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How survival horror evolved itself into extinction

6:58 PM on 12.08.2008, Jim Sterling 120 comments

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As someone who grew up among the PlayStation generation, survival horror is a genre I am incredibly familiar with. Although Resident Evil was predated by such titles as Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark, it was Capcom's PSX zombie thriller that put survival horror on the map, and ensnared many gamers my age.

Resident Evil, Silent Hill and a selection of pretenders were incredibly popular in the last two generations, but in the age of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the traditional survival horror is all but dead. What happened to the horror? Did publishers just get tired of it, or did pressure from gamers and prevailing trends cause it to self-evaporate, to adapt with the times to such a degree that it effectively committed suicide?

Read on as we ask whether survival horror has evolved itself out of existence.

During the nineties, horror games were all the rage, with Resident Evil and Silent Hill using the negative aspects of other games to an advantage. While fixed camera angles, dodgy controls and clunky combat were seen as problematic in most games, the traditional survival horror took them as a positive boon. A seemingly less demanding public ate up these games with a big spoon, overlooking glaring faults in favor of videogames that could be genuinely terrifying.

Up until the PlayStation 2 era, it was a formula for success, arguably perfected by the brilliant Silent Hill 2. Restricted cameras caused players to fear every step they took, while characters that couldn't hold a gun steady encouraged players to flee rather than fight. However, like nearly every genre that isn't an RPG, survival horror's audience eventually began to demand more. 

As technology improves, people expect their videogames to be able to evolve, but with the horror genre, where the game's strength is rooted in "old" gameplay, evolution brings a risk of annihilation. Thus it was that Resident Evil, a game accused in the latter years of the last generation of becoming stale, decided to evolve to survive, effectively killing off the series as we knew it, and bringing us Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4 completely reinvented the franchise as we knew it. Capcom removed the fixed camera angles, claustrophobic environments, restricted combat abilities and lift-truck control scheme, replacing it with an over-the-shoulder viewpoint and incredibly accurate gunplay. In short, the game that brought survival horror its mainstream success completely abandoned the genre. 

Make no mistake, RE4 is a fine game -- perhaps one of the greatest games of all time -- but it is not a survival horror game. It is an action game, a third person shooter. Ammunition is plentiful, and with an enhanced combat ability, the game becomes far less terrifying. Exciting, yes, and even panic-inducing at times, but a perpetual mindfuck experience it is not. 

Resident Evil 4 set the stage for the death of survival horror, the tolling of the bell, so to speak. Following that, it was the hi-def generation and its focus on "innovation" that truly begun to kill it. The problem with this generation of consoles is that, simply put, a game like the original Resident Evil simply would not be tolerated. Ever since Resident Evil 4, a true survival horror game is seen only as a step back and with every game desperately trying to reinvent the wheel, step back steps won't thrive in retail.

Silent Hill, a game renowned for its disturbing psychological presence, attempted to begrudgingly follow Resident Evil 4 into the light with mixed results. Upon releasing Silent Hill 4: The Room, Konami attempted to mix first person elements and an improved combat system, while maintaining some of the restrictive elements of traditional horror games. The experiment didn't quite work, and the game, while by no means bad, certainly did not sit well with horror fans. 

This continued with the recent release of Silent Hill: Homecoming on the Xbox 360 and PS3. The current-gen debut of Silent Hill has, to be fair, not quite worked out. With an American developer at the helm, Homecoming unsuccessfully attempted what Resident Evil 4 did by turning itself into an action game. Forced combat felt awkward, and turned the game into something that did not terrify, but instead irritate. A series that once garnered almost universal critical praised now enjoys mixed reactions, unarguably a shadow of its former self.

Silent Hill is not a game about combat, but if it didn't at least attempt to improve the fighting system, the game would have been critically torn to shreds. Thanks to the hi-def era, everything must play as good as it looks, and for a genre where gameplay is intentionally stunted, this generation is completely inhospitable. Because Resident Evil 4 is seen as an "evolution," anything resembling a real survival horror will only be seen as a step back. 

In short, what many call an evolution was, in fact, a destruction. Survival horror has evolved itself to almost non-existence, with only a few titles such as Fatal Frame left holding an ever-shrinking flag. The three main survival horror kingpins have all "evolved" beyond their roots, with mixed results. Resident Evil has flourished with the change, Silent Hill flounders in an identity crisis, unsure of what it is, and the forefather of survival horror, Alone in the Dark, completely and utterly failed in its attempt to reinvigorate itself. 

The new generation of gamers don't even know what survival horror is. Electronic Arts' action shooter Dead Space has been called a shining example of survival horror, when it is far from that. It might be scary in places, but a few cheap shocks alone does not a survival horror make. Dead Space is an occasionally scary action game. It is not survival horror, nor it is an evolution of the genre. It is, just like RE4, part of the genre's death. 

This all begs the question, can a game be like Resident Evil 4 while maintaining the psychological terror that old survival horror games had, AND be critically/commercially successful? So far, it's not happened. A game must provide the standards that consumers have come to expect, but with improved combat ability comes a decreased amount of fear -- the better your in-game character is at fighting, the less you have to worry about. With full camera control, the developer's ability to frighten you with the unseen is significantly damaged. However, if you sacrifice usability in the name of fear, you'll simply alienate consumers who have come to expect Resident Evil 4 gameplay as standard. 

Basically, it's incredibly hard to have your scary cake and eat it too. Videogames have reached such a level of intuitiveness that you can no longer make a player feel out of his depth and scared without effectively "ruining" the gameplay. At the moment, the options seem to be to abandon survival horror completely and sacrifice fear in the name of achieving industry standards, attempt to merge psychological horror and action as Konami has awkwardly done, or stick to the roots of the genre and run the risk of brand new gamers failing to understand what you're aiming for. 

Although such games as Resident Evil 4 are fantastic experiences, there is a little melancholy for those of us who grew up with old school survival horror and remember the terror of running out of pistol bullets while stuck in a room full of zombies, or waiting for a loading screen door to open and throw you into a nightmarish situation. Unfortunately, running out of ammo at a crucial moment would be called bad design in this day and age. Maybe it even was, but it was damn terrifying at the same time. 

Who knows? Perhaps one day a new style of play will emerge that can bring back the truly deep horror that more action-oriented experiences seem unable to capture. Maybe a game where combat is removed completely and you have no option but to hide and run from whatever monsters lurk in the dark. Maybe someone will design a protagonist who displays a lack of fighting skill while still making the combat look well designed. Or perhaps that's something completely out of the box that we can't imagine yet, and is just waiting to scare the pants off us. 

As for right now though, it seems that survival horror has evolved itself out of existence, so determined to live on by moving with the times that it has ironically killed itself off. A shame indeed, but with games that look as fantastic as Resident Evil 5, perhaps it's a death we need not mourn too greatly.

mikeyed's Avatar
mikeyed at 12/08/2008 19:03

OMG, yes. Dino Crisis how I only played you for five minutes before I said, "dinosaurs are dumb." Thus the system was shut off.

ShadokatRegn's Avatar
ShadokatRegn at 12/08/2008 19:05

I guess this kind of depends on a point of view; I've still enjoyed the various Survival Horror games - though, I'll admit, not for the same reasons as the "classic" Survival horror.

Similar to the evolved "running zombies", the fast pace has it's own set of scares - but it's not quite the same mind-meltdown as something that has you subtly scared (that sticks with you for hours after) for seemingly little reason.

Holyetheline's Avatar
Holyetheline at 12/08/2008 19:12

I love the direction this genre is going. The key is to play everything as hard as it gets. Play RE4 on Professional and I promise you'll be more scared than normal... That's what I did...

AKK's Avatar
AKK at 12/08/2008 19:14

I disagree. Condemned and F.E.A.R. are Survival Horror, the former most definitely (claustrophobic environments, incredibly limited ammo, scares, etc.), and the latter simply because it had incredibly smart enemies and you actually had to survive, as well as having incredibly scary moments.

Sure, I'd love to see a hi-def sequel to Silent Hill 2 that was like Silent Hill 2 (minus the stupid puzzles, I can't stand survival horror puzzles, and they are the one thing I won't miss), but it doesn't seem like it's going to happen.

In the meantime, other games pick up the slack. The Ravenholm section of Half Life 2 is essentially Survival Horror.

It's possible to be a survival horror game. It just takes work and thought. With a bit of effort, RE5 could be scary as fuck and still have the better gunplay.

bVork's Avatar
bVork at 12/08/2008 19:14

What's amusing is that you complain about this year's Alone in the Dark, which [u]did[/u] successfully make combat a terrifying ordeal that you wanted to avoid at all costs.

It sure isn't perfect (thanks to bugs and a control scheme that was poorly thought out at best), but I still think it's worth playing if you're into survival horror.

eternalplayer2345's Avatar
eternalplayer2345 at 12/08/2008 19:15

I wish I wasn't so scared when I was nine, that was when RE and silent hill were in their stride appearantly and I wasn't simple terrafied of them. (I think the zombie dog scene in RE1) scarred me too much. I still want to play silent hill 2 but I haven't been able to get over the graphics.

SephirothX's Avatar
SephirothX at 12/08/2008 19:17

Well I, like im slowly starting to more and more, disagree with Jim (because I think he's beginning to taste his own fecal matter, given the location of his head). Specifically about Dead Space.

For those of you who actually played the original RE1 and RE2... Resident Evil wasn't nearly as scary as everyone says it is, and that game was a compilation of more cheap scares than Dead Space. Resident Evil didn't begin to get scary unil 3, and that was only because there was the constant threat of the Nemesis attacking you. Then it took a remake of the original RE to justify it being scary. Silent Hill 2 is still the pinnacle of survival horror and before everyone complains about the combat system of the older horror games... in those games you are not Master Chief, you are not Gordon Freeman, you are a normal person who isnt going to perfectly strafe while shooting and pull of headshots with a gun you've never used or look like a samurai when swinging a melee weapon.

The current gen age loaded with FPS and third person action games is what doomed the slower and more time-dependent survival horror games. Its hard to pop in a game and within 3 minutes be truly scared and deep into its atmosphere, where as you can pop in Halo or Call of Duty and within a few moments have pumping adrenaline while listening to the terrible story/dialogue of a Gears of War. Its like determining what you want a caffeine fix from, a soda or a cappuccino. One is quick to get and drink while the other takes a little bit longer to make, but is equally as great.

manta's Avatar
manta at 12/08/2008 19:18

You know how I know the RE4 and the like aren't survival horror?

I'm able to play through them.

killsmooth's Avatar
killsmooth at 12/08/2008 19:20

Hey, whats with the 'like nearly every genre that isn't an RPG' comment? Are you saying that the RPG audience does not demand more?

mikeyed's Avatar
mikeyed at 12/08/2008 19:21

Well, all dinos aside. I agree with you whole heartedly. I think the core trait of a horror is not mood nor theme, it's the feeling of being caught unprepared. It's a part of life equally as it is a part of death.

One does not die in a horde of zombies because there were too many zombies, but because they had no means of defense to a certain extent. Such as the spectres and phantasms in Fatal Frame II, I felt unprepared for the sudden onslaught of a terrifying figure seen through the lens of a camera.

With exception to Pokemon Snap, I had never faced down evils using merely the qualities of a shutterbug. I've seen scary movies all my life, but playing a character in a video game with little control over the environment around them (when it's frighteningly as hell) is possibly the most invigorating and exciting thing I've ever experienced.

So I agree in the mainstream sense, it won't be as often such amazing games will be made. It is sad, though. I always found scary things to be a bit humbling. Seeing my big brothers all get as scared or even more than I was always enjoyable. Experiences like Resident Evil 1 are hard to find in next generation games.

Mr Dillinger's Avatar
Mr Dillinger at 12/08/2008 19:24

Resident Evil 2 and Silent Hill are where it ended for me. I agree that RE4 was more of an action game, there were very few moments that it scared the piss out of me.

Its a shame Silent Hill 5 is not available in Australia because I have heard good things.

You left out a few other Japanese based Survival Horrors such as Project 0 and Siren. They were good mind fucks.

Good write up

Colette Bennett's Avatar
Colette Bennett at 12/08/2008 19:25

I disagree as well, but I think Jim definitely does make some valid points. Survival horror isn't what it once was, but when I first fell in love with the genre, it was deliciously new to me to experience a game that challenged my sense of fear even though I knew it was not real. After years of playing these games, I feel they are evolving in a very clear and essential way. The "broken" controls are not going to cut it in this day and age -- gamers would simply get frustrated and give up on the game. We need better solutions to impart a sense of helplessness to the player.

Silent Hill:Homecoming was a great experience for me and several of our other staff members, offering the psychological scares I was hoping for and a more playable, capable-feeling combat. The Fatal Frame series has never failed to scare the shit out of me, and I expect the same from the new one when it comes out. And Dead Space was often so stressful for me that I had to put it down and come back later. That last one is the mark of an effective, immersive game in my book.

it's definitely not the survival horror of old, but I'm still loving it. :)

Cube's Avatar
Cube at 12/08/2008 19:25

The Resident Evil series controled like ass was not scary in the slighted and had puzzles that was about as fun as stabbing your self over and over again with fork.

that is what killed it.

Resident Evil 4 was the only one that was semi playble but still sucked.

and do not even get me started on the alone in the dark suckage the only reason to play that game is it was impressive on your 486 PC before doom came not because it was fun.

Colette Bennett's Avatar
Colette Bennett at 12/08/2008 19:27

I disagree as well, but I think Jim definitely does make some valid points. Survival horror isn't what it once was, but when I first fell in love with the genre, it was deliciously new to me to experience a game that challenged my sense of fear even though I knew it was not real. After years of playing these games, I feel they are evolving in a very clear and essential way. The "broken" controls are not going to cut it in this day and age -- gamers would simply get frustrated and give up on the game. We need better solutions to impart a sense of helplessness to the player.

Silent Hill:Homecoming was a great experience for me and several of our other staff members, offering the psychological scares I was hoping for and a more playable, capable-feeling combat. The Fatal Frame series has never failed to scare the shit out of me, and I expect the same from the new one when it comes out. And Dead Space was often so stressful for me that I had to put it down and come back later. That last one is the mark of an effective, immersive game in my book.

it's definitely not the survival horror of old, but I'm still loving it. :)

carpwrist's Avatar
carpwrist at 12/08/2008 19:29

If this evolution is shedding the layer of skin that held that horrible control system that plagued the early Resident Evil series, then the genre is better off.

I appreciate the new forms that survival horror is taking, Condemned has you fighting for your life through desperate measures. Bioshock introduced some of the creepiest characters and moments I can recall. Dead Space did something I didn't think was possible, it made me afraid of silence... knowing something is coming for me but not able to hear it. I haven't felt anything close to that since the beginning of Silent Hill 3.

I'm welcoming this new genre like I did when I first saw 28 Days Later and realized that I could never watch another George Romero flick without some form of disappointment.

Cube's Avatar
Cube at 12/08/2008 19:32

Silent Hill series also was not scary controled somewhat less ass than resident evil and was only mildly less annoying than resident evil so I see no improvement there.

Hell metroid prime scared me more than both those series and devil may cry played better in everyway and also was more scary.

Ther elike bad horror movies like jason X and they are poorly written and voice acted like bad horror movies and the only reason we keep renting the things is to gather a group and make fun of them.

Ten years of making fun of resident evil is almost worth putting up with playing it.

SnakeDude4Life's Avatar
SnakeDude4Life at 12/08/2008 19:33

I disagree as well, but I think Jim definitely does make some valid points. Survival horror isn't what it once was, but when I first fell in love with the genre, it was deliciously new to me to experience a game that challenged my sense of fear even though I knew it was not real. After years of playing these games, I feel they are evolving in a very clear and essential way. The "broken" controls are not going to cut it in this day and age -- gamers would simply get frustrated and give up on the game. We need better solutions to impart a sense of helplessness to the player.

Silent Hill:Homecoming was a great experience for me and several of our other staff members, offering the psychological scares I was hoping for and a more playable, capable-feeling combat. The Fatal Frame series has never failed to scare the shit out of me, and I expect the same from the new one when it comes out. And Dead Space was often so stressful for me that I had to put it down and come back later. That last one is the mark of an effective, immersive game in my book.

it's definitely not the survival horror of old, but I'm still loving it. :)

AKK's Avatar
AKK at 12/08/2008 19:34

About the everyman combat system: While in theory this is true, in practice it fails.

I'm playing through Silent Hill 2 currently. For the first time.

I like it, but the combat is terrible, and it's not me. It's the fact that I will stand over a body that I knocked to the floor, and when I press attack, he will constantly do a forward thrust that misses entirely rather than the overhead swing he's supposed to.

If it was a minor thing, I wouldn't be bothered, but it happens CONSTANTLY. Almost every enemy I fight it happens with, and it's irritating as fuck.

He may be an everyman, but at least he could not be retarded.

DanlHaas's Avatar
DanlHaas at 12/08/2008 19:34

There's a way to bring back the pacing, atmosphere, and feeling of helplessness perfected by SH2, and make it palatable to the modern gamer. It's just that no one's done it yet.

ChillyBilly's Avatar
ChillyBilly at 12/08/2008 19:37

I don�t know, I don�t think that survival horrors is dead; sure it has definitely changed over the years and it has definitely evolved but that doesn�t mean that it is dead. Look at horror in general, take the movies for example. In the 70�s you had classics like Halloween which relied more on shocks and scares than buckets of blood.

Nowadays you still have some of those shocks and scares but with the natural evolution of the genre itself you have more of a gore aspect that was absent back in the days.
Does this new gore make the movie any less horror? Nope, not at all it just means that horror has changed with the times.

This can be directly related to gaming as well, back in the day with games like the original Resident Evil you had your shocks and scares, you had that unknowing of what is going to be behind that door once the loading screen went away.

The shocks and scares are still around in horror games today as well as that unknowing of what is behind that door, what has changed however is the addition of more blood and more gore. Now does the blood and gore mean that the game is no longer horror? Nope, not at all, it has just changed and evolved with the times.

Survival horror is still alive in games like F.E.A.R and Condemned and as much as you hate to admit it, Dead Space.

I for one welcome the change and am excited for what the future of survival horror brings.

Naim Master's Avatar
Naim Master at 12/08/2008 19:37

Manta :
LOL , same here ...

killsmooth :
Because if a RPG inovates the combat system like FF XII it turns into shit , RPG isn't about "roleplaying" is about menus , and menus don't get much different ...

And RE isn't scary it's just cheap OMG A ZOMBIE DOG! scares (excluiding 3, but a never ending invincible enemy in the whole game is also kinda cheap), if ya want true horror , play SH , this one burns your soul , I agree with the bad controls part though , that's what made old horror games scary , but RE and SH are only difereciating each other more clearly these days , RE completely abandoned horror and SH ,except Homecoming , is still all about horror and bad controls !

BulletTrain's Avatar
BulletTrain at 12/08/2008 19:42

I've been saying it for a long time. Survival horror has run it's course, and all we're left with are a few action oriented remnants of the old days.

I'm not holding out any hope for a resurgence. Like you've pointed out, gaming has weeded out all the gameplay mechanics that made survival horror what it was.

All you young guys with your rants for good controls, and easy gameplay have killed my self indulgent masochistic fun dispensers. I BLAME YOU. I like horrible controls and ridiculous puzzles, limited ammo, and cheap bosses. That stuff was the only thing that made the games seem scary in any sense of the word.

killias2's Avatar
killias2 at 12/08/2008 19:42

Resident Evil 4 did not entirely abandon its roots. Ammo was just too plentiful. That was really the main thing that transformed it from horror to action horror. If you cut the ammo in RE4 to 1/4th, boom, you have a survival horror game.

Anyone else remember that part when you had to survive an attack in that house?


God, I want RE5. I will buy a PS3 to get it, if need be.

John Johnson's Avatar
John Johnson at 12/08/2008 19:45

I don't really give a shit about a game falling into a survival horror genre or any other genre, I care about it being scary. And I have to say that all the latest games to be released have failed to scare me. Sure, they're shocking sometimes, and I'm startled by them, but they don't really fill me with dread the way that RE 1 and RE 2 used to. This particularly applies to RE 4, which I found to be a mediocre game, probably because the previous installments (at least 1 and 2) were actually scary, and this one wasn't. Quicktime-sudden death events don't make things scary.

Kudos to AKK for mentioning HL2, which did contain honestly scary moments. I believe it was scary precisely because it wasn't trying to be; that is to say, Half Life 2 didn't set out to be scary, it set out to be an engrossing story, and that story contained scary elements. Maybe that's where developers need to start out, instead of with the intention to make a 'scary' game.

ZekeThePlumber's Avatar
ZekeThePlumber at 12/08/2008 19:45

The decline of the horror genre probably has a lot more to do with psychology than older gaming limitations. The first time you ride a roller coaster you might find it scary but as you ride it more and more the fear turns instead into a thrill.

Sit a new gamer in front of RE4 and they'll probably shit himself when Dr. Salvador makes his appearance in the village just like when you did when the zombie dogs jumped through the windows in the first RE.

The genre hasn't changed so much as your ability to react to it.

CALkulon's Avatar
CALkulon at 12/08/2008 19:47

I agree with the gist of Colette's post, (nice copy pasta btw Snake) the genre is evolving, but it certainly isn't dying. It just needs new ways of doing things, you can't use the methods RE used all those years ago without pissing people off. It just wouldn't cut it.

And yes, I'm going to mention it. Dead Space. The first time you meet a necromorph in a vacuum. That had me worried for the rest of the game, even when the vacuum area was empty. And "the creation" wasn't exactly far off of the Nemisis, there was an inevitability about the encounters. There was next to nothing you could do other than run.

Gryzor's Avatar
Gryzor at 12/08/2008 19:50

I agree on the whole; but I think it's something that could be applied to games in general.

The way I see it, they usually boil down to inflated confrontation fantasies... it's expected that you should be able to beat absolutely EVERYTHING in your path, whether or not that makes sense.

Besides, fleeing for your life can be fun! Remember a little game called Pac Man? To me, that's pretty solid evidence that a great game can be about something other than just tearing through the opposition. I think evasion ought to be as interesting/important a part of a game as combat. Maybe if as much thought were put into that as was in giving your character 'kewl moves.' :P

falinter's Avatar
falinter at 12/08/2008 19:50

I don't need to read the article I already agree with the headline. It's kind of shit to know that new gamers won't know the awesomeness that was TRUE survival horror like it was in the old days.

Now to actually read the article...

Spectral's Avatar
Spectral at 12/08/2008 19:50

They all want to be action games now.

momomo66's Avatar
momomo66 at 12/08/2008 19:56

1) While I still enjoy the neo-survival horror genre, I can't say I'm excited about RE5's marriage to co-op play. I'm not even sure I'm going to pick it up anymore... bah.

2) Jim, if you want to play run and hide games, check out the Clock Tower series -- not my thing, but it is that thing. Running and hiding thing.

falinter's Avatar
falinter at 12/08/2008 20:01

Reading this reminds me.

I thought Dead Space was fantastic. I played it as Hard as I could first time through too. I think that helps, especially if your used to playing games like that. I played RE4 on 3 different difficulty levels at the same time.

Everythings scarier when you have less ammo and health and your enemies do more damage.

Also, as for repetitiveness... well I guess that was a problem with the game, but I never got tired of stomping the shit out of corpses. I did it wellllll after I got the 1,000 limb achievement.

lem's Avatar
lem at 12/08/2008 20:06

At least i have the new Project Zero/ Fatal Frame to scare the crap out or me when it comes out.

pedrovay2003's Avatar
pedrovay2003 at 12/08/2008 20:08

I'm mentioning Dead Space.

Also, I agree that RE4 wasn't horror. It was indeed an action game, although I must admit, the last section of the game freaked me out quite a bit. The Island, I believe.

Paroxysm's Avatar
Paroxysm at 12/08/2008 20:11

Seems more an issue with sequels and popularity than technology.

Dexter345's Avatar
Dexter345 at 12/08/2008 20:17

I think what the developers need to do is to come up with new ways to scare audiences. Very few people would go back to poorly-controlled characters and cameras just for scares, so it's up to the designers to figure out how to scare (and more than just jump-scares and obvious enemy ambushes) the player within the paradigm for third person shooter/action games today.

Beat Fu's Avatar
Beat Fu at 12/08/2008 20:18

The Fatal Frame series are the only survival horror games I like. The limitations make sense and genuinely add to the fear, and while it's limited it doesn't feel meaningless, you aren't dealing with a shitty camera just for the sake of it being shitty, you don't have a good weapon just because your character is a huge wimp. The reason is a good one, what use is a gun against a ghost? Or a stick, or a crowbar. Any game where the enemies can be fought through traditional means really detracts from how bearable the game is.

Paustinj's Avatar
Paustinj at 12/08/2008 20:19

I agree with AKK, both F.E.A.R. and Condemned 1 and 2 were the scariest games I've ever played. And those were only a few years ago, a point where I'm no longer a child. You may not call them Survival Horror game but in my opinion, they have replaced the Resident Evil and Silent Hills as the new genre of scary games. I've only briefly played Dead Space, but it was absolutely stressful and made me feel isolated and alone. A feeling that is hard to pull in a modern game. And while Resident Evil 5 may not be Survival Horror because you are heavily armed and have a teammate, the game creates a new kind of stress at having to watch your partner's back. It's quite nerve racking and stressful to know your friend is in danger and that you must go save them.

Jim, your closing statement about making a game in which you are completely powerless and must run away, well have you ever played games like Clock Tower and Haunting Ground? The whole premise relies around you being a helpless little girl who must run and hide from the things that will surly kill her. It's very stressful and scary. I think they should make a new next gen Clock Tower, that would certainly be a drastic change of pace for most gamers.

Novakaine's Avatar
Novakaine at 12/08/2008 20:28

I'll concur with AKK's mention of Half-Life 2. Even if you ignore Ravenholme, that game had a huge amount of frightening moments (try being an acrophobia and crossing the bridge).

The original Metroid Prime had several very tense scenarios (for example, the Phendrana laboratory), as well.

I think the industry has incorporated the use of fear into their games, so being "scared" isn't something that's exclusive to a specific genre anymore. The industry's emphasis on atmosphere has very wisely paid attention to the emotion of fear, and I think that's a very good direction for the industry.

BattyAdroit's Avatar
BattyAdroit at 12/08/2008 20:29

Hi Jim,

"Resident Evil, Silent Hill and a selection of pretenders were incredibly popular in the last two generations, but in the age of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the traditional survival horror is all but dead."

I'm no English major, but idioms are a source of annoyance to me. If something is "all but dead," then, I believe meaning of the sentence is, "it is anything, except dead." (i.e. not dead at all.)

Consider the sentence, "I saved all but one taco for Jim." - you would conclude from that sentence that I saved you quite a few tasty tacos, and only had one for myself.

This ranks up there with people who write that they "could care less." - when really, it's a negative: "I couldn't care less."

Such as, "I couldn't care less about BattyAdroit's lame post about idioms."

For what it's worth, I am in 100% agreement with you about the survival horror genre. I think my first serious foray into survival horror was Illbleed - I could never really get into Resident Evil. Some of my most fond gaming memories are turning down the AC in the house, starting up a session of Fatal Frame at one in the morning, and playing it all night with all the lights out. It would definitely give me the creeps.

Aspire's Avatar
Aspire at 12/08/2008 20:32

Seriously, Doom was the scariest game for its time albeit, not a survival horror.

brainderailment's Avatar
brainderailment at 12/08/2008 20:35

I don't view dead space as a survival horror. You have way too much ammo, you have stores to buy stuff from, and a bank in which you can put all of the stuff that you can't carry around.
I loved dead space, but it's no more survival horror than Gears of War.

Doomtrain's Avatar
Doomtrain at 12/08/2008 20:44

In this article we pretend that Dead Space and Siren don't exist.

ace of knaves's Avatar
ace of knaves at 12/08/2008 20:44

Yeah, the survival horror of old is dead. Now they're more like creepy shooters. They can be plenty scary, but what with total ease of control and fast-paced action, it's obviously a far cry from what these genres used to be. That can be considered both a good and bad thing, depending on personal taste.

Capn Birdseye's Avatar
Capn Birdseye at 12/08/2008 20:44

"Surival Horror" seems to me to be just an evolution of the horror adventure game - i don't see how the anachronistic controls of a few horror games you played growing up define a genre to you.

The controls aren't bad intentionally, they are bad because they are bad - the devs didn't bother to fix them or innovate with the times (see - JRPGs).

There are plenty of scarier games mentioned in the comments that far surpass anything silent hill or RE have to offer - Condemned being a good example.

Normally your articles are entertaining and make sense, but this one seems to have no real merit - you are arbitrarily drawing a line in the sand in a point in gaming history where a genre is said to have emerged, then claim that any faults these "pioneers" had as essential features of the genre, then bemoan the (eventual) fixing of these faults as sounding the death knell of said genre.

Well, I suppose that the only defining characteristics of this genre according to the article is buggy controls in a horror game, I guess you are right ;)

It has been proven time and time again that you are able to implement a decent control scheme and far surpass any of the horror elements in Silent Hill or RE, but because they aren't riddled with buggy controls, they are somehow not part of the "horror" game genre?

Other than this one, good effort, I enjoy reading these editorials over my lunch break.

NegFactor's Avatar
NegFactor at 12/08/2008 20:50


I am very inclined to agree with the opinion of the author of the aforementioned link, to an extent. I like the thought that horror games evolve based on the principle of taking the aspects that people enjoy in games and manipulating and combining them with new facets that aren't typically connected between games of the horror genre, yielding new ideas. Maybe games are more action-oriented now, but I feel that under the right circumstances, they can still be done incredibly well.

I haven't played Dead Space yet, but I hear that it scares the shit out of some people, while others say it fails to draw even the slightest scare from people because of the obvious sound cues in the game. Games seem to be motivated nowadays to be designed towards the "I want my action now!" mentality. I think that they can be drawn up this way and still yield high scare potential if designers are willing to think outside traditional conventions. Or maybe I'm just a terrible believer in hopeful ideals.

I really do wish we had some slower paced horror games though that brought back the concept of building tension. Convoluted combat systems don't make my horror games more enjoyable, personally. Combat doesn't have to be frustrating either, though. I want to run away from monsters and horrors because they scare the living shit out of me and intimidate me, not because 1) they really are nigh impossible to kill, 2) there are just too many of them to handle and are a resource waste for my ammo supply, 3) the controls are too frustrating to want to be bothered with combat. Although in reference to #2, monster hordes are fun when done in the right sense. I'm more complaining about constant run-ins with groups of monsters that lead to equal frustration on par with #1.

aborto thefetus's Avatar
aborto thefetus at 12/08/2008 20:51

The last truly scary game I have played was the original Condemned, and I really think that it is highly underrated. Which kind of dissapoints me that a game that came out 3 years ago was the last truly scary game I have played.

There was F.E.A.R. but I didn't find that game to be scary at all. Dead Space I thought was scary in the beginning but ultimately fell flat on its face halfway through the game. Condemned 2 even fell flat because it forgot what made the original Condemned good halfway through and gave you an overabundance of weapons and ammunition.

I think the problem with recent survival horror games is that the developers forget what makes a survival horror game a survival horror game.

Jawmuncher's Avatar
Jawmuncher at 12/08/2008 21:06

The funny thing is I read this right after I beat Resident Evil 2 on N64. I have to say I agree with everything in this article.

Necro-bestial Anal Butt Sex's Avatar
Necro-bestial Anal Butt Sex at 12/08/2008 21:07

I think it is harder nowadays to scare us with the world we live in, zombies are not doing it anymore.

FOr me I was always weirded out by Fatal Frame personally

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