You may have noticed that I’ve neglected to write much about the horror genre this year. Well, there’s a good reason for that. I’m going to write about nothing but horror games in October and I’ve been saving up for that. In the process, however, I’ve been depriving myself of a genre that’s very near and dear to me.
Horror movies, much like video games, were something I found myself exposed to at a very young age – too young, arguably. I have no doubt that seeing severed heads and gruesome monsters in my formative years had a lot to do with the adult, or shell of one, that I later became. Those elements combined with my Sega addiction probably didn’t help either. You have to understand though, I essentially taught myself how to read from old issues of Fangoria and Gamepro. I had a vocabulary steeped within the context of dead cheerleaders and mascot platformers. In some odd way, I’m proud of that.
Games of the horror persuasion have traditionally been a hit-or-miss proposition for me, however. I’ve always thought that the sheer potential of the genre in an interactive medium was something we’d never fully capitalize on. Looking at the current landscape of boilerplate early access fodder, I don’t see that outlook changing any time soon. Too often we see the tropes of the genre homogenized to their most basic form – jump scares, mostly, exploiting the one advantage the medium has when it comes to communicating discomfort.
Personally, I think there’s a lot of pivot room to work with; a full century’s worth of untapped influences that can take the genre in new directions. Games like Lakeview Cabin serve to make this even more obvious, stepping away from the army of Five Nights at Freddie’s clones and into the realm of 70s and 80s slashers. Acting as a puzzle game of sorts, it feels like Lakeview is constantly testing your knowledge of genre tropes in order for you to survive. There’s an internal logic at work that feels so familiar to those of us that have grown up watching camp counselors exhibit poor decision making. Your characters are brittle and disposable, often critically injuring themselves while stumbling away from a slow moving killer. It’s deceptively hard, but I never found myself getting frustrated, typically for the same reasons we don’t get upset when random characters are offed in a slasher. The execution of the kill is so silly and visually interesting that I just found myself laughing more often than not.
Typically I’d thumb my nose at work that’s purely fueled by tribute and/or parody, but that space feels so untainted. We have games like Dead by Daylight that are finally translating concepts we’ve understood for years into an legible gameplay language and I’d really for that to continue. I want to see the fully-realized version of a Universal monster movie or a Clive Barker book or even a 60s exploitation film. Until then, we’re left with games like Lakeview Cabin to carry that torch.
You should probably use that torch on the monster, by the way.