By King_Bonzo 7 Comments
I was playing Dead Space 2 last night and I'll point out right now I've not finished it yet so please, anyone who comments, no spoilers :). I was playing that section in the church where you're attacked by a group of stalkers, the first time you encounter the creatures in the game. A little later on I was in the cryo freezer area below the church you see in the demo with all the frozen corpses. Now I played the demo so I knew at some point one of these coffins was going to burst open and I would be attacked by some deliciously gnarly looking bugger. Also back with the stalkers I knew they were there before they attacked, I could see their shadows and hear them scurrying about. They took cover only allowing me to see them up close once they'd come barrelling towards me with a crescendo of them screaming and me going "fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK, FUCK!"
It put me in mind of one of my best gaming experiences ever. Around... damn it must be at least 10 years ago now, I was playing a demo of Thief: The Dark Project on my mum's pc. The Demo level I had (I think two different ones were released) revolved around a failed hit on Garrat (Me) by two town guards and my proceeding to tail them back to their HQ to enact in some thieving and maiming and what not. The level was, like all Thief levels, bathed in shadow. Garrat in that game was a weakling and many times I allowed myself to be seen by the guards and they just full on murdered me. So I replayed and replayed desperate to get to the mansion area of the level without being seen.
Years later I'd play Far Cry 2. I'd been in a violent gun fight with some dark skinned people and as a white man with a tattoo on my arm I was legging it! I was in my jeep and shredding rubber through the jungle, right up until the point where I crashed into a tree, totalling my car. I have to jump out and I consider fixing the car but I take two bullets in the back. I pull up my desert eagle and drop 3 militia but there are more coming. I take cover behind my wrecked transportation, reload and shoot two more from behind cover. Now I have a problem. I am low on ammo, low on health and out of stim-packs and my car is out of commission, and I can't fix it from my cover. I need to move but if I move I could die, if I stay put with will definitely die.
These three scenarios all occurred and they all share the common bond of tension. All of them were all in their own way terrifying to play out. My heart was beating faster, I was unsure of what would occur after my next move and when I survived, when I won, when I defeated the gauntlet that had been laid down for me by these 3 equally Stella releases I fell adulation and relief. It was a rush because the games created a sense of peril that felt real.
Now it wasn't just the odds being stacked against me in these areas (less so in Thief where it was more an issue with my newness to the stealth game style), Metal Gear Solid always seems to stack the odds against you, as does Halo, and Street Fighter IV so what is it about these three scenarios that made me tense about playing them rather than frustrated, and feel relief because I had succeeded rather than relief because the trial was over.
I guess it'd have to be investment. Investment in the story and the character. Investment coupled with peril. That Thief managed to invest me in the game world with a demo just shows how downright kickass that series is and god help me I'm just about masturbating myself into a gibbering state of retardation over the idea of Thief 4. Or Thi4f if you want to be a dick.
Of course investment is entirely subjective. I've never been particularly invested in the Halo universe and to be honest I didn't really give a toss about the fate of Reach. That said I did care about the fate of Captain Price at the end of MW2 but saying I was feeling tension would be a stretch.
I'm not entirely sure what I'm getting at here. I rarely am in these blogs to be honest I just kinda start writing and stop when my fingers begin to develop calluses, but I guess my point is my fondest memories of gaming have been when the game has made me scared. Now I'm not talking about the whole "boo woogy woogy woogy" style of hammer horror scares you'd usual associate with such a statement I'm talking about being fearful of the scenario. Now anyone can tell you being scared of something doesn't mean it has to have been conceived by Stephen King. Bully's are scary, so are car crashes and fights and being told off by your mum when your 6. With genuine fear comes genuine joy once the peril in question has passed and this builds game experiences that are untouchable and remain with us just as clearly as the best songs, films, and books of our lives.
Of course, as stated, feeling peril is completely subjective. What scares you may not scare me and vice versa so it's hard to developers to hit such an obscure target but I hope they're trying because all off my favourite games are the ones that caused me to sweat.
Further Playing: Thief Series, Deus Ex, Far Cry 2, Tenchu Series (last generation iterations), Dead Space 2, The Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of The Earth