Game Reviewer: Survival Horror Games
By Game Columnist
Hunted by wild canines with a voracious appetite for human flesh, a few remaining members of an elite special forces team is forced to enter a seemingly abandoned mansion to stay alive. Unable to tread near windows in fear of the four-legged demons bursting through, and with only a handful of ammunition left to spare, the team must carefully sneak through the confines of the facility only to discover worse terrors lurking within. It's not long before they encounter a gruesome scene in which a decapitated man is laying on a pool of his own blood, while another man with chalky skin and faded, pale eyes is hovering near the corpse, devouring his remains. This is true survival horror, this was once Resident Evil.
In the days since the first Resident Evil title launched on the original Sony Playstation console, new titles of Survival Horror are constantly innovated and released. However, some of these so-called horror titles are only aesthetically pleasing in the sense of horror and do not contribute much in the idea of survival. The evolution of the Resident Evil series is a great example of this. Tight corridors, dark lighting, disturbing sounds, eerie scenery, cryptic plot twists and unpredictable characters all contribute to the mood setting and immersion of the player into the protagonist's perspective. The real sense of survival stems from an unexplainable, primordial sense of fear brought on by paranoia and the thought of death looming at every turn.
The second Resident Evil attempted to improve upon every facet of the original, with a very important twist for a taste of things to come in later iterations of the series. It made the playable character far too "over-powered". Sure, constantly being hunted by a ruthless juggernaut with a knack for crushing skulls with his bare hands offers some thrills -- but giving the hero a near infinite supply of ammunition and an arsenal of powerful firearms right from the beginning takes away much in the sense of fear. To turn the tables from being hunted to becoming the hunter is a drastic change that should only rarely occur in a survival horror game. Unfortunately, Resident Evil 5 and 6 later introduced a second protagonist for an entire playthrough, thus changing its' category from survival horror to a 3rd person shooter.
Another great example of a Science-Fiction Survival Horror done right would be the first two entries in the popular Dead Space series. However, the third entry in the series makes the same mistake by introducing a secondary playable character, changing it to an action shooter entirely. The decling sales of the Resident Evil saga should have been a clear warning to the creators of Dead Space. To reinvent survival horror, one has to add the key component of survival into it. Almost any Stephen King impersonator can conjure the essential foundations of a good horror novel, but being able to implement it with a profound sense of danger and overwhelming feeling of helplessness is another story entirely.
Backtracking to the earlier days of historical folklore, the Fatal Frame trilogy seduces the player into the unknown. In the metaphysical world of dreams, emotions, ghosts, and sacred rituals, the player quickly realizes that they are vulernable to their curiousity as much as they are to an untimely death from a vengeful spirit. The first time the viewer encounters the shivering, shadowy figure of a young girl with her face hidden beneath her hair climbing out of a strange wooden box slowly crawling out, it all becomes terribly clear -- the player should never have opened that storage box. Tension is the thread of horror that connects one moment of terror to another. As any avid survival horror fan would tell you, "think on your feet or you will lose your head -- literally."