Ever since I was first introduced to the genre through Alien 3 on the Sega Megadrive/Genesis and later Resident Evil on the original PlayStation, the survival horror genre has been a favorite of mine.
The portrayal of the of the genre in gaming has varied over the years in my experience, as I've seen it implemented in 2D side-scrolling horror-fests like the aforementioned Alien 3, the static prerendered back drops of the first three Resident Evil games and the now familiar over-the-shoulder action oriented horror games like Resident Evil 4, Silent Hill, the Dead Space series and Gears Of War.
The direction most big-budget horror games have been moving in in the last several years has been more action based than we've previously seen, and unfortunately, a lot of these action-horror games have lost their fear factors, too. And it all seems almost ironic that as revolutionary as Resident Evil 4 was at the time of its release, it was so in a totally unforeseen way: It was instrument in moving the genre into far less scary, more action based territory that influenced games for years to come.
There has been the occasional exception to the rule, but overall, horror quickly fell out of favour with publishers. Even Capcom's own Masachika Kawata declared there was no market for survival horror anymore.
That is until a passionate few indie developers brought in a sort of renaissance with titles like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender Man, Outlast and others. They opted for a more immersive first-person perspective and added in a feeling of helplessness with deeply oppressive atmospheres that had been lacking from the genre for so long.
And all of those indie titles have since had good success beyond the PC, and made their way to the current generation of consoles, too. They have given rise to many similar titles in the genre and now even the upcoming Resident Evil 7 has taken quite a lot of inspiration from those very games, right down to the first-person viewpoint. And based on my experience with the demo, it is set to be a fantastic horror experience.
So here, and without further ado, I have listed some of my favorite survival horror games that like Resident Evil 7, use a first-person perspective for that all important level of immersion -- and horror.
Platform: PC, Mac, and PS4
Following their success with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, developers Frictional Games released SOMA, a.A disturbing sci-fi horror game set in an underwater facility.
As much as it's a horror game dealing with disturbing alien lifeforms with a similar running and hiding mechanic previously seen in Amnesia, the real impact comes from the psychology and the philosophical questions raised in the game. To go into too much detail will probably spoil game, but I feel it's a definite stand-out game in the horror genre and one that will stay memorable long after you're finished.
The first-person perspective works brilliantly with SOMA's vision of horror. The true horror is found in its psychological and atmospheric surroundings and the perspective here helps the player feel fully immersed in the shoes of the protagonist.
Platform: Xbox 360
Condemned is a game that was criminally overlooked as an Xbox 360 launch title in favor of the Perfect Dark sequel, but for me, Condemned was the real system seller. I loved the intense and gritty atmosphere, the lighting effects, the shadows and legitimately horrifying gameplay.
There are so many moments that stand out so well for me in this game that it remains one of my favorites today. It would be higher on my list if not for the weird final chapters. But it's still a fantastic game in spite of this.
Taking an alternate approach to the defenseless run and hide gameplay mechanics of more recent titles, Condemned features one of the most brutal and well-implemented hand-to-hand combat systems I've seen in a horror FPS. The brutality of the game doesn't pull any punches at all and the perspective definitely adds to that.
If viewed from a third-person viewpoint, I think the atmosphere would have been lost in what may have looked and played like a half-baked action game.
Platform: WiiU/PS4/Xbox One
Originally an exclusive WiiU launch title known as ZombiU, Zombi was overlooked at launch, just like Condemned.
This game was Nintendo's attempt at trying to draw in a mature audience from the get-go, rather than just being associated with itsfamily-friendlyy roots.
It wasn't a big seller, which was a shame because ZombiU is a superb horror title on any system and one of the scariest games in the zombie genre. It brings a perfect blend of tension, atmosphere, and challenge to make it truly stand out on its own. ZombiU was also one of the few games that made good use of the WiiU controller, without it feeling too gimmicky.
Perspective aside, the game cleverly follows a similar structure to the Dark Souls series. Only this time, after your character dies (permanently) you will wake up as an entirely new character in the safehouse, and instead of trying to retrieve your "souls," you'll aim to try and recollect your previous corpse's belongings. Unlike the Souls series though the first person viewpoint helps immerse the players in its truly desolate and dark environments.
It's recently been remastered on the PS4 and Xbox One, and I would definitely give this game a look if you missed it the first time round.
I didn't get to play Amnesia upon release in 2010 because I never had the PC to play it, but it's impact and influence still echoes today in modern and future horror games. It has recently been ported to the PlayStation 4 as part of a collection and is absolutely worth playing.
The game is starting to show its age a bit now, but the scare factor hasn't weakened in the slightest. Just like Frictional Games' successive title SOMA, to give away too much information would be to spoil some of Amnesia's impact, as you really should experience it all for yourself. But I will say its execution is a masterstroke in psychological horror every step of the way.
The first-person perspective here allows the player to feel lost in some of the game's ultra dark areas. If this was played from a third-person viewpoint, there would have been a risk of making the player feel disconnected from the surrounding horrors.
Platform: PC/PS4/Xbox One
I challenge anyone not to get more than a few scares playing this game. Another indie title but from experienced developers who set out to make their passion project, Outlast shines through its execution and is one of the purest horror games I've played.
There's no way to defend yourself beyond just mashing buttons to escape and run from some of the inmates. The object is to hide and use the darkness to your advantage.
The game carries many genre influences from films such as REC and The Blair Witch Project, and it uses them to full effect as you work your way through the asylum completely terrified and defenseless. So the first-person perspective here is a completely natural fit that works when looking down the lens of a camcorder, constricting your field of view, and ratcheting up the horror.
Platform: PC/PS4/Xbox One/PS3/Xbox 360
One of the first big-budget games to take inspiration from the likes of Amnesia and Outlast with its run and hide mechanic, Alien: Isolation perfectly melds stealth and exploration to create a work that perfectly captures the context of the first film.
Through the eyes of Amanda Ripley, you're completely underpowered and unprepared as the Alien AI is completely dynamic, doesn't follow any set patterns, and is every bit the predator the Alien should be. It hunts you down through the narrow corridors of the Sevastopol, a decommissioned trading station -- and it's horrifying.
When the Xenomorph appears you truly get an up close sense of its size and terrifying nature, whether you're facing it down for the first time or hiding inside a locker, a first-person perspective really adds to this level of immersion. Coupled with the impeccable sound design, the PoV works wonders.
Alien: Isolation recaptures everything that made the first Alien movie so intense and atmospheric and puts you right in the middle of the horror. It not only manages to be one of the best survival horror games of any generation, it's also easily one of the best-licensed video games ever made.
The rise in first-person horror games has demonstrated just how well suited to the survival horror genre the perspective is. It adds a level of immersion that works so well with the dark and oppressive atmospheres, effectively placing the player directly in the fear-inducing action. There's something about facing horrors of all types when up close and personal. And not knowing what is around the next corner or if something is behind you, definitely adds another layer fear.
There's something about facing horrors of all types when up close and personal. And not knowing what is around the next corner or if something is behind you definitely adds another layer fear.
Obviously, there is still room for horror games that use a third-person perspective, but unless aided by awkward controls and clever camera angles (to ratchet up the scares and sense of helplessness), I don't feel they quite pull you in and play around with your senses and emotions in the same way the first-person perspective does.
What do you think? Is the third-person perspective better for horror games or do you like your scare up close and personal? Let us know in the comments below!