The first person view is the easiest way to instil fear in the viewer, the forced perspective makes the experience a lot more personal. The found footage subgenre is great at forcing us into the eyes of the victims and helping us share the experience side-by-side with them, and video games are starting to borrow a few tricks from found footage, such as camera tilting and jolting. Amnesia started those tricks early, having the camera drop to the floor in panic and crawl through a short and boring corridor.
There’s a growing amount of games that bring horror into new perspectives, Limbo, Little Nightmares, and Deadlight are all prime examples of platform horrors that shift the view of the player so that they act as witnesses, rather than active participants, but they employ some rather different methods to inspire dread:
Something that Limbo does better than most is making you feel incredibly small in a bleak and hostile world. In the claustrophobic environment that most works of horror foster, threats tend to be of moderate size – roughly people size – but immensely powerful. Vampires, serial killers, creepy dolls and the like may be tough to put down, but they tend to be on eye level, and the likes of Godzilla don’t tend to inspire the same creep-factor.
In Limbo you are dwarfed by the forest, prey for leviathan spiders, and outnumbered by the feral kids. Kholat manages something similar, with the vast frozen wastes and towering clouds filled with wraiths that leave you isolated and outmatched in ways that a city-destroying monster simply can’t. Upcoming title Agony appears to be shooting for a similar feel, but plunging the “hero” into hell rather than an icy wasteland, and though the trailer depicts a hero wandering through a closely-packed forest, through it you can see the enormity of the threats from which you’re cowering. Little Nightmares utilises camera angles and level design to tremendous effect, panning out to emphasise the enormity of the prison/orphanage you flee through, along with the distorted giants that hunt you down.
As a fan of cosmic horror, I feel it’s important to find ways and means of portraying the size and scope of the thing that threatens to obliterate you without turning the whole thing into Cloverfield.
Claustrophobia is something that good horror preys upon, not merely the fear of the enclosed space itself, but to take the primary source of fear and trap your protagonist in with it. Many of the horror films set in the arctic circle do a great job of isolating their victims, like the Thing or 30 Days of Night, taking the basics of cutting off lines of communication and placing the conflict in a remote region and upping the ante dramatically. But there’s a way to create claustrophobia without confining your protagonists.
In films we have grown accustomed to loud musical stings accompanying jump scares, and frankly we’re sick of it all; apparently a lot of directors forgot the potency of a sudden and oppressive silence. Something I observed in Grim Dawn, while only horror themed rather than fully committed to the genre, there are moments in which the player slips into other planes in which all colour and background music vanish completely, exaggerating the lifelessness of the area and the spike in threat to your character. Death in Little Nightmares isn’t heralded by some sad drone of strings or ear-rending shriek, just a cessation of sound and a fade to darkness, even less fanfare than the gut wrenching sounds that announce the boy’s death in Limbo.
Silence leaves you alone, and after we’ve become so comfortable with even the ambient drones and sounds organic to the environment, their absence feels unnatural, like the encroaching oblivion that we try to deny. A dramatic music sting or loud noise along with a jump scare or death animation is emphatic and heightens drama, where silence is unnerving and heightens the experience.