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"It's a good game, it's just not survival horror."


I used to have a roommate who a couple of years ago had the kind of girl problems that necessitate you as Bro-in-Chief to sit by his side when he's almost-but-not-quite crying and is looking all-around mopey. At a certain point you have to gently let him know that maybe it's best for him to withdraw from this relationship. "Plenty of fish in the sea." He shakes his head and says this is the only relationship for him. "The first is always the best."

I wish I'd had a decent laptop back then, because I could have told him to shut the fuck up and play Dead Space 2.

This game leaves its predecessor so far behind in the dust that they're not even in the same league. I'm not very fond of the expression, but I'm gonna use it here: Dead Space walked so that Dead Space 2 could run. Faster, stronger and harder (well no, it's even easier than the first game, but my gutter mind has to make at least one innuendo per blog) than the original, it moves along so quickly that it wasn't until I was two-thirds of the way through that I realized something: The game isn't scary. At all.

This shit on the other hand, is fucking terrifying

(This shit, on the other hand, is fucking terrifying)

Of course, that's just me being desensitized. Horror is a huge part of my personality - I actually have trouble finding horror films to watch now because it seems I've watched them all. I'm sure it would scare the pants off someone who doesn't play a lot of horror games. But it got me to thinking of all the online arguments I'd seen about horror games not being scary because the player is given too much agency and too much ammo. Already I could hear someone criticizing Dead Space 2 for 'straying away from its survival horror roots.' Generally the saying that pops up way too often now, especially when you praise one of the modern Resident Evil games (particularly 4, 5 and 6) is, "It's a good game, it's just not Resident Evil."

This tends to rub me the wrong way because like a lot of you guys, I started the series with Resident Evil 4 and still consider it one of the greatest games ever made. The Resident Evil franchise is one of my all-time favourites and means so much to me that I even bought the overpriced NECA figures:

So of course, I take the discussion forward in a very mature and thoughtful manner:

Heh. In all seriousness though, I've asked multiple people what makes the earlier Resident Evil games actual valid entries into the series and what makes the later games nOt rEsIDenT eViL. Of course, the answer is because they're no longer survival horror but action horror, and a shift in subgenres means that they no longer deserve the Resident Evil name (I really hope you can feel my sarcasm coming through the screen). So what do they lack, I ask these people? And the winners areeeee...

  • Limited resources
  • Backtracking
  • Exploration (apparently games in which you mainly go forward don't count as exploration)
  • Tank controls
  • A tiny inventory that you can't fit shit into FUCK YOU CHRIS FROM RE1 FUCK YOU
  • Restrictions on the ability to save (hello, ink ribbons!)
  • The risk of getting softlocked and unable to finish the game
  • De-emphasization of combat

For the most part, all the trappings that modern games have tried to do away with. Games have learned to respect our time and patience, so there are plenty of checkpoints and unlimited saves. They have realized that people like to win and to finish the story, so they rarely if ever put us into an unwinnable situation. They now have the disk space to put in way more areas than a PS1 game could have, so they don't force extensive backtracking on us.

I don't mind tank controls (I actually prefer the tank control scheme in RE5, Revelations and Revelations 2 as it's closer to RE4), but I found this the silliest argument of the lot. My friend said that the RE1 remake's PC version - which allows you to switch between modern analog controls and the old-school tank controls - is no longer survival horror because you can run away from zombies instantly instead of having to turn around the whole way and getting closer to being bitten. For him, an optional control scheme that makes half a second of difference disqualifies the game that wrote the book on survival horror... from being survival horror.

And as for limited resources, well, let's take a look at my inventory in what many people consider the peak of survival horror: Silent Hill 2.

Look at all this survival horror.

Similarly for Silent Hill 1, anyone playing the game more than once will quickly hit the upper limit on the amount of ammo and medkits they can carry. Silent Hill 2 and 3 featured an option for 2D - aka modern - controls back when they were released. The first three Resident Evil games can be gotten through very easily by anyone who's played them once as well. In fact, by anyone who's even heard about how they're played - pick your battles. The only people I see playing it like an actual survival horror game are non-horror fans. Or the ones who played RE1 back in 1996 when it came out and they thought you'd be able to kill everyone like in most games. In short: don't be stupid, and suddenly it's not survival horror anymore.

So if the first three Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, considered by many to be the pinnacle of the genre, are not survival horror by the elitist criteria, then what game is survival horror?

The answer is Mario. Fucking Mario on the NES. No mid-level checkpoints, one-hit kills, you can only carry one mushroom at a time... see where I'm going with this? Roguelikes exist, guys. Play them if that's your thing.

Rock fans may remember that grunge was more of a movement than a genre. The Big Four of grunge - Nirvana (punk), Pearl Jam (blues rock), Soundgarden (alt-rock), and Alice in Chains (metal) - had very little in common musically. But they had the same effect on people, and thus you have grunge. Similarly, survival horror is a much more arbitrary term than any gatekeeper would like to admit.

To me, survival horror isn't defined by a particular set of rules that run the gamut of 'be as fucking hostile to the average player as possible.' It's more of an umbrella (ha! geddit?) term for an attitude that horror games have where your character has reason to fear. The hero in an action film never has to fear or to think that he might be killed no matter how many mooks are shooting at him - Leon stuck in a freezer with a bunch of giant naked men who can stretch like Dhalsim, on the other hand, does.

The phrase 'extra layer of tension' gets brought up so often that it has become insipid to me, because it's often used to disqualify how modern games try to make themselves more playable and accessible to the average player who might not have the time to ration their ink ribbons. If anything, it brings to mind how amusingly every single RE game after 5 has marketed itself as 'aN eMpHasIs oF hOrRor oVeR aCtIoN,' 'fOcUs oN aTmOsPhErE', 'a ReTuRN tO sUrViVaL hORrOR' ... and it never is that way. But I don't mind, because I do enjoy them a lot. It's just that if anything, I find fighting through a crowd of people who are hentai tentacle monsters on the inside while dodging a motherfucker with a chainsaw in RE5 far more tense than being stuck with a trailer trash parody family in RE7, where the overly scripted sequences of someone - usually Jack - grabbing and throwing you just made me 'let it happen' because I knew there was no point in fighting back.

Forced powerlessness is overused in modern horror games, supposedly to make the player feel helpless. Canonically, you couldn't do this with the RE characters like Leon, Claire, Chris and Jill who grew big and strong to be better at slapping zombies and punching boulders. For the most part, I'd rather play an action game with horror elements than a 'horror' game where the protagonist is weak and pathetic, often can't use weapons and doesn't even smoke. Which brings us to that plague of mid-2010s Let's Play videos: Amnesia clones.


The original Amnesia is a great game. Its clones... not so much. Copycats mistook the lack of weapons as the main reason it was scary, made poor men's versions of it with jumpscares galore, and saturated the market with them. It got to the point where I wondered whether there were any horror FPS games from 2014 onwards that had weapons. Turning your game into a walking simulator is a pretty cheap way to make it scary.

In the end, my point is: even if you dislike the gameplay mechanics of a later game, and don't see it as a survival horror game, that's no reason to undermine others' enjoyment and praise for it simply by saying it's not a 'real' game in the series. The sensibilities of modern games will always move towards better playability, and while I will always love the older games and have no problem at all running back and forth to an item box and agonizing over every ink ribbon in the first three REs, that wasn't what made them Resident Evil to me. What makes them Resident Evil is that it says Resident Evil on the box, and after that I can judge if it's a good or a bad game.

I'm not the biggest fan of RE7, which shifts the series into first-person territory and makes the main character a faceless everyman rather than the characters I grew up with and loved. But I still see it as a Resident Evil game, and despite RE8 apparently continuing the first-person trend I am keeping an open mind about it. I'll probably buy it simply out of love for the series. Similarly, while Silent Hill: Homecoming and Downpour are two of the worst games I've played in recent memory, they're still Silent Hill games to me. Just incredibly bad ones.

Dead Space 2, on the other hand, is amazing, and has only a few minor flaws - once again, there's no reason to EVER use any weapon except the Pulse Rifle and Plasma Cutter. On Medium difficulty it's also an incredibly easy game with tons of ammo to go around, to the point that the only deaths I got were the cheap instakill ones. That means I can either go online and tell people, "iT's a gOoD gAmE, iT'S jUsT nOt dEaD sPaCe," or I can pick a harder difficulty when I replay it, like I do for the RE games. But it isn't to make the game more survivaly horrory - it's simply because I feel I could use more of a challenge. And because it's good enough to warrant a replay... once I clear out more of my gargantuan backlog.

Thanks for reading! I recognize that I could be wrong in my opinions and am not dictating what others should think, just what I feel. Have a good day.

- Life is a puzzlement, and the world is a dangerous place. All men are enemies and children are little insects that will turn and bite you if you don't step on them first and squash them hard.

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About Spinnerwebone of us since 4:50 AM on 04.19.2020

Zoomer coomer doomer hybrid.