A few months ago, reddit users were asked to come up with horror stories that are only two sentences long. Many of the tales spawned from this request are quite creepy and leave a lingering unease, in spite of their length. The most effective of these stories play on universal human fears and utilize the reader’s ability to extrapolate the narrative even further. Due to their nature, these two-sentence musings provide few details as to the setting or the characters involved. There is no time to explain or to build the surmounting terror; the reader is thrust into a story in motion at the climax of a bad situation. As I read through these very short stories, I wondered: could a video game scare players under similar constraints?
When gamers make a list of the best survival horror titles, the featured games often have one trait in common: an atmosphere of dread. From small towns infested with monsters to remote space stations that may not be as empty as they seem, these settings are crafted to put the player on edge. So much work goes into the ambient sound and visuals of each area, so the player does not need a bulky narrative to explain why he/she should be frightened.
Despite this effort, the developers of such titles take the time to build a complex story. The best of these games make use of both setting and story to create an engaging game, while the worst of them clutter a potentially chilling experience with unnecessary areas and exposition. Across the board, these games follow the traditional three-part mold of a feature-length film. It’s almost as if a horror game has to contain certain story elements and have a lengthy playtime to be a success.
Enter Sepulchre; a point-and-click PC game from Owl Cave. From the developers’ website: “It’s a game featuring horror, trains, and huge bags. It should take most people around half an hour to play through.” A perfect example of truth in advertising, Sepulchre took roughly forty minutes to complete, during which time I took control of a passenger on a train, eager for a bite to eat. Like the two-sentence short stories, this game does not require much set-up to cause a sense of dread. The lack of information, along with striking visuals and sound, created a foreboding atmosphere that lingered long after completion. It seems a video game can incite fear under heavy constraints.
If you are looking for a short jaunt into an ominous world not so unlike your own, please check out Sepulchre. Your time together may be brief, but the horror will last a lifetime.