If we play a horror game it is because we want to feel scared. There is a certain charm in the tension of entering the dark despite the dark noises inside. Knowing that at any moment we can find ourselves face to face with an unspeakable horror and the despair of flight are emotions that we seek despite how negative they may seem. The interactivity that video games offer us makes fear can be more intense than with any horror movie. That is one of the main attractions of this type of game.
Although many seek those experiences, Frictional Games – the Swedish studio that many consider responsible for the “rebirth” of horror video games – has offered us a special option in its last two titles. This allows us to “eliminate” the terrifying elements. Why would someone do something like that? Doesn’t it take away the impact of your works? What’s the fun of ‘adventure mode’ or ‘safe mode’ in games like Amnesia: Rebirth Y SOMA?
The truth is that, as exciting as horror games can be, not all gamers enjoy being scared. Even fans of the scariest movies and chilling works of literature can cringe at the thought of experiencing fear with a video game.
This is totally understandable. Reading a book or watching a movie allows us a level of separation from their events that video games do not. Of course, they are still fiction. We know — even at times when we are most invested in the action — that they are not real. But the racing pulse and the scream we get when a horrible creature appears on the screen are. There are those who cannot or simply do not want to feel that.
That is a shame. Horror video games are not just scares and tension. Some of them tell wonderful stories and show us unique aesthetics. It is sad to know that a certain sector of the public that could enjoy these elements will not be able to do so because they do not want to be scared. That is precisely what happened with SOMA, a game by Frictional Games released in 2015.
SOMA is, in my humble opinion, one of the best science fiction stories of all time. It deserves to be enjoyed even by those who do not want to feel tension in the moments when we are stalked by the horrible beings that inhabit this world. That caused the same players to create a ‘mod’ that removed monsters from the game and allowed everyone to experience its wonderful plot.
Frictional Games understood this and updated the game with a ‘safe mode’ that renders monsters harmless. This was very well received by the players and the critics.
We already talked about SOMA, its great story and safe mode a few years ago, so it’s not worth delving into. What we do have to talk about is what the study did with its next title.
When they announced Amnesia: Rebirth, whose review can be found here, Thomas Grip – study director – said the following in an interview with Vice Games:
“I don’t feel like safe mode makes sense in this game. It is not a title in which we can remove the enemies and it will work in a similar way to how it worked with SOMA. The truth is that I don’t see how. “
I agree with Grip. On Amnesia: Rebirth, the monsters – known as ghouls – are a key element of both the narrative and the gameplay. There are sections of the game that are meaningless if we are not trying to hide from them. It’s not like in SOMA, in which the presence of the monsters is important to the story, but not their aggressiveness.
Despite that, Frictional Games decided to give it a try. At the end of March, Fredrik Olsson – the game’s creative director – announced that Amnesia: Rebirth would receive an ‘adventure mode’. This new name was due to the fact that, with this option activated, the game would stop being a horror adventure and would be more like “an Indiana Jones story.”
We have to be honest. Tasi Trianon’s story of survival and emotional trauma in Amnesia: Rebirth
But sadly the adventure mode of Amnesia: Rebirth not as well implemented as safe mode SOMA.
It introduces several major changes to the gameplay:
- Remove enemies from some areas.
- Enemies in other areas are not aggressive.
- Darkness no longer affects the protagonist’s sanity.
- Dark sections are brighter, eliminating the need for a lamp or matches.
- Add new puzzles.
The problem is that many of these changes don’t fit into the game’s narrative. In fact, they affect it negatively.
The best example of this is found in the fortress of the French legion. At this level, the game teaches us the necessary mechanics to hide from the ghoul and the dialogues refer to the monster we found … but it does not appear in adventure mode.
In another section, there is an enemy who says that he will kill us if he finds us, but he is completely harmless when we pass him. We also go through a room full of enemies in which Tasi behaves as if in danger, despite the fact that we have seen that these creatures do nothing to us. It is also unnecessary to maintain the flashlight oil and match limitations when they are no longer necessary for survival.
Adventure mode preserves dialogues, mechanics, and tutorials for items that are no longer in the game. This creates an annoying dissonance. It makes us feel that we are not enjoying a complete experience.
The idea of ”no scares” modes, such as the adventure mode of Amnesia: Rebirth, it is very good, but that does not mean that it can be easily applied to all horror games. Resident Evil 7 It is a title that I would love to play, but it is too stressful for my liking. Even if I wanted to enjoy its story and setting without worrying, I know that removing members of the Baker family from the game would make it a mediocre experience. What would a “no scares” mode look like in a title like Five Nights at Freddy’s? Would it work Alien: Isolation without the xenomorph? What would have to be changed in these titles to implement such a mode?
As you can see, it is not an easy job. The “no fright” modes are challenging even for the best designers. If Capcom wanted to implement something like this in its title, it would have to rebalance all the elements of the game to make it interesting despite its lack of tension. Ideally, it is something that is planned from the beginning of game development so that it does not feel forced. In case of SOMA it really was something unique.
At the moment, Frictional Games is the only company that has been interested in creating modes like these for its horror games. But we see more and more accessibility options in a great variety of games and modalities made for those who just want to enjoy the story of a game without facing many challenges. We wouldn’t be surprised to see others adapt the ‘no-scare modes’ idea soon.
Let’s just hope they are better implemented than the adventure mode of Amnesia: Rebirth and are more like the safe mode of SOMA.