I read recently that Haruna Anno, a Japanese mega-star in retro gaming, was disappointed in Resident Evil 6. She thought the Resident Evil series overall had lost its way and its roots of survival-horror in between the 90’s and now. I – and if the number of negative reviews is any barometer, many others — am inclined to agree. The swing towards the action-packed, shoot ‘em-ups that rule the market seems to have all but buried the horror genre, a genre whose backbone was a jumping point for many of today’s major titles.
Now, I love a good action-adventure RPG, and I salute their evolution towards what we have today: cut-scenes with more than pretty faces, boss fights that add an extra layer of reaction. However, with Halloween around the corner, I have to ask—what happened to all the scary horror games? Alright sure, Dead Space is alive and kicking, but based on what I’ve seen of Dead Space 3, the series is on the last train to Shooterville. Limbo did an impressive job of adding dread and heartbreak, showing what an XBLA game can do, and maybe Heavy Rain could be included if someone was really reaching, but I struggled to think of a game released in the last five years that was just frightening.
5.) Clock Tower 3
I’m a hard person to freak out. My brain’s hardwired to stave off fear with some mutant, rational side that goes into overdrive when I panic… except the one time I played Clock Tower 3 and ran into a mass-murderer called the Corroder. In a cut-scene, he uses an acid bath to murder a family in one of the most brutal displays I’ve ever seen… before coming after you. While the game itself was flawed (you’re a young girl whose only defense against the criminally undead is to run and hide) it was the true-crime allusions and the cut-scenes’ overt cruelty and gore that made the element of running for your life from dead serial killers all the more intense. It gave new meaning to the term “survival.”
4.) Fatal Frame
Despite being lesser known and perhaps not as deep as some of its fear-inducing predecessors, the Fatal Frame series was a solid blend of creepy and creative, delivered with love from Tecmo in 2002. The first game, based on a true story, blended a hipster’s passion for amateur, instant photography with the guilty pleasure of ghosts, torture, and ancient curses. Toss in a vulnerable brother and sister—or later, attractive female twins—mix in mutilation and cheap frights in a Japanese mansion, and top with the “Gates of Hell” trope, and the Fatal Frame series takes a gold star for good, old-fashioned ghost tales. What other game has taking pictures of ghosts as the primary combat component? Exactly.
3.) Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
While not a commercial success, this Gamecube classic was championed as a truly terrifying endeavor, though not for obvious reasons. Eternal Darkness‘ gameplay featured a “sanity meter,” which was depleted when a character was spotted by an enemy. The lower the sanity meter dropped, the more the game would change. Indistinct whispers would trickle in and out, monsters would disappear, camera angles would skew violently, and when the meter was empty, various TV and Gamecube “errors” would register on-screen, going so far as to make players believe their game had shutdown. The assault on the player’s perception was original and eerie in ways modern games only struggle to achieve, and that’s before you add in the haunted mansion and keep-the-evil-gods-at-bay narrative.
2.) Silent Hill 2
Okay, I’m biased. This game is about as canon for me as the Bible, but truth be told, in 2001, when survival-horror games were being prodded with a stick, Team Konami took a bat and overhauled the genre. Touted as one of the best games of the decade for the 2000s, Silent Hill 2 blended a heart-wrenching story with a horrific setting unlike anything players had seen. A lonely husband answering the call of a long dead wife, a town and alternate reality akin to Hell, and monsters just sexual and human enough to unsettle stomachs… While other games in the series had their own accolades, SH2 was unique in its mature and haunting focus on shame and desire, sin and redemption, and the meaning of sacrifice. The icing on the cake? The induction of Pyramid Head and Maria’s infamous “Anyway” line.
1.) Resident Evil
Coming full circle… what can I say? The first Resident Evil game was… well, perfect. And let’s be honest, do you really want to argue? You can, sure, but consider how Resident Evil helped propel zombies and evil corporation conspiracy theory from Romero films and cheesy novellas to a mainstream staple. It showed exactly what video games could do with a little elbow grease and ingenuity, making horror a 90’s household name. Besides, when you break it down, Resident Evil all hinges on one tried-and-true, Jill Valentine-given fact: “There are only three S.T.A.R.S members left now. Captain Wesker, Barry, and myself. We don’t know where Chris is…”
In closing, I think we the people need these types of horror games, the ones that have you too paralyzed to pick up an in-game book or walk down an in-game alley without a loved one’s hand on your shoulder, telling you it’s not real. Horror titles remind us we’re not invincible, all the while making us brave enough to try. They have something other games don’t, a link to one of our most primal instincts: fight or flight. Survival. And when you stay and fight off the zombie horde, when you stay and somehow make it up three flights to the roof despite having no ammo, when you stay and pull off impossible odds while shrieking your head off… the feeling is pretty awesome, and who doesn’t need to feel that way every now and again? I say, bring back the scary games. Bring back the awesome.