I remember myself back in the day (in my Jurassic period :p) sitting in front of my family’s 14” CRT TV of unknown origin and watching my older brother playing Resident Evil 2. Leon Kennedy (one of the 2 main protagonists of this particular game for those not familiar with the franchise) was overrun by an insurmountable number of twisted monstrosities with big claws and razor sharp teeth that eagerly wanted to mortally wound or even decapitate him. Despite all that, he stood there valiantly pointing his trusty shotgun at them and firing his remaining 12 gauge shotgun shells, sending them flying to the other corner of the room. It was that time that I realized deep inside me that I had a certain affection towards survival horror.
Some months later, I decided was fed up with playing childish games like Crash Bandicoot and I decided to start myself Resident Evil 2, pretending that i have grown up. But, because I was too scared to let my character become an easy prey for the hunters, I did a ‘’small’’ trick. I got in my possession the Action Replay cartridge, a certain chip that upon being put in the memory card slot, it enabled you to use cheat codes on several games. I turned on ”infinite health’’ for my friend Leon. However, despite having this cheat code enabled, I always carried with me green herbs (stuff that replenishes health) just in case my cartridge went offline. I was 8 years old, what did you expect?? I managed to finish the game in about 4 to 5 hours. I did not like it. The way I was playing was unfair for the game itself. I remember characteristically, 6 zombies surrounding me once in a narrow corridor eating away my flesh but Leon did not even flinch. Praise the almighty cheat codes! To add insult to injury, I have been wasting all my bullets on target practice up until that point and I mocked the zombies by slowly chopping them down with my survival knife, by far the worst weapon in the game. There was absolutely no challenge.
One day, i decided to play it properly. I threw away the Action Replay and I put the disc inside my old fat grey Playstation 1. Now, it was a whole different experience. I was trembling with fear as my character was cautiously walking from one corner of the room to the other. I had to properly and constantly manage my inventory in order to always carry healing items, weapons, ammunition and keys. Furthermore, I started paying attention to details, like learning enemy patterns in order to successfully evade lethal attacks and advance triumphantly toward the end of the game. Every step was another battle won for me. This feeling of unimaginable gratification I got from the fact that while being under prepared, I was able to find ways to defeat all those foes and the game itself was unparalleled. Eventually, I made it (even though I died many many times). And this was not a simple victory over the game, but a victory over my fears.
Ever since then I have played many survival horror games, from stellar ones to utter garbage and I can say with certainty that I have now enough experience to claim, that in order for a game of that genre to be successful, it unfortunately has to be flawless. And the reason it has to be flawless is that to genuinely scare you, it must immerse you in its world by creating an otherworldly atmosphere. But, how do you succeed in doing that?
First of all, graphics and sound design have to be of top quality. If a horror game with the graphics of Resident Evil 2 (the one that released in 1998) got released in 2018, you would laugh with all those pixelated monsters and poor character models. Also if the music and the sound effects were like Super Mario Brothers from the 80’s with all those ‘’pew pew’’ sounds, then you would stay away from it. One of the few exceptional survival horror games of this generation, that manages to achieve a near perfect blend of these 2 factors is Alien Isolation. Imagine walking the narrow silent corridors of the Sevastopol Space station with only a large wrench to fend off androids while hearing from your headset the screams of creatures crawling inside air vents. This, together with the fact that on most occasions you will have to solve puzzles without the game being paused, creates a tense atmosphere that will make your skin crawl. But, this gentlemen is horror at its finest.
Furthermore, glitches are unacceptable. A small number of glitches and bugs can be forgivable for a typical game, but for a survival horror game the presence of these is unacceptable. Let’s take for example Resident Evil 7, which is by no means a bad game. Once, i was hunted by a molden in a basement and I did not have any ammo in my inventory (not the first time that happened I assure you). I ran past it quickly and closed a door behind me. After traversing a small distance, I looked behind but I could not see anything following me. I went back, opened the door and the molden stood there proudly without doing anything. Every sense of dread I had, vanished in thin air.
Moreover, a horror game has to have a main antagonist. An opponent, so imposing and relentless that will have the ability to hunt you down everywhere you go. His appearance, a dreadful sight that will force you to run for your life as fast as you can while jumping over desks and every piece of furniture obstructing your way. An example of such an enemy is Nemesis from Resident Evil 3. You encounter this abomination upon entering the Raccoon Police Department. After quickly murdering your squad mate, Brad Vickers, Nemesis shifts his attention towards you. His punches and throws drain your health bar in seconds. Try defeating him using only the handgun while dodging his attacks. ‘’This was true Dark Souls before Dark Souls was a thing’’. I really cannot exactly remember how many times he pierced through Jill’s face using his purple tentacle, tossing away her lifeless corpse. After many deaths, I decided to go inside the police department avoiding him. 3 rooms farther, that persistent hulk jumped through the window wielding a rocket launcher…Brilliant!!
The icing on the cake is the plot. A survival horror game that respects itself must be orchestrated by a twisted mastermind. Only a person like that can totally play games with your mind and further engage you into the game’s world. Play The Evil Within and you will remember my words. I could not believe what I was seeing in my screen; In the early parts of the game you walk the white corridors of an asylum and after 2 missions you end up in a medieval village. What the hell is going on?? My mind was baffled, but desperately wanted to find an answer. I loved it.
To sum up, a horror game in order to be successful has to excel in every section mentioned above. Unfortunately, today, in a market so cramped by survival and battle royal type of games, the developers have neither the patience nor the support to experiment and create a classic horror game. And this because, unfortunately only a handful of gamers nowadays are willing to experience true fear. We sad few can only hope and wait patiently that, one day, an evil genious will hear our cries and grant our wish…
P.S.: See here the definition of horror i am talking you about..