How do you feel about jump scares in horror games?


#1

I’ve been seeing a little discussion online about the use of the mimics in Prey, and people keep coming back to this idea of jump scares being (or not being) “cheap.” I’ll note that I really hate jump scares, and they’ve kept me away not just from horror games, but also from seeing most horror movies in theaters. (Too loud!) But I acknowledge that they have a place as a horror technique, and I don’t think they’re inherently bad form.

I feel like part of the problem with Prey (and I’ve only played the opening hour demo, so take this with a grain of salt) is that its jump scares are so frequent. The actual scare part of a jump scare is less the jump itself than the gradual dread building up to the jump. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know exactly when, and that’s scarier than anything. Mimics are so common in Prey that there’s barely any time for that dread to build up. The thing that’s supposed to be unique about the mimics is that they transform out of ordinary objects, but from what I played, I never actually saw this happen. The mimics almost always showed up when I wasn’t looking at them, and I only knew they were there because of the blaring music sting. This made me jump, and I was briefly scared, but I think this is a good example of what people mean when they say a jump scare is “cheap.” It’s just a reflex trigger, and the game isn’t doing any actual work to make something scary.

So how do you all feel about jump scares? Are there games where you think they were used really effectively?


#2

i turned off the first dead space when i got into an elevator like 5-10 minutes in and said “i bet a monster pries the doors open” right before a monster pried the doors open

didn’t really gel much with it after that but i still think that’s hilarious


#3

I feel like they’re cheap.

I’m a huge wimp when it comes to horror stuff, and I think it’s mainly because modern horror relies so heavily on jump scares.

I don’t think there’s much horror stuff that can truly creep you out anymore, without popping a big dumb face in front of you every 15 minutes.

I’d love to play a horror game that doesn’t pull a single jump scare. In fact, Until Dawn was pretty good about this. Maybe only saw one or two in my playthrough. Also, I don’t really consider The Last of Us horror, but there isn’t a single one in that game, and I applaud Naughty Dog for that.


#4

I just remembered that I played the first Resident Evil for the first time last year, and I was taken aback by how well it handled this. When you walk back into an area and find a zombie there, there’s no loud orchestra sting, it doesn’t zoom in on the zombie’s gross face to startle you, none of that. You just hear a soft groan, maybe see it from a distance, and you know it’s in there with you. It has that same instantaneousness of a jump scare, in that it’s revealed to you in one tiny moment. But it’s not overdoing it, and it’s so much more effective for that restraint.

I guess RE1 does have those dogs crashing through the windows, though. So not a perfect example, lol.


#5

I feel RE2 has the best jumpscares around, they’re not cheap in the sense that you could feel actual work was involved and you had to rethink things through to avoid them. As in zombies coming out of the window when you let your guard down and activating the shuttles to make them go away.


#6

I feel jump scares is a really lazy and cheap way to scare the gamers and I think I might be thinking that because of how overused it is in place of like, incorporating the strengths and advantage of video games as a medium to scare or instil fear into the player. Like, it’s just one big noise that would come out of nowhere just so people would jump out of their seats for a brief moment. It takes zero effort to do something like that from the 95% of horror games that I’ve played.

However, I guess one really effective way I’ve seen jump scares be used was in Resident Evil 3 whenever Nemesis would suddenly crash into the room that you were currently in without any warning. It’s effective because you know that Nemesis is always stalking you so you always feel paranoid and on your guard so when he really does enter it scares the player for more than a brief moment and then suddenly your new objective is to escape from the room and get away from Nemesis.

Aside from that game, I don’t think I’ve seen jump scares be done properly.


#7

They are often cheap, but can be done well. I think the FNAF games were leading to something interesting there - while many of the jump scares were just of the “Pow! Gotcha!” variety, the world that was built was so unnerving that it served to elevate the scares. Foxy popping out of nowhere was startling, but popping up the wrong camera and seeing him sprinting down the hallway moments beforehand was a great way to completely shift gears. Up to that point, the player’s understanding was that the animals only moved slowly and only offscreen, so when this situation arises, it makes the player feel powerless and pulls them completely out of their element. There’s a cheapness to some of the scares, to be sure, but they weren’t all just loud sounds and bright lights.

Similarly, this is where I find that the Slender-style games fall flat - because there’s no expectation of safety, no implicit rules for the bad guy to follow, and no obvious order of operations to the experience, it lacks the suspense that FNAF succeeded at. You just walk around, and then you die maybe.

I think there’s definitely an opportunity to be had with jump scares - but I don’t think they could ever stand on their own without some really solid world building to back them up.


#8

If a horror game can do jump scares well and doesn’t solely rely on them, then I think that they’re OK. They are, unfortunately, easily abused and can be done very poorly, but some of the best horror games out there have used them to good effect.

I absolutely refuse to use the Krypts in MK9 and MKX because of the stupid jump scare screamers that randomly occur in those games. There is no point in having them there.


#9

I think jump scares have their place, but if it’s the only way your horror game can scare you then you’ve fucked up.
Like Alien Isolation has a fair share of jumps, but they come after extended periods of nerve shredding tension. Eventually you need the release and catharsis of a good jump scare.


#10

It tends to feel cheap; as you said, OP, when the game volume suddenly gets 10x as loud and some glaring visual occurs, I’m going to have a reflex to jump. But half of the time, it’s hardly scary. And it has diminishing returns, after a while I won’t even be startled by it.

Alien: Isolation has a kind of jump scare that I think works, in the form of the xenomorph being very quick to open locker doors. For anyone who hasn’t played it, you’ll spend a lot of time hanging out in lockers, hanging out while an alien patrols until it decides to leave the room. If it has a good idea that you’re there, if you fail to hold your breath when prompted, or if you absentmindedly take out your motion tracker, it will immediately open the locker and instakill you.

I think this works because the tension is there, the rules are clear, and you have a split second before it happens to think “oh, fuck” before you get the bang of the locker door being torn off and an inner jaw jammed through your skull. But it could be argued that this isn’t quite a jump scare, since it’s a bit lowkey and drawn out compared to, like, Five Nights at Freddy’s.


#11

So we’re agreed, Alien Isolation fucking owns. :slight_smile:


#12

Weird, I consider Until Dawn to be one of the most Jump-Scary games out there. And usually I am not a fan of jump scares, but I think the ones in Until Dawn are as good as they get. They were so constant that it stopped being purely scary/annoying and they were just fun. Every time one happened I would scream and jump like crazy but I would immediately laugh afterwards (e.g. the badger jumping out of the cabinet, anytime the “ghost” appeared). It is the only thing (game, movie, or otherwise) that made me like jump scares.


#13

Weird. The badger in the cabinet is one of the only jumps I can recall.

Now, this could be due to the fact that the game changes based on your choices, and based on the your answers in the therapy sessions.

And, I knew this is what the therapy sessions were doing, so I made choices according to the things I didn’t want to see.


#14

Ideally, the jump scares are a release valve for dramatic tension rather than the main source of horror/terror in a piece of media.

Honestly, I think the problem is more that horror lends itself to laziness in general. Since it’s so hyper focused on that one emotion(fear), a lot of work in the genre has no higher goals than to make you feel that one emotion as intensely and as frequently as possible. Which, ironically enough, actually ends up being kind of dull once you’ve gotten acclimated to it.


#15

Jump scares are like pornography. Things can be sexy, but I have to be in the right mood. Clumsily shoving it in my face deliberately trying to garner a reaction out of me is just a way to piss me off.

Until Dawn had great jump scares. It was a dumb teen horror movie and played this fact up, so every time something cheap would pop out and go “BOO!” I was way in to it because, hey, good work. You got me. That’s kind of what I’m here for, and it was all in good fun.

But horror games that don’t know any other way to scare me other than to blow my speakers out? They might catch me off guard once, but it never works ever again. Because it’s like, it’s not trying to scare me, it’s trying to trick me, and there’s a difference. It feels more like a mean joke.

The best example is Five Nights at Freddy’s. On the surface that game seems really shallow, but once you really stop and give it proper consideration you realize: it’s not surprising you with jump scares. The real “horror” of Five Nights at Freddy’s is the anticipation you feel because the game is explicitly warning you beforehand that a jump scare is coming. It creates a very unique type of tension where the scariest parts are actually before the jump scare happens.

To bring it back around to the porn analogy: foreplay can sometimes be more exciting than what foreplay leads to.


#16

I am strongly anti jumpscares. a big reason I don’t go in more for horror games and horror in general is because while I don’t mind being scared I have a very strong aversion to being startled. that having been said, I haven’t played Prey but I really dig mimics as a concept and if they are jump scares it feels like not a cheap one.


#17

I am not huge on horror games, but I personally have no issue with jump scares. I don’t know enough about the genre to adjudicate on ‘cheapness’, but, done well, the sudden relief of stress coming undone in the moment can be really satisfying for me. If a game is really climbing up and down the ladder of tension, it is usually doing a lot of work for me. It’s one of the places that I think Dark Souls’ horror influences shine through really strongly, as the dread of ‘is there going to be something else around this corner…?’ never dissipates in a new area.

Bloodborne has some spectacularly tense moments that I would say are fairly ‘jumpy’. For example, the monster that jumps through the window in the Upper Church Ward.


#18

Until Dawn has a really cheap terrible jump scare where you are looking through the telescope and a monster face pops-up. There is zero context for it and it is never mentined again.


#19

Nothing turns me off faster. I’ll pretty much stop playing your game once jump scares start happening regularly.


#20

Totally fine with them. Not crazy about a game that’s all jump scare, but there are much higher crimes in game design that are usually in play in an all jump scare game anyway.