What makes a stealth game, or a stealth section in a non-stealth game, fun? It has to have some sort of challenge, you have to have some agency as a player, being able to fight back is nice. It's better if it's not completely scripted.
What makes it fun in the context of a horror game? You have to be scared of getting caught, maybe combat is an option but doing so has a cost (e.g. in terms of resources, like ammo or health).
I'm going to pick on Bloober Team specifically because of course I'm playing The Medium. Instead of talking about that right now though, I'll put Observer in its place since it covers the same ground. And before I go further, I use the term 'walking sim' to mean a game that puts its narrative at a much higher priority than gameplay mechanics.
Observer starts off as an excellent sci-fi, noiresque thriller where you ostensibly get to investigate and solve a crime by going into dead people's minds to experience their final moments. It's quite a trip, the same way Layers of Fear was a trip, but it introduced an extra gameplay mechanic by adding patrolling enemies. Slow, plodding, patrolling enemies. You have to find a path around them and not get spotted because it's instant game over if you do.
These 'gameplay' 'sequences' are not fun in the slightest. In a nutshell, they're boring as fuck. Outside of the nutshell they're boring as fuck. The game is better off without them.
Games like SOMA narrowly avoid this fate by giving you interesting challenges as part of the stealthing, but they also give you a way out by just getting rid of the enemies altogether so you can enjoy the story unhindered.
The Medium, if you've seen the trailers and the reviews and other materials, has a pretty damn spectacular premise. Easily the most ambitious Bloober production yet and for good reason.
Stop reading here if you don't want any spoiler at all about the game, whether it's about story or gameplay or whatever. I'm not going to look a the story, just some particular sections of the game in terms of how it plays.
The Medium has the shitty stealth bits too. I've been about ready to put the game down and forget about it, because it's shitty stealth with tank controls and fixed camera angles, old Resi style. Oh and it's also scripted to the point where it's basically on-rails: there is only really one way to get from one scene to the next and if you don't figure it out, you'll be dying, loading, and trying again.
Don't get me wrong: I really dig the direction they've taken there. The game is fucking beautiful to look at, and the fixed camera only exists to serve that beauty. You see exactly what they want you to see, and how, and it's so much more difficult to accomplish that with a first person camera or an over-the-shoulder one.
But the stealth? It's awful and it's schlocky and just like previous Bloober games that have it, it ruins the mood of the game. It's not fun and it doesn't have the elements of stealth that would otherwise make it fun. And it's a damn shame because the whole premise of the game, and what you experience as a whole, is pretty fucking mindblowing. The potential there is immense.
Bringing it back to the topic in general, it feels like the flavour of horror you get in a lot of these games lately can be boiled down to what older game it was influenced by and far too often you're looking at a variation of the scissors dude from Clock Tower.
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