An article by Dawson Simanson
Horror has always been a force to be reckoned with in the gaming industry, with powerhouse franchises like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Dead Space and Dead by Daylight to name a few. As of late though, Supermassive Games has taken survival horror to a whole other level. In 2015, Supermassive Games hit on something that seriously changed horror gaming when it released Until Dawn for Playstation 4.
The essential premise of Until Dawn and the subsequent games to follow, is that a group of people are brought together for various reasons and thrust into horrifying situations, for which the player must make in the moment decisions that affect the outcome of the game. A decision that seems trivial in the moment can have dire consequences later in the game. The game became so popular because of its innovation that it spawned the creation of the Dark Pictures Anthology in 2019.
The Dark Pictures Anthology took what Until Dawn did and worked out any kinks the original game had from a mechanics standpoint, then expanded on what worked to great accord. Man of Medan and Little Hope are the released games to date, both enjoyed by many horror aficionados, with a teaser trailer out now for House of Ashes slated to be released this year.
What is best about these games is simply immersion. The setting is amazing and dark, it is near impossible to not feel something about each character, whether you love them or hate them, and the stories are equally dark and engaging. Part of what really works with these games, is the moral dilemma it presents for each character. You are tasked with making their every decision, and all of them have repercussions. There is a myriad of ways to play the game, so it can be played multiple times, but the first time you play it you are more than likely trying to save all your characters. The horror comes in in the form of if your character dies, it is because of a decision you have made, and by that point you are emotionally invested in the character. If you are not invested and do not like a character, letting that character die is equally terrifying for what it says about your decisions for them.
The difference between the horror in most horror games and these games, lies in the control the player has. Kill your character in a shooter? He comes back and you start where you left off. In these games, dying is permanent and affects the entire course of the game then on. And that aside from the jump scares, is where the horror lies. You feel like your decisions and reactions are controlling what happens to someone else. My first experience with Until Dawn, I was streaming it and trying to make a good show for my audience by not losing any characters. I was doing good until at the end of the game I made ONE bad decision that killed over half my characters. And that outcome stayed with me for days and I made a promise to myself and my community that I would play it again. These games illicit an emotional response in ways different than most horror games.
As a streamer, I can attest that all the current games in the series garner a strong emotional response, and a lot of jump scares. For me, not only was I going through the experiences of the game, but my audience was as well. (I think I got scared and threw my controller at least twice.). The games play out in almost a film-style way, with several famous actors and actresses lending themselves to these games, making the immersion even better, and connecting you more to the characters.
If you have not tried any of the games, the Dark Pictures Anthology is available on more platforms, whereas Until Dawn is Playstation exclusive. These games are absolutely for an audience that wants a story-driven experience. These games are worth your money solely based on the number of times you can play it and get a different experience.
So, if you love jump scares and psychological horror, this game format is going to continue making its place near the top of horror gaming experiences and continue to shape the face of the horror genre in gaming.