The other day Shamus complained about an odd tendency to inject military characters into Survival Horror video games as evidenced in the new Silent Hill title. I completely agree. Playing as a battle-hardened mercenary does not make a game of this kind scarier. Instead it shifts focus onto action sequences in which you blow up zombies, and clear them of your path using well placed explosives or grenades. It lends itself towards a completely different game play.
How about we make a game in which you can’t shoot zombies/monsters but instead you need to hide or run away from them. I’d envision it as a combination of your usual Survival Horror stuff with stealth based game play that we all know and love. But instead of hiding from guards, you would be hiding from monsters. And instead of being some sort of assassin, commando-ninja-special-forces type you would be an ordinary guy. Your equipment would be a zippo lighter (or a small flashlight) which would be your source of light in dark rooms, and a small swiss army knife which can be used to cut ropes, pry open ventilation panels, or act as a makeshift lock pick. You would be able to push and pull things, kick things over, and pick up small objects to be thrown (as a distraction). Sometimes you would find a wrench or a heavy pipe you could use as an effective melee weapon sort of like in Condemned. You could use it to bash the monster on the head, but it would likely only daze him giving you extra time to run away and find a hiding place. Of course, after few uses your makeshift weapon would break or bend, so that you don’t get a false sense of security by dragging it around the whole game.
I envision couple of interesting mechanics that could play into this sort of theme. For example, if you are running away from the monster you might throw chairs, or other objects behind you to block it’s way giving you extra time. I’d make the monsters chase you based on visual cues so you could shake them off by jumping into a dark corner, and then slowly sneaking away. Monster would loose sight of you, and go into roaming mode, sniffing around and perhaps making noises to spook you out of the cover. So normally you would want to skulk in the shadows, and stay out of well lit areas because you can be easily spotted this way. This could later be inverted by introducing Grue like monsters which lurk in the shadows but won’t step into the light.
The game could benefit from Half-Life 2 like physical puzzles which would let you push or pull things to gain access to different areas, or for example temporarily incapacitate a monster by luring it into a stairwell, and then pushing a refrigerator down on him Home Alone style. You could also lure monsters away from you by making noises. For example, turning a radio on in a room would pretty much cause every monster in range drop everything and run to investigate it. And while they are at it, you could access areas that were previously blocked off or inaccessible to you due to their presence.
The plot is of course the most difficult part here – but perhaps keeping it simple would make it beneficial. You find yourself in an abandoned building and discover that it is haunted/infested by monsters. Now you need to get out – and perhaps discover what happened there. I’m not entirely sure that talking NPC’s would be necessary – bits of information could be fed to the player via various other methods – such as documents he finds, notes, warnings painted or scratched on the walls, and etc. I’d keep it fairly vague at the beginning, and slowly unveil pieces of the puzzle to keep things mysterious, and keep the player guessing. I don’t have a specific explanation or theme in mind, but I guess it would either be a science experiment gone wrong (and in that case the player would be trapped in some sort of lab complex), or some occult ritual that backfired (in which case the game would probably take place in some mansion or a hotel).
I’d keep it a FPS for immersion sake, and make the character silent mute like Gordon Freeman. In fact, the whole thing could probably be done using just the HL2 engine and some clever scripting. What do you think? Would you play a game like that? What would you add/remove from the above to make it more interesting/creepy?