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Where have all the survival horror games gone?

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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29 comments

  • Technodude - May 25, 2013 1:39 a.m.

    Having read the first portion of the article I was wondering if the PC market had been completely forgotten. The horror genre is very much alive on PC - new games come out all the time. They may all have similar concepts, but nevertheless they're there. In fact the sequal to Amnesia: The Dark Descent is set for a Q2 release which should be very soon, and that is arguably the scariest game I've ever played. The problem, I believe, is that none of the games give you a sense of helplessness. Amnesia works well because the point is you CAN'T harm the monsters, so your only option is to leg it when one comes near, hide and pray to god they don't hear you (if anyone hasn't played it by the way I highly recommend it, well worth £7!). Dead Space worked in the beginning because it was a new concept and the story fitted the atmosphere, since Isaac had to use tools around him to navigate. Then it got worse from there because it wasn't believable. But whenever you weaponise anything it takes all that tension away, because you know you can survive. That's why these games lose character.
  • carlos-gallegos - May 7, 2013 8:55 p.m.

    then you guys should stop being so annoying about Nintendo and play ZOMBIE U! it is for far the best survival-horror game!
  • Elgyem - April 28, 2013 3:47 p.m.

    Call me strange, but I think Minecraft does the idea of survival-horror better than a lot of other recent games. Think about it, early on, you're constantly afraid that a skeleton or creeper can sneak up and destroy you. Not only that, but there is a certain kind of panic you get when lava starts to flow in and you drown in the stuff. The isolated atmosphere makes it all the more unnerving.
  • AtlanteanLancer - April 27, 2013 3:08 a.m.

    i think having a character that controls like a crappy tank is conducive to the survival-horror genre the modern games have refined controls to the point it's quite straightforward to deal with any threats, back in the PS1 era just turning around was a monumental effort while some horrific creature is chewing your leg of.
  • jackthemenace - April 27, 2013 2:31 a.m.

    I really enjoyed this and it made me realise how much I actually do enjoy the honestly terrified feeling I get playing Amnesia and Lone Survivor (not Slender, though. That was god awful). I'd definitely like to see the feeling recreated in a big budget release- not just blood and gore and dismemberment like Dead Space, but honest-to-goodness skin-crawling tension.
  • Churchy99 - April 27, 2013 12:01 a.m.

    I'm glad the writer of the article acknowledged the independent scene as far as horror goes. There have been several great titles in recent years which can truly scare or give you that uneasy feeling. Shinji Mikami's words feel a little short sighted to me. I would disagree that more exposure leads to less creative risks and fewer shocks. When Resident Evil 2 and 3 came out, they were very high profile games. They both outsold the original and went on to be among the best-selling PlayStation games of all time. But today, I would say that it's more down to the decision makers of larger publishers whose main concern is simple: money. Since gaming has become the money maker it has, a lot of larger companies are solely focused on that above all else. A lot of creativity and new ideas are often sacrificed so that games companies can pander to the audience and dish out the same thing again and again and again. This leads to focusing on very few demographics and simply packing in as much action as possible without thinking about why it's there. Of course you don't want to take risks on everything (and action is a fun genre in itself) but I feel the more creative edge has been lost in the last 5 years or so for the sake of profit, leaving no variety. They see horror as unprofitable and, ironically, are afraid of taking a risk on it.
  • yuukiterumi1 - April 26, 2013 6:38 p.m.

    I found silent hill downpour to be pretty creepy and scary at some points. Resident evil 2 and 3 need to be remade on to current and next gen consoles, but keeping the dark atmosphere and fixed camera angles and creepy hallways.
  • PatHan-bHai - April 26, 2013 3:37 p.m.

    Last game which scared me into running away??? Vampire : The Masquerade - Bloodlines GTA 3 Silent Hill and a few others
  • debiate5 - April 29, 2013 10:52 a.m.

    For me, it would be Dishonored and Far Cry 3.
  • winner2 - April 26, 2013 3:05 p.m.

    Horror games are the one genre I can't play, I could not do amnesia, and I refuse to play this game. I am eager for the youtube reactions compilations though
  • Ravenbom - April 26, 2013 1:09 p.m.

    Outlast looks to be another shit-your-pants game like Amnesia, which I refuse to play any time but in the dead of night, alone with no light on but my computer screen and because it scares the shit out of me (and because I have to go to bed and wake up really early now I still haven't finished it.
  • gilgamesh310 - April 26, 2013 11:52 a.m.

    Horror has gone the way of stealth. It's turned into action with the only pure games in each genre being indie games.
  • shawksta - April 26, 2013 10:50 a.m.

    Of course, its turned into "ZOMBIES LET'S SHOOT EM". We need the.genre back, maybe the evil within can fix it and give us real scares, maybe it won't, time will tell. Would be nice to have a sequel to Eternal Darkness
  • Swedish_Chef - April 26, 2013 10:14 a.m.

    If Capcom made a new RE game in the style of Revelations with Nemesis returning to hunt you I would personally fly to Japan and throw money at the CEO of Capcom Japan.
  • db1331 - April 26, 2013 12:14 p.m.

    "Unkillable" enemies like Nemesis and the thing from the first Dead Space game terrify the absolute shit out of me. It's like they activate some kind of primal fear in my brain. Any time I get to a point in a game where all you can do is run while an enemy follows you relentlessly it damn near gives me a heart attack. I can't play something like the One Tough Zombie mode in the GC REmake because I feel like I might die irl. The last games to actually scare me were the first Dead Space and Amnesia. I used to sit at my computer for 5 minutes trying to psych myself up to even turn it on and play DS. I still haven't even been able to make it to the first monster in Amnesia. I've started it 3 different times now, and every time I get back to where I left off and no longer know what's behind the next door, I say, "OK THIS IS A GOOD STOPPING POINT" and save and quit.
  • SDHoneymonster - April 27, 2013 2:40 p.m.

    That regenerator in Dead Space is a great example of what the writer is talking about, though. So terrifying in the first game, recycled for the second, then they just chucked more of them at you in DS3. Lost all its power and just became an annoyance.
  • Rhymenocerous - April 26, 2013 10:02 a.m.

    "Key Demographics"......... Kids. These days (for whatever reason/s) they're too impatient to appreciate the struggle of a true survival horror, or puzzle adventure, or turn-based strategy etc. Too used to the spectacle of tightly-scripted CoD explode-a-thins and multiplayer scream-fests to just sit down, keep the hell off twitter/facebook/youtube/online walkthroughs, and play a game that truly demands your complete attention. So yeah... F@**in spoilt kids control industry direction - or at least have a significant amount of clout as a mainstream audience knd of sense.
  • obviouslyadouche - April 26, 2013 10:11 a.m.

    This may have just been me, but despite the fact I hated horror movies, even as a Kid I loved scary games.
  • Rhymenocerous - April 27, 2013 10:17 a.m.

    Me too. The modern generation of kids though? Not so much... (I should also point out this is a generalisation, and I'm sure there are some smart kids out there who can appreciate great gameplay, and the sense of achievement a survival horror experience can bring)

Showing 1-20 of 29 comments

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