Has Indie Horror Hit a Plateau?

Independent horror hit the ground running about a year and a half ago with the release and immediate success of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Since, independent horror has taken to juxtaposing itself with AAA horror; in that, a reliance on creepy atmosphere and subtlety would be the hearth, rather than game-play and gripping action sequences. Simply put, the central goal in horror games is immersion, independent horror has elected to take the more self-containing, hands off approach. Much can be said for both the appeal and success of the style over substance approach; however, since independent horror's rise in acclaim, the genre has started ringing with more and more redundancies. Horror itself is a formula encoded beast, as both film and games stick to mild iterations of proven techniques to get the job done. Most of the redundancies are found within the content, however; and, in the regard to more popular titles, are not the basis for the content itself.

So, why make a fuss about yet another redundancy within the world of independent horror? Well, it seems that redundancy has finally hit an ambitious streak and taken hold of the very content of these titles. The notion of giving players as little information as possible other than "find this/these thing(s) in this seemingly abandoned area. Oh, and there is a faceless entity lurking behind you", seems to be popping up more and more often. As I've mentioned before; with such a similar premise, games with such a similar premise - such as Hide and Slender - offer playing experiences that vary only slightly.

The quickest, most simplified example of this redundant design strategy - as well as its shortcomings - is The Briefcase. Players arrive at an abandoned warehouse, in search of (you guessed it) a briefcase. As players trudge around with minimal control, as seems the case with most of these games, tension should be building as they look for a way into the room with the briefcase. Once retrieving this apparently important briefcase, players have to high-tale it out before the creepy ghoul chasing them catches up. Sound fairly familiar?

Some good lighting, if nothing else.
Some good lighting, if nothing else.

The familiarity in The Briefcase causes it to fall flat on its face. Much like other games of this nature, it does not house an ability to pause. Luckily, there is no need to pause as the game is all of five minutes long and the objects you are searching for never move. This mechanism is to keep players immersed in the creepy environment, afraid to leave the keyboard lest they lose everything. That mechanic holds up better if the environment is creepy. The warehouse does nothing but appear empty, yet does not unsettle at all. At one point, you'll come across blood on the floor. How it got there, I'm not sure, but by the point that I found it I had become so jaded on the experience that I could only note it as a nice touch. A poorly programmed jump scare from a box could have also been a nice touch, were it not hilarious every single time I came upon it. Lastly, the music cue upon finding the briefcase, and the quick, anticlimactic sprint back to your van just left me feeling wholly unrewarded for what I'd done.

If you'd like to download The Briefcase to judge the experience on your own, it is free here. Wanting to rely on simplicity of game-play to improve the immersion of your horror game is a bright idea. Do not let your premise be as simple.