The term ‘survival horror’ was first coined in reference to Capcom’s Resident Evil series, though earlier games such as Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark have also been referred to as part of this genre. While older horror games focused on leaving the player helpless in a large environment, usually only providing enough ammo and weaponry to defend themselves, newer titles such as Dead Space have provided more ways to take on the various threats. One prominent complaint often heard from horror fans is that these newer titles cater too much to the mainstream action crowd, and have dropped their emphasis on the fight to survive. This raises the question, can classic survival horror survive in today’s market?
As with anything, survival horror (and videogames in general), have changed significantly since Resident Evil’s 1996 release. Developers are no longer forced to use static camera angles and pre-rendered environments. It is hard to imagine that such limitations could have actually helped the survival horror genre, however iconic things such as Silent Hill’s fog and darkness were products of such limitations, due to the short draw distance of the original Playstation. Instead, developers are now able to offer fully destructible and interactive 3D settings for the player to explore, which has vastly altered gamers’ expectations. While more detailed environments may help with immersion, abandoning the “tank” controls and archaic camera views of older games means that players have more control over their situation, so it is perhaps a double-edged sword.
Advances in technology are hardly the only reason for more action based horror titles. While Resident Evil 4 was a technical leap, it was also a significant departure in the series’ formula. Players and critics alike responded positively to the new combat system, smarter enemies, and the mercenaries mode that pitted players against endless hordes of monsters. Being the most successful entry in the franchise, it was only natural for other developers to take note. Silent Hill: Homecoming also revitalized its combat, as to further empower players. Since then, Resident Evil has skewed further into the action genre, adding more enemies and third-person shooter elements to its gameplay. More games are also offering full multiplayer cooperative play, as seen in Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3. Staying alongside a partner character, whether it be controlled by AI or another player, does remove some of the tension that would be present with an isolated protagonist.
Regardless of these massive changes, sales figures have been stronger than ever before. Eliminating vague riddles and non-linear item fetching, while offering the ability to play with friends both online and off have transformed the genre into something completely different. That isn’t to say that survival horror is a dead genre. On the contrary, the success of games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent and no-budget indie titles prove that such a market still exists, even if the sales and download figures can’t compete with more mainstream action titles.