When you think about the survival horror video game genre, what games come to mind? Resident Evil? Silent Hill? Dead Space? There are many others, such as Eternal Darkness, Alone in the Dark, or maybe you even played Sweet Home, which is said to be the first survival horror game – but for the purposes of this article, lets focus on games that have become a series or better yet, a franchise.
When you look at these games, in the beginning, they all carry a level of promise and they’re all successful, which is no doubt what leads to the series, but lately I wonder how long a survival horror franchise can remain a true survival horror game before it loses its momentum. Resident Evil for example really lost the “survival horror” championship belt when Dead Space was released, and I believe this is due to RE4 and each subsequent title in the series. Even now I question whether Dead Space 3 will maintain the level of horror the previous two hits have delivered.
It’s difficult not to wonder how long a survival horror series can go on maintaining the expected level of fear while still remaining fresh and relevant. Another good example is the FEAR series, a spur of the moment purchase for me, because I liked the idea of a first person horror game, which didn’t disappoint. I wouldn’t exactly classify it as survival horror, but it was definitely scary and difficult to survive. But with the release of FEAR 3, it seems the classic scares it delivered in the first two games came second to concluding the story and making that last dollar off the title.
Resident Evil has veered far from any semblance of horror and is now an action shooter game: the only scares Resident Evil 5 provided were the suspenseful attacks from random unseen enemies, and even then these scares were overshadowed by the frustration of knowing the attack could have been avoided if you were permitted to move while aiming. Leon’s chapter in Resident Evil 6 was quite refreshing until you get out of the city and down into the completely illogical caverns and eventually into China – every other chapter could have been cut and pasted from Army of Two.
Dead Space has held my attention since its release, renewing my interest in the survival horror genre because the developers simply did everything right. The characters’ movement wasn’t restricted, the atmosphere feeds into the psychological “fear of the unknown”, and the character is learning what has happening at the same time as the player; he has no special abilities or training and he has no prior knowledge. But I question what to expect from Dead Space 3.
With the introduction of co-op, I wonder how scary it could really be – all I ever wanted was a second person to suffer with me through the horrors of Dead Space and Dead Space 2. A second gun or a second set of eyes would have done wonders, but the only way to make up for two guns and four eyes, as far as challenging game play goes, is bigger bad guys – it’s hard to get scared when you’re sitting next to your buddy. Sure things can jump out and startle me, but that deep fear that lingers as I walk to the kitchen to get a drink, that fear that makes me reach to turn on the light before fully entering a room, is entirely diminished. Additionally, at 27, I don’t have a lot of sleepovers, which forces me to play with my friends during the day.
So now I ask the big question: how long can a survival horror series survive the horror of remaining relevant while also delivering that expected level of fear? I certainly can’t answer with a specific number, but I believe it could be indefinite under one circumstance, I see the trouble starting when a series continues a story. Characters can only live for so long, and people, as a race, could only survive for so long, so there are only two possible outcomes from any continued horror story: either everyone dies, or the threat is eliminated.
Unfortunately, both of these automatically end the franchise, but if a company were to release a series of survival horror games, each independent of the other, the series could go on forever. Take a look at TV programs like Are You Afraid of the Dark and books like R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Fear Street – each individual story was independent of the other, but very successful as a whole. The same can almost be said of the American Horror Story franchise, which effectively reboots at the end of each season.
If I were ever to make video games, this would be exactly my approach: you give your series a name and people would anticipate the next release, not because you left your last game open for a sequel and the audience asking a hundred frustrating questions, but because they can’t wait to see what you can cook up next. The fans would get to immerse themselves in a whole new, terrifying story over and over again allowing the creative minds at the studio to change features and update styles at will.
How long can a survival horror series really last? Maybe forever. But only if it’s done right.
What do you think? Share your thoughts below, and click next to reveal our thoughts on the Dead Space 3 demo…
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This article was first posted on January 29, 2013