22 year old video game blogger and college student. I could pretend that someone else wrote this section, so it'll be a spiffy 3rd person About page, but thatís weird. I currently write at RelyOnHorror.com where I am the Managing Editor. I host my own podcast there as well.
Studying for a Communication Arts degree and am set to graduate in December 2013.
So, like all the cool kids have done, I too have written my own GOTY list. There are five games listed in no particular order, and you may or may not agree with them. Check em out!
The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable†snuck up on me and impressed me more than I could have imagined. I had never heard of the original mod, nor the hype prior to the release of the standalone version, but once I saw how people reacted to this game, I had to try it. I launched the game, not knowing what to expect, because a lot reviewers avoided spoiling the magic (much to my appreciation), and I became transfixed and highly amused by what I was seeing and hearing. The only way a person can recommend this game without spoiling it is saying that, ďyou should just play it as soon as possibleĒ. So go do that, and also read my†Honorable Mention in Horror†article about†The Stanley Parable, on Rely On Horror.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Itís not often that I find myself so in love with a game that I replay it numerous times back-to-back. Before I did so with†MGR, I played through†DmC: Devil May Cry†about two to three times. Before that, I powered through several replays of†Silent Hill Downpour. Before thatÖI donít remember a time when I could muster up the drive to do so, outside of my childhood.
My first playthrough of†Metal Gear Rising†was a tad disappointing. It wasnít that I was hoping it would be more likeMGS†or even have some proper stealth elements, but I just didnít get into it. Perhaps, this was because of how I was playing the game Ė stepping right off of†DmC, I probably jumped into it seeking high number combos and flashy moves. I beat the game, loved the last fight (despite it being pretty difficult), and then replayed it. I then replayed it again. And Again. And again.
Once I understood the game wanted me to play with Zandatsu in mind Ė eliminating enemies through my cuts rather than my combos Ė I started to become deeply invested in the gameís combat system. I finished one difficulty and then moved on to the next. Out of all of my friends, I am the only that can say that I completed the game on Revengeance difficulty. Iím not an expert player at anything, but I think I got damn close with†MGR!
As of writing this, I am pumped to replay†Metal Gear Rising†on PC. I donít know how many more playthroughs Iíve got in me, or if Iíve lost my ripper skills, but Iím †excited to hear more goofy dialogue feel the satisfaction of turning cyborgs into sashimi.
Outlast†wonít win any awards for originality within the horror genre. It takes place in an asylum, and itís got an evil corporation in it; andÖthe enemies are crazy deformed people that want to hurt you. The game also has got its fair share of gore as well, and thereís a heavy usage of familiar gameplay mechanics. But despite all of this, itís a hell of a good game. I reviewed†Outlast†and gave it my very first†10/10†on Rely On Horror.
Outlast†takes a bucket full of horror cliches and tropes, freshens them up, throws an extremely polished coat of paint on them, and them confidently thrusts players into its wonderfully realized world of horror. The gameplay is simple but tense. The imagery is not original, but it is expertly designed to produce a foreboding and ominous asylum that is both impressive to look at and terrifying to be in.
DmC: Devil May Cry
Iíll start by getting this out of the way: Iím not a diehard fan of the†Devil May Cry†series. Iíve purchased and completed each game in the series as they were released since the very first, but Iíve never been extremely invested in the characters or world. I enjoyed the first†Devil May Cry†as a child Ė it was somewhat creepy but also very exciting to play. Plus, at the time, a game about shooting and fighting demons was on the top of my ďthatís cool!Ē list.
As Iím sure many others will say, I didnít like†Devil May Cry 2†very much at all. As for†DMC3, I loved that game when it released (so much so that I completed in a handful of days), but ended up selling it rather quickly. When†DMC4†was announced for the Xbox 360 (the only console I had at the time), I celebrated like many others. But when†DMC4†released, I was left disappointed by what I got; I didnít like Nero, and I didnít enjoy yet another game in which Dante acted like a reserved cool guy that felt†too cool†to tell anyone what he was planning (DMC2), and I most certainly did not like the gameís plot.
While the internet went ablaze when the line ďMy name is DanteĒ was spoken in the first teaser trailer for Ninja Theoryís reboot, I recall enjoying the trailerís song and making a comment about how New-Dante looked a bit too much like Hilary Swank. Once I got my hands on the game for review, I fell in love. Ninja Theoryís†Enslaved†was quite the beautiful and charming game. My only issues with it was that the combat system was a bit simple and unsatisfying. With†DmC, they crafted something much, much better. Like†Enslaved†before it,†DmC†featured a rich and colorful world and striking level design. The style of the game, heavily influenced by anarchist and rebellious behavior, along with its soundtrack by Combichrist and Noisia, won me over. In fact, I used to play a custom Combichrist playlist while playing†DMC4,†because the in-game combat track got of my nerves fairly quickly.
DmCĎs combat was deeply enjoyable, and new Dante has pinchable cheeks. Both of these features are among the top reasons why the game was one of my favorites this year. If†DmC2†is ever sanctioned by Capcom, no matter how unlikely that scenario seems, I hope for a better story and deeper, more complex characters along with †a slew combat improvements.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us†is a fine game to play and witness. With combat thatís as grim as its narrative, it explores mankindís penchant for violence. It may be yet another ďzombieĒ title about humans being the true monsters, but it handles this theme masterfully.
Naughty Dog has given us a story thatís filled with hope and despair. Hope for a world to return to what it once was: a mask of order and civility that hides what humans are truly capable of when all structure is lost. Hope for a father figure to save the world (or maybe just his).
The Last of Us†is a culmination of a quantity of powerful, brilliant, and engaging elements that come together to forma †fantastic piece of interactive storytelling.†
Breaking someoneís skull with a brick is pretty fun, too.
It has been a month since Grand Theft Auto V released on consoles. Millions of copies were sold in a matter of days, making this game the biggest entertainment property to date. As I watch friends and internet communities rant and rave about all of the things Los Santos has to offer, my desire to play the game ever increases. I havenít purchased GTAV. I havenít played it at all, actually. Criminal? Surprising? If you spoke to some people theyíd say either-or, or both of those things.
Iím just sitting here waiting for the headline ďRockstar Announces GTAV PCÖĒ. Iíve previously written why Iíve opted to favor PC gaming over consoles this gen, so this post wonít focus on why Iím waiting for the PC version of GTAV (those reasons are fairly obvious anyway). Instead, I just wanted to remember and reflect on my experience with the series.
My first Grand Theft Auto game was GTA3. I remember hearing great things about it from friends. I was in elementary school at the time it released (letís avoid the children playing M rated games debate for now). I donít recall much about convincing my mom to get this game for me despite news reports at the time Ė after all, she bought me BloodRayne despite the boxart being so†suggestive. What I do recall is picking it up a few months after release from a game store in Harlem called GamePlaza. Gameplaza would shut down and reopen a lot due to what I assumed at the time was breaking so many streedates. Maybe they were just poorly managed. Who knows? Anyway, I went to this store a lot over the years to buy and inquire about new games. My mother and I were both known by the clerk that worked there throughout the week. He had no issue with selling me mature games after a while. What did he care? A kid got to shoot and run over people in a video game. Why deny a child happiness, right?
GTA3 was a delight to my wee-little senses. I never actually beat it due to an extremely difficult mission near the end, but I did play it numerous times and spend countless hours free roaming. There was nothing about Liberty City that looked like New York, but that age I pretended I saw familiar locations anyway. At that time GTA3 was so impressive that it was hard for anyone not to look at it in awe.
Fast forward to October 27, 2002: the day of Grand Theft Auto: Vice Cityís release. By then I had become much better informed on things happening in the game industry. I anticipated that day feverishly. I remember being antsy in class, itching to leave school and run to the store with my mom. If I recall correctly, a friend of mine got his copy when his mom picked him up from school with the game already in her possession. When I got to the store the familiar clerk had my copy prepped, bagged and waiting to be traded for a cool $49.99 plus tax. He was a nice guy from what I remember. Although, I think it was just because he had the hots for my mom.
Fast forward again to the release of San Andreas and the cycle restarted. I got the game on release and played it to my heartís content. I remember my friend Jeremy not being allowed to because his mom disapproved of its mature content Ė Iím sure the Hot Coffee debacle didnít do the situation any favors, either. We used to play the game when he would come over to my dadís place or when I was at hisí and his mom wasnít. My dad didnít care one bit. Hell, he probably encouraged it; some ďboys will be boysĒ reaction to the mediaís ďprotect the†prostitutes†and childrenĒ shtick.
I really enjoyed San Andreas. From the main character sharing my name (so that I could get the full effect from my success or failings at missions) to the feature rich gameplay and large world, I had an all around good time. My fondest memories from that game have to be the randomized pedestrian aircrafts falling from the skies and landing in the streets. Those were always a fun surprise that gave my imagination a little kick, making me wonder what fictional turn of events led to that NPC crashing his or her plane. Depression? Engine failure? An accident? Itís better not to think of it as an AI shortcoming.
GTA4 released when I was in high school Ė not exactly at a point worth reminiscing. I wasnít too impressed by GTA4′s campaign, but its online free mode gave me many hours of fun with friends. While I was a bit homesick and dorming for my first year at college, running around a fictional New York City made me feel a lot better. Playing GTA4 for hours on end and munching on ďfreeĒ (with tuition) cookies and brownies were definitely the building blocks behind my freshman fifteen (more like thirty).
And this brings us to GTAV. As much as Iím aching to play it, Iíve gotten much better at resisting video game spending. Well, I wouldnít count those Steam sales because they save me so much money (I think)! Itís so weird seeing all of these people enjoying this massive game and I havenít even touched it yet. I think Iíve changed as a consumer, as a gamer, and as a person. I used to feel compelled to get games at launch. Now I hardly do it. The last two times were Kingdom Hearts HD (still not finished) and BioShock Infinite (which I regret). Now I just sit back and play a bunch of games that Iíve accumulated on Steam. Finishing them one by one and procrastinating on completing my more†colorful games. But you can rest assured that once GTAV hits PC, †I will be picking that up on day-one at retail so I can rub my face on the cover and say ďitís been a whileĒ. Maybe the wait will be worth it? I hear GTA Online, a mode I may end up playing more than the campaign, still needs some work Ė from the server issues, lost characters, and angry players. I donít mind hopping in once thatís all been settled.
I remember a time when I could become fixated on a video game for weeks, months even. Hour upon the hour counting down as my childhood imagination became satisfied by what I saw on the screen and accomplished with a controller. I may only be twenty two years old, but I miss that feeling of wonder fondly. What happened to it?
As if Iím already suffering from some sort of midlife crisis (more like quarter-life), I long to become captivated with games like I used to be. Most recently Iíve been hoping to rekindle that feeling of glee by playing titles like Ni No Kuni and Kingdom Hearts HD. And itís working alright. I have lots of fun, I smile, I laugh at the cute stuff, but every now and then when in combat I call the cute, little monster that Iím fighting a ďfucking assholeĒ or a prickĒ. As if I was hoping to end their lives, not incapacitate them. Iím a terrible person, I think!
Now, Iím not resistant to charming games or happinessĖif I was Iíd probably not be blogging about this but seeing a professional. What I merely mean is that itís hard for me to become enchanted and transfixed into these games like I had been when I was younger.
A lot of the times I need to be in the right mindset to play these type of games. If Iím not, Iíve noticed that I begin to gravitate toward games that my twenty two year old self is more familiar with. Games with shooting, violence of some sort, or angry things. Thatís pretty depressing if you ask me. When I was younger, I got lost in Double Fineís Psychonauts (at one point I even wanted to be called Raz). Iíd spend hours in the original Kingdom Hearts killing Heartless. Iíd replay Bob Omb Summit in Mario 64 with the flying hat and show the secret teleporting flower patches to friends. I didnít need to return gunfire in a game about angry people with angry problems and their angry tools of peace. Iíd just hop around for awhile, revisiting levels that I had already completed just because. Is it overexposure to similar-minded type of games and not enough ďhappyĒ stuff?
Itís really a shame that Iím not a Nintendo fan. They produce some of the finest games in the happy and charming ďgenreĒ. Maybe I just need to put aside the shooters, the horror games, the hyper-violent titles that I play on a regular basis and create self-restrictions on what games I should occupy myself with. Maybe just for a week or two. Itís not like Iím playing GTAV right now, anyway. A big problem behind this though, is my willingness to drop money on games that Iím not sure Iíll love. I want to love games like this, but the financial risk is a bit too high for me to take the plunge. Itís a cycle of evil! This goes with Nintendo as well. Iíve played Mario Galaxy, Zelda, Pikmin, Animal Crossing, but Iíve not been compelled to add them to my list of games that I must play.
In the future, occupying myself with all these sort of games will reset the balance (I hope). It must mean something that despite being more comfortable and interested in a lot of these grittier games that I still wish I was as a fan of feelgood happy stuff. Persona does a good job of making me go ďyay, friends and happiness!Ē but that probably doesnít count because itís supplemented with tragedy and deathĖthe sustenance that fuels my current gaming interests †(to my own chagrin it seems).
Anyway, now is the time that I ask you, my infinitely deep pool of people that are interested in what I have to say, what do you think? Have any of your felt similar? Can I learn to love again? Someone help me get my groove back.
Venom has to be one of the most interesting Marvel characters ever created. Since I was a kid, heís been my favorite. Eddie Brock and the black alien symbiote used to give me child hood envy and I wished I could have a cool alien costume just like him. Being a huge Spider-Man fan, I found Venom to be my favorite character in the series. Since Venom branched off from Spider-Man and has had several independent series, I think the guy deserves some much needed attention.
After finishing the first comic in the new Venom series this week, a sudden re-interest in the character hit me. Venom needs his own game. Not just another comic game adaptation. Venom is a creature that inspires fear. His image and abilities have the potential (and have) to scare the crap out of people. Originally just a buff guy in a blue-black costume, over time, Venomís appearance changed into something monstrous. Razor teeth, claws and brute feral strength have become a part of the character over the years. Venomís character and history has the potential to be one brutal M-rated action horror title.
Eddie Brock and his alien pal have had harsh, scary moments together. Venom, once an evil creature became a lethal protector over time. His nobility may have involved eating some brains and slaughtering criminals, but his heart was in the right place. It would be unfair of me to not mention Mac Gargon, or any other of the Venom hosts. While they all had their own unique experiences as Venom, Eddie Brock holds the most potential for a riveting tale. The time between Lethal Protector and Eddieís rebirth as Anti-Venom holds a great opportunity for a dark tale to be told. Whether new, or based on one of the other mini-series.
Perhaps even a game as Eddie Brock and his newly formed Anti-Venom symbiote against an evil threat would be amazing. Spider-Man: Web of Shadow had a good story to give, but itís presentation was lacking. Nor was it a horror game. The time after Venom created a truce with Spider-Man holds the best opportunity for riveting tale. Eddie Brock is a disturbed individual and his weak mental state combined with the alien symbiote host gave way for a good dramatic tale over the years. Brockís sanity was in question during his independent series. His time gone may not have been fully covered. Here lies a empty spot for a game to take place. Perhaps even the mini series called The Hunger can be used.
Making Venom a deep dramatic horror tale would require the game to be severely brutal. Iím not talking of any game rated below a M for Mature. Venom, as a character, is a monster. There is no need to sugar coat his horrifying appearance. But what kind of game would benefit him? What comes to mind is a mixture of The Darkness -in terms of brutal comic style- and Prototype -brutal as well, but similar in combat style-. The Darkness is a game about a character enduring a bonding with a demonic being. Eddie Brock co-exists with the alien symbiote. Here lies potential to create a narrative driven story with a battle for control, sanity and free will. Prototype has Alex Mercer as a guy infected with a virus that allows him to transform and use his tentacle appendages to kill foes in brutal ways. I am hesitant to think of an open-world Venom game, but perhaps it could work. Getting the lack-luster Spider-Man games from Activision out of my mind will require some time.
Venom to me is a Marvel character that is worth exploring in a videogame. His dark past, and weak sanity has driven him to do horrible things. He is literally the victim and the perpetrator in one. A dark story that delves into his and Eddieís mind accompanied with brutal gameplay could create a great psychological action horror title. Just please, donít bring back Topher Grace.
Have an ideas for a Venom game? Let me know in the comments.
What defines a horror game as survival horror? What aspects differentiate the genres? I wanted to take a look at how people view the survival horror genre in whole. I‚Äôve sent out a request to several people behind horror games to find a common ground. I wanted to see the differences and similarities in their definitions, and perhaps figure out what the genre means to them. This is all in hopes to analyze the aspects of what makes a survival horror game.
This article will be somewhat ‚Äúepisodic‚ÄĚ. Overtime I will post another response from a different developer on what they think about the genre. Hit the jump for the full article.
Vice President of Tripwire Interactive.
Known for: Killing Floor
Being pedantic, just divide it up into the constituent parts ‚Äď ‚ÄúSurvival‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúHorror‚ÄĚ. For the horror part to work, you need a good combination of setting, monsters, shock, surprise and some suspense. Doesn‚Äôt really matter what the monsters are ‚Äď zombies, vampires, the large hairy tentacle thing from Call of Cthulu. And the setting doesn‚Äôt matter that much either. It is how you use the setting. To get a good ‚Äúhorror‚ÄĚ feel, it needs those peaceful moments, combined with the suspense ‚Äď you just know something is going to happen and, when it does, it should be a shock. Rather than ‚Äúslower‚ÄĚ paced, I reckon it is more about varying the pace. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, for example, does it by keeping the base feeling slow and unhurried. But dark corners, noises off, spooky hints all go to build the suspense. You just know stuff is going to happen, but you can‚Äôt tell when and how. And when it does, it is often sudden ‚Äď so it is shocking. Just hiding in a corner gets scary. Combination of sound, helplessness, dark corners ‚Äď it gets scary. It is horror. There are times when you feel perfectly safe ‚Äď but that is just the start point.
Then, ‚ÄúSurvival‚ÄĚ. You have to veer between feeling safe and feeling like you are genuinely threatened. If there isn‚Äôt any credible threat, how can there be any big buzz in ‚Äúsurviving‚ÄĚ? The horror elements certainly should amplify that feeling. When I‚Äôm under pressure from a bunch of monsters in Killing Floor, a crawler popping out of a ventilator or somewhere, or a stalker uncloaking behind me, can still make me jump. The surprise/shock immediately amplifies the ‚Äúsurvival‚ÄĚ part, with a lot of ‚Äúcrapohcrapohcrap‚ÄĚ suddenly in my skull. The tricky balance is to induce moments of pure panic ‚Äď but they have to be survivable, or they are just ‚Äúgive up and walk away‚ÄĚ moments, when they should really lead to ‚ÄúWoahhhh ‚Äď how DID I get out of that?‚ÄĚ.
Alan brings up several points at keeping a horror game in a survival zone. The threat of death must be apparent when enemies arise. He also says the threat must be accompanied by peace. The player must feel isolated and alone for the incoming threat to be scary. Whatever threat it may be, it must be substantial and strong enough as to get the drop on the player. He also mentions that a pure feeling of accomplishment must arise when the threat has been dealt with.
This is starting to sound right. Classic survival horror games were plentiful in this respect. Resident Evil pits you against sudden powerful zombies after numerous quite areas. Silent Hill did the same, but in a supernatural aspect. The feeling of isolation being suddenly ended by an encounter with a beast much stronger than your protagonist is what many attribute to survival horror. Killing Floor contains many of these aspects, but I‚Äôm sure many will be quick to call it an action horror game due to it‚Äôs large arsenal of weapons and multiplayer.
Producer at Konami
Known for: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Silent Hill: Downpour
Survival Horror is a specific type of horror where the player character is underpowered and vulnerable. The player should feel like their death is a very possible risk. To accomplish this, enemies need to be threatening in a real way‚ÄĒnot just scary looking or deformed, but actually able to kill the player. In most action games you are only ‚Äúafraid‚ÄĚ of the enemies if your life is low. In a Survival Horror title, you should be afraid as soon as you spot the enemy. (It‚Äôs not Survival Horror per se, but Left 4 Dead‚Äôs special infected do this really really well. As soon as you hear a Witch or Tank, your flight response kicks in and you are scared.) But it goes deeper than just the actual, concrete threats‚ÄĒin a Survival Horror game players need to feel like the world itself is against them. This means heavy, suffocating atmosphere. No mushrooms in question blocks here‚ÄĒif you find a weapon or health pack it‚Äôs because you lucked out, and you‚Äôd better hold onto it because you‚Äôre going to desperately need it.
Tomm stresses preservation just like Alan did. The need to survive is what makes a survival horror game; not complicated since survival is part of the title right?
The two both bring to light that survival horror enemies must be stronger than the protagonist. Their presence must bring terror due to their strength. Both Alan and Tomm mention that the appearance of the enemy does not have to be disturbing or monstrous to be terrifying if these survival horror elements are apparent.
Think about this for a second; what games have you played where the enemies were incredibly strong and your only way of advancement was to be sneaky and by conserving your available resources. Personally, Minecraft comes to mind. This cutesy building block game was not meant to be a horror title, but when the nighttime creatures appear, and you‚Äôre resources are extremely low, there is a strong sense of fear and anxiety. Now take this simple mechanic of vulnerability, and add some intense ambiance, disturbing visuals, a great story, and voila, you have something resembling a survival horror game. But is it really that simple?
Director at Access Games
Know for: Deadly Premonition
Survival horror is an exercise in escapism, but the player must furthermore escape from the world he has escaped to.
It‚Äôs sort of a self-contradiction. I think this is the fascinating thing that really appeals to its audience.
Here we can see SWERY‚Äôs definition of the genre, while shorter than the others, he touches on the symbolic aspects. We have discussed the gameplay with Alan and Tomm and their ideas met in most areas. But here we have SWERY, the man behind one of the strangest games this generation. His views accentuate the the meaning behind a survival horror game and the core emotional aspect which is created to disorient the player.
This quote brings to mind Silent Hill; the players leave their world behind and in turn must escape this new place which they have wound up in; perhaps this is what SWERY means. In Deadly Premonition York enters this strange ‚Äúotherworld‚ÄĚ which he seems to never disclose to anyone else. He enters this place and must proceed to escape. Not to mention Greenvale; York arrives at this small town in hopes to find a killer and in turn must solve the mystery that somehow relates to his own past. Only then can he leave this new place. York‚Äôs previous cases were in cities, and he expected this small town mystery to be relaxing, but the story was much deeper than anticipated. Here we can see in some way what SWERY meant. Escape the old, arrive at new, escape the new.
I also asked some fans of survival horror what they thought the genre meant. Nearly everyone mentions weak weapons to non at all.
‚ÄúA nice mixture of disturbing scares and jump out scares (we know we love the latter). Also greater focus on weak weapons, scarce ammo and when the enemies should be frightening as one enemy just as much as large groups.‚ÄĚ says Manuel. He later calls Amnesia a ‚Äúnear perfect‚ÄĚ horror game due to absolutely no weapons and being completely powerless even when hiding. Manuel pushes for powerlessness just as Tomm and Alan stated.
Ryan and Cody both state that sound is key to a survival horror game. That the atmosphere must produce an orchestra of sounds to envelop you -the player- into the world of the game. Erasing all ties to the real world and genre awareness, just the pure sense of anxiety and fear is what a horror game should be.
Sound design and visuals are becoming part of the definition. Along with SWERY‚Äôs symbolic interpretation of the genre, I am starting to see more and more sides of this aging genre. In the next part of Defining Survival Horror, I talk to Devin Shatsky, the producer behind Silent Hill: Downpour.
Producer at Konami
Known for: Silent Hill: Downpour
Sur-viv-al ‚Äďnoun: the act of surviving, especially under adverse or unusual circumstances.
Hor-ror ‚Äď noun: an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting.
The label Survival Horror specifically refers to the emotions that a game is intending to arouse inside the player. I think it‚Äôs one of those things that‚Äôs fairly easy to define, or quantify. Yet extremely difficult to actually execute on or qualify. I believe the main reason for this is because fear is completely subjective. The kinds of things that scare me may not scare you, and vice versa. So the results of the experience completely differ from each perspective. I‚Äôve talked about this in past interviews, and I want to reiterate it here, that reality is a necessary component of horror for me. Things need to fall somewhere into the realm of believability for it to really have an effect (on me). I like to be able to immerse myself completely in a horror game or movie, and really try to identify with the main character(s). I want to be able to feel that ‚Äúwhat would I do?‚ÄĚ feeling during the experience.
Surviving, is the key word to define a proper Survival Horror experience. It‚Äôs not the environment, its not the setting, it‚Äôs not the atmosphere that‚Äôs most important. It‚Äôs that overwhelming anxiety that one can only experience when they are inches away from a horrific moment. So, the crux of the equation is ‚Äėempowerment‚Äô. How powerful does the player feel at the moment of truth. If the degree of empowerment is little to none, I believe THAT is when Survival Horror is truly experienced. This can be experienced in a sandbox at a childrens park, or it can be experienced in a dark alley. All it takes is the proper equation. Dangerous Antagonist + Powerless Protagonist = Survival Horror. Of course adding a foggy, quiet town into the equation never hurts.
Thanks for asking!
A great definition by Devin Shatsky. He immediately jumps into the core component of Survival Horror, and that is surviving. Alan, Tomm and Devin all agree that empowerment is key to extracting horror from a survival situation. An immediate sense of incoming deadly situations are what unnerves the player and reminds them that their protagonist is just as frail as any other human being. If one of us were to be attacked by some shrieking beast, would we really have the ability to stomp its legs off without breaking a sweat? Perhaps not. Instead most of us would be ripped apart in seconds, unless we ran. The same should apply for a Survival Game.
The protagonist of a game within the Survival Horror genre should be an everyman (or woman). I don‚Äôt mean this in the sense of occupation, or social status, but by actual physical limitations. Classic Survival Horror games were downright hard. This was due to your character being highly susceptible to damage. Before Chris Redfield was punching boulders, he was as weak as any other human. Several zombie attacks and he would be down for the count. Same with Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 5; before she was a ninja with a breast machine, she was a normal person will very little physical defense. The same can be said for the Silent Hill protagonists. Harry, Heather, James, Henry, and Travis were very easily killed. Alex was a little more defensive due to his ‚Äúsoldier‚ÄĚ past, but not many hits were needed to take him out either.
So what about a protagonist that has a little more luck on his side? Perhaps a nice armor suit and a wide variety of weapons? Does his adventure qualify as survival horror? Stay tuned for our next part of Defining Survival Horror with John Calhoun, Producer on Dead Space 2.
Producer at EA
Known for: Dead Space 2
Making good survival horror games is like making a good cocktail: you only need a few ingredients, but they have to be perfectly balanced to hit that sweet spot of ‚ÄúI can‚Äôt go on‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúGive me another!‚ÄĚ The main ingredient is a protagonist who is less powerful than the threat he faces. In Dead Space, the hero is Isaac Clarke, an engineer by trade who‚Äôd be more comfortable fixing a shockpoint drive than dismembering a Necromorph. He‚Äôs not a soldier, not a hit man, and definitely not someone who‚Äôs trained to confront an undead scourge. When the character you‚Äôre controlling has a legitimate reason to doubt his chances of survival, then players are likely to experience similar pangs of fear and dread.
Another key ingredient to survival horror games is a relatable setting. People are very attuned to their surroundings, and can sense when something is wrong or off in a familiar space. The best survival horror games play off this phenomenon. Games like Dead Space 2 feature environments that we can relate to ‚Äď apartments, schools, churches, hospitals ‚Äď and effectively toy with players‚Äô expectations. It could be something as simple as having a hallway be eerily quiet, or having a door locked and shuttered for no apparent reason. Players pick up on these small details because they‚Äôre both familiar and ‚Äúnot quite right,‚ÄĚ and that enhances the horror experience dramatically.
The final ingredients are measured in dashes. You need a couple Boo Moments to keep your heart racing now and then. You need to keep the ammo count down just a bit, so you always have the fear of running out of bullets right when your back‚Äôs against the wall. And finally, like a good cocktail, you need to appreciate the experience slowly. Pacing is key to the survival horror genre, and the game should be designed so that players want to creep through it carefully. This lets them appreciate the atmosphere, and soak in the little details that help craft the horror experience. Serve it all up in an attractive package, and you‚Äôve got yourself one hell of a scary game!
John hits the nail on the head. We previously discussed the vulnerable protagonist with Alan, Tomm, and Devin, but John brings us back the realm of what SWERY was talking about. John discusses the other ‚Äúingredients‚ÄĚ to a survival horror title, which is about the atmosphere: the location of a survival horror game doesn‚Äôt take place in an area that is completely foreign to us, instead it‚Äôs something we are familiar with. A small resort town, or home, or the city is something we are all familiar with. But when these locations become perverted by monstrosities of either human or supernatural origin then fear become apparent.
Pacing is also a key component to a survival horror game. Running around jumping past enemies is not scary. In my first playthrough of Dead Space 2, it took me around 11 hours to complete the game. After I learned of all the scares and became a powerhouse due to NewGame+ it took me around 5 hours. This is not a bad thing at all. This shows the the game forces players into fulfilling an expected pace. The ambiance and scares considerably slow down players and forces them soak in their environments. An environment must be filled with details that slow the player down because they find something wrong with it; John states this in his definition. The world must seem familiar, yet disturb the player for multiple reasons.
The Dead Space series has gotten some flak for it‚Äôs label of survival horror. The sequel, while agreeably great, has been called an action horror title. The accessibility of Dead Space 2 has made many horror purists claim that there was no sense of survival. Isaac Clarke may have a large arsenal of weapons to choose from, but does that make the game any less survival horror? In my own playthrough, I stated that the sense of survival was strong. It has a slightly different air to it than say Silent Hill or Resident Evil, but it contains many of these aspects which we have discussed. Isaac may wear a suit which assists his combat, he may have a wide variety of weapons, and the game may have many action scenes, but does break down the core survival horror aspects?
In the next part of Defining Survival Horror, we talk to Thomas Grip of Frictional Games. He lends us his ideas on why Dead Space 2 is not considered true survival horror to some fans.
Co-Founder of Frictional Games
Known for: Penumbra and Amnesia: The Dark Descent
First of all, I am not that fond of simply discussing if something falls into a certain category or not. This because these kind of categories rarely are very clear (see ‚Äúno true Scotsman fallacy‚ÄĚ) and that it is even very interesting to debate it. Instead what I do find very interesting to discuss, is what kind of feeling a game strives to evoke, and how successful it is at doing this.
Taking Dead Space 2 as an example, I think the first question would be: what are the designers intent with this game? This is of course hard to know, but as long as we focus on something that is a somewhat related to the game, discussions can be very fruitful. For example, say the intent was to make the as scary as possible; does the game live up to this? One can then discuss if the game should really have things like the stores and upgrade benches, and how these affect the end experience.
Now, from what I can tell, being as scary as possible was not the top priority for Dead Space 2, but simply framing the question that way can give rise to a deep and interesting discussion. This regardless of the correctness of our initial assumption.
With the above in mind: Why do people not call Dead Space 2 a survival horror? The answer is then that one need to look deeper then simply answering the straightforward question. It must first be established what players perceive as the intent of the game; did players expect a scary game and so on? The next step is then to find out what it is that make the game fail at living up to these expectations. One can then also wonder if going in with different expectations would make the player enjoy the game more and so on. I find that all sort of interesting things can spring from these kinds of discussions.
Here I had asked Thomas about some people‚Äôs issue with calling Dead Space 2 true survival horror. Because of Isaac‚Äôs access to many weapons, and his more combative approach to situations, many are left with a feeling that Dead Space 2 resides on the action side of horror. In my personal playthrough of Dead Space 2, I started on the survivalist difficulty. As the name suggests, I did a lot of struggling with surviving. I frequently ran out of ammo, I was killed multiple times a level, and I would run from many encounters to prevent a loss of supplies. Aren‚Äôt these the same qualities that we have established as a survival horror game?
Of course not everyone may have jumped into Dead Space 2 on a harder difficulty, but is it fair to call Dead Space 2 action horror with no survival whatsoever? I think the issue is that many believe that because Dead Space arms you appropriately and contains intense scenes of action you are given the upper hand on situations; frequently throughout the game, you are empowered. Empowerment seems to be a violation of the survival horror formula. We‚Äôve discussed weakness with Alan, Tomm, Devin, and John, and for Isaac to even be momentarily empowered, fans become influenced into seeing the game as action oriented. Defining Dead Space 2‚Äės genre is up to the players it seems. Personally, I considered it a survival horror game in my first playthrough. But Newgame+ gave me a much bigger advantage. What about Hard Core mode? Do I look like a masochist to you?
We‚Äôve received definitions from leading people in the horror gaming world. From Silent Hill to Amnesia, the survival horror genre contains many core qualities, but how it‚Äôs executed seems a bit subjective. What we do know now is that the feeling of a survival horror game should bring not just fear, but displacement. The protagonist must also be vulnerable to the world and enemies. Everything that seems familiar to us must be flipped upside down, figuratively (and physically). Survival horror is a dieing breed, but with upcoming games like Silent Hill: Downpour, Dead Island, Resident Evil: Revelation, Amy, etc. We have faith in seeing the genre flourish once more. I hope you enjoyed this long article, and please leave some feedback in the comments!
In this installment of Suitable Mention in Horror Iíve decided to go back a few years and talk about one of my favorite games of all time. The game is Breakdown. Iíve always stated that this game deserves a sequel, and discussing the horror elements within the title will hopefully let me vent my frustration in never seeing one.
Breakdown is a psychological thriller JFPS with a lot of unique elements unseen in other FPS titles. This game was deep, mysterious, emotional, and fun as all hell. Director Masataka Shimono made a unique title that will sadly never get the sequel that it deserves. Breakdown released in 2004 for the Xbox and was published by Namco. While it did not get all positive reviews, I loved its mind twists and complex story involving time travel. This engrossing title stole my interest so many years ago, and I find myself going back to time and time again.
You played as the only survivor of an experimental super soldier program. As Derrick Cole, you awake in an underground facility in Japan with no knowledge of who you are. From the get go, you notice that the entire game is in first person. Punching, kicking, shooting and even eating is all done from the eyes view. The game does an amazing job of putting you into Derrickís head. Every action requires a prompt. If you wish to pick up health, an item, energy or ammo, you have to actually set up the situation. Derrick must extend his arm to pick it up, then continue with the task of grabbing said item. It may seem cumbersome, but itís a take it or leave it form of first person immersion.
Derrick isnít a deep character with a lot of feedback, but he does speak. I guess the developers thought it would be an way easy to force the player to feel like they were Derrick. Shortly after the tutorial level, you are drugged with a delicious looking burger and a can of a Coke-like juice drink. In a haze, you see a woman warp into reality moving backwards in time and then a break-in occurs. Before unnamed soldier can take you down, the woman reappears moving in normal time and she quickly dispatches the soldiers.
There is a war going on between humans the alien Tílan. These hulking organic-cybernetic creatures look humanoid, but are far from such. Derrickís new friend Alex saved him, and tries to remind him of what is going on, but you are as clueless as your protagonist. Alex has been sent back in time to rescue you. She is surprised to find that you have no recollection of who you are. You soon find out that Derrick is the only survivor of mixing Tílan DNA with a living human being. Scientist extracted Tílan DNA which they concentrated into Tílangen and Derrick was the only host to adapt to it. Derrickís amnesia is also the result of the harsh experiments.
Throughout the game Derrickís powers start to manifest in the form of glowing white veins extending up his arms. Breakdown is a First Person Shooter / Brawler. With these powers, Derrick can lay waste to enemies with his hands and legs. You may be thinking that this canít possibly be a creepy game if you have mega-arms, but it is. The environments in Breakdown are cold, sterile and desolate, that for a last gen game look real and unnerving. The graphics while slightly stylized, are realistic and clean. The later levels also bring you to the dark world populated by the Tílan. Here things are black and lifeless; organic looking environments layered with almost cyborg-ish flesh become the norm. Let me not forget to mention the random occurrences where reality seems to break-down in front of Derrick, and only to him. These moments are marked by the appearance of a cat. One little meow, and it breaks away as does the following path: mind screwing at its best. The true reason behind this cat will provide an amazing twist.
Not only are the environments unnerving, but the enemies. They lack any personality. Hulking bald men with no expression or souls lumber around killing all humans. The first few levels make you powerless against them. Solus is the embodiment of the Tílan leader Nexus; his first appearance is a sign of future scary encounters. The game has fantastic pacing. From the start, pure survival is key, but as you progress within the story, you become a more powerful opponent against the Tílan. I loved how these power-up moments occurred. They felt well written and not forced.
The entire story of Breakdown is just fantastic. The game swings through time, reality, and worlds. The story is a thriller at its best, but the environments and scenarios evoke a real emotion that I have not felt in many games. Itís not the monsters or gore that makes this game scary, in fact, I donít recall much gore at all. Itís the ambiance of the entire game. It just feels authentic yet foreign. This was an overlooked gem on the first Xbox. The story alone will leave your jaw wide open and heart in yearn for a sequel. I have tried to contact the director in hopes he can shed some light on the game, but nothing yet. I at least hope this article will drive some of you to check out this fantastic title. It truly only suffers from some small control issues and difficulty.