Feature Friday: Can the survival horror genre be saved?

Spiraling down for quite sometime now into relative obscurity, can the once mighty survival horror genre live again?

It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago that games like Resident Evil were all the rage in the gaming world. The mix of styles that RE brought to the table was unique at the time and pretty darned different than anything else on consoles or the PC.

Some parts of Resident Evil 6 harkened back to the original games… most didn’t

A slow, plodding pace highlighted the game, which allowed players no fast escapes from the horrors that called the spooky Mansion, and greater Raccoon City area, home. Adding onto the fact that escaping the dead wasn’t all that easy, was the fact that ammo was hard to come by, as were those famous healing herbs, and the feeling of being alone and somewhat helpless was paramount. In short, it was a horror movie brought to life in the digital landscape.

Me-too’s were everywhere  as well. I pretty clearly remember buying plenty of games that I thought would have that same creepy feel as RE, only to find out that they were shadows of the B-Movie great. Heck, even RE publisher Capcom itself got into the mix with their Dino Crisis games, which I never really cared all that much for either.

For all the garbage that saw publication though, there were some absolute gems. Eternal Darkness set up a game that was not only scary, but infinitely interesting as you saw through the lens of time to different eras and different men and women, all plagued by the same force from beyond- and that insanity mechanic? Genius. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the GameCube was sort of lacking in the ‘mature’ game department, but that’s another story.

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Eternal Darkness might be one of the best horror titles of all time

Others like Silent Hill put a great new spin on the genre and shook things up with entirely new angles on horror, while still keeping the need to simply survive at the fore. And isn’t that what the best horror in any area of entertainment is all about; survival? I think so. Being faced with something that can’t be easily overcome and fighting, not to save the world, but just yourself (or your own sanity) can be extremely compelling and make for some incredible experiences that really can’t be matched in any other genre.

But, where has it gone since those first revelatory steps? Outside of some indie hits over the last few years, there’s really been very little in the way of survival horror that’s hit the mark from the bigger studios. As I mentioned in an article earlier this month, even Dead Space, a game that took a real stab at the genre, has gone pretty much all-action. And Resident Evil, the grandaddy of the whole thing, is a pale shadow of its former self. So, your DayLight’s and Outlast’s aside, where are all the big studio survival horror titles and what’s happening to the genre in terms of the bigger picture?

Although there are plenty of horror titles on the horizon (and most of them look preeeeeety good), there are relatively few survival-centric ones. The biggest that comes to mind are Alien: Isolation and The Evil Within from Shinji Mikami, who funnily enough is the creator of Resident Evil. Can the father of the genre remake what he created back in 1996?

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From the looks of it, he just might. The Evil Within looks to have most of what you’d expect from a survival horror game like horrific visuals, an underpowered main character, and not a whole lot of high-powered weaponry. One moment in particular too, that was seen in the trailer for the game, has to give fans more hope than anything else and that’s simply the scene where Detective Sebastian Castellanos is running for his life from an axe wielding… something.

If you haven’t seen it, he’s injured, defenseless, and generally not in great shape by anyone’s estimation at the time, and there’s a monstrous guy (?) chasing him. So what does he do? Does he bust out some slick martial arts moves? Does he use the environment to his benefit and beat him (it?) bloody with a board or fire-extinguisher or something? Nope. He runs. Like hell.

In just that one scene, there’s a lot of hope for how much ‘survival’ there’ll be in the survival horror game that is The Evil Within. Pull it off correctly and the genre may become a hot-button subject yet again. Actually, the game might already be making waves in the industry if the rumors about (here comes that name again) Resident Evil are anything to be believed.

Even the logo image creeps me out

Allegedly, Resident Evil 7 (or something like it) is set to be announced at E3 next month. And while that’s just a rumor at the moment, it’s also rumored that the game might take a more old school approach to survival horror than the very action-centric RE5 and 6. Although more action was only a small part of what was wrong with those games (6 more than 5), a return to form seems like it’s more than in the cards.

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Alien: Isolation is another prime example of a classic survival horror game. At least, I hope it is.We’ve been let down by Alien games before, but so far everything from Creative Assembly is looking like a boon to the genre with creepy locales and the constant threat of the xenomorph that’s chasing you. If they can oil off the tone correctly here, Isolation just might be the first really successful first-person survival horror title in history. And that’s no mean feat as a lot of first-person games have tried to scare (like Doom 3, which I did enjoy regardless) and fallen short.

So with some excellent prospects coming up and the hope eternal that Resident Evil gets back to form, is there hope that the survival horror genre (like horror games in general) will rise once again? I certainly hope so as it’s pretty easily the form of scary game that has the most potential to both tell a great story and spook the bejeezus out of gamers.

But what do you think dear readers? Do you think that this uptick in survival horror titles can bring back the scares? Or will this be just another momentary reminder of what was and just might never be again?

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