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Monday, November 9, 2020

Next-Gen Terrors: What Can PS5 and Xbox Series X Do For Horror Gaming?

The current generation of horror gaming saw a reboot of sorts, followed by some genuine innovation, both in terms of how they play and what they can be played on. Small, and independent studios set the trends, and did well enough to end up influencing the big names to the point where, at one point, both Resident Evil and Silent Hill looked revitalized (sadly, only one actually was…for now). 

The likes of Outlast and Alien Isolation further popularised the burgeoning growth of first-person horror games. Virtual Reality actually immersed you in that, ramping up the dread and terror of even the most tired scares. Then there was the new multiplayer horror boom. Dead By Daylight, Friday the 13th, and more flew because Evolve walked (well…stumbled around a bit after some initial swagger). A new wave of independent developers blossomed on with retro-style horror games. Horror basically came back hard in gaming in a variety of ways, and that leaves the genre in rude health as we enter a new console generation.

But what can the new consoles do to improve horror games going forward? There’s the obvious power upgrade of course, but both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X have features that could change horror games new and old alike. So here’s a look at what could be vital to the future (and the past) of the genre.

Backward Compatibility

First off is this. No, it’s not exactly the first thing to be considered when buying a new console, but both consoles bring the previous generation with them, often in improved states. In the case of Xbox, it goes back to a large selection of Xbox 360 titles and some original Xbox titles.

This means Microsoft has a very significant catalog of horror games to call upon, and with various improvements possible, they will likely warrant a revisit. So while it’s fine to look forward to enticing new horror games such as Resident Evil: Village, The Medium, and State of Decay 3, there’s the likes of the Dead Space Trilogy, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and Left 4 Dead right there if you want them.


An SSD as standard in both consoles means faster load times in the short term. This will help make existing horror games start up quicker and cut down on those often lengthy periods between deaths and area transitions, but in future it could make the very design of horror games change into something new. Faster load times means less reliance on scuttling through tight gaps and trudging down long corridors while the game tries to load up the next horrible nasty that’s out to rip your head off.

Now, there’s an effective terror to be mined out of these kinds of situations, but it’s often a case of necessity rather than an active choice. Level design could arguably be more ambitious in future, and offer up the opportunity to subvert a few horror gaming tropes in fresh ways. It might take an eager, smaller studio to realize this properly before any juggernaut horror franchise owners catch on, but it would be unlikely that nobody would at least try to utilize the advantages of the SSD in this coming generation.

Ray Tracing and Auto HDR

HDR began being implemented on PS4 and Xbox One, and in the few horror titles that used it, and used it right, it made for an effective change in lights and darks, which are an essential part of what makes many horror games tick. Take Resident Evil 2 Remake. The gloom of the police station set against the flickering fire of a crashed helicopter looks stunning on the right setup, and for the new generation of consoles, HDR could well be boosted by forms of Ray Tracing. 

Ray Tracing brings more realistic lighting and reflections, which can improve the look and feel of game worlds. It is still largely a drain on game performance at this stage, but some Frankensteined versions of it are already being implemented into PS5 titles such as Spider-Man Miles Morales and Devil May Cry 5. Devil May Cry 5, in particular, appears to be a dry run for Capcom’s next big game to use Ray Tracing; Resident Evil: Village

As mentioned above with Resident Evil 2 Remake, the use of HDR alone makes horror games set in dark and gloomy places that bit more atmospheric, but imagine what Ray Tracing could do for it here? Now, instead of suspiciously grimy mirrors you can’t even see your character in, you could now catch a glimpse of a monster in the mirror’s reflection as you gawk at yourself in it. Dynamic lighting from a swinging light source offering fleeting glimpses of a claw or a snarling maw. You know that thing where you’re walking in darkness and a shape kind of looks like it could be something else? That, in theory, could be very easy to replicate with the combination of HDR and Ray Tracing.

The old generation of games isn’t left behind though. Xbox Series X employs an auto-HDR feature that can add HDR to any backward compatible title that doesn’t currently support it, providing it doesn’t cause an issue with the game in question. So there could be another good reason to revisit a few classic horror games on Microsoft’s bulky box.

PS5’s DualSense Controller

While the Xbox Series X controller is a slightly improved version of the previous one, the PS5 DualSense controller messes about with the established style of the DualShock again. This time, it features adaptive triggers and haptic feedback, and both could really add something to the horror game experience.

The adaptive triggers can give variable resistance, making the player apply different amounts of pressure for any given situation. In a horror sense, say you were desperately trying to keep a door shut with your hands as a killer slams their body against it repeatedly. The harder the killer pushes the harder you have to push on the trigger to keep them from knocking the door wide open. Or perhaps a noticeable block on pushing down the fire trigger when attempting to shoot a zombie because the gun you picked up is unreliable and has jammed. 

Now consider such things in partnership with haptic feedback, where localized jolts of vibration thump against your palms as that killer’s weight impacts the door you’re holding shut. Or you can feel the whack as a new magazine is slotted into that jammed gun. That’s merely an example of what could be possible if handled right and not applied in a gimmicky fashion. The mic on the DualSense pumping out sounds to go with haptic effects sounds like it could also add something to the experience.

3D Audio

If Ray Tracing can make horror games look more effective, and the Dualsense can make interacting with them more immersive, then the PS5’s Tempest 3D audio (which requires a compatible headset) could be the final piece of the puzzle.

A common horror crutch is playing the game of ‘what the fuck was that noise, and where the fuck did it come from?’ and you know what’s worse than playing that game? Having the question answered with dread-inducing clarity.

Sony’s 3D audio tech promises to make it so you can tell exactly where a raindrop has landed by sound alone. So you can imagine how that would translate into a horror game when you hear the shuffle of feet and a moan, but can’t see it because of the pitch-black hallway you’re in. With this, you could know how far up the hallway those sounds are coming from, and probably empty your bowels when a second set of shuffling feet can be heard right…behind…you.

For those who are already jumpy about every little noise in an otherwise quiet room in a horror game, this sounds like it might make you jump that little bit higher.


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