Archives for posts with tag: Horror

Two years after it first debuted on PC and PS4, Frictional’s latest slice of terror finally arrives on Xbox One. Rather than the interdimensional gothic horror of Amnesia, however, Soma opts for a near-future science fiction setting, and looks to ask questions about what it means to be human.

You awake in a Toronto apartment in 2015, in the body of Simon Jarrett, a poor sod who’s recently suffered a traumatic accident. As a result, he’s off to have a brain scan as part of an experimental trial; a pair of scientists have come up with a way to model the brain, allowing them to test out different treatments in a virtual setting before applying a working therapy plan on a living patient. Simon travels to the lab, takes a seat to begin the scan, and a helmet is lowered over his face before his vision fades to white.

He wakes up a hundred years later.

Clearly things didn’t go to plan. Simon awakens to find himself in a dilapidated, decaying industrial area, seemingly devoid of life, with no explanation for this sudden shift. Exploring our surroundings, we discover Simon has somehow been transported to an undersea research complex in a post-apocalyptic earth; after a comet struck the surface, the members of the PATHOS-II facility became the last remnants of mankind, and set about a plan to preserve humanity. And yet, at least to begin with, we can’t seem to find any people here, just murderous robots that seem intent on stalking poor Simon through darkened corridors at the bottom of the sea. On top of that, there’s some strange growth infecting everything in the station and its surrounding environs, apparently reanimating and controlling organisms for its own ends. Soma‘s vision of our near-future is a reassuringly chunky, almost retro-futuristic one, which makes its setting, and by extension its fiction, broadly believable, and at this point you’d be forgiven for being reminded as much of Creative Assembly’s Alien Isolation as anything from Frictional’s back catalogue.

Nothing good happened here.

While you’ll spend a fair amount of your time in SOMA creeping around creepy abandoned facilities by yourself, Simon isn’t alone during his journey through the thermal plants, factories and research labs that make up the PATHOS-II Initiative’s clutch of facilities. Fairly early on, you’ll meet Catherine Chun, a former member of the team that guides you toward your objectives and engages in frequent debates on the nature of the self. You see, while Soma can be a terrifyingly visceral experience at times, especially when being chased by the awful victims of the aforementioned infection, its true horror is more existential in nature. I really don’t want to spoil the story – which is interesting, thought-provoking, and genuinely gripping, and should definitely be experienced first-hand – but much of the thrust of Soma rests in exploring what makes us human, and where our sense of self – our very consciousness – resides. There are some genuinely chilling and unsettling moments in Soma that have nothing to do with creepy monsters or jump scares (though there’s plenty of those, too), and it’s all the more effective for its undersea setting, the pressure of the unfathomable depths pressing down on you and reminding you you’re almost alone in the world, often with nothing but your own thoughts for company.

Crucial to the horror experience is pacing, and Soma is excellent in this regard, too. You’re never in one place doing one thing for too long, and as soon as you start to think you might be getting a little too comfortable in any one location, you’ll be whisked off to another part of the North Atlantic shelf to do something else. Like Frictional’s other games, and increasingly common to the genre, you’ll spend a lot of your time simply exploring the environment and hiding from ungodly terrors (you’ve no means to defend yourself, of course), while also solving a decent amount of puzzles. These won’t tax your grey matter too hard, but you will at least need to engage your brain for a minute or two, and most are enjoyable.

You’ll also spend a significant amount of time out on the sea floor, often trudging between stations. At first, being surrounded by vast, fathomless nothing feels oppressive, with your vision and hearing severely curtailed by the deep, dark depths. This feeling never really goes away, but after a while you’ll start to appreciate the relative freedom, and there’s a sense of (again, relative) serenity to these sections, especially as you come to realise you’re rarely in any mortal danger when out in the water. Of course, there’s still that sense of foreboding, that crushing dread that the game has been instilling right from the start, when Simon awoke in his apartment in 2015 and you had a sense that things weren’t quite right, and it’s to the game’s credit that it manages to keep that tone throughout. It’s never less than unsettling, and the fact that Soma manages to offer an ending that can leave you both horrified and elated is quite something indeed.

See, now isn’t this much nicer?

There’s also dozens of documents to read and audio recordings to find that will flesh out the lives and experiences of the now-absent PATHOS-II team if you care to explore. Aiding that is a new gameplay experience called Safe Mode, which allows you to play through the game immune to its various monsters. Before playing, this sounded like an odd addition for a horror game, but having now experienced Soma – and again, I’d like to stress that its horror is more rooted in existential dread than monster closets – it makes perfect sense. This is a world you will want to explore, and sometimes you just can’t – if a monster’s patrolling an area, you will have to sneak past, or maybe even try running and see where that gets you. My natural inclination in narrative-heavy games is to explore every inch of the world, and I couldn’t quite do that in Soma. I’m seriously considering another playthrough to experience Safe Mode for myself.

It’s a world you should experience for yourself, too. If a mix of Amnesia, Alien Isolation and System Shock sounds like sweet, terrifying manna from heaven (hell?), well, why haven’t you played it already?

You know a game takes its scares seriously when the first thing it asks you to do is turn off all the lights and refrain from tearing your gaze from the screen. Yomawari: Midnight Shadows even implores you to promise not to break these rules. You might wish you did.

Much like last year’s Yomawari: Night Alone, Midnight Shadows begins with a little girl and her dog. While we, unfortunately, had to witness the demise of the former protagonist’s cute little pup Poro, here we’re introduced to Yui, who has headed up into the mountains near her quiet little town to bury her beloved pet. I think Nippon Ichi might have something against dogs.

If you’re new to the Yomawari games, you might find yourself somewhat mollified by the cutesy chibi character designs and beautiful hand-drawn art. Do not be fooled. This is a bleak world where bad things happen. Much like the first game, that charming art gives way to an oppressive atmosphere, exaggerated by some incredibly minimalist audio – which frequently uses nothing but natural sounds like the rush of a river or the wind through the boughs of a tree – and some severe vignetting that darkens the periphery of your vision, forcing your focus to the centre of the screen, and hiding the terrors of the night in deep shadow. This is not a relaxing game to play. Even before you’ve seen anything out of the ordinary it’s put you on edge.

Of course, you’ll discover very early on that things are not normal in this town. The opening of Yomawari: Midnight Shadows – which I don’t want to spoil – might be the bleakest thing I’ve seen in a video game, and I honestly still don’t quite know how to feel about it. Dressing this segment up as the opening tutorial amplifies its effect substantially; “Ok,” you think, “the game’s teaching me how to play. I just hold X to pick this up. I push this over there. There were go. Aaaand… Oh. Oh God.” You’re lulled into a false sense of security, because you’re just being taught the controls, right? Nothing bad can happen in a tutorial. Yet with a few simple button presses, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows makes you complicit in a genuinely shocking act. And you’re only ten minutes in.

Returning players will note many similarities beyond just a little girl and her dog. Indeed, Midnight Shadows both looks and plays almost identically to the 2015 original, and that’s not a bad thing. What we have here is kind of an isometric 2D Silent Hill, where you’re tasked to explore an apparently-normal town where things have somehow gone very wrong. After the opening segment, we’re re-introduced to Yui, who has come to the mountain overlooking town with her friend Haru to watch a fireworks display. It turns out Haru is moving away and the girls are saddened that they will soon be separated. Haru, of course, doesn’t want to leave her friend, and declares that she’s not going anywhere. She’s going to stay with Yui forever.

As darkness falls and the girls head home through the woods, they begin to hear strange noises. Eerie apparitions flitter in the corners of their vision, and finally they hear a voice. Armed with a torch, Yui volunteers to go and take a look, and instructs Haru to hide in the bushes. Heading through the woods alone, she comes across something lying in the middle of the path. Bending to pick it up, she realises it’s the red leash she had used to walk her dog. We’re instructed to jump into the inventory to view it, so we do just that, reading the little text description and OH GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!

Christ. You’re not even safe in the menus.

We cut back to Haru, who emerges from the bush to find Yui gone, her discarded torch lying on the ground nearby. She sets off through the night to find her friend.

As you make your way around town, investigating points of interest for useful clues, you’ll note the cues Yomawari: Midnight Shadows takes from the earlier Silent Hill games. The inspiration is apparent too in that bleak, oppressive atmosphere, and there’s the roaming monsters and spirits that appear to block your path and chase you down. In Yomawari however, you feel more vulnerable than in, well, the vast majority of games, to be honest. It’s not just because you’re a little kid that can’t fight back, seemingly abandoned and alone in a town with no friends, no adults, no signs of normal life. Yomawari uses the children’s innocence to underscore just how miserable all this is; there are no adults around, strange spirits are roaming the streets, and yet for all that, the town looks normal, and Haru doesn’t even question it, doesn’t wonder where her parents are. She just wants to find Yui again.

The foreboding mood is fostered by that crushing sense of creeping dread that the best of Japanese horror cinema does so well, where even mundane, every day things will set your teeth to chattering, like the rustling of litter or the buzzing of a sodium streetlight. And of course there’s the scares. The majority tend to consist of jump scares, and I’m usually pretty immune to those, but there’s something about this game, something that makes me jump out of my skin whenever some multi-limbed grinning horror bursts from a seemingly-innocent little alleyway and chases me down a dark street when all I want to do is get back to the safety of home.

Luckily, Haru can hide in some of the scenery around town. If you see a bush or an A-board, you can duck behind it to escape the night, and you’ll see your chosen hiding place illuminated in the centre of a black background, the roving terrors that are following you picked out in red as they near your hiding place. You’ll hear Haru’s heartbeat pounding in your ears as they get closer, and even though you’re sure they can’t pull you from safety, your already-frayed nerves will be at breaking point until they start to move away, and you think it might be safe to emerge and continue your journey.

When you do, you’re just back out in the night, with the monsters, the dark, and the rushing of the wind.

It’s been a while since I posted about my YouTube channel, A Game with Chums, so I thought I’d throw up a short update.

As Hallowe’en is now upon us, I’d like to point out that we’ve been playing horror games all month on the channel, and tomorrow, October 31st, our final video goes up. We’ve been continuing with our let’s play of Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn on Mondays, and then uploading a random horror game every Wednesday and Friday, until last week when we decided to go all out in the run up to the day itself, and post a new one daily. Here’s our latest one, which went up yesterday.

This was our first time playing Forbidden Siren, so we weren’t great at it. It was pretty tense though! Below you can also find the latest part of out Until Dawn let’s play. Things escalated pretty damn fast.

Here’s the list of all the games we’ve played so far for our month of horror, as well as the platforms we played them on. Why not catch up before our final video goes up tomorrow? I’ll also have a timely review for you tomorrow as well.

Project Zero || OG Xbox
The Evil Within || Xbox One
The Thing || OG Xbox
Yomawari: Night Alone || PSTV
Layers of Fear || Xbox One
The Suffering: Ties That Bind || OG Xbox
Dead Space || Xbox One
Corpse Party || PSTV
Condemned: Criminal Origins || Xbox One
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth || OG Xbox
Resident Evil Revelations 2 || Xbox One
Silent Hill 2 || OG Xbox
Forbidden Siren || PS4

If you happen to check out any of our videos, please do let me know what you think below, and come back tomorrow for that final video and spooky review.

I thought I’d do something a bit different today. Last night, a few ideas popped into my head for a (very) short story, and I decided to get them down before it all disappeared back into the aether, as so often happens. This is a gaming blog, so I’m not going to start flooding it with my own fiction, but I have nowhere else to publish this, so this is where it’s going. And if you count the fact that I had P.T. on my mind when the story took shape, you could almost say it’s gaming-related, in an incredibly roundabout way.

So, if you’re interested, give it a read and leave a comment letting me know what you think. If I end up writing more shorts, I might start another blog for them.

Michael’s Story

He’d definitely heard something. Michael crept out of bed and tip-toed across the room, reaching for the door handle. Slowly, quietly, he eased open his bedroom door and stepped into the hall.

It was in darkness, save for a shaft of intense light cast on the opposite wall at the far end of the hallway. “The bathroom light,” he said out loud to himself, realising the door was ajar. “I’ve left the bloody bathroom light on again.”

He took a few paces down the hall, but something was nagging him in the back of his mind. He stopped a metre from the bathroom door, suddenly realising what he’d forgotten: a noise had woken him. Perhaps he’d left the window open as well, and a breeze had knocked something off of the windowsill? His subconscious was telling him he was wrong.

Gingerly, Michael reached out to the bathroom door, feeling the hairs on his arms rise, his scalp tightening. He realised he’d been holding his breath, and silently exhaled. The bathroom door suddenly slammed shut, as if pulled from within, and the sharp crack resounded in the sudden darkness. Michael, stricken by the unexpected shock, found he couldn’t get his body to move. His mind screamed for escape, even as his arm disobeyed and reached out to open the door. It was as if he was watching with no control, imprisoned in his own mind and forced to watch when all he wanted to do was flee.

His hand clasped the door handle, pushed it down. The door gently swung open with an almost apologetic creak, and he saw the room was in complete, inky darkness. It was the blackest, most suffocating darkness he had ever seen, and everything about it radiated a sense of wrongness that prickled his skin. As he made to close the door, there was a muffled shuffling sound, as if someone was pulling a heavy, wet sack across the floor, and he froze anew, every nerve on fire now.

He took a sluggish step back, bumping into the wall on the other side of the hallway as a strangled croaking sound began to emanate from the dark abyss of the bathroom, like some awful death rattle escaping something he couldn’t see. This time, he found he could move. He bolted for the front door, throwing his shoulder into it as he pushed down the handle, and he flew out over the threshold, out of the house, away from the hellish sound that was still ringing in his ears. He heard the door slam shut behind him and squeezed his eyes closed for a second to drive out the last echoes of noise.

When he opened them, he was not where he should have been. Instead of finding himself on his driveway, his small silver hatchback in front of him, he was in a dark, narrow red brick alleyway. Tall buildings rose on either side of him, closing him in like some suffocating urban canyon. Black metal fire escapes lined the walls on either side, but none of them looked reachable, suspended just out of reach, and seemingly all bereft of their lower ladders. He spun around. The house was gone, replaced with a solid brick wall. He reached out to it slowly, stroking it with the tips of his fingers before flattening his palms to it. He pushed, and was sure he felt the wall push back. He backed away, putting some distance between himself and the impossible wall where his house had just been before turning back to look at the alley again.

Michael’s mind reeled. Was he dreaming? No. No, this was far too real. He’d never experienced such cold, mortal terror in a dream as he had standing in front of his bathroom door just moments ago, and he could feel malice emanating from… from whatever had been in there. Maybe he was losing his mind? Maybe the break-up, piled on top of everything else he’d had to deal with over the last year, had finally caught up with him and just broken him? Maybe his body was locked in a padded cell somewhere, while he – the real he, the lucid he – was trapped here, fighting the nightmares in his head?

He reached out to the side wall of the alley, brushing it with his fingertips, feeling the rough texture of the brick. No. This was real. It was too real to be anything but. He had to find a way out.

The other end of the alley seemed to open up onto a wide street of some kind, and Michael quickly strode toward it. As he came closer, he realised that a chain link fence barred his path. He tilted his head back to look up. The fence reached all the way to the roofs of the buildings. While some logical part of him registered that that was clearly abnormal, Michael’s first conscious thought was that there no way he could climb it. He was trapped, and his fear was starting to return, propped up by his mounting frustration. His fingers closed around the metal of the chain link fence, and he leaned forward. “HELP!” he shouted into the street beyond. “SOMEBODY HELP ME!”

No reply came. He pushed his face closer to the fence, trying to peer out into the well-lit street. It was night, but there were still a few cars on the road, their headlights illuminating the asphalt as they drove by, while a couple of streetlights threw sickly yellow pools of light onto the pavement here and there. He saw someone step into the light under one of the streetlights, casually walking along the street wrapped up in a heavy rain mac, carrying an umbrella. Reflexively, Michael glanced up again, putting his hand out palm up, as if to confirm to himself that it wasn’t raining, and wondering to himself why the person on the street was carrying an umbrella. Shaking the thought from his mind, he called out again. No response. He called again. “Hey! Hey, can you hear me? I need help!”

The person slowed, and glanced around curiously, almost as if they could barely hear Michael. Yet they were only about twenty feet from the mouth of the alleyway. He shouted again and the person turned. Michael realised it was a woman, and he called again. Still no reply, though this time, the woman took a few cautious steps toward the alleyway fence, stopping about fifteen feet away to peer into the darkness. How could she not see him? In the darkness, he couldn’t make out the features of her face, but he thought he saw something glint where her eyes would have been, as if something shiny had caught the light.

He drew in a breath, intending to call out to her again, his frustration mounting now, though tempered with the tiniest bit of hope that someone knew he was here. He didn’t get a chance. In an instant, the woman was right in front of him, her face merely inches from his own, on the other side of the chain link fence. Michael quickly staggered back, tripping over his own feet in his effort to get away, and fell heavily to the ground. She hadn’t taken a run at him, she had just appeared there. One second she was fifteen feet away, and then she was just there.

He sat there for a second, stunned, as he began to hear a low, quiet, throaty growling sound from the edge of the alleyway. Wide-eyed, fighting back sheer animal terror and the hardwired instinct to run, he slowly lifted his head to glance up at the woman’s face, but there was nothing there, just a deep, dark pool of blackness under the rim of the umbrella. But he could see her eyes, or what should have been her eyes: two intense rings of red peered out at him from beneath the umbrella, as if they’d been scrawled there by a difficult child with a crayon in its fist.

She cast her gaze about slowly, as if she knew he was there somewhere but couldn’t quite make him out. Michael immediately froze, not wanting to move a muscle and give himself away in front of this… thing. He noticed her head was moving slightly every now and then, and focused on the motion. He could hear her breathing. No, not breathing. She was sniffing at the air, as if she were a predator trying to get his scent, and the realisation turned his blood cold. He fought a back rising tide of despair; seconds ago he had thought she might be his salvation, yet now he was being… hunted? And he was trapped here. He tried to focus his thoughts. He had to get out of here, he had to escape, and giving in to that despair would not help him.

He edged away slightly, inch by inch on his backside, and realised now that the ground was wet, as if it had been raining. More than that, he could hear the rain now, even if he couldn’t feel or see it – not here in the alleyway or outside in the street. The strange creature seemed to notice it though, and shrieked in annoyance, and Michael had to cover his ears as the sound bored into his skull, a horrifying din like someone dragging their nails down a chalkboard while gargling broken glass. The woman stopped screeching and cast her gaze about again, more impatient now, and Michael decided this was his chance. Keeping his eyes fixed on the creature in the rain mac, he carefully stood up and took a couple of hasty steps back. Her head snapped in his direction, those burning red rings staring right at him, and her hands grabbed at the metal of the chain link fence. He couldn’t quite make out her hands either, as if they were made of shadow, but her fingers seemed unnaturally long, pointed, sharp. She made no sound now. Could she see him? He froze, not daring to move, and the creature, seemingly frustrated, began casting her head around again, even as she gripped the metal links of the fence. She must have lost him.

He took a few more steps, and the creature began to shriek again, thrashing at the chain link fence as she did, as if she was going to tear it free to get at her prey. Then, as abruptly as she had begun, she stopped, her arms slowly dropped to her sides, and her body turned on the spot as if to leave. Not her head though. It stayed exactly where it was, peering into the dark alleyway, before that too turned, catching up to the rest of her, and she walked away down the street, looking again like a normal pedestrian huddled under her umbrella against the rain. Michael, breathing rapidly now, his heart threatening to burst from his chest, backed up a few paces and glanced over his shoulder back down the alleyway. He couldn’t make any sense of this; he wondered again if he was going insane – anything to explain away the things he was seeing – and forced those thoughts out of his head again. He had to focus. He had to escape first, then he could stop, think, figure out whether or not he had cracked. Right now, it wasn’t a priority. He had to run. He had to get away. He had to stay alive.

But he couldn’t go back the way he came – it just wasn’t there anymore – and getting out onto the street was clearly out of the question. He had no choice but to find a way up. He started to walk back down the alleyway, glancing over his shoulder every few paces, suddenly aware of how exposed he was in the middle of the dark alley with nowhere to hide if the predatory creature came back for him.

He noticed that one of the fire escapes about two thirds of the way back down the alley did have a ladder to ground level. Had that been there before? He was almost sure it hadn’t, and he approached it cautiously, as if he expected it to suddenly fly up out of his reach to taunt him. He reached out with his right hand, and was almost surprised when his fingers closed around the edge of it. He let out a small, involuntary laugh of relief, and then heard another sound, like stone shifting against stone. He spun around to face the back wall of the alleyway and was sure he saw it move. It was. Almost imperceptibly at first, but then it started to slide in his direction, the entire red brick wall. It was coming for him.

He immediately turned back to the ladder and started climbing, hauling himself up onto the first landing of the fire escape, and pulled himself along the handrail towards the next set of steps. Every time he reached the next landing, he was facing away from the oncoming wall, but he didn’t dare glance back to see how far off it was. He had time, he was sure of it. He just had to keep moving, keep running, keep climbing. He allowed himself a glance up to see how many floors were left above him. He was sure he’d cleared five or six now, but the top seemed no nearer. He glanced down as he ran, and saw that the ground was now very far below him – if he fell, he would surely be dead, never mind the wall.

Finally, the top was in sight. “I’m going to make it!” he shouted to no one in particular, just as he heard the groaning of metal. He reached the next landing and turned to see that the wall was now right on top of him. Though the fire escape was slowing its progress, it wouldn’t last long. The unstoppable wall was starting to crush the staircase, tearing it from the wall. And Michael was a long way from the ground. He kept running, his lungs burning with the effort, his legs threatening to collapse under him. He pumped his arms, pounded up the final steps and threw himself onto the roof, a split second before the wall – impassive, uncaring – tore the steps from the wall and sent them clattering loudly into the darkness below.

Michael lay on the roof, wheezing, trying and failing to slow his breathing. Every part of him ached and protested. He didn’t have the strength to stand now. He needed a few moments to recover. He rolled onto his back and lay panting, staring up at the bright, twinkling stars that dotted the night sky, the sounds of the other falling fire escapes beginning to recede until there was silence once again.

He had no idea how long he’d been laying there. His breathing had steadied enough now, and though his chest ached and his muscles burned, he forced himself to roll onto his side so he could try to stand. He didn’t make it that far. As his perspective shifted and his vision focused, he realised he was not alone on the roof. He rose to his knees as a blinding light shone directly into his face, blotting everything out. He put his hand up to shield his eyes, and the intense light suddenly died away. He shuffled backwards instinctively and blinked, struggling to regain his sight, and as his view of the rooftop resolved, he saw…