Horrible music

I was thinking about what really makes a game scary. My favorite kinds of games are the ones I can’t stand to play alone at night, in a dark room, with headphones or the volume turned way up. Probably the best example – and this surprised me at first – is the Penumbra series, especially Black Plague. One is the way that the game is played. Your character is basically helpless in a direct fight with the enemies encountered, so it quickly becomes a trial of avoidance. The environment is suitably decrepit and desolate, and the ambient sounds are excellent. But I think one of the most important elements of these games is the soundtrack.

I don’t think the importance of an appropriate soundtrack can be overstated. In Penumbra: Overture, even the brief initial scene on the boat has a grave, anticipatory note. It feels like a prelude to disaster. Off the ship as your character stumbles through a blinding snowstorm, the soundtrack is completely absent, leaving you with the shrieking wind, crunching snow underfoot, and pained gasps as you slowly freeze to death. In the caverns below, the music is often oddly disjointed and bizarre. It makes my skin crawl and sets me on edge. Perfect.

When I think about the “scary” games I enjoy playing, all of them have good to excellent accompaniment. FEAR has a wonderful dynamic soundtrack, although sometimes it is overstated in the set-piece battles. Condemned, probably the most disturbing game I’ve ever played (and one I frequently see topping charts of such games), is similar. STALKER has a less dynamic soundtrack, but it’s quite suited to its environment: dark, isolated, and haunting. The harsh mechanical sound of some of the underground labs is quite chilling.

I think if the music were completely removed from these games, it would be vastly different…and I don’t think it would be better. Condemned might be interesting to play that way. I think every gamer knows the importance of a title’s musical score, but in horror games it is critical to the atmosphere. To know when to be creepy, when to be silent, when to be blaring. I’d love to find more games that do this well.

July 12, 2009 В· agw В· No Comments
Tags: , , ,  В· Posted in: Gaming

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