Written by Joe Ahart // Edited by Andrew Busch // Image courtesy of MadMind
The first time I saw footage of Agony, I was on YouTube looking for a new horror game to play. I noticed this game I had never heard of, and indulging my love for the genre, of course I had to check it out. The next ten minutes may have been one of the most disturbing gameplay demos I’ve ever seen. Walls and floors made of flesh and bone, lost souls constantly groaning in the background, and terrifying demons that would make Freud a happy man, made sure that the world MadMind Studios has created would be burned into my skull for a long, long time. In a morbid sense, I loved every minute of it.
First person survival horror games have been mainstream for quite a while now, with games like Outlast, Amnesia, Alien: Isolation and the P.T demo (rest in peace) becoming an increasingly popular genre for game developers. And with this many entries comes innovation, as well as a recent trend that has begun to develop with the release of Resident Evil 7. VR experiences are currently creeping their way into bigger and bigger titles. Even Bethesda is giving Skyrim the VR overhaul, to give the certified classic game that extra level of immersion. Survival horror games are especially reliant on this same sense of immersion in both the atmosphere and the world, allowing the naturally restricted gameplay to remain challenging and fun rather than tedious and slow. It’s obvious that Virtual reality is a goldmine for developers. With a sizable investment, they can bring the immersive capabilities of their games to the next level.
As of now, Agony has not given any reason to believe that it will be supported on VR. Though time will only tell if VR will become a larger player, I think there is a benefit to hesitation with the VR medium. Rather than focusing on integrating a whole new gameplay style, games like Agony are keeping their attention on the surreal worlds they are building, thinking of bringing the genre to a new style rather than a new platform. Generating such a world takes an immense amount of both artistic talent as well as time to fully generate and build. There are no office buildings, spooky houses, or abandoned facilities which conjure a certain amount of familiarity. The world of Agony is unlike anything that a first-person horror has ventured into, with the world giving you no familiar ground to work with.
Another upcoming title which incorporates the same elements of a completely fantastical world is the two-part survival horror game Scorn. There is heavy artistic influence on this game from the late H.R. Giger, who essentially fathered the biomechanical style many people are familiar with. The liberties these games are taking with their worlds is something I look forward to; it is essentially a demonstration of what modern day computers and consoles are capable of running, and is taking advantage of the abilities to provide an artistic and fresh expression of horror.
That isn’t to say that there can’t be a game that is both innovative and creative. There is another upcoming title which is incorporating the use of VR for its creative purposes, going that extra mile to show what the future of the genre is capable of. Stifled is a game which relies on sound, since your character is completely blind. By speaking into the mic, you are able to use echolocation to map out the surrounding area, and navigate the terrain. Stifled made an appearance at E3 this year, and gave a quick demo of what could be an either intense experience unlike any other game, or a silly adventure which involves non-stop screaming into your mic. Regardless, there is something to be said about the indie-game companies, and the creative juices that flow behind the scenes.
Games in the past have proved that a gorgeous world and minimalistic gameplay can come out on top of the innovative titles that come out alongside new tech. Something that comes to mind is the game The Last Guardian, utilizing the gift of minimalism, with their world being the priority over their technical abilities. Both Agony and Scorn seem to be utilizing the same sort of minimalistic style, albeit a completely different genre. Survival/ survival-horror are kept minimalistic out of necessity to keep the player starved of any abundance of resources or power. The fact that these are so popular means that in the end, lots of gamers prefer an immersive world over immersive tech. Of course there is incredible potential in VR, but at this point it is still in the gimmick stage of being a hot Christmas toy, rather than the future of games.
It is difficult to say at this point whether or not these games will float or sink, as gorgeous environments alone are not enough to keep a game alive. But with affordable and mainstream VR close on the horizon, we are witnessing a creative boost from various indie developers which could potentially lead to a renaissance of not only the survival horror genre, but for any sort of game willing to go form over function. Agony is set to release at some point in 2017, and Scorn will release in 2018.
Watch the Agony and Scorn reveal trailers below: