Horror Obscura 2016: Intro and Part One
Back by popular demand the Horror Obscura returns for another series of terror. This year, as well as discussing some horror titles you may not have heard of, I also wanted to revisit some games which are not necessarily considered horror but have horror elements portrayed in them really well. I’ve always been quite the fan of horror. When I was 5 years old one of my parents made the big mistake of allowing me to watch Stephen King’s It. Pro Parenting tip: Don’t let a 5 year old watch It they will think Tim Curry is terrifying, Home Alone 2 to me is terrifying with his inclusion (full disclosure I’m currently not a parent). Regardless of this experience I always held a kind of fascination with horror and think deep down we all sort of do. Whether its watching a scary film, playing a scary game or doing something scary like falling in love. Okay, I know this is a gaming blog not a life lesson but I feel we all sort of find horror even if its in media that doesn’t contain a monster as my first entry of the Horror Obscura 2016 will begin with.
Part 1: Max Payne (1&2)
Developed by Remedy the guys now known for making Alan Wake and the recent Quantum Break.
Now I know what you must be thinking “Jam why are you so attractive?” Wait, sorry, that’s not it? It’s probably Max Payne is a shooty shooty bang bang game, it never scared me. Well that’s probably true. After all you do spend a lot of time in this game satisfyingly shooting bad guys in slow mo, in the face. So the really scary thing is how this game brings out the crazy serial killer in us all (I kid). The scenes in particular I bring up in both these games are the dream sequences. Max Payne is a man on the edge who’s lost it all. His wife and baby have been brutally murdered, a scene you experience, which felt very powerful for a video game. It kinda made sense why Max would be a cold hearted killer throughout, a catalyst few games rarely actually explore. Throughout both games you are haunted by the death of your loved ones and these moments are very jarring.
The first game quite literally tortures you in segments in more ways than one. The dream sequences force Max to re live the death of his family over and over. But opening segments are adjusted with long corridors that feel endless in design, requiring you to navigate a maze of your house while your wife is screaming in the background. You enter the rooms of your home gradually one by one as Max’s monologues (a common and effective feature in the game generally) and the music builds with tension as you urgently try to rescue your family, despite knowing as the player this endeavor is fruitless. The games physics seem to change, your movement oddly slows and speeds up and the walls appear to close in and some rooms just burst into blames. A fantastic moment in a later sequence has the game break the forth wall and inform Max he’s in a computer game, something Max monologues as being “the worst thing possible.” The climax of these sequences is Max feels like he is the one who killed his family, one moment has you even shoot yourself and a version of the Game Over sequence plays when your defeated. This all culminates in the utter guilt Max feels and the mental torture he has to deal with as a result.
It’s not all perfect though. One of the most infamous moments in a later sequence is a platforming segment where you have to follow a blood trial as you travel down into a dark abyss. This part is incredibly frustrating as falling off means you have to start the segment again all while there is a screaming baby in the background. Its frustrating and not a pleasant experience due to its frustrating design. Apart from this particular segment the dream sequences are a clever idea and present a different style horror experience. These segments are simplified in the sequel.
There’s nothing better than getting a video game sequel that addresses the issues from the original game and improves on them. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is in my opinion an overall better game than the original in gameplay and design. The dream sequences return but feel much more cinematic this time around, they are also very brief and are much more guided experiences. The sequences make better use of the improved game engine adding fog effects to the mix. The sequences are effective but don’t feel as memorable as the first game despite the improvements. Everyone remembers falling into nothing in the first game when a horrific scream echoes through the game putting you back at the start of the segment.
The brief periods of Max Payne’s mental torture are effective scenes that pull off horror better than some games that consider themselves horror titles despite this being an action game. I highly recommend these two games anyway since I feel Remedy does a great job of telling a story in a graphic novel style which feels very unique to this day. Max Payne has a crappy life and it makes for a great video game.
Max Payne 1 & 2 can be found on PS2, Xbox and PC. The first game (PS2 ver) is also available on PSN on PS3.