Is it just me ...or do all Horror Game Box-Arts Suck?
Before we get started, I'd just like to apologise for my absence these past couple weeks, although I managed to do a couple g1 Features projects I've been neglecting my own personal blog due to family problems which have been either occupying or distracting my mind as of late. But I'm back, and hopefully back to normal weekly postings to boot, and I thought we'd start things off with something new! 'Is it just me...' is a potential new series of blogs where I talk about very specific topics in more detail than, say Twitter or a paragraph on another blog will allow me. I'm kicking things off by looking at one of my personal favourite genres of entertainment, horror!
Is it just me, or do the majority of boxarts for Horror Games, past present and future, suck?
Whilst I was away on my little hiatus, I downloaded a few games to play on my PS Vita, one of those was Resident Evil 2 for the PSOne, a game I haven't played since I was about 5 or 6 years old. Whilst downloading it I noticed that the box art presented on PSN, and the one it originally shipped in back in 1998...well...it sucked. And that got me thinking about the Resident Evil series in general, looking back at all the main RE games, did any of them actually have good box art? For one of gaming's biggest, most well known franchises, it has a terrible history with front covers, and what's remarkable is that they all suck in different ways. The first one is some ungodly mess of 90's CGI that barely reflects the character, or the world of the game that it shows. Then you have the RE2 box, which shows...well a whole lot of fuck all, as you can see above (Although at least it looks relatively cool and well designed), move onto 3 and what do you have? A naff CGI promotional still of Nemesis and the logo, a motif which was carried over to 4, a game which simply uses existing art assets and lazily throws them together. And then you have 5 and 6's boxes...which are just numbers...yeah...great. For such a huge franchise, you'd really expect a whole lot better, wouldn't you? These box-arts wouldn't look out of place in the bargain bin of some office supply store, not the halls of gaming history. To an extent early box art can be forgiven for being bad due to limitations and all that, but they only got worse as time went on (Insert joke about the box-art matching the series here), ending in RE6's box art...which is just....a Giraffe getting a blow job. Great. And then, as I thought harder on this, I realised that shitty box arts aren't just limited to the Resident Evil series, but other, less corny horror game franchises!
Yes, as you can see, shitty horror game box-arts are not a problem exclusive to Resident Evil, it even spreads to one of the most artistic, 'grown-up' franchises, Silent Hill. Once again, from the first game to most of the recent ones there's just shitty covers to be found everywhere! With a series like Resident Evil this is maybe forgivable because the games themselves are pretty corny and rely mainly on cheap thrills and silly dialog/monsters, but with a series like Silent Hill you expect a whole lot more than this! Just look at that first cover...what the fuck is that? An inverted image of Harry? Hell, the logo isn't even fully on the cover for christ's sake! Then move onto 2...one of my personal favourite games of all time...and it's someone's face..slanted...and green...what does this have to do with the game? Fuck all. Does it sell the game to you if you aren't already aware of what it is? Fuck no! Silent Hill 3 gets even lazier by just slapping a picture of Heather on the cover, not edited or even slanted...it's just her god damn face! Things for this series pretty much hit rock bottom cover wise with 4 : The Room...which features...what? A blurry door and some shapes? What the hell is that supposed to mean to anyone?! After that things settle down into mediocre, rather goofy pictures which once again fail to represent the tone, or even the characters of the game...but hell, at least they are actually fucking coherent shapes! How the hell has a franchise like Silent Hill, known for its unique esthetics and visuals got away with the shit you see above since its inception all the way back in 1999? It's insane...and that leaves two of gaming's biggest horror franchises with a box-art history of almost nothing but shit. Naturally, when the big daddies (sorta) of the genre set the benchmark with this shit, almost every horror series/game that's come after them, and even before them in some cases have followed suit.
All you need to do is take a glance at some of horror's biggest games over the past 20+ years to see there's a huge, recurring problem in the box-art department. Games from the past, the present and the future all suffer from the same plague of mediocre-terrible covers that do nothing to help sell the products in question, in many cases going so far as to probably hinder them. If you look above you see some of the biggest titles either out now or coming soon...and just...look at them! Alan Wake just has the logo and a lazy shadow effect that barely tells you what genre of game it is, Dead Space's floating, dismembered hand may be a well known symbol now, and teases the prospect of both gruesome deaths and dismembering baddies yourself, but it's so god damn lazy, especially in such a pretty, unique looking game! And don't even get me fucking started on the boxart for Amnesia : Dark Descent...one of the most popular pure horror games of modern times, and they try to sell it with something that wouldn't look out of place on someone's deviantArt page! You need only look at the blank, bland cover for the upcoming (And highly promising looking) 'The Evil Within' to see that this problem isn't going away any time soon. Most of the games listed above feature at least one unique thing about their gameplay, and the majority also feature striking, often gruesome visuals, as the best works of horror media do. So why in hell do none of them bother to show it? It's not as if gaming can't deliver good cover art, there are tons of striking works of art that adorn titles from Arkham City to Killzone Shadow Fall...yet horror games very rarely pull off a successful front to their box. And before you suggest that I've just handpicked the worst of the bunch, go take a look at the covers for Clock Tower, or Fatal Frame...Eternal Darkness? Geist? They all suck, this isn't an isolated issue, it's an issue with almost every title since the days of the original Alone in the Dark, and it really needs to stop.
Of course, not all Horror Games feature terrible box arts, some of the ones I thought stood out from the pack can be seen above, and as you can see, some of them are from previously mentioned franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill (One of which is actually a re-release of RE4, so it's even subjective to each game), but also lesser known titles such as Metro Last Light defy the odds by creating bold, interesting art for their covers which naturally makes them stand out on the shelf in a sea of mediocre crap. Hell, even the future isn't entirely bad, just take a look at the cover for the upcoming Alien Isolation, a beautiful piece of art that perfectly captures the tone of the game whilst also selling it effectively to the less initiated. So, tell me, which boxes out of the 24 shown in this blog either make you the most interested in the game, or at a basic level impress you the most? If you look at it from an unbiased point of view (i.e if you weren't a fan of Alan Wake/Silent Hill/etc) I can almost guarantee you'd be quickly drawn to the above six, which come from all corners of the globe and walks of life, and they most certainly vary considerably in quality as an actual game. I think it could be easily argued that the 6 above games aren't the best games featured in this blog, but judging purely from the quality of each of their covers, not knowing what lay behind them, would you think the same way? Would you look at that cover from Amnesia and go "Yes, that's a breakthrough, pure survival horror cult hit"? I doubt it. The problem horror games face these days is that the industry believes them to be unpopular, they don't think a game can sell big bucks by being purely horror, it has to incorporate elements of more popular genres and market itself as that in order to succeed, but that simply isn't true. Horror games attract huge amounts of attention, but the problem is when you look on the shelves and see nothing but shitty, bland and often confusing covers for these games, you're simply not going to buy it unless you have prior knowledge and interest in the product. That's a serious problem, and if these franchises are going to survive untainted, they need to, firstly, be a good game, obviously, but they also need to actually make people want to pick up the box and check the game out. If you can't even get people to take them off the shelf, you've lost the battle before you even started.
Also, I'm aware a lot of this is subjective to your own personal opinions, but I think on a basic level, most of the featured covers are pretty agreeably bad/good.
And there's my first 'Is it just me...?'! A little, short, random editorial thing where I get to vent in more detail about specific things than I usually do. What did you think? What's your favourite/least favourite horror game cover? Would you like to see more blogs like this in the future? Let me know in the comments below! Until next time, later gators!