The atmosphere doesn’t mean scary. While there are games out there that are scary and can suck you in, any game can really. It just takes excellent world-building and something that’s not realistic but engaging, a world that you would want to be in.
Resident Evil 2
RE2 managed to nab the scary atmosphere this year, but also the heart-wrenching fear of being stuck in Raccoon City. The world in RE2 may be linear, but it’s downright frightening and one of the best horror games of the last decade. The most realistic zombies ever created sure helps a lot too.
The atmosphere in a game can be just as memorable as the story or be a character itself. Fallout 3 proved this as the Capital Wasteland was a character all on its own. A great atmosphere is something that can draw you in and make you feel a part of the world.
Just like Soma, Obverser delivered an unrelenting atmosphere that is chilling to the bone, disturbing, and outright immersive. Not a single game this year touched Observer in terms of atmosphere. It was a let down storywise towards the end, but the entire play area of Observer tells its own interesting story.
Music can define emotions in games and can be almost more important than graphics. It’s what gets your heart racing, your hands sweating, or your heartstrings humming. Whether it’s license music or original music, it can wholly characterize a game. There have been many known famous songs from video games that millions of people can identify. This year we take a look at games that had heart-wrenching and blood pounding soundtracks or licensed tracks.
BioShock has some of the best game music this year thanks to the early 1900’s vibe and just the unique tone that it gives off. From the Songbird melody to the opening cut scene, Infinite gives off this haunting melody that just sticks to you. Old American Revolution tones blended in with fantastical melodies is just something else.
Being on a strange alien planet, you are tasked with the mission of using a device called The Swapper to escape, you must free yourself from this foreign alien race. The problem is, these aliens aren’t alive, they are a gathered mass conscious. The space station you are on is home to research and experimentation on these beings as well as The Swapper. As the story goes on you find out who’s responsible for The Swapper and why everyone died. The game has an eerie atmosphere with mind-bending puzzles.
The main mechanic of this device is being able to clone yourself. You can make up to four copies, and these are used to solve intriguing puzzles. Holding down the right mouse button will show a red outline of your clone so you know where you’re going to place it. The left mouse button lets you transport your soul into that clone allowing you to control it. It’s not always as easy as that. Colored lights play a big role in the game. Blue allows you to teleport but you can’t place clones, red is the opposite. Purple doesn’t allow you to do either. Sometimes lights are blocking buttons, paths, and most importantly the orbs you need to collect to make it through the space station. There are 124 orbs in the whole game and about 30 puzzles. Each puzzle is completely different, but later in the game, one other major element gets introduced.
That element is gravity, and with it being introduced so late in the game, it actually extends the longevity of the game. Instead of getting bored early on, you have to now use gravity which makes the puzzles that much harder. Walking upside down to place an upside down clone on a button, only to teleport to it, place another clone, then find out how to get yourself right side up without dropping all the clones. The tricky thing is that all the clones will follow you. Movement plays a big puzzle solving role as well. The Swapper is a very innovative game and one of the most original since Portal.
The story elements are told through some voice work, but it’s only from one woman. She follows you throughout the ship and later tells you how to get out. The rest is told through logs that you find throughout your journey. The atmosphere is very eerie with dark visuals and the feeling of being alone and scared. The only issues lie in the fact that some puzzles are just way too hard to figure out. They are very unbalanced ranging from really easy to suddenly super hard. I had to use a video walkthrough to solve some of them, and they were so complicated, I never would have figured them out on my own. That’s the biggest problem with all puzzle games, you have to have balance. There are some puzzles where the solution is right in front of your face, but others not so much.
There’s also very little replay value, you need to complete all the puzzles to finish the game, and there’s no time trials or anything like that. Once you finish it you’re pretty much done and will never come back. The story is also a bit flat towards the end, you never really find out what these aliens are and what they want. What’s here is fun and very original, but it needs a bit more to stand up to puzzle games like Portal.
What defines an atmosphere? It’s the portrayal of a setting and world that feels authentic in the sense that it can make you feel you’re in it. It can scare you, make you feel like a superhero, or make you feel full of magic. The atmosphere in a game is extremely important and with the latest technology developers can bring us more authentic settings.
While Metro 2033 didn’t see much light from retail it has one of the most amazing and scary atmospheres ever created. Feeling all alone in a subway in Russia with just a lighter, gas mask, shoddy handmade weapons, and the sounds of creepy dogs howling down the tunnel? Only one clip left and there could be ten or more? That is one scary situation, and even the outside environments are incredibly hostile feelings. The mix of enemy camps with stealth missions makes you feel desperate, and if you get caught the whole world will come down on you.