Is Survival Horror still "a thing"?

The Evil Within
Release Date: Oct 21st, 2014

This is being said without having played Bethesda’s new title, The Evil Within, which is supposedly going to restore all faith in survival horror fans out there.  Taking a look back at some of my favorite horror games, I found that there were certain elements necessary to give it that right amount of thrill. 

1: Environment
The backdrop in anything in horror media is very important. Skimp on the detail and it becomes somewhat hard to understand. Granted there are some of the staples in horror titles.
“There’s something blocking your way” – the main character said to him/herself, looking at the 3 ft. high barrels sitting a foot and a half apart in the wide-open doorway.  There’s no way you can squeeze through.  You cannot go this way, find another impossible door to open.
In early titles, this totally happened. It was frustrating, but it totally happened. And yet, you found that impossible door to open.  Whether or not this has happened to you, the setting for a horror game is vital.  “Are you okay hunting down this man in this building? There’s no power either. Oh also, I forgot to mention — it’s an insane asylum where there are naked men with knives, a man that makes his wives, and if you approach anyone, you’re dead.  Also, the only thing you have is a video camera.”  *drives away* Yeaaaah thanks a lot, OUTLAST.
2: Story
From Indie to Triple-A games, entwining the gameplay with enough lore to support the actions of the controlled character or its surroundings can absolutely fluff up the fear factor.  Leave a diary from past encounters, voice the character for more depth, or even write on the walls in blood when the main character isn’t looking to give the player a head’s up that someone else is watching….  Story isn’t everything, but it is definitely the backbone when it comes to game structure.  (Unless of course, you’re a multiplayer, military shooter…but that’s another topic for another rant.) I will mention this game a lot in this post, but Silent Hill really tied in their first 4 games pretty well. Some ties were pretty good, others were a mess but they still slipped in names and events that took place to remind you where you were. 
Slender man

1000% Sound. In my experience (and some experiences with my Survival-Horror companion, IC Santi), the sound is a huge advocate of fear.  Try watching a scary movie with the sound muted, feel as your heart remains at a steady, healthy beat.  Again, Silent Hill was lucky enough to have producer and musician Akira Yamaoka on the team.  When they started adding the sultry sounds of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn to add lyrics to the already haunting melodies, it made it even better.  Slender‘s title character Slenderman has some pretty fearsome cues, too.  The music picks up and the characters breathing becomes panicked, and the sound effects are even more jarring when you see him.  Minor things like the squeaking of a door or random wheelchair coming into the hall, or major things like a roaring beast in your midst or SH’s Pyramid Head and his sword are all sounds that will make you, your character (or both) turn around. Make sure you wear headphones for this very reason!

While most of these elements are required for any genre, these are key players in making the game genuinely creepy. Add each component to a mixing bowl with a dash of jumpscares and stir. If set at the right temperature for the right amount of time, your game should come out nice and fresh!
Leave it in the oven for too long (or too short) and you’ll either get a suspense thriller with a lot of jumpscares, or an action adventure with…a lot of jumpscares.  I found this to be true with the FEAR series. The first one was very chilling, with just the right mix using the formula from above. FEAR 2 came around and gave the saga a very strange twist (no spoilers) and ultimately FEAR 3 added co-operative play which made it feel like more of an action, tactical shooter than one worthy to don the title of “survival horror”.  Unfortunately, transitions similar to this heavily affected titan-titles of horror like Alone in the Dark or Resident Evil and they have become just that; a severe let-down for the true horror fans out there.  No, it’s not being “elitist” or not “submitting to the path that mainstream gaming is taking”, it’s just being disappointed by the games that should have been after being so excited and hyped by the games that used to be. 

Harry Mason, Silent Hill

Silent Hill was one of my favorite series. I say was, only because I haven’t had the chance to play Silent Hill: Downpour or Book of Memories for the PSVita. What I do know, however, is that the franchise started strong. Back on PS1, Harry Mason was just an average Joe who couldn’t shoot a gun–he was just a dad in search of his daughter.  Down the line, I realize that he being an average Joe was the reason behind him not being able to wield a gun as well as Chris Redfield or any of the guys from Call of Duty.  Harry Mason was sucked into a hell-hole of a town, bombarded by monsters, overwhelmed by the battle of heaven and hell, but he still fought against those forces to find his little girl and save her soul.  In the game, you will die. If you put the game on the hardest difficulty, you will die a lot.  Some places remain silent, where shrieking violins may have been appropriate, but some of the cutscenes or places where Harry treads are void of any sound except for his heavy footsteps.  Puzzles litter the way through the town, much like in Resident Evil where it requires you to find keys of a certain type to open up doors to the next areas. Not too many jumpscares, not too many gruesome baddies either.  Mostly just shadows or figments of your imagination crawl by, images sweep over the walls that would haunt you forever.  

One of my most favorite memories with IC Santi was in Silent Hill 4: The Room, which was not going to be a Silent Hill game at first.  Loosely tied into the events of Silent Hill 2, The Room’s Henry Townshend is trapped in his apartment.  With a peephole in the front door and one facing into a neighbor’s room, Henry is only allowed to transport himself to the nightmare world using portals from his apartment.  After taking a break from some of the dark puzzles and deep story, Santi and I decided to look out of his apartment window.  There’s a hot-air balloon, a neighbor watching television, some billboards, traffic buzzing by. Oh yeah and the head of an eyeless, dirty, beat-up baby doll that drops down in view if you are caught staring for too long.  That was it. No sound, no warning, no visual prompt. Just the head, falling into view.  That was about 9 years ago now, and I won’t ever forget it!
Bella, from Siren: Blood Curse

Another unforgettable moment I have in a survival horror game was with Siren: Blood Curse on Playstation 3. The episodic venture takes you through the various perspectives of several characters in the game, ranging from a dog, a teenage boy, a career driven father and even the innocence of a little girl who happened to tag along.  All of the characters have the ability to “sight jack” or link in with the vision of the monsters, that way you can learn their patrol and move safely.  Now, why anyone would actually take their child to a nasty place like haunted Japan is beyond me, but the vulnerability and heart-pounding episode I had to take on as the little girl found me constantly finding places to hide (including an oven) and was spent in long periods of time with me IRL biting my nails and waiting for the bad people to pass while the poor little girl waited in pure darkness. 

 Major letdown included Alone in the Dark.  I really really really really wanted to like it.  After playing about 75% through Alone in the Dark: A New Nightmare (because I rented it, and could never find it again 😦 ) I really wanted the reboot of the Alone in the Dark series to be good. Alas, upon its release, I was very disappointed to find that the game was rushed, incomplete and essentially a letdown.  A happy medium I found was the first Dead Space. Isaac Clarke is a space engineer with a hardware upgrading savvy and a knack for attracting the deadliest of necromorphs, EA’s Dead Space really personified the phrase “In space, no one can hear you scream!”

Resident Evil 2

No, I didn’t forget… Resident Evil is a major player in this ring.  I rented this game on a whim, and ended up loving it. It started with some major scare cred, and in its recent installments become an action thriller more than survival horror.  There is hope for Capcom to continue with the Resident Evil series, as there is so much you can do with the T-Virus/G-Virus/Plagas Parasite angles to continue, but until that day comes…I’m still quite saddened to see the lackluster efforts placed into this once thriving genre.  Since the popularity and fascination of zombies has taken over the mainstream media, lots of games like Dead Rising, Dead Island, Deadlight, have become quite popular. (See a pattern here?) … Psst: Zombies aren’t he only supernatural, dark, evil creatures out there!!! Alan Wake was a great way to incorporate psychological horror over physical gore.  Writer Sam Lake emphasizes the horror aspects found in [Alan’s] mind to be scarier than some of the gore out there. 

Fatal Frame 3: The Tormented

For now, indie titles like Amnesia (and mods) as well as Slender, and Outlast rate pretty high on the charts for scary games currently, but will Evil Within top even those? Hands down, I believe that Fatal Framereally takes the cake and is the one game I know is truly consistent throughout the entire series. I couldn’t give you a scariest moment because frankly there are too many to name, ranging from little priestesses singing as they search for the next sacrifice, scanning through the courtyard through the viewfinder of the camera obscura to see a ghost of a boy hiding behind a tree, or an eyeless woman crying about her eyes that were mercilessly ripped from their sockets.  All three, in my opinion, had a perfect blend of Story, Atmosphere and Sound and the voice acting is not half bad. This one should definitely be one on the list of any survival horror gamers out there.
Come back soon when I do a followup to this post, that is if I have the balls to make it through the Evil Within, if it is as scary as they say it’s going to be!! ^_^
Thanks for reading and allowing me to take a trip down evil memory lane to recall the great moments in scary gaming.
Game on, guys!

>> K

Pictures Source: Google Images, Wikipedia

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