Can games be scary… Without being scary?

gone-home-5

Psst! In this post, I will be talking about “Gone Home” by The Fullbright Company. So if you really, really don’t want to know anything about this game, I suggest you stop reading pretty soon. Otherwise, just keep on going!

With all the scary Halloween stuff in the rear-view mirror, I thought it was time to reflect over some of the scarier games out there. This is not to say that I’m a horror game addict who likes to be scared – actually, I would say that I’m quite the opposite.

However, I have still played my fair share of horror games, which were all – at least in my opinion – the reason for every source of light being turned on in my room throughout the night. And I enjoyed them. I enjoyed shouting at the TV in order to push through a dark hallway and to pause the game every few minutes, just to man up and keep going. They are fun – but as I realized, reading the post “Simul-tober: Are Jump Scares Effective?” on GIMMGP, a lot of them are also cheap.

Cheap in the way that the game will throw monsters at your face, when you least expect it, without even bothering to build up any kind of suspense. Cheap in the way that the scariness is the result of a pattern, where vents and dark corners are all expected to contain some sort of dark matter, which will make you jump sky high. Cheap in the way that you know it’s a scary game.

So that made me wonder – can a game be scary without making you jump? Tingle your back and make you look over your shoulder? In a seemingly innocent environment?

So, that’s what I decided to find out. And guess what, there are actually some out there.

First let me make it clear that I wasn’t looking for some holding-a-pillow-in-the-corner-of-the-room scariness, but simply something that would make me question the innocence of the game and something that would make me press pause at least once.

A game that does just that, I completed a few days ago. And that’s Gone Home by The Fullbright Company.

Just off the plane from Europe, you play as Katie, who in the middle of the night returns home to an empty house. You are all alone. The family hasn’t come to pick you up. The front door is locked, but you know where the key is. Entering the house, the lights in the foyer are on. But the hallways surrounding the main hall are all enveloped in darkness. No one is home. In a search for the family’s whereabouts and some answers to all of this nonsense, the house has to be thoroughly combed, while the faint sound of rain and thunder plays the part of an eerie soundtrack.

And that’s exactly what Gone Home is. It’s eerie. It doesn’t shove zombies or poltergeists into the family home – but it keeps hinting at something. Something that’s not right – or at least that’s what you’re telling yourself. I had read the reviews – this wasn’t supposed to be a scary game, right? But what if the reviewers had all hidden something from me? What if everything wasn’t alright? With this thought constantly in the back of my head, I slowly started going through the family’s belongings, leaving every in-game source of light on – as well as in my real life room.

Constantly, I peeked over my shoulder, expecting to see – something. But that “something” never came. The game had slowly inflated a suspenseful bubble of eeriness and discomfort. But that bubble never burst. Nothing ever came jumping in my face. But I anticipated it. It kept me at the edge of my seat all the way through and it forced my hand on the escape button time and time again. But nothing ever happened. And in a forest of decapitated zombies and shrieking howls of tortured souls, it’s very refreshing to say the least.

I hope that I haven’t ruined the game for any of you. Even though I’ve pretty much made it clear for you that you won’t experience any jumps, the game is still fantastic in the way it tells its story. The empty and seemingly uninteresting house becomes a maze of complex secrets hidden deep within the family and I promise, it won’t disappoint you.

Oh, and to all of you who haven’t played the game yet – there might just be one tiny scare hidden within the house. But who knows, right?

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