Multiplayer has changed the gaming world forever. It was always fun to have three friends over and play split-screen in Goldeneye, but that seems like ages ago now. Multiplayer is intertwined with every piece of a game nowadays and although I love being so connected, some genres get hit hard. One of those genres is horror.
The horror genre is something special. Games constantly try to evoke emotions in the player, it is very rare they succeed. The easiest emotion to evoke in a player though is fear. I can name only a few titles that actually made me feel attached to the characters and story, but I can tell you countless stories about moments in horror games that had me terrified to go to bed at night. I remember being 14 and seeing the trailer for F.E.A.R. and nearly having a heart attack.
What has changed?
Every developer tries to squeeze multiplayer into their titles because they help sales. It’s a simple fact that if a multiplayer feature is incorporated that people will be less likely to rent it, and friends will purchase the game together to play with one another. I don’t have a problem with this, the problem lies in the hands of the developers making these games.
Games can be terrifying and still have multiplayer. Why Capcom keeps turning the classic Resident Evil franchise into a monster mow-down with a third person shooter feel is beyond me. People crave the excitement of eery music and never knowing when something might pop out at them. The “pull the blanket over your head” moment is something that developers should be thriving for, not replacing it with a fully automatic assault rifle and a room full of walking dead to destroy.
The speed of the game needs to be reverted back to its roots. Slower movement and progression, but still packed full of actions. I should be mortified to turn a corner in horror games, and hell I really used to be. Now they give me a full arsenal of ass-kicking gear. I know whatever greets me around this corner should be the one that is scared.
I am still holding onto hope for Resident Evil 6 as 5 wasn’t terrible, but I think Capcom overlooks the fact that players are completely fine not killing hordes of zombies if the ones they do kill feel satisfying. A revolver round between the eyes is always satisfying.
Dead Space is a game that still utilizes this slow paced, action packed, and creepy formula that creates a great balance of killing and fear. Slowly walking down hallways in a blood-covered spaceship and knowing that something is ready to make me piss myself is a feeling I love and hate. Obviously these are great single player games, but they added a multiplayer component similar to Left 4 Dead where you face-off as humans vs NecroMorphs. The multiplayer wasn’t terrible but it could have been done better.
I think they should scrap the versus in the next installment and exchange it for a cooperative story. Rumors have been swirling about the next game, and the word is it might be a whiteout instead of a blackout. Meaning you will be walking through environments that are blinding and visibility of an enemy will be hard until they are up close and personal. Possibly leading to more wide-open areas where you have a full 360 of terror.
An awesome idea if it is true. If this is untrue it would still be easy for Visceral to scale their hallways and corridors to fit in even one more player and have you and a friend tip-toeing forward with your guns drawn. Of course there should be no choice but to also make friendly fire mandatory. If I had a friend with a little monster climbing on his back, I better have the composure to shoot it off without hurting him or I don’t deserve to survive any further myself.
Even Alan Wake did a great a job putting together a survival/horror experience. The story was hard to follow, but other than that it was a great game of survival and fear inducing moments. Running through the dark woods with limited batteries and ammo, I had plenty of moments where I was sprinting to a light for safety. What was even worse was the times I reached them just to have it flicker out.
Like I said, these gameplay elements are still alive in a few games, and the ones that use them make their games stand out from the rest. Luckily there is a game in development that could possibly blend survival, horror, and multiplayer into one. The studio isn’t just creating a horror game though, the studio is creating a massively multiplayer online zombie survival game.
Undead Labs is the name of this studio and it appears their minds are in the right place. The game that is slated as an Xbox exclusive has a long way to go, but Microsoft is their publisher and with a firm gameplan and Jesper Kyd scoring the music, I am putting a lot of eggs in that basket.
They are focused on survival just as much as zombie killing too. Scavenging supplies, building structures like watchtowers/fences, and paying attention to noise levels are just a few of the things to expect in this world. It has a lot of potential and Microsoft jumping on board with no games under the studio except for a background in games like Diablo and Guild Wars could be a good sign of Microsoft’s support.
The best part of this information is that Undead Labs will be releasing a two player co-op XBLA game first. This will be a scaled down version of the full blown MMO that will showcase what their game will be. It will serve as a beta test to get player feedback and see what elements will get people dying (pun) to play an MMO on the Xbox. Plus the sales of the game will probably dictate how much money Microsoft will make rain on the studio.
If done correctly and on such a vast scale, we could experience the next big thing in gaming. Focusing on gathering resources and surviving could be a fantastic game by itself, add zombies into the mix and you have a huge demographic ready to give you money.
Now all of that information is swell and all, but there is one more fact that I failed to mention. Dying is permanent in this game. Yes, you read that correctly. Undead Labs has said that you will be able to keep your progress somehow, but nothing has you fighting quite as hard as when it means life or death between you and other players. This could end up being a survival simulation to test how people would react in similar real world circumstances. I’ve already discussed sitting in a watchtower and shooting church bells to alert hordes if I seen someone trying to sneak by a group of walkers. Dick move? Yes. Funny? Yes. Will it help me survive? Yes.
Saving the horror genre will be no easy feat. It will take developers stepping back and examining what they are really trying to make, but it is something that is needed. There are a few glimpses of sunlight as you can see above, but gamers should be able to pick up a game, read “survival/horror”, and know exactly what they are getting. A new developer could step into this world and capitalize on the current laziness if they really wanted. A fight needs to erupt on this battlefield and the cross-over of video games/horror movie fans is so wide that you know I’m not the first one to make this plea.
Developers should be trying their absolute hardest to give people nightmares, but the competition is meek.