Off the heels of the Dead Space 3 release, I decided to dedicate this post to survival horror and its evolution, or de-evolution. As a gamer growing up, survival horror games interested me greatly. The jolt of fear knowing something was coming after you, you had low ammo (Or none! Hell, sometimes you didn't even have a weapon or could fight back!) was exhilarating. I actually loved getting the shit scared out of me! But with survival horror games today, you just don't get that same emotion, that same fear that gave you nightmares growing up. Games and developers have gone the way of the Hollywood action movies; taking away the fear and replacing it with action, quick time sequences, and other elements that don't make these games, well.....scary
My first experience with survival horror was a game called Clock Tower: The First Fear for the SNES. From the gate I didn't know what the hell I was in for from the cover, but curious as I was I dove head first. You play as an orphaned teenage girl who, along with 3 other girls, were adopted by a woman named Mary. When you get to Mary's mansion these girls think they're gonna have it made, which is so far from the truth. You start to explore alone when, all of a sudden, you hear a scream. You backtrack to the main hall to see that everyone has disappeared. So begins the fear; you're all alone in a big mansion, don't know where to go, don't even know the layout of the mansion, and who or what is in it, besides Mary. Upon a little exploration you stumble upon a bathroom with water running thinking someone is in there. You pull back the shower curtains to find a gruesome site: one of your friends, has been killed (eviscerated to be exact). And right in that moment a small, deadly figure jumps out of the water with a giant pair of scissors (sounds foolish, but as a youngin this scared the living daylights out of me). You must run. By trial and error you realize that you cannot fight back at all (no weapons, no punches, nothing); you are forced to run and hide from this killer. What gets worse is that you have no clue when he will pop up. This was my first foray into survival horror and I was terrified but excited at the same time. There was a feeling of helplessness that I never got from any video game. I won't ruin how the game ends or the story, but I implore you to give this one a try (by emulator or watching on youtube). After playing this I wanted more. More scares, more fear, I was hooked.
Fast forward years later and I'm introduced to the Resident Evil franchise. Resident Evil one didn't invoke that same helplessness; you had guns and weapons, so you're kind of a badass right? Wrong. There's shit in the mansion that you couldn't even fathom. Zombies, zombified animals, giant snakes, wtf.com! With ammo and health supplies scarce you were forced to rely on your fight or flight instincts (flight being the most used in my case). RE2 was released a few years later and had the same gameplay and jump scares I saw in RE1; I was already sensitized to it. But a few years later I get my hands on RE3: Nemesis, and boy, I was brought back to my Clock Tower days. Nemesis chased followed you nearly the whole damn game. Gone was the safety of doors. You go in one room, walk or run a certain distance only to hear the door open with words "STAAAAARRRRRSS!!!" following. This made me close doors at night; I was shaken, to say the least. But this wouldn't be the last time I had a game impact me that much.
In the early 2000's I had gotten my hands on a game called Silent Hill 2. I did not play the first, but I heard great things about it through forums online; and man were they right. From the environments (the endless fog, the decrepit buildings), to the sounds (a radio signaling that enemies are close), to the enemies themselves (mutilated nurses, animals, PYRAMID HEAD!); this game did what Resident Evil and Clock Tower could not do, scare me psychologically. I was playing the majority of this game on a weekday during summer. It was cloudy outside with hints of fog (picturesque Silent Hill). I hadn't seen or heard a car since my dad left early that morning. Time goes by and evening comes. All of a sudden the power goes out in my house and I'm not able to find a flashlight anywhere in my house. After playing Silent Hill 2 for a whole day, I took my happy ass out on the porch and remained there, where it was dark outside as well, until the lights came back on. Needless to say, this game had left an imprint on me like never before. So naturally when Silent Hill 3 came out I was on it immediately. Only this time, it was far worse. I was so scared of Silent Hill 3 that when I had gotten to a certain scary part (footprints of blood coming from a random mirror) I immediately yanked the controller out of my PS2, ejected the game, took it to a local Gamestop and said "I can't do it" and traded it for something else. Never in my life has a game made me its bitch like that. The worst part of it, I was minutes from the end of the came (which I found out a few years later). These are the games that shaped my view of how survival horror games should be.
As of recent, there haven't been any games to invoke that fear in me. RE4 came close, but no cigar; and don't even get me started on RE5! How can you feel any fear when you have a partner (cpu or human) right there with you in the thick of it. I played the demo of RE6 and was deeply disappointed. "This isn't a game!" I thought, "this is a fuckin movie!" I was not amused, or scared in the slightest. I played F.E.A.R. a few years back and felt nothing. As Ashly Burch from Hey Ash Whatcha Playing said, "you can't be terrified when you're a fucking, walking death machine."
As I said before Dead Space 3 is out right now. And from reviews I've seen its managed to keep its core survival horror gameplay along with a co-op experience, but that is TBD (by me). But the take home point in this post, ladies and gentlemen, is that survival horror games once were something amazing. Being able to invoke fear (physically and psychologically) was something that was never done in this form of media. Nowadays, developers are looking to cash in on a quick buck by going the way of Hollywood action movie, thinking that gamers would accept that as a replacement of fear; which has been so far from the case. A core group of games have kept the true spirit of survival horror, and most of them have been indie games (Amnesia, Penumbra, and a lot of Half Life mods). My message to developers: ditch the action and bring back the fear, PLEASE.