I have to preface this by saying I’m not a big World of Warcraft guy. By that I mean, I haven’t played it in nearly a decade and I was never any good at it, and I don’t know the lingo, and I’m sure I’m going to screw up all kinds of details here that will make serious players cringe. But I was into it for a short while, enough to appreciate some aspects of the game that probably sailed right by the majority of folks who were actually good at it.
Right. That grisly character up yonder is Stitches, an undead monster that periodically rampages through an area in WoW called Duskwood. Now, the storyline here, such as it is, is really immaterial: what matters is that, in this portion of the game, you’re in this creepy haunted forest full of, like, spidery trees and undead monsters and all kinds of other generic crunchy horror goodness. If you suck at the game, as I did, you’re likely just trying not to die. Then at random moments this giant pile of rot comes barreling down the road, and it’s just great. I couldn’t find a video with a good view of the Abomination as he lumbers through the forest, but this at least gives you some idea of what the man himself is like in-game (via YouTuber WCQuests):
Doesn’t look scary, right? And it’s really not. Except when you play it, it has this weird mix of cartoonish graphics and weird sounds and the fact of the aforementioned giant undead thing blubbering towards you with several giant sharp killy things. It’s creepy in a fun way, and the only games I can think of offhand that manage a similar air of cartoony creepishness are Ghosts ‘n Goblins and its sort-of sequels, Demon’s Crest and the Maximo games. Oh, and MediEvil. Look at how fun this nonsense is:
As for WoW, there is some creepy stuff here, as I recall: the mythos could get pretty dark, and if you take the time to read all the fluff text that accompanies various quests, it can actually be kinda horror-y. But there’s also this alchemical combination of a dark, purplish color palette, trees that disappear into the fog, dim lantern light, and the pervasive knowledge that you’re in a cursed forest that makes Duskwood a compelling environment, and Stitches’ inevitable arrival something of a treat for horror fans. At least, it was for me.
Trouble is that there don’t seem to be many games that make use of this type of cartoony aesthetic in a generally horrorish context. These days we get Outlast and Dying Light and The Last of Us. And those all look great, though I haven’t been able to play them myself (Dying Light‘s not even out yet). But there’s this emphasis on gritty, gory, hyper-realistic, stressful horror, while the kind of supernatural, atmospheric, slightly goofy but also creepy kinda thing that Duskwood and Stitches manage to achieve is neglected.
I’d love to see an MMO where a Duskwood-like environment is the norm, where mist and lamplight and ambient noises create tension and where things come barreling at you out of the forest (I love it when things come barreling at you).
Actually, inexplicably-famous YouTuber PewdiePie has some videos on a recent horror game that captures some of the aesthetics I’m talking about (yes, okay? Sometimes I watch PewdiePie videos. Shut up.). I’d like to see this sort of look combined with RPG-style gameplay. Somebody do that.