based on their choice.
This isn’t a new concept. Branching narrative paths have been around for a long time, and recent games like Heavy Rain and Until Dawn have taken it to the next level. The story in these games can evolve in dynamic ways. Or at the very least, it can seem to.
But what I’m talking about is different. When a player makes a choice in the game I’m suggesting here, they aren’t just deciding how the story unfolds. They’re shaping the story that has already occurred.
Going into the game the player won’t know anything other than what I’ve already described. They wake up in the dark after having a nightmare. A noise has woken them up. The rest of the story prior to this moment and the details of their character will be revealed slowly during the game based on the choices they make.
For example, let’s look at the binary choice I described earlier. After waking up, the player must decide. Do they investigate the noise, or try to remember their dream?
If they investigate the noise, it’s revealed that they fell asleep beside a bed in a hospital. A family member has is near death, and the player nodded off while standing vigil. The noise came from the hall, and they exit the room to investigate.
If the player had chosen to stay and try and remember their dream. In this case, it is revealed that they’re at home in bed next to their partner. It’s storming outside, and lightning periodically flashes through the room.
This would continue throughout the game. Every choice the player makes would alter not just how the story progresses, but what has already happened. This lets the story evolve in a way no other game has ever been able to. Every single outcome to every single decision will be unique to that branching path.
In other games you’re often presented with choices that are overall meaningless. Break down the door or climb through a window. Either way you get inside, and neither choice ends up affecting the story.
In the game I’m imagining, however, this choice would be vital in expanding the story. Choosing to climb through the window, for example, might reveal that your character was formerly a cat burglar. The events of the game could be built around that plot point. Perhaps the villain is seeking revenge on you for stealing their stuff. If you had smashed through the door, the character would be a construction worker. The inevitable conclusion would be shrouded in secrecy a little longer.
To start with, the game would have to be executed in an incredibly precise fashion. From the very beginning, the game would have to work with the player to reveal things at the appropriate pace.
For example, the game could start with the nightmare and then show the character lurching awake. The player would see the main character looking scared and startled, but the rest of the environment would be shrouded in darkness or out of the frame. This would allow the background to be unveiled as the player makes choices, panning out to reveal the ramifications.
Horror feels like the perfect genre for this game. The lack of prior knowledge plays into the general vibe perfectly. Additionally, the choices the player makes could adapt the game to fit them. Since the ramifications of their choices extend backward as well as forward, the game can start playing on their fears.
The player will have an incredibly difficult time guessing the future events of the story. They’ll be constantly be outstripped by the new information the game reveals. Every choice holds the potential for startling revelations that can completely shake up the foundation of the story so far.
It’s obviously an ambitious game. Pulling it off on a technical level would be a feat unto itself. Never mind the fact that, assuming the game had a total of ten binary choices throughout it, there would be fifty-five different unique endings. But the possibilities here are incredibly exciting. It probably wouldn’t be a huge title. Perhaps an independent developer would be able to create it as a smaller title. I don’t know. All I know is, if someone did make it?
I’d buy it.