In a way, it’s easy to understand why some people feel that 3D is simply superior to 2D when it comes to horror games. Our own list of the scariest horror games ever featured 18 3D titles compared to just two 2D/2.5D titles (Clock Tower and Darkwood), so I can’t easily argue against the suggestion that there are more memorable 3D horror games than 2D horror games. Besides, the rise of the horror genre coincided with the rise of 3D gaming, and, since then, most major developers have elected to make 3D horror games over 2D horror games when they’ve been lucky enough to secure the funding for a horror game at all. As such, there have certainly been more 3D horror games to talk about in the last 25 years or so.
Of course, it’s also difficult to simply point at some of the best 2D horror games ever and close the door on this topic. Yes, titles like The Last Door, Home, The Cat Lady, and the aforementioned Darkwood and Clock Tower are genuinely scary 2D games (in my mind), but this debate seems to be more about the viability of genuinely scary 2D games rather than a hand-picked selection of titles that exemplify that concept. Besides, convincing someone to play one of the scariest 2D horror games ever made is different than convincing them that genuinely scary 2D games (especially a 2D game published by Nintendo) are more than exceptions to what many see as a rule.
No the best argument for the viability of 2D horror is the fact that there have actually been countless intimidating/scary 2D games released over the years that have relied on the same concept that Metroid Dread looks to emphasize: the lingering feeling of inevitable defeat.
Long before Resident Evil revolutionized horror gaming and gave a generation of gamers nightmares, some of the most intimidating games in our collections were also the most difficult. Contra, Ninja Gaiden, Castlevania 3…our list of the hardest NES games ever essentially doubles as a collection of the games you almost dreaded to play because you weren’t confident you could beat them.
Indeed, the “Dread” part of Metroid Dread‘s title feels like a more revealing word choice than we previously suspected. While the decision to limit Dread‘s E.M.I.I. encounters to specific rooms that are marked on your map might feel like a poor substitute for the more chaotic encounters against video game stalkers in 3D titles (such as the Mr. X moments in the Resident Evil 2 remake), this doesn’t seem like a case of Dread‘s developers simply trying to compensate for the technological “downgrade” by making these encounters more structured.
Instead, the decision to “telegraph” your encounters against Dread‘s E.M.I.I. foes feels very much deliberate and part of Dread developer Mercury Steam’s desire to leave you genuinely dreading having to enter those rooms. Yes, you know that a battle against one of these enemies is coming, but are you properly prepared for it? Can you survive rather than just play through the scare? It’s the old Alfred Hitchcock “bomb theory” approach to suspense/horror in which you show the audience that there’s a bomb that’s about to explode rather than have it be a surprise. The latter may result in more of a “jump,” but the former makes the jump feel like more of a relief compared to the tension that came before.
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