Seven years ago a small developer released Metro 2033, a post-apocalyptic survival horror set in the ruins of the Moscow Metro system. Usually I steer clear from Horror games, they just aren’t for me. One of my earliest memories involving games was refusing to play Resident Evil because I was convinced the disk was evil (I was seven at the time, cut me some slack). I’ve never really liked the genre, whenever I think of horror in the industry it almost always takes the form of jumpscares. I’ve never really had time for horror games because they rely too heavily on this trope. Every clip of F.E.A.R I see is essentially Alma shouting boo in your face and Amnesia was rife with them (helping Pewdiepie create a career).
Despite having very little love for the genre, a game close to my heart will always be Metro 2033. The reason for this is it’s attitude towards horror. Metro relies more heavily on creating suspense and setting you on edge than screaming in your face. For the majority of the game you are alone in the dark tunnels of the metro system. This game focuses more on creating a disturbing atmosphere for the player. You expect something to jump out at you but it never quite comes to fruition. You’re constantly on edge and when something does finally attack you it actually comes as a surprise.
I think what a lot of recent games in this genre get wrong a lot of the time is trying to make you look at something more and more shocking every five minutes. Dead Space 2 did this, forcing you to watch somebody become a necromorph right in front of you. It can be really easy for a game to just shout “BOO” every fifteen minutes rather than develop a lasting experience that leaves the player feeling disturbed. My most enduring memory of this game is the chapter called “Ghosts”. You travel through the abandoned sections of the Metro which are plagued by ghosts of those who died there. These ghosts appear as shadows on the walls rather than being interactable presences. The shadow of a boy being mauled by a tunnel mutant left me feeling disturbed way back in 2010 and its a moment I still remember vividly now.
Creating a dark and foreboding atmosphere makes a really big difference in bringing the player into the world of the game they’re playing. It’s why games like Alien: Isolation and Outlast are as popular as they are. They draw you in and all of a sudden, it’s you that you’re stuffing into a locker trying to hide from the monster chasing you. I realise that Metro is an old game now and a few horror games have come out using what I just talked about to great effect but, having said that it is a problem that I see with Horror in both mediums of movies and games which I think needs to be addressed. Atmosphere is so important if you want to really creep somebody out.