We’re about halfway through the month of October now, putting me deep into worrying about a Halloween costume and watching The Nightmare Before Christmas almost religiously. More importantly, it’s the time for fright nights with my favorite form of entertainment: video games! Playing The Evil Within and receiving the new Game Informer in the mail got me thinking about some things.
Well, would you look at that?
Not one, but TWO playable video game heroines with no skin-tight spandex outfits or cleavage in sight! I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.
Mainly, I’ve been ponder what my personal thoughts are regarding the survival horror gaming genre. After all, The Evil Within has been toted as the long-awaited and needed return to true survival horror, worked on by the godfather himself: Shinji Mikami.
His words, not mine.
Steve-O and I started The Evil Within earlier this week. Last night we reached a chapter that, for me, felt like a disconnect from the survival horror roots the game had done such a good job of sticking to up until that point. Then the Game Informer’s Resident Evil Revelations 2 article discusses the series’ return to its roots, claiming to have listened to fan feedback and learned their lesson regarding RE’s swing towards the action-shooter genre. The combination of these two events got me thinking about my personal expectations when I hear the label “survival horror video game.”
Survival horror games must be appropriately atmospheric. Everything from the scenery, NPCs and creatures you fight, down to the camera filter has to exude uneasiness. While Resident Evil created the survival horror genre, I think the first few entries in the Silent Hill series artfully excelled at this. There’s only a couple of scenes and images from RE that have stuck in my mind, whereas Silent Hill games have left lasting, disturbing impressions on my mind. Many of them for reasons I can’t really describe. See the following graffiti you’ll stumble upon while exploring in Silent Hill 2:
WTF does that even mean?
From the first time I watched a friend exploring Silent Hill 2, I never forgot about that iconic spray painting job. Which is saying a lot, considering I have a notoriously terrible memory.
Or how about this room in Silent Hill 4?
You better not be textin’ hos, Henry!
Without posting any corresponding images to ruin your appetite, I’ll also say the cutscene leading up to the final boss fight in Silent Hill 3 is THE most disturbing thing I think I’ve seen in a video game. Ever.
In contrast, there aren’t many specific scenes or images from the Resident Evil series that stand out to me. However, I’ll never forget the following image from the first Resident Evil:
I’m not even sure why this was so freakish to me… I was young and impressionable I guess.
So yes, first and foremost the atmosphere has to be generally unsettling, eerie, and especially in SH’s case, full of extreme mind effery.
The “survival” part is the trickiest, if you ask me. Developers have to work on designing a video game, after all. There’s a lot of make or break decision making that has to go on. How will your character survive the odds? What tools, if any, will be at your disposal? Speaking of tools… I find limited inventory space to be an important, but no less annoying, aspect of survival horror. What’s there to worry about if your character has access to, and can tote around, an entire military base worth of artillery?
Really? Jill just can’t slide a herb packet or lighter down the front of her tube top?
Personally, I think having limited ammo and healing items (if they even exist in said video game) essential. There’s nothing more suspenseful than running (or limping) away from monsters with no more healing items or only a couple of bullets on you. That’s why I’m a little disheartened at the current trend of enemies dropping loot after you kill them. I want the pressure of making sure I check every nook and cranny for valuable consumables versus having a high probability of getting back what I spent once an enemy drops.
And finally, the topic that prompted this post, is the nature of the battle system. Without saying too much because I’ll be writing a review once its finished, last night’s The Evil Within session got me thinking. I’ve noticed I have some pretty specific ideas about how enemies should act in a survival horror game. To wrap up a long rant short, when I heard The Evil Within was going to be a return to survival horror roots, I did NOT expect, not want, to see enemies throwing grenades and using harpoon turrets. Survival horror games have this annoying trend of keeping the clunky, difficult-to-control navigation and character commands, yet decide to treat everything else about the game like an action shooter game. No. Just no. Sure, give enemies all the telegraphed OHK moves you want. You can even give some shotguns and handguns sporadically, to change the pace and up the ante when I’m comfortable dodging melee attacks. Just don’t have zombie-esque things spamming machine guns at me while I’m slowly limping around because I’m low on health. That’s not scary, its annoying.
If its intelligent enough to aim at you with a sniper rifle, it ain’t a zombie.
My final point probably goes without saying, but the enemy designs have to portray some impressive twisted goodness as well. Again, Silent Hill takes the cake when it comes to creative enemy designs. Even if you’re running for your life and haven’t saved in a couple of hours, it’s hard not to stop and say “What the hell is that?!” the first time you encounter certain creatures. I’d post some more accompanying images, but some are bound to disturb you more than anything I’ve already shown. And I’m running short on time.
I’d like to hear what the rest of you think should be included in this list. We all have different ideas of what “horror” means, or what makes a good survival video game. And something tells me that gamers who started playing during the last generation will have much different expectations.