Other horror games also prioritize safe rooms. Resident Evil’s are floating hubs with teleporting chests, so while they are musically calming (especially Code Veronica’s, which is amazing), they lack the permanence of other games. It’s not unrealistic to assume frequent Resident Evil and Dino Crisis (otherwise known as Resident Evil with dinosaurs) director Shinji Mikami was implementing something that worked before, so he used it again in The Evil Within. Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his coworkers’ decent into a monster filled medieval countryside, with castles and thatched huts, is interrupted by visits to an unnamed asylum. Called online as Safe Havens, The Evil Within’s Safe Haven is where Sebastian can relax from fighting possessed villagers and that Pyramid Head rip off called The Keeper by taking a trip through a stylish mirror.
Staffed only by sarcastic Nurse Tatiana Guiterrez, the Safe Haven asylum is where Sebastian levels up in a scary chair and uses keys to open a wall of lockers. This Safe Haven only stays looking so nice for so long, as over the course of the game, the wallpapers start to peel and the furniture starts to fall apart. The center of the Safe Haven’s reception room will even be visited by the main villain Ruvik, who invades Sebastian’s personal space with childish draws and a portrait of Ruvik’s stately family. It’s all probably plot relevant, but honestly, I haven’t played the game in years so I only remember so much. But what I do remember was how I felt when Sebastian’s protected place, my enemy free zone, was imposed by outside forces. If it happened once, why wouldn’t it happen again?
The Evil Within 2 maintains the Safe Havens from the first game, but instead the environment is more comforting than the 1940’s asylum. While a full police precinct in real life is scary for a whole lot of real world reasons beyond the fantasy aspect of this article, an empty one means you are playing Resident Evil 2 and are looking for Mr. X, so this police precinct is warm. Lit as if at magic hour, Sebastian’s corner office and front office space is an improvement on the asylum. He’s got pictures of his daughter’s drawings and photos of the five special forces units he has to find and rescue, but my favorite is decorum is his shelf of Bethesda game props. I’m still a sucker for limited collectables in a player character’s personal space, so I collected props ranging from the wolf mech from Wolfenstein: The New Order to Corvo’s mask from Dishonered. Spoilers for The Evil Within’s obvious environment, but it’s all a dream scape. This means I interpret the presence of all these artifacts as Sebastian really liking to play Doom after work. Sebastian even gets a regal black cat who will gift him the game’s upgrade points (The Evil Within has this genuinely charming upgrade currency called slime, which comes in green and red and is so goofy but I love it) each time he sits through an unpleasant slide show clip.
Nurse Tatiana returns, mostly she’s there to keep the upgrade and locker key mechanics from the first game. She’s off in her little corner, just wanting for Sebastian to force himself into that accursed chair so she has the chance to snark him for seemingly loosing all his powers from the first game. Just like in the first game, Sebastian’s calming Safe Haven is interrupted by one of the game’s bad guys. Fire themed cultist Father Theodore makes his presence known by replacing Sebastian’s teleporting mirror with a sacred alter covered in candles. Less creepy than Ruvik’s childish cartoon drawing, but as stated earlier, Sebastian’s office already has some of his own. Like Highlander, there can only be one child’s drawings of Daddy.
Probably the most famous video game safe room, and because this website has this unwritten rule where these games have to be referenced in the last act of every third article, is photographer/shut-in Henry Townshend’s apartment 302 from Silent Hill 4: The Room. Like the nameless man from Lone Survivor, Henry has also been living uninterrupted in his apartment for multiple weeks. Down to his last chocolate milk, Henry discovers a way to escape his apartment through an ever-growing hole in his apartment bathroom. Unlike most Silent Hill games were the normal world might become the Otherwold, Henry’s apartment takes the place of a routine normal environment.
The bathroom hole gets bigger and bigger until the second half of the game, when it becomes blocked off and a second hole pops up fully formed in the laundry room. Reminiscent of the apartment supply-closet black hole Nicholas finds in author Kathe Koja’s early 90’s horror novel The Cipher, Henry found a second way to progress. Unlike the previously discussed safe rooms that made sure to never actually present the protagonist any harm, apartment 302 had other ideas.
In the second half, Henry’s apartment will be visited by hauntings. Based on what ending is preferred, dealing with them with candles or medallions is an option, but getting Silent Hill 4: The Room’s more interesting worst ending is going requires a level of active negligence. The hauntings will spawn one or two at a time between completed visits to the Otherworld. Some are mostly annoying, like the shuddering windows or game villain Walter Sullivan doing what all the Evil Within villains did, and invading the protagonist’s safe room by ruining some of Henry’s photography. Others, like the literal ghost in the wall, the walking bloody slippers, the possessed chair, and my favorite, the wall of moving dolls, are worse. These get in Henry’s way, as standing next to them causes Henry to take damage, thus a more neglectful playthrough means designating certain parts of the kitchen and bedroom into “no go” zones. Some even get in the way of the game’s sole save location and Henry’s inventory box. I spoiled myself on the child closet ghost, which will appear right as Henry wakes up, so I spent hours just waiting for that kid to show up and scare me. Apartment 302 was pleasant while it lasted.
The general dearth of horror games that aren’t just walking simulators means that safe rooms might be a thing of the past. Which is honestly a bummer, because there is something about the comfort and pleasance about these pockets of air that break up games trying to otherwise create an oppressive and intense mood. They are protected shrines that I wish I could experience more.