Where have all the survival horror games gone?

Is The Evil Within part of a dying (horribly) breed of games?

No, no, no. Better to have shit blowing up instead. Bangs = bucks. And do ‘the key demographics’ even want horror now? Or do they just want strategic dismemberment and intestines slithering around on the floor (in between explosions)? And Trophies for dismembering those limbs? Lots of God-damned-dismembering Trophies and explosions for everyone! YEAH! Simply--as budgets have gone up, the hair on the back of our neck has come down. Dead Space is a great example of a series that has gone from scares to 'splosions in just a few years. The series started well, with a tight psychological story and some great scare moments, but since then it has evolved into shooter (Dead Space 2) and a co-op shooter (Dead Space 3). We miss the bleak terror because that was the reason we bought Dead Space in the first place.

Ah, but wait. Not all games are AAA blockbusters. Maybe survival horror games are lurking in the shadows of independent PC games and iOS projects. Yup, we can see a few there for sure. Perhaps the best example of survival horror of recent years is Slender: The Eight Pages (2012) and its sequel Slender: The Arrival, a PC series based on a meme from the Something Awful forums. Created in Unity and released for free, the original recaptures the spirit of horror and hopelessness as players search for eight pages of a diary, in a dark forest, with only a torch for company. Despite of--and perhaps because of--a lack of budget, the game has become a cult horror success.

Since then we’ve also had Year Walk (2013) on iOS, which creates a fictional Swedish myth to take the horror beyond the screen and (almost) into the real world. It’s a brilliant evolution of the survival horror genre that simply couldn’t live on console or as a big-budget PC release. There are many more examples of great horror games that have found homes as smaller budget PC releases--Amnesia, Cryostasis, Lone Survivor--proving that the genre is far from dead (even if it isn’t as healthy as it once was).

So, where have all the horror games gone? Well, to an extent they’ve crept onto PC and mobile, away from the brash marketing man in the pin-stripe suit. Smaller budgets allow horror games to stray from ‘safe’ concepts, and really get into the spirit of those earlier games that were desperate to mess with our minds, not our trigger fingers. This often means they’re out of the lime-light, and herein lies the catch-22 of many survival horror games. Too much exposure leads to less creative risks and fewer shocks, which dilutes the terror. Perhaps that’s why, as far as AAA games go, Mikami is spot-on: there really aren’t any true survival horror games left. The size and scope of our industry has simply scared them all away. Or have they…?

With a new generation come fresh opportunities for recapturing genres that have fallen out of favour. Just look at the way mobile gaming has revitalised the 2D platformer through the likes of Rayman Origins, Mirror's Edge iOS and endless runners like Banana Kong. While the boost in pure power will enable developers to create increasingly twisted monsters and more detailed environments, we're more excited about how the wider technology can be used. Will PS4's Gaikai tech allow us to jump into the next Project Zero (or similar) to scare friends as a ghost? Will we get disturbing messages via a connected tablet or phone?

Fear is one of the strongest human emotions, and having that back in games can only benefit our engagement with them. Right now, developer focus is largely focused on winning and feelings of gratification through victory - the constant rewarding of the player with 'stuff'. What we miss from true survival horror games is having to struggle; having to keep our on-screen character alive; fearing for their safety and the horrors that might be lurking in the next room. Remember the fear of being constantly chased by Nemesis in Resident Evil 3? Or the helplessness of only being armed with a camera in Project Zero? We want that back, but in our mega-budget games - not just smaller PC releases or iOS titles.

Let’s hope that The Evil Within, which will straddle next and current gen consoles in 2014, makes us truly terrified of the unknown once again.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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