The wonderful thing about games in first-person is that since you’re seeing every sight of the character, you feel like the character from that view point. Horror and first-person shooter (or horror in first-person) has been there since the time of Doom. Seeing the best shot of monsters in video games is an important factor of scares and games in first-person is capable of showing it all. However there are just a lot of FPS horror games that did not do its job well in the horror department for the fact that first-person shooters are all about shooting and not enough about the scares. Sure you can be scared while you shoot, but if you’re able to wipe out an army of them, when you have enough bullets to do so, then what’s there to be scared of? I laugh at people who thinks that games like Call of Duty’s Zombie mode are too scary when they don’t know jack about the zombie genre (it’s a cliche). And others like Doom and Isle of the Dead that once (when it was released) was scary but lost all sense of horror because you’re too powerful to kill these enemies and the presentation is outdated. However there are developers out there that realize what makes horror work and manage to present them fully in first-person perfectly. Sad to say it, but very little first person shooters, that I can think of, has offered great horror like how the traditional survival horror games did for me. These are the games that knows how to control their audience with tone and never once made them too powerful, but feel like a victim. And here are the best of this video game hybrid that offered the best scares in first-person.
Number 5. – Penumbra: Black Plague
Before Amnesia: The Dark Decent brought back faith in horror games once again, there was a video game series that did just that, but didn’t have a lot of attention or hype. Being that it is a sequel of Penumbra: Overture, it succeeds on all the flaws and graphical problems the original game had. So what’s the scares in the Penumbra series? The mutants patrolling around the facility. Sure mutants are an overdone character concept, but Penumbra did made them very intimidating at a point where you become totally scared of such experiments. This was one of a those games in a long time where they did not give the player any weapons of any kind so that the player will feel all sense of horror. When you’re caught, run and do your very best to find a hiding spot whenever you can. I do admit that having the same mutants as our only variety is something to be desired, but the scares, puzzles, and presentation is outstanding nonetheless. Penumbra is that indie title that shows that it can be up par with the modern games of its day, and do horror better than the main stream horror games currently in the video game market.
Number 4. – System Shock 2
For an ambitious game that has a lot of cool variety of gameplay, character growth, and scares, System Shock 2 was without a doubt an awesome experience. It had the coolest atmosphere and the most outstanding soundtrack I’ve ever heard from a game that it makes it worth coming back to. Now it is really troublesome to actually try all these cool things without upgrades because the cyber molecules that allows you to upgrade are hard to find. Not to mention that there are so many aspects in upgrades that are so complex that it’s hard to figure out how to get that upgrade. But at the same time you would want to be rewarded for that sort of thing so that this game won’t be too easy. It was indeed a scary game where unearthly nightmares came to life like never seen before. The progression of the game was really insane where the game gets so imaginative that it was more than what I was expecting. It was definitely a challenging game where I had to learn so much in order to get what I was expecting, but by the end of the game it feels rewarding. Though you might become so powerful that it makes the final boss with Shodan to be so easy and quick, I certainly liked that it was an improvement over the original which I said that it was my cyberpunk space adventure come to a video game. Though I do blame all the flaws upon Irrational Games where they had no experience with developing System Shock 2, it is, indeed, an intelligent, intense gem that should not go unnoticed.
Number 3. – F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon
Who you gonna call? Well the Ghostbusters can’t handle such a damning task, so we have the F.E.A.R. squad to do it. You’re looking at one of my all time favorite first-person shooters ever. I never seen so much tension with a video game’s atmosphere in all my life and it does it so successfully. There are just moments that makes you get on the edge of your seat when you see Alma who constantly jump scares you and more than plenty of disturbing scenes whenever your character hallucinates. Not to mention that this game offered some of the best gunplay of the genre. Basically you can activate a slow motion effect (Max Payne style) and watch every single bullet being shot to fly off the screen. Also the bullet shots are purely effective and highly detailed when they hit walls, enemies, and other objects. The physics and the graphical capabilities actually show how engaging and realistic gun combat can really be. I did say that putting a lot of action in horror games ruins all suspense, but this game has a great balance between action and the horror so perfectly that it’s worth coming back to again and again. It’s just too bad that the sequels of F.E.A.R. totally ruined the experience and the whole point of the original game, but the first game is all that matters. I love F.E.A.R. for every ounce of breath and it shows that this is how first-person shooters should be done!
Number 2. – Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
In any media, anything that is inspired by H.P. Lovecraft knows what the nature of Lovecraftian or doesn’t know jack about the mythos. Dark Corners of the Earth may not be the scariest game, but it is really the most intense game I’ve ever played. I never ever felt like in a state of panic when the whole city of Innsmouth rushing in after you. It’s all thanks to the gothic atmosphere, the dark score, the sound system that felt real, and the monster designs were really frightening. I never felt so much adrenaline because this very title captures the tone and vision of Lovecraft’s work. Everything is just too mysterious in the game and the more you know the more something bad happens. Never has there been a game before it that demands you to survive and you can really feel it all. Sure people can bitch about how mediocre the shooting and stealth mechanics are, but if it were better, would it be any scarier? Having any disadvantage for the player when it come to facing all of the evils of Innsmouth puts the player in real panic and the last thing you ever want in a horror game is to make anything easy. There are so many moments in this game that get you in panic and at times makes you feel so sad for the characters that it feels like your heart fell off. I praise Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth honoring the name of H.P. Lovecraft for that it shows that its inspiration will continue forever.
Number 1. – Amnesia: The Dark Descent
This first-person horror game is not only frightening, it’s truly overwhelming. The developers (Penumbra) took everything about how to make video game scary and takes a extra mile of fear that we rarely have today. The scariest part of all is that this game refuses to let the player feel like they’re at all powerful; they’re in total danger no matter what happens. When you set foot in the dark you hallucinate. When you run out of time in finding what you need, a monster comes after you. And almost everything you do might come to an end in the most surprising moment. Amnesia is not the kind of game for the person who likes to feel in control of his experience. Frictional seems aware that a key ingredient in the recipe for fear is a feeling of powerlessness which is the key for making a video game scary. The player should be more the victim than the hero, helpless before whatever horrors stalk the halls and lurk in the shadows. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, developed on a shoestring budget by five Swedes, is a rare game that outshines (or rather, out-scares) the high-end, high-budget, triple-A titles that so often lay claim to the horror game mantle. For every praise that this game has gotten, it deserves every ounce of it for what it did for horror games as a whole.
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