Fear Factor: Designing Scarier Games

Fear Factor: Designing Scarier Games

Fear’s a funny thing in video games. Sometimes scares come naturally, as when being chased by hordes of homicidal natives in Resident Evil 5. Other times, less so, e.g. when you little sister accidentally unplugs the PS3 after you’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIII for four hours without saving your game. Now Dead Space 2 hopes to up the chill factor by not only letting you dismember creepy-crawly enemies limb-by-limb, but putting you in suicidal scenarios and leaving you to sweat solutions out on a second’s notice.

Never mind haunting atmosphere, as you explore a futuristic city crawling with monsters, mutants and walking corpses. The real frights here come from the sheer range of inventive dilemmas you’re placed in and life-saving options at your disposal. Whether plummeting helplessly downward through the ether or dealing with hordes of chittering horrors exploding from an unsuspecting air duct, here’s hoping your survival instincts are good. From using telekinetic powers to wield shards of shattered glass against adversaries or smashing out windows to bring zero-gravity crashing into effect, you’ll undoubtedly often be paralyzed by the many options at your disposal. Faster and more visceral than its predecessor, the real terror here comes from trying to figure out how to react when death suddenly comes scuttling out of the shadows of a dim corridor.

Wits matter as much as weapons, with one’s own resourcefulness the secret to surviving each encounter. That’s a stark change from simply playing a heavily-armed badass placed in situations where the odds are stacked against you. For the horror genre, it’s a sign of maturity and progress, as players are tasked with using their gray matter as much as reflexes. Just remember not to stop and think too long before reacting off instinct. It may mean the difference between life and winding up a chew toy for an angry, fang-faced horror vomited up from the cosmos’ darkest hells.

About Scott Steinberg
Scott Steinberg is CEO of strategic consulting and product testing firm TechSavvy Global, and a noted keynote speaker and business expert. Hailed as a top tech expert and parenting guru by critics from USA Today to NPR, he’s also an on-air analyst for ABC, CBS and CNN.


  1. Nice scott, but I think scarier games can only be reached by reducing player advantage over the enemies.
    In Dead Space or RE 5, as the game progress, we will get better weapon or more health, this factor isn’t scary enough for me after playing it for 2 or 3 hours when i gey used to it!
    But,when we have very limited weapon choice or lower health as the game progress (and we dont have to kill the enemies but be able to hide from it), its trully will get me scary and even panicking enough ! Just look at Amnesia (in PC), clock tower (PS1) or haunting ground (Ps2), they’re trully the role model of scarier game design.

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