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Are Survival Horror Games Dead?

/ Oct 31st, 2016 No Comments

The survival horror subgenre is famous for challenging players to survive horrors both direct and psychological. Intelligence, not brawn, is practically an obligation to complete these often horrifying games.

Silent Hill, Resident Evil and Parasite Eve are just some of the many games that not only helped sculpt the mechanics of this unique subgenre, but were instrumental in helping it becoming a staple of horror-based gaming.

Today though, survival horror is in a decline. The best example of this downturn is found in Resident Evil 6. Released in October 2012, the game still draws the ire of fans. The prime reason: it technically isn’t a survival horror game, unlike previous Resident Evil titles. The game is instead designed to be what its developers called “dramatic horror.”

Why was this decision to radically divorce Resident Evil from survival horror? The answer: money.

Resident Evil 6

Resident Evil 6 was controversial for its abandonment of its survival-horror roots.

In a March 2012 interview with Gamasutra, Masachika Kawata, the game’s producer, said this decision was based on the success of action-oriented games like Call of Duty. Kawata declared that “the market is small” for slower-paced survival horror.

Based on the mixed reviews and massively polarizing effect the game had when released, the decision was a poor one. In response, developer Capcom has promise that its upcoming release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard will return to the franchise’s emphasis on survival over action.

The poor reception has led Resident Evil 6 to be one of the most cited examples used to proclaim in a Nietzsche-like manner that survival horror is dead. But that’s not really true.

In fact, survival horror seems to be thriving with indie developers. Creators in this community have even improved upon the classic formula. For example, developer Frictional Games innovated the concept of removing weapons altogether with its 2010 title Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Developers like this understand that survival cannot be divorced from horror. They are attached at the proverbial hip. This is due to survival horror being heavily rooted in the slow-paced, psychological horror first established in horror CI and even further back to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.

Alone in the Dark

The release of Alone in the Dark was instrumental in popularizing survival horror.

In these stories, characters are forced into the most horrific of situations against overwhelming odds. They are usually weak, extremely vulnerable and lack many resources to aid them.

Arguably, this works better in interactive format. You’re playing as those characters and you are put in the worst possible positions faced against all manner of horrible phenomenon. That is genuinely scary and even more so when you are demanding to compensate for your lack of brawn with cunning.

Yet, mainstream creators, rather than embracing such a terrific formula, are irrationally abandoning it. The result is the survival horror genre is struggling to survive in an industry that was invaluable in popularizing it.

However, a few games in the genre are still being created by mainstream game creators. The most noteworthy recent example is The Evil Within. Released in 2014, the game was designed by Shinji Mikami, one of the original creators of the Resident Evil franchise.

Mikami actually created the game in response to the lack of survival horror games in the mainstream.

“For me, personally, why I came back to survival horror is that survival horror as a genre is becoming all action now,” Mikami said in an interview with IGN. “There aren’t any real survival horror games in the world right now. That is the biggest motivation for me.”

The Evil Within ended up having it share of flaws, many of which are technical. However, its emphasis on survival horror mechanics was rewarded with far more positive reception than Resident Evil 6.

Survival horror ultimately isn’t dead, as such success proves. But it’s becoming very neglected by mainstream game creators. Their inability to completely accept survival horror has created a clear schism.

A glance at the independent gaming circuit reveals a large amount of survival horror games being released. There’s also upcoming titles such Outlast 2, Friday the 13th: The Game and We Happy Few to look forward to.

We Happy Few

We Happy Few is just one of the many upcoming games will keep survival horror alive.

But a glance at the mainstream industry shows there’s not much activity where survival horror is concerned. There is of course Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which will be released in January. Whether it will fully embrace survival horror remains to be seen.

If it does, that’s a big step forward for the mainstream industry to once again embrace a subgenre that’s both challenging and absolutely frightening.


Jonathan Anson

Jonathan Anson

Jonathan has been a lover of video games since his father brought home a Windows 95 computer. When he's not doing that he indulges in his other passion: writing. Jonathan holds an AA degree in Journalism from Saddleback College in Southern California.
Jonathan Anson
Jonathan Anson

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