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The State of Survival Horror

Alex Calvin
The State of Survival Horror

It’s fair to say that survival horror had slipped out of the mainstream. The genre’s big series – Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Dead Space – have all opted for a more action-focused experience. 

Since Resident Evil 4, survival horror has swapped scares and a feeling of vulnerability for mobility and gunplay. 

“Resident Evil 4 is a fantastic game,” says Al Hope, creative director on the terrifying Alien: Isolation at Creative Assembly. “It’s also a game which evolved survival horror. It opened the genre to a wider mainstream audience with an emphasis on action and firepower. It inspired a new generation of games, including Dead Space or Gears of War.” 

Casey Lynch, co-founder and VP publishing of Midnight City – the firm Slender: The Arrival adds: “Audiences and developers alike have grown up since Silent Hill and Resident Evil defined survival horror. They are looking for new experiences some 20 years later. This is totally natural. 

“Since then, developers have sought to improve that and provide a game they hear fans asking for – something scary, something with scarce resources and underpowered characters facing supernatural and overpowered enemies, but also something that moves at a faster clip. There’s also a whole new generation of fans who never played the older games, and are more interested in playing games with horror elements like Gears of War.”

“Action games are simply a safe commercial bet.
Triple-A titles need huge budgets. Given all
that’s at stake, those games inherently become
limited in terms of how much risk they can assume.
Creating something that is guaranteed to be a
commercial hit is a necessity.”

Erin Reynolds, Nevermind


Many argue that survival horror never actually went away. Instead, it just changed and took on new elements. 

“I would disagree that survival horror has fallen out of the limelight. Instead I’d argue the genre is evolving,” says Lynch. “I see the rebirth of survival horror in this generation starting with Dead Rising, which took a totally long-view of the genre while leaning on many of the core mechanics. From there, it’s been Slender, Outlast, Amnesia and Daylight – some recent examples of very popular survival horror games.”

Hope adds: “There’s been a resurgence in survival horror-like experiences. They might not take the, ‘player walks around with a piece of wood with a nail in it’ approach but there have been some really compelling new survival horror style experiences available in recent years.”

But Erin Reynolds, creative director on forthcoming Kickstarter horror title Nevermind, says that this change is due to the move in who is playing games. 

“Much of it is due to a shift in the mainstream ‘gaming’ audience,” she says. “More people are playing games – different people and different games. ‘Gamer’ used to represent a more niche and more hardcore culture. It now represents a broad and diverse community.

“The survival horror games of the past seemed to align with the interests of the ‘old-school’ gamer community. As many of us know all too well, the survival horror games of the genre’s heyday are typically extremely difficult, highly punishing, and often take a long time to play through.”

Not only this, Reynolds feels that action games are just a safer bet for publishers. Developing games isn’t cheap, so it makes sense for companies to ensure releases make a great deal of money. 

“Action games are simply a safe commercial bet,” Reynolds says. “Triple-A titles need huge budgets. Given all that’s at stake, those games inherently become limited in terms of how much risk they can assume. Creating something that is guaranteed to be a commercial hit is a necessity.”

But even though the genre has moved to be more action-centric, survival horror titles have been right in front of us this entire time. Elements from the genre existed in the likes of Tomb Raider. And earlier this year, Al Hope even told MCV that Minecraft was the most successful survival horror title of the last generation. 

“Survival horror never really went away. Perhaps the genre just evolved,” Hope explains. “You can find some really amazing survival horror-like experiences in everything from Fallout and Skyrim to Amnesia, Minecraft and Limbo. Gone Home leaned into survival horror, too, but at the same time was forging its own path.“

Lynch adds: “There are plenty of games that feature horror elements effectively, and some even use them to trick the audience. Take Gone Home for instance, which looks like a haunted house game on the surface but it’s so much more.”

"Survival horror never really went away. Perhaps
the genre just evolved. You can find some really
amazing survival horror-like experiences in
everything from Fallout and Skyrim to Amnesia,
Minecraft and Limbo. Gone Home leaned into
survival horror, too, but at the same time was
forging its own path."

Al Hope, Creative Assembly


So survival horror changed and lingered in the indepedent scene. But now there’s a number of ‘pure’ triple-A horror titles on the way (see Horror on the Horizon). There’s genre veteran and Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within as well as Creative Assembly’s terrifying take on the Alien franchise, to name just two. 

Whether the genre left the mainstream or not, this year there has definitely been a resurgence. But why now? 

“It is the Alien game we’ve always wanted to play,” Hope explains. “As to why now? Coincidence? Or maybe we’re collectively responding to the world around us. We live in uncertain times and perhaps survival horror taps into our fears.“

Lynch concludes: “As I’ve been saying, it never went away, it simply changed. Games look different, feel different and play different. Many want to play a game based on running away more than they want to manage bullets, spray themselves with green herb sprays and save their games on typewriters.”

HORROR ON THE HORIZON

These are some of the biggest survival horror games coming to stores in the next few months:

 

The Last of Us Remastered
Released: August 1st
Format: PS4
Publisher: Sony
Developer: Naughty Dog
Last year’s classic is being remade for the PS4, prettier and surely scarier than ever before. 

 


The Evil Within
Released: October 24th
Formats: PS4, XO, PS3, 360, PC
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Industry veteran Shinji Mikami makes a bold return to survival horror with this surreal title. 

 


Alien Isolation
Released: October 7th
Formats: PS4, XO, PS3, 360, PC
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Creative Assembly
Creative Assembly is here to remind us of a time when xenomorphs were actually terrifying. 

 


Dead Island 2
Released: H1 2015
Formats: PS4, XO, PC
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Yager Development
Deep Silver’s action horror series is returning in the first half of next year. 

 


Dying Light
Released: February 2015
Formats: PS4, XO, PS3, 360, PC
Publisher: Warner Bros
Developer: Techland
Warner’s new IP mixes horror with parkour with enemies that become deadly at night. 

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Tags: video games , sector , survival horror

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