I've found that the most successful horror games aren't standalone horror games. They have horror along with themes of romance, or comedy. The way I see it is that the synthesis between horror and an alternate theme adds another dimension of complexity to the narrative, to add more value into what you're playing. When I talk about this synthesis I'll be using Silent Hill as an example piece, since I'm mostly familiar with that series; furthermore I'll analyze the games in particular to demonstrate how two themes can enrich the player's experience.
Let's start with the second cut scene:
Here we have the call to adventure. The events of the entire game follow the reading of this letter, which puts the context of the story into James looking for his dead wife - not a "Boo Haunted House!" simulator like what the later games in the series became. Followed by the reading, Silent Hill 2's theme plays called "Promise." Now in the original version the song is played on what I believe to be is a studio recording with an acoustic guitar so you can hear the noise as part of the composition. It's a slow start, that let's you take in the environment you will be playing in - a dirty foggy world. In one scene you have your characters, their motivations, and their environment defined. Now take the opening scene for Silent Hill: Homecoming. You're just thrown right in, and the only subtle thing in that scene is revealed when you beat the game. You're wearing dog tags, you say "Where's my squad," and you're wheeled by SPOOKY hospital scenes. No characters are defined, you don't know why you're there or doing anything, and the environment is just bloody and dark. To the point of this topic, Silent Hill 2 uses themes of romance as an asset while Homecoming just tries to be "just a horror game."
I believe you can do "just a horror game" well, but you need to have some subtle aspects in the mix which this game does not contain. Silent Hill 2 has a plethora of subtle aspects. An important item is the flashlight, as it of course helps you see when you move around. Now if you find the flashlight you'll notice that it's on Mary's dress and shining right at you, then the first thing that happens when you take it is that a monster attacks you. There's no dialogue, just imagery and game play to tell the story without you realizing until you reflect on the game. Now I think I'm correct when I say jump-scares cheapen horror significantly about 99% of the time. I say 99% because Until Dawn implemented them in an interesting way so that they were more than user-end cheap scares. Anyway, I say this because subtle features let people theorize and think over what they played and what it means. Jump-scares on the other hand are the exact opposite of subtle and I think it's fair to say the outcome is the opposite as well. You remember the story, meanings, and ideas of a game if it's subtle which enriches the experience. Now with games like FNaF, all you'll remember is that there are jump scares for a short while after the hype dies out completely for it. It happened to Slender, people rarely talk about it anymore and barely remember it. Silent Hill 2 was made way back in 2001, and jackasses like me are still talking about it, analyzing it, and it's still making top 10 lists despite coming early in the PS2's life cycle.
To close, I'll show opening scenes. These openings for Silent Hill 2 & 3 are not Heavy Metal/gothic/emo/pretentious garbage. Instead rather, they would be fitting before you go on an adventure like the ones you do go on in these games. Unlike what the Silent Hill: Downpour devs thought, you don't need to play Korn to have a good theme in a horror game. Take a look & listen:
In summary, if you're going to write a game be sure to include outside elements, keep things subtle, and pay attention to the atmosphere. It'd be especially helpful to do this if you have no budget since you don't have to worry about voice work as much if you let the game play do the explaining.
Am I wrong anywhere, or is there something that should be added to my analysis? Leave a reply den.