Sunday, April 1, 2012

Last of its Genre

It's a very poorly kept secret that I'm a huge survival horror fan. I got hooked from early on with titles like Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil and Silent Hill. I've also played a fair amount of the more obscure stuff too. Sadly, this particular kind of gaming as a whole has faded considerably in recent years, replacing the horror and terror that defines the genre with generic combat and cheap scares. So, excluding action oriented titles like Resident Evil 5 and Dead Space 2 what do we have in terms of new releases? Very little unfortunately. In fact the example that frequently comes up on message boards and podcasts to represent what is left of survival horror is the aptly named PC title Amnesia.

I think it's safe to to say the game industry as a whole has forgotten a lot of the key design elements of survival horror; isolation, vulnerability, limited resources, overwhelming opposition and foreboding atmosphere. Granted you don't need all these things to make a survival horror game, but the sad truth is a lot of franchises have abandoned most (if not all) of these details in lieu of guns and multiplayer. Firearms, particularly the military grade stuff, is the biggest offender and frankly unnecessary when you consider well received titles such as Fatal Frame use a camera instead.

Galerians too had an interesting system which required the player character to inject himself with chemicals in order to bring out his latent psychic powers. Then you have games like Clock Tower and Echo Night where the player has no weapons at all and must avoid confronting enemies for the most part.

Martian Gothic: Unification had an interesting take on the isolation aspect of survival horror. Instead of having some contrived excuse as to why the player is by themselves all the time. The three characters that the player controls are forced to separate due to contracting an alien virus which becomes lethal if allowed to cross pollinate with another infected. Hence the games tagline "Stay alone, stay alive." Then there is the esoteric Siren series which makes use of a second person perspective called "sight-jacking." Unsurprisingly, this ability comes in very handy when another friend or foe is nearby. Especially so when your forced to play a blind character.

The point of mentioning all this is to show that there were, and still are, ways to revitalize the genre. I've even suggested a few ideas in another post on this blog. As it stands now (ubiquitous zombies aside) the closest I've gotten to a survival horror experience this generation of consoles was by playing Dead Space on the hardest setting. Alas such an experience was only a nostalgic taste of what the genre used to offer. It seems that survival horror is perishing much the same as 4X games, non-portable TRPGs and adventure games. Don't abandon all hope though for as the famous horror writer H.P. Lovecraft once quoted:

That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.

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