Posted By Robert H. about 7 months, 1 week ago
Once again, the month of October is upon us and that means it’s more than an appropriate time to talk about horror games. Although many horror games within recent years have merely been action games involving grotesque monsters, there’s still a great amount of truly effective examples released throughout the medium. I’ve always been drawn to the genre, as a well done horror game can present a truly unique and immersive experience that’s hard to match, whether the focus is psychological, straight-up payoff suspense, or anywhere in-between. It even seems as though developers of non-horror games share a similar opinion, evidenced by the large number of terrifying locations in games without a focus on the scary or the creepy.
As a result of this commonality, there are a great many places both in and out of horror games that have a reputation for being particularly creepy. To stick to the Halloween spirit, both of the AAA articles this month will be about these memorable areas. While there are many examples to choose from, one of the most notable and important of them all is the Ocean House Hotel from Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.
When given the mission to clear the spirits from the Ocean House Hotel, there isn’t much of an expectation for the place to be scary. Considering the fact that the player character is a practically immortal vampire and has been able to handle everything up to this early point with relative ease, there’s no reason to think that a few ghosts will be any different. However, from the very first impression of the place, it quickly becomes clear that the situation is quite different indeed.
After exiting the sewers used to get to the abandoned hotel, the building quickly presents itself with its looming presence. By using a particular angle, the hotel almost looks as though it’s leaning over the player, trying and succeeding to be imposing. This simple visual tweak manages to give the building a presence before anything has legitimately happened to provoke a scare. While the time spent outside is very brief, only used to find a key for the locked front door, it still manages to leave its mark. While this may seem like a minute detail, the first impression of a location that’s meant to be creepy is incredibly important. This short moment has to set the tone for the rest of the area so the appropriate mood is achieved, and the hotel’s quickly-acquired presence is an excellent example of this idea at work.
Upon actually stepping inside the hotel, it doesn’t take very long for the haunted nature of the place to rear its ugly head. One of the first things that’s almost assured to happen is the chandelier in the middle of the front room crashing down in an attempt to both scare and crush the player character. Even if it does connect, it won’t cause any kind of serious damage, but the important point is still made: Something is in this hotel, and it doesn’t want anybody else to be there. Similar events happen throughout the area, from vases shooting around whenever they are approached to evil laughter cropping up from nowhere more than once. The constant manifestation of the spirit’s displeasure is an ever-present reminder that something evil is always watching, regardless of location. A monster that can’t realistically be stopped.
The haunting doesn’t just stop at poltergeist activity though. The Ocean House Hotel is a takeoff of nearly every haunted house cliché in the book. Objects move, people are seen for one second and disappear the next, footsteps and other loud noises can be heard everywhere, doors open and close of their own volition, and there always seems to be something in the corner of the eye. Yet, even with all of these constantly seen tropes being present in full force, they still manage to be creepy within the context of the hotel. It doesn’t matter how many times a ghost popping up from behind has been seen; the presence of the hotel manages to make every single instance unnerving. It really is an impressive display and it’s always good to see more modern horror calling back to the classics of the genre.
Thanks to the splintered wooden boards of the dilapidated building, any attempt to leave the front room by the only available exit of the second floor stairs causes them to break and send the PC to the darkened basement. This is where both the scares and the story of the place begin to get a lot more involved. The unexplained events jump from simple object throwing to seeing flashes of ghosts everywhere and legitimately dangerous spiritual attack when the power breaker is flipped. Probably the most memorable of the bunch is the woman seen running away from something through a cross-sectioned hallway, although neither the woman nor the pursuer are seen upon turning the corner into said hallway. Not only do these events continue to step up the intensity and feelings of unease in the player, they also manage to give very quick hints that there is more going on than the surface shows. After all, the visions clearly show that there is more than one lost soul wandering the halls.
It’s around this time that the short newspaper articles scattered throughout the building present themselves. These short stories paint a picture of the terrible events that transpired to cause this haunting in the first place. Through the articles, it’s learned that a series of murders took place at the hotel, causing the deaths of an entire family of four and the burning of the hotel’s upper floors. While the newspapers have insufficient data on the entire situation, the ghostly disturbances and discovery of the wife’s journal tell the true tale. The father of the family grew jealous of a pendent his wife wore, thinking it came from another lover instead of the friend who truly gave the gift. He sank so far into a jealous rage that he ultimately came after his family with an axe, murdering his family before burning himself along with the remains.
If this story sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it is. The backstory of the haunting at the Ocean House Hotel is a direct homage to the Stanley Kubrick-directed movie, The Shining. The family staying at a hotel that eventually ends up with the father going insane and coming after his family with an axe is lifted directly from that source, though played out with largely different embellishments. The outside view of the hotel even bears a striking similarity to The Shining’s featured area. Regardless, the reference is an interesting note to the entire location and, once again, it’s good to see the game developers paying their respects to a classic in the horror genre.