Monsters are a classic horror staple, both onscreen and off. They’re everything horrible that one can imagine, a dark and twisted force of nature, bent on nothing less than the grisly murder humankind, of the innocent and of guilty. Monsters are the embodiment of fear itself, absolutely terrifying yet indescribable.
Naturally, on would think that something with such associations attached would be perfect for horror games. Unfortunately, monsters in horror games tend to suffer from the same problems as their counterparts in movies and television: they’re just not frightening. They’re disturbing, disgusting, and even unsettling at times but real scare factor is often beyond their capabilities. The reason is simple really; we usually see too much of them.
Like most attributes of horror, a monster becomes scarier the less you know about it. Indeed, all that must be done to ruin is to give the player enough time to get a good look at it. Consider the success of games such as Slender and Amnesia: The Dark Descent: even though they have completely different attributes in terms of length, story, complexity, and gameplay, yet are both considered to be among the scariest games of the last generation. Both of these games are based around having to deal with monsters, and more importantly, both make sure that their players never get a good look at them. In these games, to gaze too long at the enemy is to seal your doom.
Compare that with the likes of Dead Space (a game that somehow keeps winding up in these examinations), which has much more grotesque and visually horrific monstrosities than either of the previously mentioned games and whose denizens might as well be glorified zombie: nasty to look at, but not actually all that frightening. Dead Space itself isn’t particularly scary for several other reasons along with this, but the lack of frightening monsters is definitely a contributor. Unlike the slenderman or those twisted…things that stalk the dark halls of Amnesia’s castle, we’re given ample opportunity to assess the Necromophs. We grow to understand how they operate and learn what to expect from each type. We grow to understand them after a few encounters, and thus they cease to be scary.
It is said that one always fears what they don’t understand, and the best way to keep someone from understanding something is to shroud it in darkness and let the person’s run a muck with all the terrible possibilities. It’s always fun to confront a new kind of monster, but if it is truly meant to be scary then it’s better to leave us with only an impression and an active imagination.
What makes a monster scary to you? Is it best left to your imagination or have you encountered some truly terrifying specimens?