The entire impact of this article rests on the number of years you’ve been playing video games. If you’re old enough to remember the release of horror classics like Resident Evil, and Silent Hill, this should resonate with you pretty well. Even if you’ve joined us recently, first of all welcome, and second of all, play those games if you haven’t. Last generation, when the PS3 was knocking the socks off of the competition through incredible exclusives, we didn’t see a lot of survival horror games. Sure we saw “horror games” or dare I say “action-horror” but very few actually could stand alone and call themselves survival horror.
Why is that? Well, we’re going to explore some reasons (in my personal opinion) why the horror genre in its purest form, fell off the bandwagon last generation, and how this generation is already shambling back onto said wagon, hopefully for good. In the spirit of the coming holiday, Halloween, I present to thee my optimistic article concerning the rise of what some may have considered a dead genre.
Like most of the enemies in these games, it seems death is not the end for this genre, nor has it ever been. With shaking hands and low ammo, I invite you to journey with me into a bleak future filled with fear and despair. If you’re like me, you couldn’t be happier.
The Era of Guns and Glory
The PlayStation 3 was a beautiful system. Once it hit a stride, nothing could compete with those exclusives, but there was a part missing from it, something that the PS2 and the PS1 had in spades: true to form survival horror games. Think about it, the PS1 marked a golden age for horror with the start of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Dino Crisis, Clock Tower, and many more. The PS2 kept up this streak with sequels to a few of the aforementioned games and some amazing entries of its own. Namely, the Fatal Frame series from the PS2 days still hits many of the top 10 horror games lists to this day.
Then the PS3 came along and things kinda slowed down. No one really noticed at first, we were all too obsessed with online gaming, with shiny graphics, and with the console war. I noticed though, and I’m sure you did too. There were some, don’t get me wrong, but no where near the numbers we used to see. We had glimmers of hope like Dead Space and the original F.E.A.R, but their sequels quickly devolved into shooting galleries where ammo was plentiful and scares were few and far between. Then you had games that blurred the line and gave us brief glimpses of what could have been.
Take the first Bioshock for example. Very atmospheric, very tense and claustrophobic. Survival horror? No, but it had some great moments where fear was the primary emotion coursing through the player’s veins. The first Dead Space game was great for this reason as well, but again, we had supplies when we needed them. No matter how bad things got, we had the firepower to get the job done, and that’s where I think things started to go wrong. Take Resident Evil, which many say capped out in the fourth entry and went downhill from there.
That game was the poster child for survival horror. It was a shining example of what others could strive to achieve, and yet, even they were swept up into the temptation to trade in scarce supplies for massive ammo drops, and tense dark halls for bright set-piece moments. Do you know why all these horror games turned into Michael Bay films, wrought with explosions and gunfire? I’ll give you a hint: it’s been around for far too long and it was the biggest release of every year for the entirety of the last generation.
Still need help? Well, it attracts a special kind of gamer, especially the multiplayer. It has just as many mortal enemies as it does friends, and the company that makes it also happens to publish just about every other cash cow in the industry. Okay, I’ll stop patronizing, it’s Call of Duty. What you say? How can a first person shooter kill the horror genre?
Three Words my Friends: It Makes Money
Call of Duty sells close to a billion dollars if not more each year when it releases. It is the gold standard for how to market and sell a game. People flock to it year after year, and in the final moments of the last generation, we saw other games being DELAYED because they didn’t want to release next to Call of Duty.
Suddenly, everyone wanted to be like it. They wanted multiplayer, they wanted explosions, they wanted to sell millions of copies too! So, we saw Resident Evil fall into an action mess. We saw Dead Space devolve into a co-op action movie, and F.E.A.R? We don’t talk about that one. Everyone wanted to be like the star, and they sacrificed everything to do it. It was like the great plastic surgery race of gaming to nip and tuck until they were as pretty as the belle of the ball.
With the cost of game development going through the roof, no one wanted to try new ideas. They didn’t want to risk spending years of their lives on a game that may end up flopping. If it was like Call of Duty, or Battlefield, or Grand Theft Auto, it would do alright. Developers were afraid to try something new, which is why we saw a rise in indie games made by small teams because they were willing to take risks.
The PS3 was an era of explosions, of multiplayer, and of endless action. I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but I felt like a part of me was missing. There was a hole in my gaming heart that couldn’t be filled. All the attempts to do so were few and far between, and the ones that did succeed, only did so for but a moment’s time. I had feared, as I’m sure many of you had, that the survival horror genre was gone for good this time. I went back and played the classics, but it just wasn’t the same.
What Defines Survival Horror?
You know, I’ve been going on and on this whole time about horror games, but I have yet to define the concept of survival horror. I’m sure many of you already know exactly what it means, but I think the actual definition of it differs slightly from person to person. We all have the same general concept of it, but like many of our character’s sanity levels, it fluctuates from game to game. So, here is a quick rundown of characteristics that, in my opinion, define survival horror:
These are by no means the commandments of survival horror, but these are things I like to see and feel in a horror game. There weren’t many games last generation that really made me feel this way, but the PS4 is almost a year old now, and we’ve already seen several very promising entries in the horror genre, with plenty more to come. Unlike a good horror story, does this real life one have a glimmer of hope? I think so my friends.
Is the PS4 Survival Horror’s Savior?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer involves examining some of the games that are out, and others that have been announced. With halloween just around the corner, the spirit of horror in gaming hasn’t been this bright since the glory days of the PS2. While the selection isn’t overwhelming, it’s a step in the right direction. Take Outlast for example, and it’s DLC: Whistleblower. This game and its subsequent expansion were absolutely TERRIFYING! Do you know why? Because you could check off every single tick on that list up there. It was horror through and through.
The storyline put you in a mental hospital filled with psychotic patients and you were armed with nothing but a video camera and a sprint button. You couldn’t fight, you could only run and hide. The tension was constant, the fear was nigh palpable. The entire experience was horror in its purest form. Was it perfect? No, it had some annoyances, but overall, this was a truly horrific game, one that forced you to survive against impossible odds and face enemies that you knew nothing about.
It didn’t stop there though, we’ve had other horror releases. Daylight for example, while not that great of a game, was definitely an attempt at survival horror. It didn’t succeed in the way that Outlast did, but it was an admirable attempt, and you know what? It tried something new. That’s what I’ve noticed about the PS4 thus far that I love. Maybe it’s the ease of development on the new platform, or maybe it’s some newfound courage, but developers have been experimenting and bringing out new experiences that the PS3 never saw.
Take Alien: Isolation for example. The last game based on the Alien franchise was ripped to utter shreds. Even so, Sega took a lickin’ and kept up tickin’ as it were, because the recent release was a true to form survival horror experience that put you through and entire game where, for once, you weren’t the dominant lifeform. That game was about survival, about outsmarting a predator that is faster, smarter, and more powerful than you. That’s incredible! Call of Duty, Battlefield, all those shooters never once put you in a position like that.
The creator of Resident Evil, Shinji Mikami, has even come back into the world of gaming with The Evil Within which just recently released. While I plan to weigh in on it soon, thus far I am very much enjoying it, and while it does lean towards action more than I would like, it does still have that horror feel to a majority of the gameplay. A very interesting hybrid and one that I hope knows which side of the line to stay on, but you’ll just have to wait for my full review before you know the answer to that question.
To make us question our control of the situation, to wrench away the power to fight back, to truly force us to survive against insurmountable odds; that is the essence of survival horror. From what it looks like, the trend is going to keep on going for the foreseeable future. Don’t believe me? Well, the list of PS4 horror games is a long one, and it’s looking really, really good. I for one am positively terrified at some of the games coming down the pipeline. In this case, that’s a good thing.
Tell me what you think of the PS4 horror games selection thus far, give us your definition of survival horror and let us know which upcoming game you're most excited for in the comments below!
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 10/25/14