I’m walking down a corridor in a first person game minding my own business when I turn a corner and come face-to-face with a giant spider that proceeds to jump at me with a loud, “SKREEEEEE!” Making a similar high-pitched squeal, I literally jump away from my computer in fright, trying to physically avoid the virtual attack. It takes me a few seconds to reach over and hit pause to keep my team from dying, and another few minutes to gather my bearings and enough courage to face the abomination and its subsequent hive of brothers and sisters (Because of course there isn’t just one!).
It’s the most I’ve jumped at anything in my entire life and it didn’t come from a horror game. It’s a recent experience I had while playing Legend of Grimrock, a first-person dungeon crawler RPG where you control a group of four prisoners and try to escape a massive and increasingly deadly dungeon/prison. Horror isn’t listed or even hinted at in the 20+ tags on the game’s Steam page and yet I walked around the rest of the level with a bigger sense of dread than I’ve felt in any game since – except maybe Outlast.
I’ve seen giant spiders in video games before and they’ve appeared abruptly in the exact same way too, but there’s a massive difference between those games and this one – I was fully immersed. Every other instance I can think of is in a third person game, like when the spider queen drops on top of you in Divinity: Original Sin or when you fight the spider boss in Dark Souls 2. Sure, both games did well at pulling me into their respective world, but neither pulled off the same tunnel-vision laser focus that I was jarred from in Legend of Grimrock.
I believe every horror game should be set in first person and I think the community at large would agree. Just look at the list of recent horror hits: Outlast, Amnesia: The Dark Decent, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Alien: Isolation, Slender: The Arrival, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. All of these games hold higher user ratings on Steam than most of their third person counterparts, the only exception to the rule being the Dead Space franchise – which people started criticizing for the lack of real horror by the sequel.
I don’t mean to take anything away from games like Bloodborne or the Resident Evil franchise, but how often were you legitimately scared or terrified while playing third person horror games compared to first person titles that weren’t even considered horror, like Minecraft, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Fallout 3? Third person titles can certainly pull you in and immerse you in their worlds for story purposes, like The Last of Us, but I don’t think the perspective is appropriate for facilitating a real terrifying sense of dread that characterizes true horror.
Just ask yourself, would you really be okay if the next Silent Hill game was in third person after playing/watching the PT demo? I don’t think so.