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Roughknight avatar 9:42 AM on 12.20.2011  (server time)
Is There Any hope For Survival-Horror?

We have two major releases for the survival-horror genre on the horizon: Resident Evil Revelations and Silent Hill Downpour. To put it bluntly, I'm worried about the state of these games. Survival-horror has been slowly devolving into a sub-genre for games rather than being the defining aspect of the product put under that umbrella. Sure, these games tout their horror aspects proudly, but how much of that really showcases in the game itself? Is it simply dark environments, vile monsters, and things jumping through windows that combine to make a horror game, or is there something else to the formula that is fading away?

When you think about it, Resident Evil has reluctantly been a survival-horror franchise since its inception. The first few games really nailed some of the aspects down limited ammo, obscured views, the occasional jump scare, and later on the concept of being hunted (Nemesis comes to mind). Even RE 4 gave a great feeling of helplessness with the iconic village encounter. The problem with every Resident Evil game has been when you get to about the halfway point. The developers then decide that it needs to become an action game with shoddy controls.

I don't care who you are, that dog scared the pants off of you the first time it happened.

It's locations like the Spencer Mansion and the RPD that players fondly remember, not the labs where you're blasting away monsters with a shotgun/grenade launcher. It was the fact that a simple zombie could kill you and you had 15 rounds to ration that put you on the edge of your seat, not the big monster with some kind of enormous claw on its arm that would be killed by the conveniently placed rocket launcher every time. The new titles, in terms of control scheme, have been a natural progression, and I do still enjoy them quite a bit. I hope that Revelations can strike the perfect chord between horror and action, but I'm cautiously looking toward it.

Silent Hill was, and often still is, compared to Resident Evil as one of the biggest survival-horror franchises of all time. Silent Hill really carried the torch for the genre as Capcom's series walked the path toward action over horror. Team Silent used some really clever tools like the static from the radio, the fact that your character wasn't trained with firearms to justify missing targets, and the fear of the unknown, to really get under the player's skin. Some of the scariest moments of a Silent Hill game are the ones where you go into a room with nothing in it. You don't know nothing is there, but the very fact that something could be there is what drives the fear home.

Tormented characters and revealing scenes like the video tape in Silent Hill 2 are hallmarks of the series that are much more difficult to find now.

Silent Hill began to lean toward the action side of the fence as well with Homecoming. I was glad they used a character that could feasibly perform better in combat to justify it, but it really took away some of the charm (if you could call Silent Hill charming) from the series. Shattered Memories took a chance with making clearly defined exploration and survival portions, and in some ways it worked. Eventually the tension from exploring would wear off as you knew without a doubt that you were safe. The newest entry, Downpour, looks to follow the trend of Homecoming, deviating from the subtle aspects that made the series so compelling in favor of bigger set pieces and more action.

So where does that leave the genre as a whole? It's fate, funnily enough, is defined now by its own characteristics. It is largely shadowed by a fear of the unknown from fans; we don't know where the path will lead at this point. We've had games such as Alan Wake, with its well-crafted atmosphere that doesn't rely on blood and gore, and Dead Space, with unique set pieces such as the vacuum of space itself, that have made some memorable experiences, but still rely on the action portion just a little too much.

One developer that really seems to have a grasp on the horror game is Frictional Games, creators of the excellent Penumbra, and more recently Amnesia, games. While these titles are not without flaws, big name developers can look at these games to see how making the player feel helpless and having a constant looming of the unknown can be just as, if not more, engaging than empowering the player with a big gun. Combat has a place in the world of survival-horror, but that place is not as the star of the show.

There is nothing dangerous in this room at all actually. I still wanted to run away like a frightened child and turn the game off. That is a sign of a good horror game.

I haven't lost hope completely with the genre, as I know there are many games within it that are still excellent despite the direction they lean toward. I can't help but worry though, when the titles that are often considered the crown of survival-horror have been deviating so much from what made them so engrossing in the first place. Following the genre has become a survival-horror game in and of itself I don't know what will be coming next, I feel helpless watching it grow, and I'm cautiously moving forward in hopes that there will eventually be some light at the end of the tunnel.

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