II am lying on the roof of a bombed-out shopping arcade, watching the tracer fire igniting the cool afternoon air about 500 meters from my position. Whoever wins that shootout will come my way when the fight is over. I don’t have the armor or weaponry to defend myself properly so all I can do is wait and wait for them to get into an abandoned car and drive past.
Deep down, I know they won’t.
Call of Duty: Warzone, which celebrates its first birthday this week, is just one of the Battle Royale titles vying for the attention of players locked in this strange new reality we live in. Like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, it involves dozens of players landing on a limited stretch of land for the sole purpose of killing each other until only one remains. But there is something different about this spin-off of the famous military shooter series. It has so much horror and atmosphere that it feels like a horror game. At least the way I play it.
Consider the setting: the fictional region of Verdansk in Eastern Europe, a hodgepodge of battered horror movie sets. There are the deserted cities, destroyed airports, and dilapidated television studios from George A. Romero’s zombie apocalypse, but there are also elements of rural horror cinema: lumber mills, windswept, rocky highlands, the squalid farms where the carcasses of cows lie festering. Sun. These are the harsh and menacing domains of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Dual, and Deliverance, and just like the unsuspecting city dwellers stranded inside imagined by Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, we are always under the influence. threat from some dark and unknowable figure, lurking behind a ragged, broken window.
The grim attention to detail is what does it. You will go into a house and you will find an unmade bed, a calendar with marked dates, a mobile turning on a baby’s crib. These scenes of abandoned domesticity are another staple of zombie cinema; they’re disturbing in and of themselves because they suggest a very recent catastrophe – something that caused these people to drop everything and run, and it might still be there. The game also uses the sound of a swarm of flies in various locations, hinting at pestilence and death.
In fact, the sound design is incredible throughout. When you hide in one of the many old abandoned buildings, you hear the dust of the bricks crumbling on you or the metal beams creaking. According to evolutionary psychologists, one of the reasons haunted house movies are so scary is that the noises they make (the creaking of floorboards, the creaking of branches against windows) are similar to the sounds that alerted our ancestors Prehistoric information about the presence of possible predators in the dark. These instinctive “agency detection” mechanisms still keep us on the edge when we listen to them, and at Warzone they have added potency because actually are surrounded by predators who want to kill us.
Gunfire and the sounds of military vehicles also add to this intimidating audio environment. From the screeching response of a bouncing bullet to the monstrous roar of the front-mounted Gatling pistol of the A10 tank destroyer, the development team has created highly positional, multi-layered effects to immerse you in every deadly skirmish. Although they are undoubtedly based on authentic samples, they are also strangely animal, recalling the hyperorganic sound design from the Alien movies and Walter Murch’s incredible work on Apocalypse Now, where rotating helicopter blades and napalm droplets are charged with almost supernatural terror.
On the subject of Aliens, Warzone even has its own heartbeat sensing device that looks a lot like the iconic motion tracker from that movie. It allows players to locate enemies that appear as points of light that emit a beep on a handheld screen and the tension that this generates, as the beep approaches, is closely reminiscent. a classic movie scene.
The various military effects throughout the game also use two specific types of sound: infrasound, which creates eerie vibrations, and non-linear, high-amplitude sounds, which feature rapid changes in frequency and harmony. These are sounds that we instinctively fear: infrasound resembles noises from natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, while non-linear sounds resemble animal cries and human screams. Again, these are commonly used in horror movies, both in sound effects and in sheet music: the screeching violins in the Psycho shower scenes and the sonic and vibrating strings of the Jaws theme, for example.
Of course, there have been other games that more obviously seek to replicate horror movie experiences in online multiplayer spaces: DayZ, H1Z1, Phasmophobia. But while these are all interesting and immersive, Warzone’s exquisite graphical fidelity, compelling animation, and expensive production value set it apart. It is cinematic in a way that its rivals are not.
The recent Outbreak mode, an open-world version of the well-known Zombies mode, and the introduction of zombie-infested areas on the Warzone map, have seen CoD teams duplicate the game’s subtle horror underpinnings. Titles like Prey, FEAR, Dead Space and Doom have explored the rich and interesting relationship between first-person shooters and horror fiction. There is something strange about inhabiting the avatar in this way and being in constant danger. Warzone isn’t meant to be a horror game, but by playing in Solos rather than a team-based mode, and crawling from house to house, hyperware that there might be a player around the corner, it produces exactly the same. same unconscious responses in our brains. And ultimately, like Resident Evil, like Silent Hill, it’s a game about survival.
What Warzone hints at, and where online survival games like Rust, Sea of Thieves and Ark point, is toward a new style of tense narrative adventure, set in open worlds with many players and with stories that dynamically emerge from fear. . and chaos. After all, horror is something that is best experienced with other people.
These are certainly fun things to think about, as I’m hiding on a rooftop, low on ammo and armor, waiting for the inevitable sound of approaching footsteps.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism