I am both an enormous fan of horror video games, and about as skeptical about them as I can imagine a person being.
When I played Eternal Darkness for the Gamecube in 2002, I experienced the most terrifying piece of media that my eleven-year-old eyes had ever seen. The game was wonderfully crafted, with a story that was truly complex for its time, and atmosphere that could easily rival any of the larger, higher-production games that were its contemporaries. The game had a unique system - sanity effects, a system where, if the player character was driven mad by the sight of zombies and shambling corpses (as one might), the game would start to fuck with the player. It might make the character's head explode, it might make the walls bleed, it might make you walk on the ceiling. Or it might pretend to delete your entire memory card.
The most memorable sanity effect, though, came when you walked to the top floor of the game's main mansion and into the bathroom. As Alexandra Roivas, the main protagonist, you walked towards the bathtub and - wham! - with a scream, there you are, looking at dead version of yourself in a bathtub full of blood.
Writing that down and thinking back, that is probably the most... hackneyed example of a sanity effect that I can think of. But as a kid, it scared the shit out of me. I couldn't sleep right for days.
So now, I have lived through many more years of video games, and that level of terror is rare. The original Dead Space was atmospherically terrifying to me, and of course Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a master class in terror. But none of the Resident Evil games did it for me, nor did the Silent Hill games. (Although it's worth mentioning that I only played the original way after it came out, and the recent Wii one.)
So, good luck, Scratches.
Scratches: Director's Cut
It's a testament to how completely uninformed I was about the nature of Scratches that I was taken aback by the fact that it is a point-and-click. I literally wrote down the note: "Oh Jesus God damnit it's a point and click."
This game is an indie-ass indie game. When someone's credit on a game is "programming and game design", you know that this is not a studio with the ability to throw around millions of dollars. But not only is this a point-and-click; this game is also fully pre-rendered. It is an FMV point-and-click, like Myst before it. There are no video options, no resolutions to change (it seems to be 800x600), and even the pre-rendered graphics are not of the highest quality.
And this game was released in 2006. We'll come back to that.
Despite the graphical... grossness, the game creates a wonderful and appropriately creepy atmosphere. The building is consistent, if somewhat labyrinthine in a way that is opaquely 'video game', and each room is believable and fully realized. For the first hour or so of the game, walking around the house and trying to get my wits about me, I was pretty on-edge, expecting the creepiness to really dial-up at any moment.
But then nothing really happened. For a while. And I played a little longer, until one of the obscure puzzles that plague most adventure games got the best of me and I quit. By the time I was done with the game, I had lost any of the tension that the game had earned, and I realized that was a tremendous mistake.
I believe what makes a good horror game good is that it knows the exact moment to exploit the pressure that it has put on the player. In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the player is constantly allowed to feel safe just long enough for the next terrifying moment to be as powerful as possible. In Scratches, the moment came and went.
I went ahead and watched the rest of the (apparently very short) game on Youtube, and... not much happens. It's mostly atmosphere. There are some cool moments, and the atmosphere continues to be very nicely rendered. But with the exception of one truly terrifying moment at the very end of the game, there isn't much to sit through.
This game came out four years after Eternal Darkness. I watched a video of the sanity effects in that game and, to me, they still seem scary as shit. So I don't know if Scratches just isn't a great game, or if maybe my intense dislike for point-and-clicks and most adventure games just got in my way. In either case, I definitely
Will Not Revisit
Scratches: Director's Cut. Tomorrow, I'm going to play the game on my list that is probably least like Scratches. I'm actually super excited to play...