The Rebirth of Fear: Revival of the Survival Horror Genre

In late 2014 we’ll be getting a remake of a remake of the survival horror title that, for many of us, was the first time we were genuinely afraid to discover what was waiting for us around every corner. This game puts you in the boots of two special task force agents sent to investigate a long-forgotten mansion at the edge of Raccoon City, a place that has recently seen several cannibalistic murders take place.

Not long into the mission do you find yourself separated from the rest of the team, left alone to carefully explore dark corridors, strange rooms, and secret labs. Along the way you will face all kinds of challenges in the form of clever puzzles and horrific enemies as you scan every inch for items and make every bullet count.

The Beginning of Fear

We’re of course talking about the original Resident Evil, a game that didn’t serve as the first of its kind but was so critically acclaimed that it ushered in the golden age of Survival Horror, including countless sequels.

Soon after Capcom’s surprise hit, the industry started seeing a flood of games that sought to capitalize on the rise of spine-chilling games. Although many were shameless Resident Evil knockoffs, some managed to draw inspiration from Capcom’s iconic game while also offering their own unique twists.

An excellent example is Silent Hill, a game that’s also set to receive a new entry on the Playstation 4. The original title kept players tense by using real-time 3D environments as opposed to pre-rendered graphics, a psychological theme inspired by Japanese horror films, and a stronger emphasis on atmosphere rather than physical horror.

Square Enix (only Square at the time) also tried their luck with Parasite Eve, a Survival Horror game that mixed things up with RPG elements such as random encounters, real-time combat system, and terrifying enemies that can materialize without warning.

Fatal Frame, perhaps the most unique entry into the genre at the time, had players explore a mansion and defeating ghosts by taking photographs of them.

The Fall of Scary Games

Like many genres throughout the history of our industry, Survival Horror went away almost as quickly as it had sprung up. The once-healthy pulse of scare-your-pants-off games slowly died down to near-cardiac arrest, leaving us with few games of its kind to enjoy between the mid-2000s and today.

This change became most apparent when Resident Evil abandoned their Survival Horror roots with Resident Evil 4, a title that serves as one of the best action games of all time but hardly struck the same eerie note of its predecessors. Even Silent Hill switched to a more combat-focused gameplay with Silent Hill Homecoming.

Of course, fifteen years was still plenty of time for us to receive a few memorable experiences that still tried to instill in us a sense of dread while we traversed its virtual world.

One of these games was Dead Space, a sci-fi horror game that had players biting their nails while making their way through a dark space station that had recently been infected with fast-moving corpses. Visceral’s game was praised for its superb sound and lighting, no traditional HUD, and addicting combat that had you blasting off the limbs of enemies before they could amputate yours.

Other worthwhile additions to the barely-living Survival Horror genre at this time are indie title Amnesia: The Dark Descent, horror-themed FPS game F.E.A.R., and the Stephen King-inspired Alan Wake.

Although not really a Survival Horror game, the universally acclaimed Bioshock also gave us a taste of fear via Rapture and its chilling cast of enemies.

The Reanimated of a Genre

Not until the year 2012 did we start seeing a resurgence of Survival Horror games with titles like Capcom’s own Resident Evil Revelations, which brought the series back to its roots by focusing on limited supplies and exploration as opposed to combat.

Ubisoft’s ZombiU is another often-overlooked title that helped revive the genre by putting players in a zombie-infested London. The Wii U GamePad served as a radar that notified you of nearby zombies, which makes for some intense moments when you’re told a zombie you can’t see is making its way toward you.

Since then we’ve seen the release of many good Survival Horror games provided by both high-profile and indie developers, including the highly-praised The Last of Us, the story-driven Outlast that places you in a psychiatric hospital overrun by homicidal patients, and the game that introduces us to one of gaming’s latest nightmare-fueling characters, Slender: The Eight Pages. The recent Alien: Isolation has also finally given us the terrifying Alien game we’ve always wanted.

Want to take part in creating the next big hit in the Survival Horror genre? Learn more about the game design school at the New York Film Academy.

Future Frights

Although not as prevalent as during the golden era, we’re still happy to see Survival Horror’s steady rise to popularity again. Even Resident Evil‘s creator Shinji Mikami has said that his goal with The Evil Within was to reinvent the genre by giving a fresh twist to tropes that have become predictable over time.

With titles like Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Soma, Dying Light, and Asylum coming our way, it’s a good time to be a fan of games that make our hair stand on end.

And if you’re one of those gamers that never had the chance to play the original Resident Evil, either on Playstation or the first Gamecube remake, we can’t end this article without recommending you check out the 2014 “ReRemake” and see for yourself how Survival Horror first made us too scared to play alone – or at least in the dark.

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