I'm going to make mention of both the recent blog posts, one asking if a game has to be fun, and the other asking about combat.
As to fun, I'm going to agree with you, if my interpretations as to why you were sure to quote "fun" were correct. I believe a horror game should invoke true horror, and as such it wouldn't be reasonable to expect a feeling of fun. By that same token, I enjoy, and have come to your art, to experience that horror. I expect to be immersed in that sensation. With the quotations around fun, I am assuming you mean that direct fun is not what you are aiming for, instead you present to your audience sensations that are not normally expected to be enjoyed, such as fear, confusion, helplessness, and hopelessness. Your audience, like true horror fans, want this.
In the literal, it is a perverse pleasure.
It is only in this line of thinking that the term "unfun" concerns me. I read the your Silent Hill 2 example, and the phrase 'boring' associated with the introduction. I want to take that, the Doom 3 non-combat introductory sequence, and finally the game "Penumbra: Black Plague" (in the whole) as points of example.
In terms of gameplay, when boiled down to the core, the Silent Hill 2 introduction alone was wander gameplay, along the vein of 'The Path'. It was disorienting to try to find ones way from point A, to point B, somewhat, but there was no challenge to that. With that said, I found myself enthralled by it, and in fact not at all bored. This was because the fog eventually made me curious what was beyond the veil of smoke that obscured my view, the growls made me wonder what hungers awaited my flesh, and finally the footsteps that follow you yet immediately cease when you turn around, all sold me on one simple concept, "you are in danger".
And I was an easy sell on that atmosphere, because the developers knew that's where I wanted to be.
It is by far a less interactive form of interactive entertainment, and admittedly it often has only one place in a larger scheme. Such gameplay can only promise, but it's good to have gameplay that can also deliver. I invite this, however, though it cannot make you leap out of your chair, that long, lonely walk through the fog can send a shiver up your spine. Doom 3 was able to do this for me as well. As Silent Hill 2 before it, it has a long noncombat sequence to introduce you to the world, and is admirably sinister about its introduction. If you rush from point A to point B, you will know next to nothing about the world, you are on a pretty mars colony station, wherein a one-eyed scientist likes to speak in deep-throated portent, later an indecisive man jumps out of the shadows at you only to decide not to talk to you. However they keep hints as to the horrors that (the player knows) await him on the way there, datapads chronicling an increasing number of disturbing instances, odd behavior and unexplained activity. Workers talk about how lucky another man is to have been transferred off the station, quick to let our player know through the overheard conversation that nobody ever saw him leave. They don't make these sequences forced, but they didn't really need to, their audience is going to seek them out because that's what they came for.
They gave you hopelessness as simple as 2 plus 2, and let you add them to 4 yourself.
The game became less enthralling for me thereafter, but I must admit, the atmosphere kept me wandering down that next pitch black corridor that I wouldn't have cared about if the stage hadn't been so well set.
Finally, Penumbra: Black Plague, was at its core, a puzzle game. Arguably simpler than both the previous games in terms of actual mechanics, yet with a lasting potential for greatness. Silent Hill told me I was in danger, Doom 3 told me I was in a hopeless situation, and Penumbra: Black Plague told me I was helpless. Not only did it not need weapons to instill the kind of fear helplessness brings, weapons were counterproductive! And it was quick to cast them out.
So if you'll forgive my long prelude, my conclusion is that horror is a genre that is awaiting visionary innovation far more than it is in need of technological innovation. Because of this I invite that combat should not be the mechanic in this flavor of horror game, helplessness should. Give me some dark artifact fueled by fear and suffering, I am bound to it and it is somewhere safe. If I get discovered, I have to survive in a hopeless situation by prolonging my own agonizing death through whatever means possible, (a mini-game to avoid killing blows, trying to hold your intestines in while they are being eaten in front of you, all that kind of fun thing) and all the while my tortured screams ringing in my own ears. Eventually, if I keep myself alive long enough, the artifact is filled with my suffering and reforges my body near to it at the moment of my death. If I fail, I have to go further back in the game, or perhaps another punitive measure is taken on the player. This is one possible way to literally invite the player to enhance that emotion of being helpless. "The only way to live is to suffer".
The point being this: Difficulty in terms of manual dexterity or cerebral proficiency should not necessarily be the litmus for fun in a horror game. A horror game, more than some genres, should be committed and unified, top to bottom, in creating an atmosphere. If a reviewer said "Basically, all you do in Penumbra is sneak about and gather widgets, solve a puzzle or two to get to the end.", they weren't committed to the experience, and I invite that as such, they weren't your audience in the first place. Your audience is going to want to be sold on the environment, therefore they're going to want to be scared.
Which is another thing that made me think. Now keep in mind I am a freeware game writer/developer, which makes me as much a game maker as a model rocket builder is a N.A.S.A. technician. However, one developer's comment in the other thread, about being glad that a customer was too scared to enjoy your game, but don't think they should be having fun anyway, gave me pause for thought. This isn't a prelude to some finger-waggling 'no that's wrong, be nicer' rebuke, by the way. You have created a truly horrific experience and it's wonderful you're proud of that, I would be too!
It's just that, in my opinion, Penumbra does one thing that many horror games do. It paces the plot, but not the horror. When it comes to the fear factor, it hits the gas pedal to the floor the instant the grace period ends, and tries to maintain that level throughout the game. One problem with this is that for a player, especially one new to horror gaming, it provides a wall. It's as if a new action gamer wants pitfall to get him started, and is offered only karate kid for NES, or perhaps the original bionic commando. He wants to be scared and he's likely done everything to make sure he is as immersed as possible, but you give him too much too quickly, and though he loves the experience, it's overwhelming to him and therefore left aside. And if he tones back the things that give him immersion (sound 'too' loud, room and screen gamma settings 'too' dark), he loses what he's come for.
You've over-spiced the soup, as it were.
The other consideration is that even in terms of internal pacing, the horror doesn't keep up. So as to avoid spoilers I will only say that the final encounter isn't even about feeling helpless or scared. Even if it was, however, the steady plane of stimulus makes it so that even though it is a short game, you are generally not as scared the fifth time in an encounter as you were the first.
If you're going to boil the frog before he hops out of the pot, it might do better to up the temperature more gradually. Perhaps, for example, beginning with someone on a radio watching security cameras giving you cues where to go safely, quick to remind you not to look at the things you're hiding from. This gameplay is an extended simon says, and as such would be rather easy. However, you are dependant on someone else to survive, one wrong turn and horrors await you. As the game progresses, it could move into a sequence where your 'eye in the sky' misses a creature and it drops down nearby you, you catch a glance and must begin a minigame to keep your heart-rate low. It cannot see or hear, but it can smell fear, and if you give it a whiff, it will shatter your mind and break your body.
A new mechanic is introduced seamlessly, and the horror is upped just one notch. Later, you finally get to the long promised safe area, where the man behind the cameras was waiting. You get to the door and you hear a soft, raspy, 'you're here, I made it in time'. And just as you think to yourself "Don't you mean >I< made it in time?" You hear a gunshot, come in to find he's shot himself, all this time he was infected/being possessed/name your widget here, and was carefully monitoring the effects so as to help you for as long as he can before he had to kill himself, yet making sure not to wait so long that he'd be overcome and lose his humanity.
Then, the simon says game is gone in a flash of gunfire, and you, now armed with his cameras, can see that the horrors are descending on this place, attracted to the smell of your sorrow/sound of gunfire/name your excuse here before the power cuts out. You are alone and the gun, its only bullet spent, is useless. Then, to further the sense of helplessness, you are asked to make your way from where he killed himself, to the intended pick-up point. He left you with a crudely drawn map (let's say for fun it's written in inhuman blood that glows dimly enough to see) and no light to guide you. In this way we have slowly ramped up the horror, to a memorable crescendo, and we can tone it back (give the character a light source, give him a 'stockpile point' he can build up and scavenge for, somewhere he can try to stay safe in while waiting for help, etc) until it's ramped up again, creating the potential for other incredibly memorable moments in horror. More than that, players would need not be slammed with a heavy 'fear curve', akin to a learning curve, which might make the experience prohibitive to all but the more seasoned horror gamers.
I think I'll stop there, hopefully as I've made my suggestions, I've supported them well enough that you get where I'm coming from. It's much more lengthy than I expected, so I hope the examples I used to demonstrate my ideas were interesting!
Thanks for your time reading.