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New adventure games - too scary?

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Joined 2011-04-01

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Is it just me or have the proportion of adventure games with dark/scary/spooky/disturbing stories gone up? I’m not complaining because I like these games, but if you didn’t, then would have to admit your options are cut down a LOT. There’s a lot less to choose from, especially in the way of good games.

I made a list of AG’s reviews over the last few months.         

Game:................................................Scary?
Miasmata….........................................Yes
Critter Chronicles….............................No
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward…...Yes
Haunted….............................................Yes
The Cat Lady….....................................Yes
Primordia…...........................................Yes
The Odyssey HD…...............................No
Lost Chronicles of Zerzura…...................No
Nancy Drew: The Deadly Device…..........No
Gothic Fiction: Dark Saga…....................Yes
Oz Orwell and the Crawling Chaos…......Yes
Anna’s Quest Vol 1…................................No
Cognition…............................................Yes
Lucius…................................................Yes
Harvey’s New Eyes…............................. - (could be disturbing to some)
The Walking Dead….............................Yes
The Five Cores…....................................No
Cypher: Cyberpunk Text Adventure…......- (hard to tell; seems quite dark)
Testament of Sherlock Holmes…..............Yes
Red Johnson’s Chronicles….....................Yes
Secret Files 3…...........................................No
Papa & Yo…..............................................Yes
Blindside…................................................Yes
James Peris: No License Nor Control…....No
1953: KGB Unleashed…..........................Yes
Doc Apocalypse…..................................Yes
Anna…....................................................Yes
May’s Mysteries…....................................No
Hoodwink…..............................................No
Dark Alleys: Penumbra Motel….................Yes
Deponia…...................................................No
Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav…...................Yes

That’s 19 games with dark themes, 11 without and 1 or 2 uncertain.

I know it’s not as clear cut as yes/no - there’s a middle ground. But it seems clear the vast majority are games with dark or scary themes. And most of the non-scary games got poor reviews - except maybe Deponia.

How do you feel about this? Do you like dark games? If not do you feel limited in your choices? And why are there so many dark and disturbing games around now? Any ideas?

My personal opinion is I don’t mind dark themes or horror, although I’ve been increasingly moving away from those themes recently. Which is not easy - most of the highly acclaimed games on the list seem to be the dark ones. What are my options this year if I didn’t like them? Not much - a few comedies many of which are childish or just plain bad, or fairly bland exploration adventures like Secret Files 3. In the way of serious, mature games there’s not much that’s good, except maybe Resonance. I thought 2012 was great for AGs, but if I didn’t enjoy the darker games, I don’t know if I would share that opinion.

Was it always this way? Did the darker games always lead the pack in quality and quantity? I don’t know. Of course, for consistency’s sake I would have to put Gabriel Knight in the “scary” category. But just looking at the 90s - Loom, Conquests of the Longbow, Last Express, Broken Sword, Fate of Atlantis etc were all high quality, serious and mature games without being disturbing or scary. That type of game seems lacking recently.

     
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Joined 2005-08-12

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I think it’s a general trend in the video game industry. We’ve all been taught, for centuries, that games are for kids. And so, as the video game industry tries to retain gamers as they grow up, it needs to reassure them that they’re not playing the same silly games they were playing as kids: they’re playing “dark, edgy, mature” games–adult stuff. I wonder if, subconsciously, it doesn’t also help developers. I imagine that it takes a bit of courage to tell your mum that you’re going to be spending the next 40 years of your life making something as (widely-regarded as) silly as games, and it’s probably easier if you can add that those games you’re making are “adult” (i.e. respectable) forms of entertainment.

Plus, gore and scares are titillating, and that always helps sales. Tongue

Now, whether having grisly murders and stuff like that really makes your game adult and deep in and of itself is debatable. For instance, Frogwares may say (and, for all I know, believe) that having a gross mutilated body 5 minutes into The Testament of SH creates a “decidedly-mature storyline”, different from the harmless Sherlock stories you read as a kid, but, in that case at least, I’m not conviced at all.

Still, I’m not sure if that trend will overshadow everything else. If you look at the current HoM, you have a majority of games (DFA, Dreamfall Chapters, BS5, Syberia 3, Project Fedora, Moebius) that are not straight comedies, while not being dark/scary either.

     

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Total Posts: 643

Joined 2006-09-24

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I think dark thriller and scary are two different things.

A dark thriller can have scary moments, but not be a scary game itself.

I think there have been dark or scary games for a long time. Some really dark/scary/disturbing games came out in the 90s, like I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream or The Dark Eye.

It just so happens that right now, some of the more popular games are scary. It’s a small trend/fad, but nothing game-changing in my opinion.

Also, I haven’t played Primordia yet, but I haven’t seen any indication of it being scary. Dark and desolate, yes, but I could be wrong.

     
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Joined 2008-07-24

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I think you’re on to something, and I believe it comes from two main factors. To begin with technology is getting so much better. Miniscule indie developers can now do things that took dozens, even hundreds, of people years back. This is important because horror/scary/supernatural games are often very technology dependent. As the tech has improved, the ability to scare, disturb, unsettle, frighten the gamer has become more effective; although good game design will always beat out good tech with bad design which is why some of the older spooky games still hold up so well.

Also the adventure genre has typically skewed more adult in it’s players, especially now. I can’t imagine that many of us are going out of our way to play Simon the Sorcerer now unless we’d played it back then for example. Not to pick on that particular game, it just happens to be on the GOG banner at the top of the page as I type this. It seems like in the golden era a lot of adventures were all about questing and adventuring (King’s Quest, Monkey Island, quest for Glory, etc) in somewhat traditional fantasy settings. As we have grown older the classical fantasy settings become somewhat generic unless very well realized. But horror/suspense/scary games can be very well realized with even just a single protagonist and virtually no character interaction. I can see the appeal to a developer, with only a few voice overs and some well written in game documents you can easily instill fear into a player; by contrast it’s going to take a massive amount of work to realize a fantasy adventure when your inspiration is Tolkien or Lewis.

Also being scared is something everyone can relate to; it’s harder to relate to the characters in Whispered World for example than to imagine yourself going mad from uncovering some dark hidden secret; that otherworldly creatures, ghosts, and such are spilling over into the real world. I also think it’s indicative of the times we live in. Those of us in the west are facing a very different future than what we imagined growing up. Did anyone think they’d see Greeks in the streets destroying, rioting, starting fires and such simply because they aren’t getting their government goodies? Not trying to be too political but we are living in an increasingly pessimistic and insane world; there’s no way that some of that doesn’t spill over into the psyche of a developer and maybe inspire them to consider the darker, more insane possibilities of the universe.

Anyways there’s my 2 cents worth of 2AM ranting for whatever it is or is not worth, lol.

     
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inm8#2 - 09 January 2013 01:03 AM

I think dark thriller and scary are two different things.

Second that. I personally am not a fan of the horror genre and avoid these games even though I don’t mind gore or other disturbing stuff. But now I find myself liking a dark and mature theme way more than a comedy one. Maybe we’ve grown, maybe comedies are sillier nowadays but it’s hard for me to take a game seriously if the only thing that it offers is some cheap humor. So, the dark mature games are indeed prevailing (thank god), but I can’t say that for the scary ones.

     
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Joined 2012-03-09

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I think this is a little generic. Even Anna’s Quest could be considered disturbing to someone (had its dark moments anyway)...
About the good ratings of these kind of adventures, usually adventures with a darker theme (say, Cognition or Resonance) are based to a good story and the depth of their characters. Thus, in 2012 we saw studios with restricted budget coming with great adventures, without giving much details to the “more costly” aspects of a game, like graphics.
About the scary ones, it is easier to create spooky (meaning terrifying) first-person games than before since I think there are more engines available to do so. Also, I remember days where there was overabundance of Myst-clones of questioning quality. Perhaps many adventure gamers grew tired of that style (not me!) and these a la Darkfall or Amnesia games are what offers different and more thrilling (sic) experience to the first person fans.
Could be just a coincidence though. “Serious (either horror or with a darker theme)” adventure games were always a major part of the adventure game history…

     
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Kurufinwe - 08 January 2013 11:15 PM

Still, I’m not sure if that trend will overshadow everything else. If you look at the current HoM, you have a majority of games (DFA, Dreamfall Chapters, BS5, Syberia 3, Project Fedora, Moebius) that are not straight comedies, while not being dark/scary either.

Yes, I wanted to point that out. Next year might be a reversal of the trend. Fingers crossed.

Sefir - 09 January 2013 03:28 AM

“Serious (either horror or with a darker theme)” adventure games were always a major part of the adventure game history…

But like Kurufinwe pointed out, serious doesn’t mean dark. Was The Last Express not serious? It’s not a choice between dark/disturbing and childish, like many current developers seem to think. Very few of the games in that list are outside those two categories.

     
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badlemon - 09 January 2013 03:16 AM
inm8#2 - 09 January 2013 01:03 AM

I think dark thriller and scary are two different things.

Second that. I personally am not a fan of the horror genre and avoid these games even though I don’t mind gore or other disturbing stuff. But now I find myself liking a dark and mature theme way more than a comedy one. Maybe we’ve grown, maybe comedies are sillier nowadays but it’s hard for me to take a game seriously if the only thing that it offers is some cheap humor. So, the dark mature games are indeed prevailing (thank god), but I can’t say that for the scary ones.

Agree with this. I actually find a scary atmosphere or moment within’ a more realistic game more chilling then most horror games. Like in Still Life 1 when you find out the killer is in the next room to you! Gasp I think you can have humor in a game though. Long as it isn’t over done or cheap like you say. The Broken Sword series has a good balance I think.

     

Recently completed: Game of Thrones (decent), Tales from the borderlands (great!), Life is Strange (great!), Stasis (good), Annas Quest (great!); Broken Age (poor)

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All of the above. To which I’ll add that it requires a special talent to make a humorous adventure. There are only a few really talented mainstream developers who can pull it off. It’s easier for indies to develop the scary stuff, just like it used to be easier to make singlehandedly 1st-person games (Comer, Dark Fall, Barrow Hill). Even with the help of better software engines, the 3rd-person avatars and animation leave a lot to be desired. 

PS: Primordia is not scary at all. It has a lot of humor too. I’ll be tactful… not my kind of humor.

     

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Joined 2010-02-15

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You all should consider yourselves lucky, for if gaming took a turn for the worse in terms of comedy. It could become as try and forgettable as comedies are for Film.

     

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Joined 2011-10-21

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I agree with most of what’s been said.

You can’t just divide it into “light” and “scary”. Dark thrillers aren’t necessarily scary.

Sure, there’s more than the usual fare of scary games at the moment, but that’s because it’s popular in mainstream gaming too.
In the past, we had a good balance between light comedy games, serious games with some humour in them, and dark and gloomy games. That balance is still there, imo.

     

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Chances are, if its not a game with “dark themes” then it ends up being some sort of comedy. Theres a few games on this list that dont belong in either, but they are definitely in the minority.

     
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Joined 2012-09-28

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Many of the dark and gloomy games in the past weren’t very gloomy even the horror ones. No one is scared by a highly pixellated ghost! Games like Dark Seed and Phantasmagoria were the exception rather than the rule. I did not find 7th Guest very scary and people would maybe laugh it today. The first really scary adv game may have been I Have No Mouth and Must Scream.

Games have become darker, same with TV and is the reason I don’t really watch it. They are going for intensity and dark depressing themes because they think it’s ‘mature’. It’s also easier to advertise. You can easily create a dark mood in a short clip. How do you make people want to play a more subtle game like Last Express?

I think the division of games into ‘casual’ and ‘serious’ games is also a factor. You are dividing the players into ones who want serious games and ones who only want a light coffee break. So the ‘serious’ developers know that and want to move away from light games, and the ‘light’ developers do comedies. Unfortunately the serious developers want to depress us instead of creating complex and subtle themes.

The popular games around now are the darker ones, but I think (hope) it’s just a phase. Yes we are still getting normal atmosphere games like Zerzura and Secret Files 3 but as pointed out, these are not top games and they are very light.

     

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Joined 2012-05-21

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I haven’t done a thorough survey, so this is just my experience, but I have learned recently that, not enjoying horror at all, and not a big fan of dark and disturbing, either, especially over the longer term that an adventure game usually entails (a couple hours of a scary or mildly disturbing movie I find a lot more tolerable than SEVERAL hours immersed in such a world/story for a game), I really must investigate games that I hear glowing reviews of before considering a purchase. It seems like, these days, more often than not, they fall squarely into that realm of horror/disturbing story.

I don’t begrudge fans of such things but I do wish for more that fit my tastes (though as it stands, I don’t really have the time to even play the games I DO get, so I have no reason to complain even on that score. Wink ) I feel the same way about my love for good, fun SF movies, and the fact that there seem to be so few, compared to ones that are essentially horror/monster movies set in space, or else thoroughly dystopian.

     
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Joined 2012-07-11

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I would like to see more less serious themed games across all genres, but it doesn’t seem to be its calling at the moment. Perhaps one day it will return…

     

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I don’t mind serious games, but I’m not a horror person. Games don’t have to be either just scary or funny. There are so many other genres as well.

     

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