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The horror genre is home to some of the finest video games in history. From Resident Evil and Silent Hill, to F.E.A.R. and Little Nightmares, there’s something about being scared by a video game that stands above all. But there is something even better: beating a horror game quickly.
The joy of playing through 2019’s Resident Evil 2 for the first time was a special moment for many of us. Meeting the Tyrant in the RPD is just one of the incredible moments it executes so well, but RE2 comes into its own when you know what’s coming. The real peak horror game enjoyment isn’t the surprise factor. Instead, it’s when you find the fastest route through its most demanding moments.
Watch our interview with a Resident Evil speedrunner here:
Watching Mr. X swing and miss Claire Redfield because you’ve manipulated the AI through specific camera movement delivers a more compelling feeling, because it requires you to see beyond the surface-level horror to the true fear of Resident Evil 2: making a mistake when the stakes are high.
To beat RE2 in under an hour requires skill, patience, technique, and not using typewriters. Put the game on Hardcore difficulty, and that last bit adds real fear to the mix. The prospect of being downed by William Birkin is more threatening when death takes you back to the opening cutscene.
Then there’s the satisfaction of everything coming off at once to make a perfect speedrun. The combination of optimised movement, “blessed RNG” (random number generators going your way), and that general sense of luck that you can’t put your finger on. These elements shine so much more in a horror game than any other kind of speedrun because of the mix of visual terror and cutthroat gameplay mechanics.
Getting caught by the teacher in Little Nightmares II isn’t so bad when you’re not fussed about speed because you simply reset the area. However, when you’re against the clock, the pulsating sensation of narrowly avoiding her line of sight is an uncanny thrill.
Almost any boss fight in Bloodborne can generate overwhelming anxiety, but adding a sense of urgency to the experience heightens the tension beyond belief. The fear of dying to Micolash and having to hear him repeat his nightmare monologue when you’re trying to be as fast as possible creates a whole new level of fear. (Seriously, Micolash, shut up).
This is not to say that speedrunning games from other genres isn’t fun because we all know that would be a lie. Just look at the devoted community for Elden Ring and its many categories. Wider still, look at the schedule for any Games Done Quick event.
The difference is, horror titles start off with tense scenarios, so the inclusion of an overbearing sense of time limit is a welcome elevation. In many ways, it’s an unofficial ‘hard mode’ for players who want something beyond a game’s intended options.
This notion that you have to beat the game and the clock simultaneously is perfectly suited to scarier games. Just look at Dead Rising, or even Majora’s Mask (as a relatively scary Zelda title). Both of these games have a foreboding clock, counting down to either success or failure. Only you can decide how that ends, ultimately.
Of course, speedrunning isn’t for everyone. But for those of us who want to see how fast we can tear through the story of Resident Evil Village, there is a degree of satisfaction to be gained here that is hard to replicate. A sense of outsmarting a game’s design in a way no developer would’ve intended.
I know this may sound arrogant or elitist, but it’s not about that. This isn’t about being better than anyone. Beating a horror game fast is about achieving something beyond the intended. It’s about enjoying the titles we love in a whole new way. What’s not to love about that?
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