The Evolution of Survival Horror

Survival horror has always been a genre that has encapsulated me with intrigue. For some it may be RPGs or first-person shooters or real-time strategy games. There is a plethora of gaming genres but survival horror has been special for me and I’ve been a dedicated fan of a few franchises. Slowly but steadily I’ve seen the advancement of games that bear the ‘survival horror’ title.

The first game to create this term was Resident Evil; every loyal fan of this game can reminisce about loading their game and seeing a black screen with the words, ‘You have once again entered the world of survival horror. Good luck!’ This is perhaps a franchise that has displayed the most changes with each installment. Resident Evil 5 being a prime example of this. It was thoroughly satisfying but puzzles, a key component was absent. Premier changes were distinct in RE4. However, these changes were taken to very positively and were welcomed and it still managed to cause discomfort through the enemies featured, let’s remember the Regenerators and their awkward breathing… Due to the overall success of Resident Evil 4, the lack of puzzles was neglected and also how undaunting it’s (equally popular) successor RE5 was. All in all though, an outstanding gaming experience.

Older games of the survival horror genre explore different aspects. For example we delved in to James Sunderland’s psyche in Silent Hill 2. Emphasis was placed more on storylines than gameplay. There is little tolerance now for unpredictable or fixed camera angles, poor controls or subpar graphics. A diverse plot is simply not enough to convince a variety of people who are not familiar with a survival horror game to go out and purchase one. What we demand now is better weaponry, more gore and replay value.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, released on the Wii, PSP and PS2 this January is the latest game to join the Silent Hill franchise. The game is a ‘re-imagination’ of the original Silent Hill. Harry Mason is on his quest to find his daughter, Cheryl who has vanished in the clandestine, snow-ridden town of Silent Hill but Harry now is supplied with a cell phone, with GPS and photo-taking capability! This adds another dimension to the game, making it more realistic and enveloping the player-making them live the game. A surprising trait of SH: Shattered Memories is that combat has now been precluded. Whereas, recent survival horror titles have given combat further significance, making it a focal point of the game, Shattered Memories has opted to focus on the decisions you make and not on how many enemies you slay.

Over the years, the quintessential survival horror ‘formula’ became repetitive and therefore, tedious. I encountered this when playing Haunting Ground (which was developed by Capcom and released in 2005). Interest was lost rapidly upon reaching a dead-end. There were no firearms and the player is required to rely on the protagonist’s canine companion during combat at times. Yes, the plot seemed to be unusual and eerie but I could not muster the energy to finish this game and I didn’t want to. If all games of this genre did not alter they were approached then it is very easy to see survival horrors being overlooked and unnoticed amongst the MW2s of the world. Online and local co-op play, gruesome enemies to battle (with remarkable AI) and destructive weapons are some of the factors that attract potential buyers.

On the other hand, an unfortunate downside to this is that games may not be as challenging and this can be disconcerting to older fans. In-game tasks can be very unambiguous and not requiring you to exert yourself mentally. For instance, acquiring an infinite rocket launcher can monumentally assist in completing a game in a matter of hours.

Renowned survival horror games from the last two decades will maintain their rightful place in gaming history but newly implemented changes to this genre are also gaining much approval and this continues to attract and appeal to many. Some view these modifications as a step in the right direction; others do not, feeling that the franchises are no longer faithful to the premise of the games before them. I am ambivalent, I enjoy survival horror and will proceed to do so but the nostalgia of conserving ammunition, attempting to peek around corners, failing miserably and getting a heartless(no pun intended) zombie latched on to your shoulder will also be a highlight of all the years I have been playing games.

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