Does Survival Horror Still Exist?

A return to survival horror’s roots?

Leigh Alexander has an excellent article on the way survival horror games have changed up on Kotaku this morning. If you’ve never read Alexander’s stuff before, she’s one of the few game journalists that really gets genres like survival horror (I’ve linked to her writing before). Her latest article, Does Survival Horror Really Still Exist? is, as usual, in-depth, well written, and thought provoking. In it, Alexander considers the way that lousy combat, a hallmark of traditional survival horror games, has evolved into something very different in recent games like Resident Evil 4.

The article describes how the era of Japanese-influenced games, which prioritized psychological fear and slower paced game play, has given way to an era in which Western action-oriented game mechanics are popular. This is certainly a hot topic in the survival horror community.

Alexander ends the article on a promising note–apparently after playing through Silent Hill 5 she feels that it is a return to form. It’s not often that the mainstream gaming press is able to capture this genre as a whole and discuss it intelligently, and so when a gem like this comes along I feel almost obligated to direct you towards it. She was also nice enough to link to me.

10 thoughts on “Does Survival Horror Still Exist?

  1. Good article, but with new (or remade) Siren games coming out in a fairly regular fashion and a new Fatal Frame coming out soon for the Wii, I think it’s a little too early to be calling the genre dead.

    I thought it was interesting how Siren (my idea of a modern survival horror game) and RE4 came out about the same time. If Siren had been the popular one (say, if it had been more accessible and heavily advertised), we’d be looking at a very different gaming landscape right now.

  2. So far there’s haven’t been new “real” survival horror series lately (we still don’t know how exactly will Dead Space be , right?).

    The reviews for SH:HC are pretty good as of now , let’s just hope SH & Dead Space sells well so that we can see continuation of our beloved old franchises along with the developments of newer ones.

  3. Let’s not bring up the whole “Is RE4 survival horror?” debate, Mazinkaesar. It never really goes anywhere.

  4. I really think we’re going to see some divergences in Survival Horror in the future. Or at the very least, more hybrids.
    More ‘action horror’ and ‘survival adventure’ rather than what people might call traditional survival horror.

    The Penumbra games already wade into this territory with what is essentially a first person adventure game, but with the addition of quite a few survival horror elements.

  5. Ok I have to say that I think the author’s article was pretty far off the mark in her summary of the current state of horror games. I find this whole notion of “Japanese horror is spooky and creepy while Western horror is gory and violent” to be an inaccurate perception.

    I think that pretty much everything we percieve as modern horror is taken from a predominantly western origin. Now while it is true that Japanese folklore and culture informs a number of games like Siren and Fatal Frame, many of the these Japanese developed games are using Western horror as a starting point. Resident Evil is clearly inspired by Romero’s Dead trilogy, Clock Tower is inspired by Argento and other giallo pictures from Italy, Silent Hill is inspired by Twin Peaks, Jacob’s Ladder, and other American films.

    The fact is, what we think of as the slow creeping dread or “quiet horror” of games like Silent Hill or Fatal Frame has been around for decades. Read anything by MR James or Algernon Blackwood, or watch movies like The Haunting, The Sixth Sense, Session 9, the Blair Witch Project. Sure there are gory “loud horror” stories and movies, but these are a relatively recent entry in to the history of horror. Mostly since the 60’s and 70’s. And certainly there have been a fair share of violent action horror coming out of Japan. Both kinds of horror have their place in different ways but to say that there is a fundamental difference in American horror and Japanese horror is simply naive.

    Sorry for the long post, but I think it needed to be said.

  6. I am also in agreement with you; quiet psychological horror isn’t solely the realm of the Japanese.

    You brought to mind Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (which I recently read); full of strange events, but little violence. A work like that could just as easily have inspired a “place-strange” horror game like SILENT HILL.

  7. The article was ok, but that line about space marines? She does know that Isaac in Dead Space is an engineer who is dumped into a horrible situation beyond his control. He uses what he knows(blueprints and mining weapons) to fight his way out. He is NOT a space marine.

    I do feel that article kinda sums up why survival horror is going to suffer the same fate as the adventure gaming genre, namely it will be loved by a few and forgotten by everyone else.

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