I love horror games. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame — I can’t get enough of being scared. Unfortunately pickings have been slim for survival horror fans for some time now. Resident Evil has mutated into overblown action monstrosity. Silent Hill has slowly been drained of its lifeblood by a series of hacky western developers. Dead Space briefly provided a spark of hope before being smothered to death by EA.
Thankfully evidence is mounting that this generation of games may be a properly horrifying one after all. Shinji Mikami is returning to horror in a big way with The Evil Within, Sega and Creative Assembly look to be doing right by the Aliens franchise with Alien: Isolation, and the indie scene is bursting with promising horror titles like Among The Sleep, Routine and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. But is this all a blip? A passing horror fad? No, I don’t think so — I think we may be entering a survival horror golden age the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Playstation era. Here’s why…
Horror Games Are A Great Way To Show Off Next-Gen Hardware
First-person shooters already look about as good as they ever need to look on the Xbox 360 and PS3. A game like Call of Duty is so fast and frantic that you don’t really have time to focus on any fine details. The next CoD can pump up the textures and polygon counts to untold levels and most gamers will only sort of notice.
We’re entering an era where the fine details are what matter. The difference between a PS3 and PS4 game isn’t going to be in the broad strokes. It’s going to be a better hair texture here, a better smoke effect there — a general step-up in verisimilitude. Horror games, which tend to move at a slower pace and force players to really be aware of their surroundings, are the perfect type of games to showcase what the new consoles are capable of. A fancy next-gen lighting system is an easily missed background element in a new Battlefield game, but it can be front and center in a horror game.
Gamers Are Ready For a Challenge Again
Something strange is going on. Gamers are cheerfully plunging into the depths of hell in Dark Souls II. Nintendo is brazenly bashing its fans over the head with punishingly hard platformers like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Hell, even casual gamers are punishing themselves with games like Flappy Bird.
For whatever reason gamers seem to be hungry for a challenge again. Maybe we just needed a generation to get used to hi-def and touchscreen gaming and are now okay with not having our hands held. Whatever the reason, the return of difficult games is great news for survival horror. A good horror game isn’t friendly.
A good horror game doesn’t take it easy on you. You should be just as nervous about the state of your inventory as the monster hiding around the next corner. Attempting to do accessible horror almost killed series like Resident Evil and Dead Space. Horror games can play rough again.
Indie Spirit Hits Japan
There have certainly been good horror games made by western developers, but for whatever reason most of the genre’s very best games have come from Japan. Unfortunately most Japanese publishers decided a while back that they weren’t interested in real survival horror games any more.
Traditionally in Japan you remain loyal to your employer until you or the company dies. If they say they’re not making horror games anymore, you bow respectfully and go work on mobile games, or 3DS horse riding sims or whatever. Thankfully these traditional ways are starting to give way. Shinji Mikami is essentially making a new Resident Evil independent of Capcom. The co-creator of Mega Man, Keiji Inafune has also told Capcom to go screw. Koji Igarashi, former mastermind of the Castlevania series has struck out on his own. The survival horror genre is no longer subject to the whims of out-of-touch Japanese executives, and I’d be shocked if we didn’t see the creators of Silent Hill, Fatal Frame or Clock Tower forging off to work on their own “spiritual successors”.
Horror Equals Respect
Horror movies tend to be dismissed by most critics as disposable garbage, but interestingly, the exact opposite is true of video games. Maybe it’s because going the horror route is the easiest way to imbue senseless video game violence with some meaning. Maybe it’s because actually being a participant in a horrific scenario is such a radically different experience than being a mere spectator. Whatever the reason, video game reviewers and fans are more than happy to rain praise down upon horror games.
The Last of Us, essentially a prettied up zombie game, may be the most critically acclaimed game of all time. Amnesia, Outlast, DayZ, Kentucky Route Zero, Gone Home, Limbo — going for horror, or at least a strong horror vibe, is the surest way to accumulate attention and plaudits for your indie game. Trust me, we’re going to see a lot of talented developers of both the triple-A and indie varieties tackling horror in an attempt to be taken seriously this generation.
The Classic Horror Series Can’t Go On As Is
The companies that own classic horror series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill need to try something different. I mean, what they’re doing now clearly isn’t working.
Now, maybe spiritual successors like The Evil Within will overtake the series they’re inspired by and Resident Evil and Silent Hill will simply fade into history, but I still have some glimmering hope that Capcom or Konami will get their s–t together. That they’ll study what their ex-employees and indie developers are doing and do right by their classic horror franchises. But hey, even if they don’t, I think horror fans will still have plenty to choose from this generation.
So, what do you folks think? Looking forward a frightening few years?