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Jason Picker
19 Apr, 2009

My Favourite Waste of Time #2

PALGN Feature | R.I.P. survival horror games; an ode to Resident Evil and Silent Hill games of the past.
It’s with great sadness that I’m forced to farewell a genre of games that has given me so much pleasure for almost a decade and a half. A genre often weakly imitated, but mastered by few. A genre that made it okay to sit in the dark, turn the surround sound right up, and let the air-conditioning blast frigid air onto your naked body.

Goodbye survival horror. You will be missed.

However, this wasn’t a natural death. No, survival horror didn’t just die of natural causes like point-and-click adventure games. It was murdered, struck down by some of the very franchises that made it so successful to begin with. But more on that in a moment.

First up, every half-baked piece of pretentious writing will define their subject matter with a cut-and-paste definition in a thinly veiled attempt to fill out the word count. This article will be no different (I'm only up to 150, by the way). Wikipedia defines survival horror as “a video game genre inspired by horror films in which the player's primary objective is to survive and/or escape a threat typical of horror fiction, usually zombies or supernatural beings of some sort”. Other sources note some common elements in survival horror, including a general lack of powerful weapons, scarcity of ammunition, and the player being relatively weak in comparison to the typical action hero.

Despite claims to the contrary, the Energizer Bunny did eventually stop going and going.

Despite claims to the contrary, the Energizer Bunny did eventually stop going and going.
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T'was a dark and stormy night

Some may argue the exact origins of the survival horror genre. It most likely hit its commercial straps with Alone in the Dark released in 1992. However, for me, it began with Resident Evil in 1996. Now I can’t claim to remember the intricacies of the plot of the original and I couldn’t be bothered looking it up and pretending that I do. But, there was something about a virus, an evil research corporation named Umbrella, a mansion and some zombies. Actually, that was probably all there was to it. What I do remember is moments of glorious horror, jump-out-at-you scares, some cool and obtuse puzzles, and a live movie intro! Yes, that’s right, a real movie intro with real actors (sort of)! Kiddies, forget your computer generated, ultra-realistic, la-de-bloody-da cut-scenes pumped full of a billion pixels, and check this out!

Then along came the Silent Hill series, the creepy cousin in the survival horror family. The sort of cousin that when he shakes your hand, holds on for that little bit too long, while his twitchy eyes tries unsuccessfully to focus on you and dollops of spittle glisten on the corners of his mouth. Whereas Resident Evil played it more for B-grade thrills, Silent Hill introduced psychological horror. If Resident Evil was a 60s monster movie, Silent Hill was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - and definitely not the remake. If Resident Evil was Marilyn Manson, Silent Hill was Charles Manson. If Resident Evil was chocolate ice-cream, Silent Hill was triple chocolate ice-cream covered in chocolate fudge. See where I’m going here? Me neither. Let’s move on.

I got chills, they’re multiplyin’

So what made survival horror games so scary and successful? In early Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, you had bugger all ammo and health which made even the most common enemies a threat. You couldn’t just blast everything that moved and then duck behind some cover to regenerate health (or buy it ala Resident Evil 5). Often you had to decide whether you could shoot the monster in front of you at all. If you did, you had to hope that you would find more ammo soon after. If you decided not to shoot it, you had to hope the monster didn’t damage your equally precious health. This added a layer of strategy that is absent from modern shooting games as you needed to plan carefully for future encounters rather than to go in gung-ho.

Resident Evil 5 - least scary game in the world ever?

Resident Evil 5 - least scary game in the world ever?
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Another of the traits of survival horror was that there generally wasn’t a monster to fight every three metres, and when you saw one - particularly one you hadn’t encountered before - you were right on the edge of your seat. In Silent Hill, the best course of action was often to turn off your flashlight and tiptoe past monsters and hope they wouldn’t spot you, while not being able to see anything yourself. So thick was the tension that if you successfully made it past one monster, only to bump into another one around the next corner, you would launch your controller into the air and go running through your house screaming hysterically. Stop it, I can feel you judging me.

The dark and the ‘fog’ in Silent Hill were largely impenetrable even with your flashlight turned on, the monsters made your skin crawl, and the sound effects would make you want to look over your shoulder even though it was just the speakers. So brutal, freaky and confusing were the early Silent Hill games that many people found they were unable to finish them. Resident Evil also featured a ‘limited’ saving device where you had a certain number of ‘ribbons’ that could be used in typewriters to save your game. So there would be times where you’d be left with a) bugger all ammo b) bugger all health and c) bugger all ribbons to save your game. Now that’s tension.

A sequel took my baby

Let’s not beat around the bush here. The death of survival horror is all Resident Evil 4’s fault.

Now before all the fanboys and girls start to prattle on about the game being "a sublime blend of action and horror presented within a realistic setting with top-notch pacing and yada yada yada”, let me make one thing clear – Resident Evil 4 was a good game. It was fun. But it wasn’t survival horror. Instead, the change in gameplay felt like an attempt to modernise the franchise and attract some of people who enjoy fast-paced action shooters without the need to think too much about it. Gone were most of the brain twisting puzzles, the exploration, and the need to conserve your ammo and health. But also gone was 95% of the game’s tension.

However, the game was lauded by critics and gamers alike and it sold truckloads. While some may argue with me here, all it really succeeded in doing was to make itself more like every other shooting game on the market, while keeping the one thing from the old games that was no longer relevant – the clunky controls. This has now been taken a step further with Resident Evil 5, which is easily the least scary game in the franchise, and while I'm prone to exaggerate, I'm confident in saying it's also the least scary game in the history of the world forever and ever. This game even gives players the default option of using Gears of War-type controls. Blah. Just call it ‘Residents of War’ and be done with it. Hey that’s actually not a bad name – hands off, Capcom.

Monkeys...have absolutely nothing to do with this article.

Monkeys...have absolutely nothing to do with this article.
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Alternatively, Silent Hill: Homecoming, the fifth game in the series, actually tried to stay pretty true to the series’ roots. However, they picked the worst possible change to make – that is, to make the main character a powerful fighter with excellent melee attacks skills, including the ability to dodge, counter attack and take down enemies with knives and metal pipes. I'm sure that this looked good on Konami's media releases, but in reality it changed the entire way players approached the game. Rather than having to avoid enemies and strategically use the flashlight, you could now take them down head-on and often without using the precious ammunition which you could instead horde for the boss battles, making them much, much easier. What this did was entirely sap away any tension that the game might have created. In a nutshell, what these games did was to ignore the 'survival' part of survival horror. The characters in Resident Evil 4, 5 and Silent Hill: Homecoming are not merely trying to survive a horrific situation. Instead, they are well-prepared killing machines able to kick deformed zombie butts like seasoned pros.

To summarise this in a 'what was the message of this edition' kind of way, old gameplay techniques and genres aren’t necessarily bad, and trying to update a tried and true formula will not always improve it.
For me, turning Resident Evil into a action-oriented game is akin to turning Gran Turismo into an arcade racer, or turning Street Fighter it into a full 3D fighting game. The change is so significant that it’s hardly the same game and it misses much of what was great about the original. Similarly with Silent Hill, they made a character far too strong for the situation he was in and effectively changed the entire way the player could approach the game and its inhabitants.

But wait, I hear some scratching from inside the coffin…

But perhaps all is not lost and not every horror game will become a generic shoot-em-up. Whether you found them scary or not, Dead Space and F.E.A.R. were pretty decent attempts at combining action with survival horror. Dead Space can be compared to Resident Evil in regards to its love of B-grade horror, its slot inventory system, the jump-out-at-you scares, the exploration and puzzles. It also featured an enemy you could only slow down and not kill, which harks back to the Nemesis from Resident Evil 3 and Pyramid Head from Silent Hill. While you rarely run out of ammo, it still keeps a good sense of tension throughout. F.E.A.R., and to a lesser extent the sequel, also have comparisons to earlier games in the Silent Hill franchise. This includes good psychological scares that go back to Japanese horror movies, creepy kids and freaky-as-hell visuals and sound effects.

While it's nice to see some games successfully implementing some elements of survival games of old, it’s hard to think that we'll ever see a 'traditional' survival horror game ever made again for the current gaming market. And be damned if the gaming world is not a worse place for it.

If you’d like to suggest an idea for a future article, please fell free to PM me or post a message below. It can be about almost anything. Let me know!

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29 Comments
5 years ago
Love the article, superbly written Jason.

Although I have never actually played a Resident Evil or Silent Hill game before... the last survival horror game i played was probably Eternal Darkness.
But, i would like to pick up a RE or SH game or three, but there are just so many of them. I'd look at PS2/Xbox/GC/Wii versions of them, so which ones are worth getting and which ones aren't?
5 years ago
Hi Jads - If you have a GameCube, the Resident Evil remake is probably a good place to start. It has better graphics than the original 3 games while largely keeping the gameplay. Resident Evil 0 on GC was also pretty good. I'd also highly recommend Silent Hill 2 and 3, as the original is looking a bit dated and 4 wasn't very good.

Though I've never played them, the Fatal Frame/Project Zero games are also supposed to be very good. You can get them on PS2.

Alone in the Dark is a series to stay away from these days. The last two game were poor.
5 years ago
I agree with this article completely 100%

Nice article Jason.

After I beat Resident Evil 5, I had to play through Resident Evil 0 and Resident Evil 1 on the gamecube just to get the thrills I wanted.

On top of that why did Capcom kill off the pre drawn backgrounds? I swear to god the visuals in the gamecube remakes are better than most 'next gen' games today. So yeah bring back pre drawn backgrounds capcom and to other developers too!
5 years ago
Hi Shadow Wave - yes I love the pre-rendered backgrounds as well, and the way the camera gives you a "cinematic" shot rather than one that follows the player over-the=shoulder. This could sometimes be annoying in battle, but I think it adds a whole lot to the overall experience.
5 years ago
agreed, i hate when the zombies are just past the edge of the screen haha.
5 years ago
i think RE4 almost straddled the divide between the horror-movie style surv-horror games, and the psych-horror games of Silent Hill - especially to begin with - so i'm not sure it was responsible for the "death" of the genre.

i do, however, think that RE5 was a completely different kettle of fish though. definitely not a Survival Horror game, but rather, simply an action-shooter.

i think there are still some games (and developers) that have kept the spirit of Survival Horror alive, although they have dried up in recent times. you've mentioned Dead Space and FEAR, but there has also been Condemned in this gen, and in the late last gen, Doom 3 and Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which (imo) definitely fitted the bill of Survival Horror games with a greater emphasis on atmosphere rather than ammunition, but i suppose didn't really get the acclaim that they should have. (Doom 3 is somewhat analogous to RE4 in some ways, in that they were franchise departures in terms of style, and while i loved the new style, most didn't.) and then there's also games like Left 4 Dead, which is, in it's way, a survival horror game, but rather than atmosphere, relies on overwhelming odds vs. overwhelming firepower to get pulses racing.

and still, there are some games on the horizon that look promising for the genre. well, 1 that comes immediately to mind anyway: Aliens Colonial Marines, although i do concede that this is likely to be more in line with the Left 4 Dead style of survival horror game.

i suppose long story short, i don't think Survival Horror has died, but rather like so many villains in the genre, has simply undergone a dramatic mutation, and changed into many different beasts altogether.

i wish Dino Crisis would get a resurrection. i always preferred the DC games to the RE games on the PSX, but for some reason they never caught on as much... (but only if we just ignore DC3. that game sucked hardcore...)
5 years ago
+'d for the Dino Crisis love.

I COMPLETELY forgot about that franchise until you just mentioned it, and it is one of the scariest (as in, things jumping out and scaring the crap out of you) games I played when I was younger.
5 years ago
Hi Obsolete. I think your definition of survival horror is different to mine and you seem to be talking more about a game's ability to scare. IMO, if the game focuses mainly on action, it ceases to be "survival" horror and becomes "action" horror. I make the comparison of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Exorcist films compared to almost every new horror film. In these old films, it's all about tension and build up and atmosphere, and less about the body count.

A game is also not survival horror if it drops the majority of the elements that define the genre, such as a weak main character without special abilities (like bullet time), lack of ammo, health and resources, tricky and weird puzzles, and less monsters.

As I mentioned with Dead Space and FEAR, while they had some elements that match the genre, they aren't really survival horror because of the emphasis on action rather than avoiding fights and the abilities of the main character. You never have to avoid monsters (except the regenerating one in Dead Space), or worry too much ammo, you have massive weapons at your disposal, exploration is less important and puzzles are generally absent (Dead Space and Condemned had a few). You will also not go through a long period of the game without fighting something, and there is no "slow burn" to the next scare. Any game that gives you abilities such as slowing down time or to easilt dispatch of enemies with a crowbar ceases to qualify as they are no longer ordinary people in horrific situations.

Doom 3 is about as far from survival horror as it gets imo, and really is full-on action horror. Yes it's scary and has that whole one person one flashlight thing going for it, and there are sections without seeing a monster - but the emphasis is on action and not survival and puzzles, and the main character is some kind of marine. He is strong and armed right up.

Anyway, that's my opinion icon_smile.gif
5 years ago
There was that game I saw a few videos of which is apparantly coming out for Wii, was very Silent Hill-esque. Hell, the videos I saw the protagonist didn't even have a weapon, and she was up against ghost things anyway so I doubt it'd do much good.

That said I don't actually know if it's being made or if they're gunning for a publisher or what.

Great article all the same, I like the sense of humour strewn thoughout, made it all the more enjoyable, kudos and Cujo's!
5 years ago
^ i think i remember seeing that game somewhere on here. well, i remember some Wii game that was kinda Silent Hill-ish but at the time, all in Japanese. i remember the website had really cool music, and i was excited for it at one point, though i've no idea what happened to it.

@ Jason:
yeah you're probably right about our definitions of the genre being quite different, where I seem to maintain that "Action Horror" games are within the category, i suppose the games you're talking about could be considered "Adventure Horror", in that they contain elements similar to the old-school point-and-click adventure games, in between the scary bits.

i do think that RE4 was closer to the "adventure" end of the spectrum than the "Action" end (though RE5 was Action all the way), but i think the whole feel of RE4 was closer to Silent Hill, than RE's 1-3. (more "what the hell is going on?" than "OMG Zombies!")

i do think, though, that Call of Cthulhu is firmly in the Adventure-Horror camp though, since for half the game you don't even have a weapon. i suppose if you want to break horror games down even more, it's almost Stealth-Horror, since you're mostly trying to sneak past armed enemies, through techniques that'd make Solid Snake, or Sam Fisher proud.
5 years ago
i would like to see a full-blown survival horror game come out. While fear and dead space were good your character is just way to powerful to call it survival.
5 years ago
As much as I understand the author's - and other long time fans who have the same view - point about RE no longer being much of a survival horror, I can understand why CAPCOM changed up the formula.

It has kept the series fresh with the addition of new and innovative ideas like the button response cut scenes. How many times do we here of devs like EA for example being criticised for bringing out rehashes year in year out? And many other series hae been critisised for not evolving much. CAPCOM have tried to avoid that by changing up the RE series formula.

So although some fans may not appreciate that, it does bring new gamers on board to the games.

So in the end, it's six of one and half a dozen of the other.
5 years ago
Siren: Blood Curse
5 years ago
Id agree with you on this one, but it seems the whole time you're heavily biased by only referencing Resident Evil games and Silent Hill.

What about Eternal Darkness on the GameCube, god that game gave me the creeps
5 years ago
Hi RWS. For a fairly short article, I had to pick a couple of examples, and I went with the two best known franchises in RE and SH. They were also the two examples that have links between 'traditional' survival horror and newer games with more of an action slant. Eternal Darkness was a great game though.
5 years ago
Sin Ogaris wrote
There was that game I saw a few videos of which is apparantly coming out for Wii, was very Silent Hill-esque. Hell, the videos I saw the protagonist didn't even have a weapon, and she was up against ghost things anyway so I doubt it'd do much good.

That said I don't actually know if it's being made or if they're gunning for a publisher or what.
There was a game scheduled for the Wii called 'Sadness'. I'm not sure what happened to it or if it's still being made, but it certainly looked cool. Could possibly be the one you're referring to!!
5 years ago
Fatal Frame/Project Zero is an amazing series. I remember the first one i never finished cause it just creeped the hell out of me, definitely classic jap horror. Play it Jason.
Im extremely disappointed the latest iteration is not being released in pal, it was one of the reasons i bought a wii.
In fatal frame, you have no weapons, just a camera, sometimes you dont even have that so you have to sneak. But i loved the atmosphere mostly, there were always ghost creeping out of all corners and you could see some docile ghosts just weeping behind a bed curtain or such.
The freakiest part was always the mirror at the end of the long hall you were always travelling back through, everytime i anxiously watched that mirror, waiting to see something coming from behind.
5 years ago
I wasn't thinking about Sadness but that game sounds freaking incredible as well. However I honestly cannot see Sadness being released, which is a real shame. I wanted to do the action of slitting someones throat and have it kill someone (without the murder charge).
5 years ago
Nice article. Survival Horror is one of my favourite Genre's, and its a damn shame to see where its headed in recent years. The more action focus in recent releases has been a real downer, and i'd agree that its got alot to do with the success of Resident Evil 4.

Fatal Frame/Project Zero series are damn creepy, i'm quite annoyed about the rumours that the latest game might not make it to our shores. The series, along with Siren, has probably delivered the most consistant frights to me. Seeing a ghost appear then fade from view suddenly can get your pulse racing. Even more so when its a hostile one after a strech of 'friendly' ones.
I've found the Siren series quite an enjoyment too, easily my fav. horror release on current generation systems. Controls arn't perfect, but its managed to impliment stealth gameplay in their well. The original was made by quite a few memebers of the original 'Team Silent'. Not sure how many of them worked on blood curse though. Damn freaky game.
5 years ago
Sin Ogaris wrote
There was that game I saw a few videos of which is apparantly coming out for Wii, was very Silent Hill-esque.
The Calling?
5 years ago
Anyone else find it strange that theres an articel about survival horror being dead on the front page along with an article on realisim in games brought on my a reality based survival horror game comming out soon?

Survival horror isn't dead, it's just evolved, like any genre needs to do to survive. Yeah RE/Silent Hill arn't survival horror games anymore, but that doesn't mean they're dead. Hell Silent Hill 1 is getting a remake soon along with the tonnes of creepy as all fuck japanese horror ones comming out like Fatal Frame and The Calling.

From those trailers that cursed mountin game looked pretty survival horror as well, didn't even look like he had a weapon.
5 years ago
Macka wrote
Sin Ogaris wrote
There was that game I saw a few videos of which is apparantly coming out for Wii, was very Silent Hill-esque.
The Calling?
That be the one, thanks for that.
5 years ago
Nice Article.
The only survival horror game that I know has been good of recent is the PENUMBRA series. They are very creepy, and you are severely underpowered.

These games are available on PC only i think, but believe me, there's alot to them; plenty of puzzles and whatnot. You can grab it off Steam too for about $15 AU.

If you enjoy a real survival horror, look no further than the Penumbra series, those Swedish have crazy imaginations icon_razz.gif

I don't even know if anyone else has heard of game, its been absolutely silent down here
5 years ago
Benza wrote
Survival horror isn't dead, it's just evolved, like any genre needs to do to survive. Yeah RE/Silent Hill arn't survival horror games anymore, but that doesn't mean they're dead. Hell Silent Hill 1 is getting a remake soon along with the tonnes of creepy as all **** japanese horror ones comming out like Fatal Frame and The Calling.
However, there hasn't been any major players to replace Resident Evil/Silent Hill in terms of major survival horror franchises. While games like Dead Space and FEAR bring the scary to gamers, they are still first and foremost action games. Silent Hill and Resident Evil in their prime were all about the scares, and major games like that seldom exist today.


An aside: I've recently played The Path, a self-professed "short horror game". It wasn't scary like the RE/SH games were, but it was still unsettling, disorientinh and at times dowright disturbing. It isn't survival horror as Jason described it, but it was still an interesting experiment, even if it was screaming "LOOK AT ME I'M AN ART!!!" the entire time.
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