Seven Great Horror Settings We'd Like To See More Often

by Jordan Leendertsen on Mar 25, 2017 at 08:30 AM

Time and time again, horror games go back to the same haunted mansions and grotesque hospitals, delivering subtle variations on locations we’ve seen since we first started playing survival-horror games. Changing these settings would give developers more opportunities to inject new life into their games, change stale enemy design, and explore new modes of environmental storytelling. Here are seven underused video game horror settings that would help freshen things up a bit.

Cruise Ship
When I saw the cruise ship setting in the first Resident Evil Revelations, I was struck at how clever it was as an environment, and surprised that I hadn’t seen it before. It’s isolated, and I found it unsettling to traverse a desolate structure meant to be full of people. Unlike a simple cargo ship or boat setting, a cruise liner offers a wide variety of environments that could be altered to fit a variety of art styles.

The value of the setting is that the aesthetic fits multiple time periods or types of ships. In RE: Revelations, for example, the interiors are reminiscent of the ornate, antiquated designs of the original Spencer Mansion, an aesthetic that adds variety to the more industrial sections of the ship. However, in any other game, this art style could be altered to fit for Art Deco, cyberpunk, or even set in another time period.

In addition to crew quarters, cargo areas, and below-deck areas, creators could play with entertainment venues like indoor pools, and ballrooms. A cruise liner is basically a giant water hotel, which provides greater freedom than some of the other entries on this list. 

Another setting I saw first in Resident Evil, horror games set in broad daylight are few and far between. The harsh sunlight added tension to the opening chapters of Resident Evil 5, which was arguably the scariest part of the game.

Sunlight can take away tension by allowing players to clearly see their environments. Some things are more terrifying when we can’t see them, and can be a disappointment when revealed. Unfortunately, a lot of modern horror designers subscribe to the notion that darkness itself is scary, and that darkness is absolutely necessary for an intense experience. 

Darkness becomes a cheat for adding tension, but tension can be achieved in a multitude of ways outside of casting players into darkness and throwing them a pathetically battery-draining flashlight. Balancing ammo management with high-risk enemies, such as in The Last of Us, or forcing players to stay on their toes when surrounded as seen in Resident Evil 5, are just some of the many ways daylight has been used effectively, and we really ought to see it more often.

New Time Periods
It’s hard to choose a single time period that should be better utilized when there are so many brimming with horror potential. Both psychological horror and more action-packed monster horror could benefit from time periods like the Stone Age, The Middle Ages, or the colonial U.S.

Horror games have played with different time periods before, as seen in Fatal Frame and Clive Barker’s Undying, but rarely do they make good use of these settings. Games do a phenomenal job with world-building and environmental storytelling, so we could have some truly awesome moments based solely on a game’s setting, but we don’t. 

Wielding a firearm in the 1700s for example would force players to take time and consider every shot before a long reload. Utilizing bows and arrows or melee weapons in the Stone Age would force players to get in close and be deliberate in their attacks. The right developer could work wonders on a setting out of time.

The zoo setting offers a lot of thematic and environmental potential, but has rarely been used other than a few notable appearances in games like Manhunt and Resident Evil: Outbreak File #2.

The animals are an exciting element to play with at the zoo. Outbreak File #2 made good use of animals, offering zombified versions of elephants and lions, yet animals could also be retooled to fit into psychological horror like Silent Hill. We’d like to see developers create otherworldly monstrosities based on animals like penguins, tigers, bears, and more. Even sci-fi settings like Dead Space could work in the zoo setting, revolving around synthetic animals, or play with holograms in a future without some forms of wildlife.

Zoos provide other thematic elements that would allow developers to explore ideas about humanity and the nature of animal captivity. In the right hands, this could lead to some interesting narrative elements.  

The campsite is a classic horror trope in cinema, but is an incredibly underutilized setting in video games. The most recent examples include the upcoming Friday the 13th game, and Until Dawn. However, campsites hold an incredible amount of potential, and should be getting a lot more love

We’d like to see developers go beyond the simple Camp Crystal Lake stereotype. As Until Dawn showed adding something as small as snow into the mix adds a lot to the atmosphere. Seeking refuge in the forest or cabins from stalking killers or marauding creatures would lend itself to some interesting gameplay options, especially in the current era of first person, jump scare-centric horror

I can practically see the successful Kickstarter for the ‘90s throwback horror game that takes advantage of this setting, most likely paying plenty of homage to The Evil Dead and Friday the 13th. Fixed camera angles and polygonal graphics included of course. 

Trailer Park
The trailer park is a setting filled with lots of potential for fun gameplay that could riff on established tropes of deep-fried horror in the vein of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Resident Evil 7.

The environment itself offers the biggest appeal here, both through exploration and destruction. The setting would lend itself well to tense gameplay as players searched individual trailers for supplies while making sure they didn’t get cornered in a tight space. Developers would also have a lot of room for varied environmental storytelling, leaving players to interpret the stories behind previous inhabitants. Additionally, a more dilapidated, ramshackle take on the setting could offer some fun destruction, leaving players free to tear down trailers and alter their environments as seen in series like Dead Rising or Left 4 Dead.

Enemy designs also offer a lot of potential. In addition to providing new spins on established tropes, like a zombie trucker for instance, a setting as campy as a trailer park could really go crazy with enemy designs based on swamp monsters, alien invaders, or mutant abominations. I might have just had an idea for a videogame.

Office Building
Office Buildings have appeared in a few horror games, but given the versatility of the setting, it’s definitely one that we’d like to see more. It worked well for the creeping supernatural horror of F.E.A.R., and equally well from the psychological angle in Silent Hill 3. Still, there is still so much more to explore in a traditional office complex.

Narratively, offices are a swell setting for stopgaps, offering labyrinthine cubicles and narrow hallways that make it more interesting to navigate from one objective to the next. Alternating between open floor space and tight spaces, an office’s corridors offer a lot of potential for tense gameplay in series like Resident Evil or even in a more futuristic setting like Dead Space. We’ll probably still have office buildings in the future.

Trapping a group of coworkers inside a building and forcing them to work together against supernatural forces sounds like a great setup for a horror-focused narrative experience. Something similar to the recently released film The Belko Experiment could also be interesting, working as a brutal successor to games like Manhunt or Condemned: Criminal Origins.

Horror games are an ever-evolving genre, and we hope to see that evolution involve some of these settings. For a look at some changes in difficulty that can make games better, you can head right here. We also have a list of our most anticipated horror games coming in 2017, which you can get a look at here.