The Waning State of Survival Horror
Flashback to 1996 when the original Resident Evil was released for the PlayStation and effectively coined the term “survival horror”. While it wasn’t the first game to utilize the survival horror mechanics, it most definitely was the first game to bring the genre to the forefront of the industry. Resident Evil effectively ushered in the golden age of survival horror that was unfortunately too short.
Clock Tower 2 and Overblood followed the precedent set by Shinji Mikami’s revolutionary title while adding things of their own to the survival horror scheme. With the release of Resident Evil 2 in 1998 and Silent Hill in 1999 the survival horror genre seemed to be stronger than ever, which makes its rapid decay over the next few years even more tragic. While Silent Hill 2 was a fantastic game and possibly the best in the Silent Hill series, its success alone was not enough to keep the genre at its peak.
Since the early 2000’s the survival horror genre has steadily decreased in prominence. Even Resident Evil which was once the king of the genre has gotten more and more action oriented over the past several years. Resident Evil 4 is a great game in its own right but it was also the point at which the series started becoming less survival horror and more action horror. The latest game in the series, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, resembled the likes of Call of Duty more than it did old school Resident Evil games. The Silent Hill series has also grown farther from its traditional roots with its last few entries, not including Silent Hill: Downpour.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Dead Space are two examples of good current survival horror games, although the latter can arguably be considered just as much action as it is survival horror. The atmosphere and general dread evoked from these two titles still make them good representations of the genre, even if they aren’t quite up to the standard set by the games released during the late 90’s.
So is survival horror dead? No, but it is bleeding out. In this day and age where shooters reign supreme it’s hard not to notice the affect it’s having on classic survival horror series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Too many companies are afraid of trying anything risky when it’s easier to just pump out a military shooter and be pretty much guaranteed that it will return a massive profit.
I don’t think anyone wants the survival horror genre to return to the tank controls and terrible voice acting that were present in a lot of the titles in the genre’s golden age, but games like Dead Space have shown that tropes like that aren’t necessary to making a good survival horror game. Unfortunately the fan support for the genre has also seemed to decrease more and more over the years and if people aren’t willing to buy the great survival horror games that do get made then developers are going to become less and less inclined to even make them.
While I don’t see the genre ever fully returning to its former glory, at least not anytime soon, I do hope that developers start to add more innovation to it. This genre is one that is beloved my many gamers out there and it deserves better than what is happening to it. While it is doubtful that we will get another game that revolutionizes survival horror like Resident Evil did back in 1996, it never hurts to hope. In the meantime we can keep looking forward to the usual one or two good titles that come out of the genre each year.