Remember survival horror? Well we are now at a point in time where if you are young enough maybe you don’t. I think everyone is aware of the big series such as Silent Hill or Resident Evil but in recent times even these old giants of the genre have forgotten their routes and have become something else now.
So before I start talking about how dead the genre is first just give me a moment to talk about what I mean when I say “Survival Horror”. I’m talking about survival horror in the classic sense, with fixed camera angles, tank controls, limited supplies, dangerous enemies and lots of challenge. Titles that fall under this category would be classic Silent Hill, Classic Resident Evil, Parasite Eve 2, Dino Crisis, Project Zero (Fatal Frame) and old school Alone in the Dark.
That isn’t to say that survival horror has to fit ALL those criteria to qualify, there are very few titles that do have a few things different about them that still manage to feel like survival horror. A great example of this is Amnesia: The Dark Descent
This game didn’t have fixed camera angles, it was done in first person but it still felt like a proper survival horror game. You had supplies that you had to manage, puzzles to solve and while there was only one real enemy, the sanity system in that game meant that dealing with him was a lot more challenging than you’d think. Amnesia and a select few other titles are a rare breed of modern horror game that has managed to keep the survival element of the whole “survival horror” thing.
So where did it all go wrong for this genre? Well, sadly to say, here:
Resident Evil 4 was a title that gave new life to a series that most folks had sort of lost interest in. It’s unfortunate to say but Survival Horror, despite the legacy of a lot of the titles, is actually a niche genre. To give it a bit more mainstream appeal, Capcom removed that classic style of game play that those who enjoyed survival horror had enjoyed and changed it to make it a bit more action-gamey. What we got upon release wasn’t scary and wasn’t particularly horror but the game itself was amazing and this is why Resident Evil 4 is, at least in my opinion, largely responsible for the death of the genre.
Resident Evil, which for the majority of its running was a classic survival horror game suddenly changed and received mass popularity and critical acclaim with the 4th game. This sent a message to other developers and publishers looking to push a horror title, that you could essentially make an action game with dark corridors and twitching meatbag enemies and it would sell well and that’s what we got. Dead Space, The Evil Within and Alone in the Dark (2008) are great examples of this. Action games with strange looking enemies and and dark corridors so you can slap the “horror” label on it and get people excited. Even Silent Hill has become more action oriented, focusing on set pieces rather than subtle experiences that try to get under your skin.
Amnesia is also partly responsible because the success of that game sent the message that you could make a horror game with no combat and base it around exploration. As a result of that we got some utter travestys like Outlast and A Machine for Pigs. That said the combatless horror game is sort of its own sub genre now that does have some moments of greatness, more so than the mainstream “survival horror” that we get today anyway.
(Scary? Maybe if you’re like 6, or viewing this image from the 1980s)
Maybe I’m just a fussy old bastard wanting the classic style of survival horror over this action-oriented crap that we get today. Certain titles such as The Last of Us that pass themselves off as “horror” games now, while showing a lot of quality make me mad just because I feel like they are lying to me. TLoU is a fantastic game that has a lot of strengths but is absolutely not a horror game, and getting me excited for its pre-release by advertising it as one is just a dick move.
The horror genre in general but especially survival horror is dead. These kind of games just aren’t really made in Japan any more and the western idea of horror in games is so misguided and bad that a title worth playing is VERY rare. Still, it’s not all bad, the classics in the genre are so good, so close to perfection that while we can’t really get anything new, replaying those classic titles never ever gets old.
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