Ever get that creepy feeling that someone is watching you? Maybe a creaking noise or gust of wind gives you the chills, making your mind wander toward unimaginable horrors that wait right around the corner. Maybe you whip out a camera and snap it in a ghosts face to drain their health, getting critical bonus points if you get a close-up shot and have the frame in focus! Well, maybe not, but players can definitely experience that through the survival horror genre of the video game world. Survival horror can be described as an off-shoot of an action or adventure title. In fact, the genre is almost always a combination of multiple genres, typically involving gameplay from shooters, role-playing games, and puzzle or logic titles. Rather than have the focus be on the type of game that it is, a survival horror game is defined by its content; subject matter, pacing, a darker tone, and an overall eerie feel.
Early on, survival horror games were almost like a horror fiction novel, much like Infogrames 1992 title, Alone in the Dark, where you assume the role of an investigator looking into the suspicious death of the novelist, Jeremy Hartwood. The game introduced a hybrid style of limited combat and puzzle-solving as your character explores the haunted mansion of the dearly departed. Spawning several sequels, many consider Alone in the Dark to be the unofficial starting point of the survival horror genre. Since then, survival horror has evolved with each gaming generation. In what I like to call â€˜the Playstation era’, survival horror found new and exciting ways to use new technology to create better atmosphere, creepier enemies, and just plain fun ways to scare the pants off gamers.
One of the most famous series in the genre is none other than Capcom’s Resident Evil. With its first game released in 1996, Resident Evil set the standard for future games of its nature, and officially coined the â€˜survival horror’ title. Resident Evil had the player taking on a mansion set on the outskirts of Raccoon City full of mutated, zombie-like creatures as a member of a special law enforcement task force, either Chris Redfield or the infamous Jill Valentine. The first Resident Evil also gave the player seven multiple endings, depending on choices the player makes throughout the game. The success of the series was phenomenal, and since its release, numerous titles have attempted to recreate the formula Capcom used to develop even creepier games, including Konami’s acclaimed Silent Hill series, Tecmo’s Fatal Frame series, and Human Entertainment’s Clock Tower series, all of which redefined Resident Evil’s gaming style into something much more psychological and artsy. Japanese developers truly embraced the genre, using the Resident Evil formula they had modified to create an incredibly overwhelming and helpless atmosphere within their games. However, like any other genre out there, survival horror was quickly becoming too set in its ways, and needed desperately to evolve with the coming generation of next-gen consoles. Survival horror decided to make its way west.
It can be said of survival horror games on the next-gen consoles that they are truly hybrids of very specific genres. Player craved something more in-depth than what survival horror had been giving them, and beginning with Capcom’s Resident Evil 4, the genre was ready to begin changing the original formula that had worked so well. Released in 2005, Resident Evil 4 focused not only on the scare tactics that the genre is known for, but also on more of a shooter-type style of play, allowing the player to use precision and aiming to fight off the hordes of creatures that were being thrown at them; thus began a beautiful relationships between survival horror and shooters. Combat, action and gore (all which are associated with Western developed games) began to be a standard in the new formula, moving the player away from puzzle-solving and a sense of helplessness to a new gun-slinger attitude. "Hey, they’re throwing all these horrible creature my wayâ€¦ so let’s fight back. Let’s slice some limbs off!"
Although survival horror games are significantly farther between, some quality pieces have been developed for the next-gen consoles including EA’s Dead Space, Monolith Productions F.E.A.R, and naturally Capcom’s Resident Evil 5, which went as far as to add a 2-player storyline. Although it can be associated more closely with the shooter genre, Valve’s Left 4 Dead series also added a multiplayer aspect to the genre, allowing players to take on hordes of flesh-eating zombies with three other players. There have already been sequels to mark the success of the next-gen horror games (F.E.A.R and Left 4 Dead, for example) and there are few signs of the trend slowing down. Also, it’s noteworthy that Tecmo’s Fatal Frame 4 released on the Wii mid-2008 in Japan, and although a western-release hasn’t been announced (and unfortunately probably won’t be) there is still an English translation patch that players can use to experience the game. Fatal Frame 4 stays true to its formula while taking advantage of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to control the camera and the flashlight.
There are still games out there that cling to the older style of survival horror games, and are surprisingly made by western developers. Deep Silver’s 2009 Cursed Mountain takes a page out of Fatal Frame’s formula, and combat mostly involves freeing the souls of cursed monks and climbers trapped in an in between world called Bardo. Cursed Mountain was actually released on the Wii, using the console’s motion sensor remote to bring a different approach, getting the player more physically involved. Also released on the Wii earlier this year was the newest installment of the Silent Hill series, Silent Hill Shattered Memories. Unlike previous games, Shattered Memories takes a severe psychological approach with its gameplay. The choices the player makes affects how the town and monsters look, attitudes of the NPC characters, and even clothing and gender.
There are definitely some innovative and different approaches to the genre that are emerging in the next-gen era, and the combination of western and eastern influences are most certainly what makes the genre so much fun to play. Recognizing survival horror’s colorful past and anticipating what gamers will want from the genre in the future is difficult, but so far the genre is evolving and changing with the trends rather nicely.
Anticipating a winter 2010 or spring 2011 release, Dead Space 2 looks just as creepy as the first, although the developers have claimed that the original was "too scary" for some gamers. Also in production is Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake, an almost novel like thriller featuring a struggling novelist whose work begins to mirror that of reality. Alan Wake is set for release in May 2010.
The future looks bright for survival horror, and the need for change from the old-style gameplay has been recognized and dealt with by developers. Essentially, to survive, survival horror has begun to combine its style with the gameplay of other genres, and mutate into a more face-paced, action-packed but still creepy genre. Some games still hold true to the â€˜Playstation era’ formula, like Fatal Frame 4 and Cursed Mountain, but for the most part, the genre has taking a noticeable turn toward a more Western style of play.