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The state of horror in 2016 - where have we come from, where do we go, and who turned out the lights?!

By , on September 28, 2016
Last modified 2 years, 2 months ago

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Horror films and games are a special quantity. They're obviously designed to scare, but they're incredibly hit and miss, with some quite terrible results.

They either end up managing to scare me (no thanks), or they're bad, don't scare me, and are boring (similarly, no thanks).

For that reason, I've never 'got' horror. I can understand it, sure: that adrenaline rush is the same one that keeps Alton Towers in business, but I'm quite happy in my epinephrine-free world of tea and blankets, thankyouverymuch.

No one can hear you scream ice cream

It's a shame my cowardly brain thinks that way - mobile has been home to some truly great horror games over the years.

Dead Space showed a big console horror could work on your phone. As you would expect, controls are an issue, but the production values are off the charts - as is the scare-o-meter.

Limbo also crammed a console experience into a pocket device, but more importantly it showed there was a place for indie horrors on the App Store. Limbo is bursting with ideas, and succeeds not because of jumps scares or cheap tricks, but because its aesthetic and atmosphere are so powerful.

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It's also a rare beast in the horror world - not many scary games get you to directly care for another person. Most encourage empathy but only for the purposes of making the protagonist a proxy for you, the player. Conversely, Limbo has you empathise for this small boy and his plight to save his missing younger sister - we're not imagining we are him, we actually do care for him.

Contrast that with possibly the most famous (thanks to a little known YouTuber called PewDiePie) mobile horror game of all time: Five Nights at Freddy's. FNAF plants you directly into the eyes of an unknown victim, with nowhere to run, almost powerless to resist the onslaught of creepy teddies.

Its horror stems from this helplessness, and the fact the monsters are our toys - combine these two and we're seven years old again, trapped under our bed sheets, terrified of what's in the closet.

Fear of the unknown

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But where next for horror on mobile? The same tricks can't continue to be pulled - landmark games are all well and good but a copycat is never as scary. Instead, the platform must look to bespoke, original, creative experiences.

Papa Sangre 2 is one of the cleverest games of the last decade, let alone just the horror genre. It barely uses the screen - instead opting to frighten you with the use of sound. You play with your eyes shut, which immediately heightens the senses - and the fear of the unknown it breeds increases the sense of dread. It's amazing.

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Perhaps the future is here already. VR could make horror games more terrifying than ever (just ask anyone who's played Alien: Isolation on Oculus Rift), while AR is proving to be an underrated weapon - Night Terrors is one of the most unnerving games we've played in years. Again, these two platforms help put us inside the story - or rather, bring the horror closer to home.

As much as I dislike the horror genre, I'm excited to (read about, and not play) what comes next.

Five Nights at Freddy's in VR? Oh God no thank you.