View Full Version : Why being defenseless is really scary

08-06-2011, 09:32 PM
So I had another shot at Amnesia: The Dark Descent again and I can't really remember the last time a game has been this scary for me. I came to a conclusion that it's because I can't fight back.

In other horror games I've been able to kill the monsters and explore in peace (except the first 4 hours of Dark Corners of Earth), especially with the latest titles on PC like Dead Space and Dead Space 2. Even in Penumbra at the beginning I could hammer them annoying wolves to death with the little hammer so I could just chill around and do my stuff. The fact that I can defend myself against some prick who tries to ruin my stroll in a game's world takes a lot off the edge. I guess this MSpaint image I found on the internet illustrates the situation pretty well.
The Dark Descent however gives me no option to fight back. Although the AI is stupid enough that just crouching in a dark corner will do for the nosy asshole to go away. I admit it does take something out of the immersion once you realise that it's the main trick but it is still scary. So the game is basically forcing me to be on my toes at most of the time and watch out for anything suspicious, wich I personally find really interesting since most horror games do not do this.

Also on a little side note, the insanity system is cool as an idea but badly implemented in Amnesia. All it made me feel is annoyance because I couldn't see straight. In Call of Cthulhu I accidentally left my dude watching a pile of small entrails in some gutter and the protagonist ended up shooting himself.

So what do you guys think about being absolutely defenseless in a horror game? Does it make the game more scary for you or is it just annoying?

08-06-2011, 09:48 PM
It was a bit scary in spots but what I really found disturbing was the detailed portrayals of actual historically used torture methods accompanied with sound tracks of actors being tortured using said methods. It wasn't just in one spot, you had to go all over the place to encounter one method and portrayal after another. Do you really want to fill your head with that stuff

Drake Sigar
08-06-2011, 09:55 PM
I think those first few hours in Dark Corners of the Earth were fantastic. When the protagonist obtains a firearm, that essential feeling of helplessness is lost almost immediately, and we’re eased back into familiar territory. The familiar isn’t scary at all.

Bring back survival horror I say!

Mouth of 10000 Teeth
08-06-2011, 09:58 PM
I've heard really great things about Amnesia: Dark Descents and was impressed with what I played, but that was only about the first 2 hours. Is the rest of the game good?

08-06-2011, 10:17 PM
The rest is definitely good, one of the best games I've played in aaaages! I was whimpering with fear at points, yelping and pushing my face closer to the screen in a vain attempt to run faster :) I really like the simple physics system, opening doors with a mouse movement, hiding in a closet, slowly opening the door a crack to see if the thing is gone :) I loved Dark Corners too, I'm a Lovecraft fanatic though, so I'd probably like it even if it wasn't very good. Handily enough it's great though :) I'd love to see a larger game made using similar mechanics, defenceless exploration, maybe some points with weapons, but not all... some varied gameplay styles and similar settings....

Mouth of 10000 Teeth
08-06-2011, 10:44 PM
I really should see what's outside the cupboard I shut myself in on my last save, then.

09-06-2011, 12:10 AM
I really should see what's outside the cupboard I shut myself in on my last save, then.

I haven't played Amnesia yet. Partly because I'm poor and partly because I'm a total pussy. The only times I can force myself to play games that I know will be incredibly scary are when I'm with someone else who's watching/playing with me or when I'm in a brave mood and feel like I can handle it.

Now, while being largely defenseless certainly amps up the scary factor a bit (I still say Fatal Frame 2 is the scariest console game ever), I think having weaponry can still be a terrifying experience. The STALKER series is absolutely mortifying because it creates so much tension and has such a great atmosphere. It's not over the top at all and the scares are very quick and can happen at just about any time (contrast to Dead Space), like being attacked by a pack of Bloodsuckers. There is no warning, it just happens, and there's no backing out of it. Chances are you've been walking around for a while at that point, so you're pretty wound up (especially with the fantastic atmosphere the games have - I get so drawn in I honestly do not register my mouse, keyboard or A/C in the wall next to me) and all of a sudden the adrenaline is flowing and the fear is being released all at once. The game draws you in and doesn't ever let you know when something will happen. Sure, if you go marching into the Bloodsucker Village or the antenna station you know you'll see Bloodsuckers, but you never know when, or from exactly where. Even just marching around the wild and encountering a bandit ambush or a pack of dogs coming out of nowhere is terrifying, because it happens so suddenly and you're just tossed into the fight, and if you don't act you die (on that note: enemies that look straight out of one's nightmares provide good fodder for fear. When I first saw this thing (http://stalker.wikia.com/wiki/Izlom) after installing a mod I paused the game and had to take a moment to calm myself down). And you register so well that This Thing Is Trying To Kill Me. I imagine that feeling is what real life soldiers must experience - just loads of tension building up, and then boom, the enemy is there and wants to end your life. War is Hell, and I want my games the same way. I will admit that Project Reality or other slow-paced realism war games have made me leap out of my seat because of the tension-building-boredom-cracked-open-by-gunfire feeling, although it's not really boredom, more just quiet.

Now, more on Dead Space: I don't find it particularly scary at all, though not because I had guns. The only chills it gave me were the kind where you lean back from your monitor a couple of inches and smile as you kill whatever just jumped out at you. But that's the thing: it's all jump scares. Any time I go into an area, my brain just goes, "OK, if there's something in here, it'll probably come from over there, or maybe up there." And then I just go walking in and figure out where the next alien is going to jump from and shoot at it.

Now, if you took the guns out of Dead Space and made the character have to hide in shadows or cupboards, it might be slightly scarier, but then I could always just charge into a room and dip into a hole somewhere.

There are a lot of things factoring into how scary a game can be. I would actually consider sports games to be scary, though in a completely different way. Being deadlocked with the other team in a tie heading into extra innings/overtime/stoppage time in a playoff game is absolutely gut wrenching, because one realizes that the loss could mean the end of the season or at least all that time spent playing "wasted" because the other team ended up winning. Totally different than Call of Cthulu, but similarly heart pounding.

09-06-2011, 02:42 AM
I can, unflinchingly, watch horror films and read horror stories all day and night but I couldn't even bring myself to consider playing Amnesia. There is something about the design, setting, sound and perspective of the game that invokes the exact feeling that I have in nightmares.

So I watched someone else play it on youtube instead. I still got surprisingly creeped out at parts, but it was tempered by the fact I got to laugh at the person playing being trouser-browningly terrified. At some point I will buy it because although I'll never play it myself, Frictional deserve lots of money for creating an entire game based around the anticipation of imminent doom.

09-06-2011, 07:40 AM
Being stuck without torch nor coal in minecraft and hearing the growls of beasts makes me panic like nobody's business.

09-06-2011, 09:54 AM
I haven't played Amnesia (it's sitting in my Steam library, watching, waiting...), so I can't comment on that. But, as OctaneHugo mentions above, I find having weapons to be more scary.
The idea that, even though I'm wandering around with an assault rifle I still can't properly fight is for me worse - the tension it creates, knowing that I have to be extremely lucky or skilled to survive (such as in STALKER) is incredible.

Drake Sigar
09-06-2011, 11:39 AM
So what I'm getting from this is: Amnesia - the game everybody's too scared to play.

09-06-2011, 12:05 PM
This is very interesting because I recently thought about something similar. Video games have taught us that you can defeat anything as long as the numbers are right. See that tentacled overdeity of untimely demise, older than the universe and the size of a small town? Just stab it real hard. Yeah. I think what always bothered me about video games that the characters we play are all way too powerful. If there is a problem, it can be solved, if it has a hit bar, it can be killed. In movies or books you see people running away from dangers and preserving their own lives is more important to them than of going out their way to gain loot and experience.
Remember Arcanum and the infamous half-ogre island sidequest? It's the longest quest in the entire game, you get it it in the first city and you can only solve it towards the end while collecting clues throughout the world. A lot of people were upset about this quest and even thought it was bugged because it seems to just end. It's not and it fits very well with the rest of the deconstructive theme of Arcanum, as it basically says "Just because you're incredibly powerful doesn't mean you can solve every problem in the world". All that remains is that you know the most terrifying secret in the world but there is nothing you can do about it.

09-06-2011, 02:49 PM
Anthile: yeah, absolutely. Feeling truly dwarfed is a feeling kind of absent from many present games, and for me it's the best way to make a world feel real - by showing you how small you are compared to it. And regarding Amnesia, real danger gives things much more edge, sure, /but/ - all of this is pointless if you can just restart from a checkpoint and run around the Big Bad on your second attempt. For me, only permadeath games can be truly scary or nervewracking - as a player in the real world, the only thing you truly have to lose is your time and effort. Having real risk of loss combined with fictional performance is really where shit gets memorable. SWAT 4 would be /nothing/ if you could save, f'rinstance. Of course, if you can make agame absorbing enough that you completely forget about your ability to save, then that's just beautiful (Stalker, I love you).

man-eater chimp
09-06-2011, 04:05 PM
So what I'm getting from this is: Amnesia - the game everybody's too scared to play.

Pretty much, I got this as a gift from a friend after saying I wanted it when actually I was just too much of a pussy to buy it. I managed half an hour before I went out that day and I haven't opened the game since out of fear alone.

I'm genuinely scared of getting lost in that game.

09-06-2011, 06:15 PM
You're all wimps!

Played about half of Amnesia, before getting stuck on a puzzle and then getting distracted by some other game. Really great stuff though. I'm sure there is lots of trickery going on, for example insanity never actually doing anything besides messing your screen up a bit, but it gets you into the petrified zonr so well that you don't think about it. I'll be going back to it when I get hold of one of those Razer Hydras, which the game supposedly supports.

I think there is a fine balance you have to strike with gaming horror. Having weapons or not isn't the key, but you need to make the player feel at least somewhat powerless. Enemies that can appear from anywhere, limited ammo, limited health, enemies that can't be stopped only slowed, etc. Those are the things you need to make a game scary. I recall Kieron's review for Thief 3 saying it was all about the running away, and I think that applies to horror games too. If you can make your player run fron the enemies instead of confront them, then you are doing something right, probably even more so if they have a gun in their hand at the time.

At the same time as creating threat, you don't the player to be constantly dying. That's just going to ruin the immersion.

09-06-2011, 11:05 PM
@OctaneHugo For me Stalker has been a pleasant experience. Maybe because I like to think that I know my way very well around the game and I do not go into battle unprepared. Every bloodsucker, controller, snork etc is just a calculation for a headshot for me, although the game has genuinely scary moments in it. But yeah, as long as I have my G36 I'm happy to wander the Zone.

09-06-2011, 11:11 PM
It's strange to say that Amnesia is a game that I really want to play and also really don't want to play.

09-06-2011, 11:27 PM
I played it through to the end, and I have to say, it's the most stressful (scary) game I've ever played. It was the sense of constant anxiety and.. what was that sound? Using stealth, not to get a quick kill, but to not get killed was very satisfying. In a sort of terrifying and agonizing way. So many times I would get chased, and I was actually mindlessly running in the vain hope of escape. Not even the rational part of my mind that told me "this is just a game" was enough to calm me down.

09-06-2011, 11:39 PM
I played it through to the end, and I have to say, it's the most stressful (scary) game I've ever played. It was the sense of constant anxiety and.. what was that sound? Using stealth, not to get a quick kill, but to not get killed was very satisfying. In a sort of terrifying and agonizing way. So many times I would get chased, and I was actually mindlessly running in the vain hope of escape. Not even the rational part of my mind that told me "this is just a game" was enough to calm me down.

I guess the developers really succeeded creating a truly horrifying game for you, and I mean really succeeded.

10-06-2011, 12:55 AM
Another of the interested in the game, but too much of a pansy to try it brigade here.

I think guns in games are so much part of the gaming experience we've all had, that having them gives us a sense of control. We can effect the outcome of most situations, through using skill. When we fail and we have a gun, it's a failing on our part and that doesn't breed fear, so much as frustration. Take away the safety net of a gun and we no longer are in control and we're not really used to that in games. There's no shared sense that translates from game to game, as to how we're supposed to react in that situation, so we sit and stare at a wall until the sound abates, or hide in a cupboard.

If you think about the FEAR games, the moments that actually worked for me in terms of being scary, were the ones where we were treated to incorporeal visions that have a similar effect of taking away our control. All of a sudden our guns no longer seem to do anything, our power and control over a situation is gone.

I did find parts of the original Stalker scary, but it was more a case of figuring out, 'can I kill that?' and 'how do I kill that?' (the answer to those questions are 'yes' and 'by shooting it' respectively) After I had that knowledge it was no longer very scary for me, as atmospheric as the games are.

Vampire: Bloodlines had that mansion level which still makes the hair on my neck rise, through a similar loss of control. For most of the game, despite dealing with supernatural and some traditional horror themes, you are a vampire, you're the creature to be feared, you can control peoples minds, shoot them or hack them up with an axe. Then all of a sudden you're under the control of a poltergeist, something you can't affect in the normal way, he dictates where you can go and has power over your actions. It was a much more scary experience than for instance the insane guys house/asylum in the same game, which though creepy and full of horrific insane creatures, was more atmospheric than scary.

So yeah, guns give us a sense of power and control (and in the game), taking them away or taking away whatever abilities allow us to normally effect the game world in ways we as gamers are accustomed to gives us a sense of helplessness. That's what scares me in games anyway.

10-06-2011, 01:09 AM
I'm glad that other people have had a similar experience with Amnesia as me... I got more than halfway through the game, carefully avoiding the hideous enemies, but the first time I REALLY got caught I was playing at around 2 am, in my pitch black room, descending into an awful ass dungeon. I got mauled by one of those shrieking bastards, and before I even respawned I had to shut the game down and turn on the lights just to reset my racing heart. That was EIGHT MONTHS AGO. The moaning noise on the opening menu sets my anxiety into overdrive now, to say nothing of actually loading my save. I don't think I'll ever be able to finish it, but I definitely think it's a brilliant game.

10-06-2011, 04:24 PM
Amnesia is awesome. Officially the scariest game I've ever played and definitely one of the most atmospheric as well. I'm a sucker for these sorts of games anyway so I'm bound to say that.

Mihkel has hit the nail on the head regarding weapons. Frictional improved the one thing that stopped me from loving Penumbra: the combat. Penumbra stopped being scary the minute you realized you could swing your pickaxe to kill the dog-esque creatures that plague the mine you are in.

Amnesia doesn't give you the luxury of a crowbar or even a big stick. You don't even have the option of fighting with your bare hands. You see a zombie, you have to run your ass off. Cupboards quickly become a welcoming sight.

The basic stealth gameplay forms the backbone of the entire game, but it never gets old. You're always relieved when the scary music dies down and you've evaded your enemy. The enemies stay scary too because you never really get a good look at them (unless you want to, I certainly didn't want to hang around!). Their features are blurry and unclear and this only adds to the terror, because your imagination fills in the blanks in the most horrific way.

What's also brilliant about Amnesia is the way it fucks with your head. Frictional understand that being constantly bombarded by scary stuff is too overwhelming, and would ultimately be detrimental to the game. They've balanced the scary bits around 'safe' hub areas, complete with soothing music that assists in returning your heart rate to normal (at least for a few minutes anyway). The juxtaposition of these sections is potent at manipulating your sanity (both in game and in real life).

An example of this is one brilliantly scary section early on, which after escaping it, leaves you in a beautiful hall with a glistening fountain and stained glass windows. The relief upon entering this place is almost tangiable, and is easily on a par with any other emotion the game is able to extract from you.

Like another of my favourite games, System Shock 2, Amnesia combines the general terror of the gameplay with some horrific discoveries too. The moment when you find out what the protagonist was doing before he got amnesia .... Brrr. Or how about your discoveries in the Choir and Transcept? The combination of the two emotions is a powerful recipe for immersion.

Another thing which adds to the thrill is the random appearances of the enemies. I was backtracking through a later section of the game, on my way to solving a puzzle, and nearly had a heart attack when I heard a terrible howl from a room I was (up until that moment) positvely sure was empty.

I'm always sad seeing people say that they're too scared to try it, because it is one hell of an experience. I don't think I would be as disappointed if it were a bad game, but it's not, it's an excellent one.

Sorry I was meant to talk about guns and stuff and just went off reviewing Amnesia. Damn I love that game.

14-06-2011, 02:32 PM
The idea that, even though I'm wandering around with an assault rifle I still can't properly fight is for me worse - the tension it creates, knowing that I have to be extremely lucky or skilled to survive (such as in STALKER) is incredible.

This is exactly what I wanted to say - the beginning of Shadow of Chernobyl was quite a shock being used to games where they usually ramp up the difficulty. Firt time I decided to go and be neighbourly with the local army members at the base and bridge came as a bit of a shock, not to mention stumbling into / running away from that bloody pack of dogs just over the bridge...

That game kicks your bum and we love it

14-06-2011, 02:56 PM
Why didn't I feel scared in Amnesia? Everything about it is exceptionally well done - the pacing at the start is a great example. Very little happens for a long time, but you are being pursued. A piano plays in the next room, thudding footsteps come up the hall with no owner. The wind howls about the cavernous rooms of the old castle. But I wasn't scared.

The well known video of that guy getting absolutely terrified on skype with his friends is exactly how I react to enemies in Minceraft. My suspicion is that I have nothing to lose from getting torn up in Amnesia but everything to lose from getting jumped in Minceraft. I now play it on peaceful difficulty because I can't handle the fear of the dark.

That game kicks your bum and we love it

I wish I could get into Stalker. But I've tried multiple times. And it won't go.

14-06-2011, 03:05 PM
I imagine it just has to do with what *specifically* plays into (or onto) your fears. I find those moments in minecraft to be just a bit creepy and a bit tense, whilst I'd be lucky to play 10 minutes of amnesia before hiding my character in a cupboard and closing the game down for good.

14-06-2011, 03:25 PM
So was I the only one who thought that having absolutely no weapon in Amnesia was ultimately immersion-breaking? Sorry, but if I'm gonna explore a huge creepy castle I'm not going to do it without my trusty broom. It is only natural for people to pick up a weapon when they're scared, and the fact that Amnesia didn't allow it constantly reminded me I'm playing a game with an arbitrary restriction.

I'll take System Shock 2's way over Amnesia's any day: Give player weapons, but then introduce restrictions on using them - limited ammunition, degradation, etc.

I wish I could get into Stalker. But I've tried multiple times. And it won't go.

You tried Complete mod?

14-06-2011, 09:09 PM
My girlfriend and I were discussing the idea of combat (or lack thereof) in Amnesia after she and I finished the game. Dark Corners of the Earth implemented the combat pretty poorly - as soon as you pick up the Tommy Gun, you suddenly feel relatively invincible. Amnesia, on the other hand, leads to occasional frustration with the AI enemies. If they do see you, you are essentially fucked, unless by some stroke of luck you hit them with an object (it stuns them for a moment, but this is never mentioned) and manage to run away to break line of sight.

We came to the conclusion that a revolver or similar weapon would dramatically change the way the game plays, but by limiting that supply of ammo to an extreme extent (say, you find two or three bullets per area, and it takes two or three headshots to drop an enemy), you could keep it from ever making you feel safe. This would allow the player to, when they are trapped, have a last ditch shot at survival instead of saying "I'm screwed, better reload."