The Downfall of Survival Horror Games
What is Survival Horror?
Most think of Resident Evil or Silent Hill when someone brings up the term “survival horror”, and for good reason. Both of those series have earned their merits and really introduced the genre to a much larger audience. Although games like Alone in the Dark really pioneered the tank controls and item management in a spooky house, Resident Evil made it addicting. [Unrelated note: A fellow Game Skinny writer (Ashley Shankle) suggested the game Sweet Home as the first Survival Horror but I felt it was more a RPG with horror story.]
In Resident Evil it was the struggle, the fight for survival, and the ammo conservation that really made the game hard on your first play through. Your only real overlaying goals were to check for survivors and escape with your lives. This left a large mansion full of vicious, flesh eating monstrosities to try to take you down - and when zombies alone took a handful of shots, you could bet your top dollar I was running like a madman.
This is what I see as being a form of Survival Horror. If anything, this is the most basic formula of making a game to be of that genre:
- 1 part atmosphere
- Heaping amount of slightly overpowering enemies
- Dash of ammo and health items (As to not over power the player)
- Stir in a few good moments of puzzles
- And finish it off with a fun, if not engaging, story
- (Optional) Some psychological twist or plot twist
Games that combine these aspects are becoming less and less prevalent. In fact, they are starting to fade out of existence in placement of more action oriented versions of their former selves.
For some reason developers look at Slip Knot and Call of Duty and think, “MAN, if games had more of THAT in it, it would get way more people to play it!” There is already a set audience out there for these types of games and when the developers screw with them by saying they need a different audience, it is like they are breaking up with their fanbase.
This is also the fault of developers not sticking to their guns. When corporations give them unreasonable goals of sales and telling them that they need to sell millions of units of this game, they need to make changes. They could go in with a great game idea for a true Survival Horror game and then get told they will only fund it if they can sell 4 million units. Changes will need to be made.
The sad truth is that game companies no longer seem to run on taking chances and placing a bet on an unsure thing. Now everything is calculated and cold. Everyone wants to make the sales of a Call of Duty but that ain’t happening. This is when people start getting wrong ideas about what to do with a beloved series.
Let’s look at Resident Evil 6 for an example.
Resident Evil 6 felt like the result of Call of Duty, God of War and Resident Evil 4 having an incest child that was dropped on it’s head. Not only does it control clumsily, but the fact that every five seconds I need to jam on a button (QTEs) is sorta annoying and over played in games nowadays. That and needing to have the action turned to 11 on the 1-10 scale of ACTION really shows that they just want this series dead.
Well, what about Dead Space? I would not qualify Dead Space as Survival Horror, but more Horror Action. Even though the games are VERY predictable with its jump scares, I felt it did a great job of creating a very believable and oppressive environment that made you feel tense at all times. That and the controls were solid and really made shooting off limbs a fun and easy task - not a chore. I enjoyed the first and especially the second game, but I think we need to recognize that Dead Space is an action game that does not fit the tropes of the former Survival Horror games.
Feels like the only ones that can experiment in this now dying genre are indie developers and people not owned by a large corporation. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Lone Survivor, Home and to a certain extent the Condemned series the are all good examples of being able to make something different but still keep it steeped in its roots.
Some of the best definitions I got of what is survival horror is the Clock Tower series, Rule of Rose, Fatal Frame and Siren.
Clock Tower has you being hunted by spirits that can not be killed. The best you can do is stun them temporarily and run and hide somewhere. The tension is always high and you really wish you had some means to fight back, but once you finally find their weakness and destroy them, you feel so satisfied and empowered.
Rule of Rose was a wonderfully twisted and sick tale that delved into a lot of very sensitive topics. Animal and child abuse, sexuality, sadism and capitalistic structures were all topics touched on in a very serious manner. Oh, did I mention almost all of the characters are little girls around the age of 12? A truly dark tale that had me from beginning to end that was only hindered by the abysmal combat.
Fatal Frame has you fighting off ghosts with a camera. Yup, ghosts have never been so scary.
Siren was simply terrifying for reasons of being able to see through the eyes of your mindless killing machine enemies. Looking through their eyes and hearing them rant to themselves is unnerving but when they turn a corner and you see yourself cowering in a corner as they scream in a blood thirsty delight, you freaking panic.
Now I will leave you with this wonderful reminder of how you needed to button mash to PUNCH A BOULDER!