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The Hit or Miss of Horror Games: A Syndrome Story

Why is Halloween one of my favorite times of the year? Witty costumes, festive parties, drunken debauchery, and the heightened suspense and thrill of horror games. I don’t know what it is, but being surrounded by scary things for almost an entire month really enhances your senses and makes scary games even scarier. But then there are some games that you go into with super high hopes only to be let down.

The Hobby of Horror

I’m one of the bigger horror game fans, therefore I hold any new games that label themselves as “scary” or “suspenseful” to a very high standard. Games like Silent Hill 2, the Fatal Frame Series, and the early Resident Evil games all rank high on my list of the best horror titles. Even demos like PT and games like Condemned 2: Bloodshot are up there. But every genre has to have some bad to balance out the good.

This season, thanks to the generous people over at Camel 101 who provided Dashing Nerds with a Steam Key, I played a game called Syndrome. If you read the summary of the game, it sounds like an amazing thriller. I had imagined something akin to Dead Space or Alien Isolation, both great suspenseful titles. But getting into the game I could see I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

You wake from cryosleep to find that almost everyone that was on the ship with you floating through space is dead. The remaining crew members are incredibly bossy and don’t trust each other, but they would like you to do all of the work for them. They know there are murderous monsters on board, but hey, if you die, you’ll just be one more body on the floor, right? So of course, you set out into the dimly lit corridors like an idiot just following orders.

“The scenery and lighting are gorgeous”

Now before I get into the many issues I had with this game, I’m going to give my one positive for Syndrome — the texture work is gorgeous. The developers took full advantage of the engine they used to put together a very beautiful game. Props!

Time’s A-Wastin’

Syndrome is a “horror” game… and I put horror in quotes intentionally. In the game’s description, you are promised “claustrophobic horror, engaging storyline, and reactive enemies”. What I feel like I got was a rehashed story with super-powered enemies packaged in a shiny ship.

Sadly, Syndrome is riddled with issues, the biggest of all being that it’s just not scary. The opening hours are robbed of momentum with just trying to figure out basic navigation and missions. I spent half an hour looking for a particular doorway to lead to my next objective, then another 45 minutes trying to figure out how to save the game. Another half an hour was spent trying to navigate the map. I wasted 20 minutes or so trying to open a single door with a note on it. Oh, and this note was written in Chillers font. Do you know how unprofessional that is? Chillers font? C’mon now.

There were also lockers to dig through to try and find health items. I did find a weapon that functioned as a tool to progress through the level, but after trying for so long to get somewhere, I was exhausted.

Stop Trying to Make Horror Happen

After hours of the game, I felt no real danger. There was no contact with a single enemy. Instead, I spent 2 hours shuffling through dead guys’ pockets for items, listening to the crew barking orders, and going back and forth forever. I died once, and not because something scary killed me. Nope, it was because I stepped on a downed electrical wire.

When enemies finally did start to attack, the response time was just too slow. I could be hit two or three times before landing a blow, and when I got a hit in it could easily be countered. The point was to hide so the monsters didn’t notice you, but hiding didn’t seem to make a difference. I would get into cover but the slightest movement would trigger an enemy attack. Sometimes the cover didn’t even make a difference, and I’d get attacked for just breathing.

“This isn’t scary. Funny, not scary.”

This is not horror. Horror games need suspense, something to make the mind overthink, to not be prepared for what is actually next. I feel like I could tell exactly what would happen in Syndrome because it had all been done before. As best as I can describe, Syndrome felt like a sloppy take on Dead Space. Uncertainty can make a game so intense. Take Outlast, for example. When you run from someone and hide under a bed or in a closet, then watch them pass by, you get a rush. It is the fear of being attacked but the relief of avoiding the pain. The hiding feature would have been the cure to Syndrome’s lack of suspense if it had been done correctly.

The Painful Truth

I went into Syndrome expecting a thriller but left it just bored, scrambling to find my horror fix. Syndrome had a great premise but successful games are all about the execution. I was forced to beat and shoot my way through the level until I completed my objective. The sound design was good and the texturing was amazing but the actual story, combat, and suspense failed — the execution just wasn’t there. For the time being, I have gone back to Resident Evil 3 to be chased by Nemesis. Maybe he can chase this experience out of my head.

The Good

  • Beautiful Texturing and Lighting

The Bad

  • Broken Mechanics
  • Sloppy Combat
  • Long Down Periods
  • Not Scary

Written by: Greg

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