Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Clock Tower, Siren, Rule Of Rose, Fatal Frame, Galerians: the golden age of survival horror games has sadly faded away. The style has been over saturated by jump scares and become something completely different with the more action-oriented Resident Evil titles lately.
Games like Outlast are defining the horror genre right now and while they may be about survival over fighting, they really aren't in the same vein as the classic definition of ”survival horror” coined back in the PS1 days and then further refined on the PS2.
What specifically is survival horror then? What we're talking about here involves bad camera angles, limited saves, wonky controls, puzzle-solving, limited resources/ammo hoarding, and monster avoidance along with claustrophobic and tense atmospheres.
Any given game might lack one or two of those (particularly as gameplay improves over the years and certain elements become obsolete), but overall we want all of that together to evoke the feel of classic survival horror gaming.
This indie crowd funded venture very strongly draws from the early survival horror source material and it shows with outdated graphics, terrible controls, and clunky camera movement: in other words, we're off to a strong start!
This one's PS2 survival horror to the absolute max, made by people who clearly have a serious love for the genre. You'll run around sinister darkened locations picking up items, finding journal entries, and solving puzzles while generally creepy thing go on around you.
Sadly, it's unfinished and will forever remain so. After a successful Kickstarter campaign netting $12,000, the developers only ever released the first episode and have no intention of ever finishing the story in subsequent episode releases. Buyer beware.
I can already hear the elitists screaming: “This isn't survival horror, it's action horror!” Yeah, yeah, yeah, but here, the distinction is razor thin. It might have combat-focused segments the further in you go, but in all other respects this game is quintessential survival horror in a more modern presentation.
Third person style, avoiding monsters, classic environments, inventory resource management, escaping traps: The Evil Within is really the iconic Resident Evil style gaming updated to current gen consoles, even if there are a few tweaks here and there that go beyond the traditional bounds of the genre.
Did you love the ghost antagonists and camera gameplay of Fatal Frame, or enjoy the survival horror style of games like Siren? This one is absolutely for you!
Based on Indonesian ghost stories and urban legends rather than the typical Japanese presentation, DreadOut puts you in the role of teenager exploring scary abandoned locations at night and fighting back with your camera phone. It's both familiar and new all at once.
One of several instances where developers disenfranchised from their publishers decided to strike out and create new entries based on classic series, NightCry is the spiritual successor to the Clock Tower series. With no publisher backing, crowd funding arrived to save the day and give us more Clock Tower style fun.
You may notice a lot of negative reviews for this one, but take a look at what those reviews complain about: PS2 graphics and character movement, wonky camera, weird storylines and incomprehensible endings. In other words, this is classic survival horror gold.
Just take a look at how the text appears on the screen or how the main character walks through those hallways and tell me you don't get all nostalgic.
Wait a minute... that's a 2D game! Yep, and it's also built around a core of survival horror that hits the mark with creepy atmosphere, puzzle solving, and a focus on avoiding the monsters. Plus, just take a listen to the soundtrack, as the music and sound effects here are strongly reminiscent of all things Silent Hill.
Alright, I'll grant you this one's not a 1:1 crossover to those PS2 style entries, but the game is clearly inspired by survival horror of yesteryear, especially in its setting and environments, but there's other obvious parallels.
Managing the flashlight battery, scarce ammo, a psychological bent to the story, and limited ability to fight the things chasing you are all drawn from the well of old school survival horror.
An anomaly in this genre, Cursed Mountain was released for the Wii and took place in a snowy setting instead of a creepy mansion or abandoned school.
From the item descriptions to the way the characters move, everything else about Cursed Mountain exudes the survival horror feel, with some interesting Wii-specific mechanics built in like shaking off ghosts with the wiimote.
While these are some of the most obvious examples of games that bring back that classic style, there are lots of titles available with some similarities worth looking into. For instance, it could probably be argued that The Last Of Us is essentially a survival horror game, even if it goes a different direction and has more polished controls.
What did you think of our picks, and what PS1 / PS2 style games would you recommend we try out to scratch that survival horror itch?
If you need even more scary gaming, be sure to also check out 13 essential horror games to scare you to death, unconventional horror games to play at Halloween, and 5 scary games outside the horror genre.