SCP: Containment Breach (Or, How Not To Make Horror Game) - RabidChipmunk Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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SCP: Containment Breach (Or, How Not To Make Horror Game)

Horror games are somewhat fascinating to me. Fear, I believe, is the most primal of all emotions, and it's hugely important to any animal species' continued survival, but it's also a very negative emotion, and one we try to avoid. We fear the dark, so we turn on the lights. We fear heights, so we stay on the ground. We fear spiders, so we scream like babies and make our parents or significant others kill them.

So why, then, would anyone ever willingly subject themselves to the feeling of fear? Why would you sit down and watch Insidious or play Amnesia: The Dark Descent? Well, I'm sure there are lots of psychological and philosophical answers to those questions, but to save time and space, I'm going to give a very short answer by saying that the extreme release of emotion is cathartic. It's the same reason people watch Titanic all the while knowing it will make them sad. Except for that one part when the guy falls off the ship and hits the propeller. That part's hilarious.

Video games are a lucky form of entertainment, then, in that they are probably the best way to create a horror environment. When you watch a horror movie, you're watching a bunch of mooks you don't actually know engage in a fight for survival. Yes, you sympathize with them and hope for them to succeed, but at the end of it, even when they die, you now you're safe. Video games don't give you that small comfort; in a truly immersive video game, you are the mook being chased by the monster and it's you who is going to die if you fail.

 

A concept I'm sure we're all painfully familiar with.

Unfortunately, video games have sort of forgotten how good horror games are made. I had planned on doing an article discussing the upcoming and inevitably disappointing Dead Space 3, but since, from the looks of it, EA isn't even trying to make Dead Space scary anymore, I thought I'd discuss an indy game that actually is.

So, SCP: Containment Breach. For those of you who don't know, SCP:CB is an indy horror game still in it's alpha stage based on the works of the SCP Foundation, a creepypasta wiki based on the titular foundation's attempts to contain and study various forms of supernatural phenomena. For those of you haven't already, I highly recommend you check it out, as there's an extreme level of creativity going on in there. They've got everything, from an omnicidal, immortal reptile with a disgust for all life, to a toaster that mysteriously forces everyone talking about me to unwittingly refer to me in the first person.

The primary monster at the heart of SCP:CB is the website's original monster, SCP-173, an impossibly creepy sculpture that viciously assaults and murders anyone who looks at it and then proceeds to look away, and, as the author assures us, was most definitely not a ripoff of Doctor Who's weeping angels. You begin the story as a bog-standard rent-a-cop who has just been assigned to Stare-At-SCP-173-So-He-Doesn't-Go-Kill-Crazy duty, a task that apparently requires three people so they can all alternate blinking. Lord knows why they couldn't just put him in a box and bury him in the ground, or better yet, just have one guy stare at him and alternate which eye he blinks, but whatever. Poor planning is a staple of the horror genre anyways.

But on a more positive note, it really breathes some life into the room.

Unfortunately for you, not 30 seconds after the start of your shift, things around the Foundation start going wonky. Firstly, the door keeping SCP-173 contained seems to be having issues closing, and secondly, an incredibly poorly timed power failure causes SCP-173 to kill the other guards and almost kill you before you manage to escape it's wrath.

Put plainly, the game is not very good. Many of my complaints, however, can be explained away by the simple statement that “Well, it is still an alpha.” For example, the game pretty much assumes you already know everything you need to about SCP-173 before you actually play it, which can be problematic when you consider that it is just one of thousands of SCP's on the website, so it's not hard to imagine someone might have missed the memo.

But my biggest problem with the game is one that cannot be excused due to the game's incompleteness, because it is the core mechanic of the game. You see, SCP-173 will kill you if you fail to keep it in your line of sight whenever it appears. Increasing the tension in these circumstances is a “blinking meter,” that slowly ticks down and forces you to blink every few seconds, which will result in your untimely death if SCP-173 happens to find the act distasteful, which it always does. However, this is not how you make good horror.

Many people have been comparing SCP:CB to Amnesia, so I'm going to run with that, because SCP:CB is nowhere near Amnesia's level of horror. You see, Amnesia understood that scary monsters stay scary when you don't exactly know what they're about. When walking around the dark, grungy paths of the castle, often times the only confirmation of a monster's presence the player would ever get would be any sounds it made from another part of the map. Generally, if you ever actually see one of the ugly bastards, you'd best turn around and run like hell, because it probably saw you too. So you'd occasionally catch bits and pieces of the monster, but you never knew exactly what it was. All you knew that it looks vaguely human, and it wants to do terrible things to your face.

 

They also have vaginas for faces, but that's about standard anymore.

SCP:CB doesn't get that. By the game's very nature, it demands you know everything about how the monster looks because it demands you stare it down whenever it comes on site. Once the mystery surrounding the beast is gone and we can actually make out its appearance, it becomes more obvious just how ridiculous the creature actually looks, and then its no longer scary.

Another benefit of constantly cloaking the monsters in shadows is that, well, indy games tend to be kind of ugly, because, you know, budgets and all that. But that's okay, because good indy developers will work around this issue, limiting what the player can see and making sure they can never truly examine the monsters pursuing them, hiding the technical issues while simultaneously thickening the atmosphere pressing down on the player. Amnesia managed to pull that off, but SCP:CB does not. Again, it all comes down to the mechanic requiring the player to look at the monster when the game would be better served by just having you run the *** away from it.

Fortunately this isn't something that the developers can't come back from. The SCP Foundation has an immense amount of material to work with, any number of which could make for a truly interesting horror title. Sadly, SCP-173 does not. I'd like to see them use me, though.

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