Are Horror Games Dead?

Well, it's halloween, and therefore only fitting that I want to talk about horror games. Survival horror is a genre very near and dear to my heart. Since I first played the original Resident Evil back in 1995, I've had a soft spot for games that make me jump, give me nightmares, or just amp up the tension in some meaningful way. Over the years, I've made it a point to play almost every major horror title: the full Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, and Resident Evil Franchises, and even the one shot games like Haunting Ground, Siren, Fear, and Condemned.  
 
But while I love these games, the releases this year has had me wondering whether or not the genre itself is dead. Is it? In my opinion, the only "scary" game to come out in the current console generation was the original Condemned. Dead Space, albeit an amazing game, was built on tension, and never inspired that kind of "man, I do not want to go in that door" feeling that say, Silent Hill 2 thrived on. In a similar vein, Resident Evil has become an action-based series, and Silent Hill has lost its punch since Americans took over development and began copying the style of the movie ad-nauseam. For those who remember, the Playstation 2  and GameCube yielded some of the best games to fit the genre- Silent Hill 2 (my personal favorite), the Resident Evil Remake, and one-offs like Eternal Darkness.  
 
But what made these games so great? in part, it was the storytelling, which- particularly in the case of Silent Hill- was solid. However, much of it was due to the limitations of the system that made for clunky gameplay mechanics. For many games, this included tank-like character movement, poor combat mechanics, and in the case of resident evil, fixed cameras. While in some cases, these limitations reflected poor design, in effect they tended to amp up the tension of the games. However, these days, companies cannot release games with rough control and hope to sell them. Silent Hill Homecoming and Dead Space represent the alternative- a "functional" protagonist who can defend themselves. But here's the problem- because their lead characters were capable, it was hard to be scared or worried about what might happen. Isaac Clarke was too much of a badass to worry whether some necromorph was going to bust through the ceiling.  
 
So where is the old-school, clunky video game horror these days? Well, oddly enough, on the Wii. Between the Resident Evil and Dead Space light gun shooters, the new Silent Hill Remake, the new Fatal Frame, and pitiful games like Cursed Mountain and Ju-On, the Wii is not lacking for horror titles. But who is buying these games? With the exception of the resident evil franchise, all these games have been complete flops (we'll see about Silent Hill: Shattered Memories). In some cases, this is for good reason. Ju-On in particular is laughably bad.  Has original horror IP been reduced to shovelware?
 
While it might seem like I want another old-school horror game, I honestly don't. Having recently replayed the original Silent Hill, it's become clear that you can't go back again. But with the right measure of atmosphere, storytelling, and audiovisual design, horror can still be achieved. For an example, play the original Condemned: Criminal Origins. The later levels of that are truly great horror experiences. But here's the problem, that game didn't sell well, and neither did the sequel (although it too was a solid game). 
 
So to sum up: can actual horror games still be created, certainly. Is there a market for these games? Well, that's another story. I truly hope that we will see another Silent Hill 2- level game, but I'm not optimistic. This time of year, I can't help but feel that it's a loss for everyone. Thoughts?

32 Comments
32 Comments
Posted by SonicFire

Well, it's halloween, and therefore only fitting that I want to talk about horror games. Survival horror is a genre very near and dear to my heart. Since I first played the original Resident Evil back in 1995, I've had a soft spot for games that make me jump, give me nightmares, or just amp up the tension in some meaningful way. Over the years, I've made it a point to play almost every major horror title: the full Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, and Resident Evil Franchises, and even the one shot games like Haunting Ground, Siren, Fear, and Condemned.  
 
But while I love these games, the releases this year has had me wondering whether or not the genre itself is dead. Is it? In my opinion, the only "scary" game to come out in the current console generation was the original Condemned. Dead Space, albeit an amazing game, was built on tension, and never inspired that kind of "man, I do not want to go in that door" feeling that say, Silent Hill 2 thrived on. In a similar vein, Resident Evil has become an action-based series, and Silent Hill has lost its punch since Americans took over development and began copying the style of the movie ad-nauseam. For those who remember, the Playstation 2  and GameCube yielded some of the best games to fit the genre- Silent Hill 2 (my personal favorite), the Resident Evil Remake, and one-offs like Eternal Darkness.  
 
But what made these games so great? in part, it was the storytelling, which- particularly in the case of Silent Hill- was solid. However, much of it was due to the limitations of the system that made for clunky gameplay mechanics. For many games, this included tank-like character movement, poor combat mechanics, and in the case of resident evil, fixed cameras. While in some cases, these limitations reflected poor design, in effect they tended to amp up the tension of the games. However, these days, companies cannot release games with rough control and hope to sell them. Silent Hill Homecoming and Dead Space represent the alternative- a "functional" protagonist who can defend themselves. But here's the problem- because their lead characters were capable, it was hard to be scared or worried about what might happen. Isaac Clarke was too much of a badass to worry whether some necromorph was going to bust through the ceiling.  
 
So where is the old-school, clunky video game horror these days? Well, oddly enough, on the Wii. Between the Resident Evil and Dead Space light gun shooters, the new Silent Hill Remake, the new Fatal Frame, and pitiful games like Cursed Mountain and Ju-On, the Wii is not lacking for horror titles. But who is buying these games? With the exception of the resident evil franchise, all these games have been complete flops (we'll see about Silent Hill: Shattered Memories). In some cases, this is for good reason. Ju-On in particular is laughably bad.  Has original horror IP been reduced to shovelware?
 
While it might seem like I want another old-school horror game, I honestly don't. Having recently replayed the original Silent Hill, it's become clear that you can't go back again. But with the right measure of atmosphere, storytelling, and audiovisual design, horror can still be achieved. For an example, play the original Condemned: Criminal Origins. The later levels of that are truly great horror experiences. But here's the problem, that game didn't sell well, and neither did the sequel (although it too was a solid game). 
 
So to sum up: can actual horror games still be created, certainly. Is there a market for these games? Well, that's another story. I truly hope that we will see another Silent Hill 2- level game, but I'm not optimistic. This time of year, I can't help but feel that it's a loss for everyone. Thoughts?

Posted by AgentJ

If you are only talking about traditional horror games, than yeah it's likely over. However, the genre has evolved, so much that some of the games that wouldn't have been considered horror in the past are part of the genre now (games like Dead Space and Resident Evil 5).If you like those older games than you better hope that Shattered Memories does well, or it will all be like Alan Wake (not a bad thing IMO)

Edited by TheGreatGuero

You're absolutely right about the changes in controls and the advancements we're seeing with consoles. Let's face it. If the original Resident Evil or remake had a normal third-person perspective, lots of ammo, the ability to save anywhere, better aiming and easier character movement, it wouldn't be anywhere near as scary. Honestly, those elements do add to the fear factor considerably and also to the fun factor for many. Personally I'm kind of a wuss and am not too big on scary games, however most games these days I can play through without being totally freaked out of my mind. Like Dead Space, for instance. While scary, it's a different kind of horror, much like Resident Evil 4. It's much more action-based. There might be scary enemies and all sorts of stuff going on, but in both those games, you are some bad dudes that are totally capable of dealing out a whole lot of damage. 
 
I didn't play the original Condemned, but I did play the sequel and can say that it scared me enough that I stopped playing it before long. While Resident Evil 5 is probably the least frightening game in the series, I think they were right by not changing the controls. It adds to the tension. Also needing to do all your item customization and exchanges in real-time was a solid move, since you were never really safe if you needed to swap equipment while surrounded by enemies. I don't think it's necessary for main characters to be so powerful in today's horror games, but having that action-game edge to it and all that firepower no doubt helps with sales. Perhaps you're right. Maybe the old ways of horror games is a dying thing. The new type of horror game seems here to stay, even though it's much less frightening.

Posted by Galiant

Well, I'm a Silent Hill fan myself and SH2 is my definite favourite. Having just played through Uncharted 2, I can't help but wonder  what a Silent Hill game could become if they could but emulate the brilliant camera design that game has (among other things!). While you are mostly in control of the camera yourself, the game fixes/moves the camera where it will produce the greates effect for that particular scene. 
 
Surely there must be some plausible middle ground between clunky controls and and a less capable main character? Also, one thing that the makers of Silent Hill: Homecoming got wrong was turning into too much of an action game. A Silent Hill game should never defeat the player by throwing a large number of formidable foes at you, it should defeat you by making you afraid of opening that next door or turning that next corner, it should defeat you by making you jump at things that are not there and it should defeat you by its brilliant sound design that disturbs you because you cannot figure out whether what you hear is the background music or an unspeakable creature waiting in the shadows to mess with your head...
 
Here's hoping that horror games are not dead, and that we'll have a worthy sequel to Silent Hill 2 one day.

Online
Posted by FlamingHobo

I never played through the original Silent Hill(s) or Resident Evil(s), and therefore cannot really compare them to todays 'horror' games. Though the amount of times they've been brought up and compared to many of todays 'horror' games, does give me the idea that these games had a real effect on the way we play them today.
 
I was at a sleepover, two nights ago, and I let my friend play Dead Space. He was genuinely enjoying himself, and while he jumped at the ocassional necromorph that would pop out from nowhere, he never really felt scared or threatened by the creatures. I think this was due to one of the points you brought up, Isaac Clarke is too prepared to deal with these kind of situations. 
 
I remember playing through Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, a game I bring up often when regarding this subject, as being one of the scariest games I've ever played. This was due to the fact, during the early stages of the game, I had no weapon with which to fight back the creepy citizens of Innsmouth. I was genuinely scared, and was only able to sneak and run, praying that I would not be caught. Alot of games, seem to be lacking this.

Edited by L33tfella_H
@AgentJ said:

" If you are only talking about traditional horror games, than yeah it's likely over. However, the genre has evolved, so much that some of the games that wouldn't have been considered horror in the past are part of the genre now (games like Dead Space and Resident Evil 4).If you like those older games than you better hope that Shattered Memories does well, or it will all be like Alan Wake (not a bad thing IMO) "

Fixed

I will admit Resi 4 can be scary at times, but Resi 5 completely destroyed that with the addition of a partner. (I do love the Coop feature though)
Posted by FlamingHobo
@L33tfella_H said:
" @AgentJ said:
" If you are only talking about traditional horror games, than yeah it's likely over. However, the genre has evolved, so much that some of the games that wouldn't have been considered horror in the past are part of the genre now (games like Dead Space and Resident Evil 4).If you like those older games than you better hope that Shattered Memories does well, or it will all be like Alan Wake (not a bad thing IMO) "
Fixed I will admit Resi 4 can be scary at times, but Resi 5 completely destroyed that with the addition of a partner. "
It wasn't just the partner, it was the overall tone of the game.
Posted by jonnyboy

I think scary is pretty subjective. A lot of games try way too hard and throw in as many 'cat in the alley' moments as possible. I think if we are to ever have truly scary games we need to concentrate less on  realistic blood and gore, and more on a game's tone.
 
I've said it before on here many times, the game that didn't necessarily scare me but did make me feel pretty uncomfortable was 'The Suffering'. The use of sound in that game was incredible, not music but ambient scratches and chimes. Also walking into a dark room and hearing the voice of a child saying "Please Daddy no. I promise I'll be a good boy. Daddy Please!" made me really uncomfortable. Also it was pretty obvious the makers of that game were highly influenced by The Shining, so if you liked that film, check it out.

Edited by Bucketdeth

Well to me the Resident Evil franchise had died back when 4 was released, Silent Hill atleast still makes an attempt at being scary.

Posted by Galiant
@jonnyboy said:
" [...] and more on a game's tone. I've said it before on here many times, the game that didn't necessarily scare me but did make me feel pretty uncomfortable was 'The Suffering'. The use of sound in that game was incredible, not music but ambient scratches and chimes. Also walking into a dark room and hearing the voice of a child saying "Please Daddy no. I promise I'll be a good boy. Daddy Please!" made me really uncomfortable. Also it was pretty obvious the makers of that game were highly influenced by The Shining, so if you liked that film, check it out. "
 
Have you played any Silent Hill games? Because that right there sounds a lot like what I like about those games.
Online
Posted by eclipsesis

Well the decline of the Silent Hill series is down to two main things:

1: Team Silent stopping production on the series after Silent Hill 4.

2: An American dev picking up and having completely no sense of psychological horror. 

Posted by Galiant
@eclipsesis said:
"

Well the decline of the Silent Hill series is down to two main things:

1: Team Silent stopping production on the series after Silent Hill 4.

2: An American dev picking up and having completely no sense of psychological horror. 

"
Even so, I thought it declined pretty drastically at 4, and I enjoyed Homecoming more than 4 despite its shortcomings. I read somewhere that the game that became Silent Hill 4 was originally meant to be some other kind of game, where you captured ghosts or something. Don't quote me on that =)
Online
Posted by eclipsesis
@Galiant said:
" @eclipsesis said:
"

Well the decline of the Silent Hill series is down to two main things:

1: Team Silent stopping production on the series after Silent Hill 4.

2: An American dev picking up and having completely no sense of psychological horror. 

"
Even so, I thought it declined pretty drastically at 4, and I enjoyed Homecoming more than 4 despite its shortcomings. I read somewhere that the game that became Silent Hill 4 was originally meant to be some other kind of game, where you captured ghosts or something. Don't quote me on that =) "
In all honesty i never completed four i lost interest in it, but SH 2 is legendary, yes it controls like shit in a car crash but their were numerous times were it took me at least 5 minuets to get round a corner because i was scared of what would be in my blind spot. To me no games has been able to recreate this feeling, i believe the reason for this is because the horror games of now are focusing on the cheap ugly monster scare. Whereas SH 2 played on the fragile state of the human mind and its insecurities, which reach deeper into the fear factor of a person making the gamer feel actually vulnerable. Since SH 2 i think only two games have done this to a degree, the first of which being Dead Space, it wasn't the monsters i think it was the aspect of space and the ship which became characters themselves. The second: The first Condemned, which had fantastic audio, good use of a first person perspective, and the fear of being hunted by a realistic serial killer.  
Posted by SonicFire
@AgentJ said:
" If you are only talking about traditional horror games, than yeah it's likely over. However, the genre has evolved, so much that some of the games that wouldn't have been considered horror in the past are part of the genre now (games like Dead Space and Resident Evil 5).If you like those older games than you better hope that Shattered Memories does well, or it will all be like Alan Wake (not a bad thing IMO) "
We'll see about Alan Wake in that regard. If it does horror well, then I very much welcome it. At least from what I've seen, a lot is still uncertain there.
Posted by SonicFire
@TheGreatGuero:  
 
I suppose in that sense, it's difficult to say that it's horror, at least in my book. Perhaps "horror themed," but still not atmospheric enough to create a sense of fear in gameplay. But your points are very well stated.
Posted by TheGreatGuero
@SonicFire: Haha, well, they still scare me, but like I said, I'm a wuss. I also thought Dead Space was pretty darn atmospheric. Regardless, maybe we'll see a resurgence someday, but I think people would rather play as an awesome main character than as someone who can hardly defend themselves against a single zombie.
Edited by Jeust
@SonicFire said:

"Dead Space, albeit an amazing game, was built on tension, and never inspired that kind of "man, I do not want to go in that door" feeling that say, Silent Hill 2 thrived on. In a similar vein, Resident Evil has become an action-based series, and Silent Hill has lost its punch since Americans took over development and began copying the style of the movie ad-nauseam. For those who remember, the Playstation 2  and GameCube yielded some of the best games to fit the genre- Silent Hill 2 (my personal favorite), the Resident Evil Remake, and one-offs like Eternal Darkness. Silent Hill Homecoming and Dead Space represent the alternative- a "functional" protagonist who can defend themselves. But here's the problem- because their lead characters were capable, it was hard to be scared or worried about what might happen. Isaac Clarke was too much of a badass to worry whether some necromorph was going to bust through the ceiling.   So where is the old-school, clunky video game horror these days? Has original horror IP been reduced to shovelware? While it might seem like I want another old-school horror game, I honestly don't. Having recently replayed the original Silent Hill, it's become clear that you can't go back again. But with the right measure of atmosphere, storytelling, and audiovisual design, horror can still be achieved. For an example, play the original Condemned: Criminal Origins. The later levels of that are truly great horror experiences. But here's the problem, that game didn't sell well, and neither did the sequel (although it too was a solid game).  So to sum up: can actual horror games still be created, certainly. Is there a market for these games? Well, that's another story. I truly hope that we will see another Silent Hill 2- level game, but I'm not optimistic. This time of year, I can't help but feel that it's a loss for everyone. Thoughts? "

 I desagree about dead space. I think that it is a matter of personal opinion. 
 
Dead Space with its atmosphere did intimidate me to explore new rooms, though you could say it isn't a game that presents all that much suprise, it builds tension into unhealthy levels, so i was scared many times. Though silent hill 2, besides the story, doesn't give as much surprises as does DS. 
 
Maybe you're a better player than me, but i was scared of necromorphs appearing from unexpected places, as isacc is slow and his weapons aren't adapted for every kind of situation. And sometimes when you accessed the situation it was too late to do anything.
 
I was pretty much on the edge of my seat. 
 
Dead Space is a survival horror game for me. 
 
Alan Wake is still coming so the genre still has some amount of importance. About the shovelware titles blame nintendo, with it's crappy controls and policies. 
Posted by eclipsesis
@TheGreatGuero:
But vulnerable, weak, defenseless characters can also be awesome characters. Not everyone can be a health regenerating space marine.  
Posted by Claude

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is being made for the Wii. It's a reimagining of the original Silent Hill. They even took out the combat. But most people hate the Wii, so it will be dismissed. I for one will buy it. I like the box art too.
 

Posted by Galiant
@Claude said:
" Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is being made for the Wii. It's a reimagining of the original Silent Hill. They even took out the combat. But most people hate the Wii, so it will be dismissed. I for one will buy it. I like the box art too.
 

"
I sincerely hope that there will be a PS2 version of this, and that it will be a good game.
Online
Edited by Jeust
@eclipsesis said:

" @TheGreatGuero:But vulnerable, weak, defenseless characters can also be awesome characters. Not everyone can be a health regenerating space marine.   "

Huh? he doesn't regenerate health... 
 
I think Isacc is very over estimated, as he isn't all that strong and dies somewhat easily.  
 
i died more with isacc than i ever did with james sunderland in silent hill 2. 
 
And i could be wrong, but i don't think that survival horror games ever flooded the market. 
 
The horror franchises that exist are counted with the fingers: Alone in The Dark, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Siren, Condemned, Obscure, Clocktower and Dino Crisis. 
 
And there are the one time wonders as Cold Fear, Dead Space (till now), Haunting Ground, Eternal Darkness, Cursed Mountain, Juh-on, Ghosthunter, Nocturne, Rule of Rose, Kuon and The Thing.
 
So it follows the normal flow, with one or two games hopping from time to time.
Edited by Claude
@Galiant: Yep, PS2, PSP and the Wii. As for the suck part, we'll see.
Posted by Azteris

No, they're UNDEAD.

Posted by SonicFire
@Jeust:  
 
But of those games, the only ones to generate substantial sales (on a consistent basis) were Resident Evil and Silent Hill. But a few years ago the thought of a horror blockbuster was not oxymoronic.  
 
The point is we're not seeing first class developers take much of an interest in survival type horror (apart from Dead Space), it's just different. Not to say that horror-element games aren't huge these days. After all, the zombie craze is quite remarkable, but apart from L4D (which I don't consider remotely scary), we've not seen zombie horror done well since the gamecube.
Posted by Jeust
@SonicFire: 
 
Those are the better know ones, but others sold relatively well, like fatal frame.
 
It still isn't oxymoronic, Dead Space is planning to be one, and for now it is the more capable one.
 
First class developers go to where the money is... There are better genres to generate profit, so they go there.
 
Most people don't like to be scared.  
 
For the most part horror games, hardly are well rated too. Even silent hill 2 had mostly good (7/10) but not great reviews.
 
And horror in terms of genres is a difficult one to craft and to master. Most horror games aren't all that scary.
Posted by Hailinel
@Galiant: There is a PS2 version, but I don't know how much stock I'd put in it.  For example, Shattered Memories has a prominent flashlight mechanic that seems designed for the Wii first and foremost.  I'm not sure how well that's going to translate to the PS2 controller.
Posted by SonicFire
@Hailinel:  
 
I'd agree, I'm not seeing how that's going to work. But then again, I've got a PS2, and I no longer have a wii, so this might be a tough one.
Posted by atejas

Penumbra. That is all.

Posted by Meowayne
@Azteris said:
" No, they're UNDEAD. "

  
 
"Shattered Memories" producer Tomm Hulett has expressed many a intelligent thought about why he considers Silent Hill 2 to be one of the best games of all time. We'll see.
Posted by FlamingHobo
@Claude said:
" Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is being made for the Wii. It's a reimagining of the original Silent Hill. They even took out the combat. But most people hate the Wii, so it will be dismissed. I for one will buy it. I like the box art too.
 

"
I am interested in the game, but with it being an exclusive Wii title, I doubt I'll be able to play it all.
Posted by eclipsesis
@Jeust said:
" @eclipsesis said:

" @TheGreatGuero:But vulnerable, weak, defenseless characters can also be awesome characters. Not everyone can be a health regenerating space marine.   "

Huh? he doesn't regenerate health...  I think Isacc is very over estimated, as he isn't all that strong and dies somewhat easily.   i died more with isacc than i ever did with james sunderland in silent hill 2.  And i could be wrong, but i don't think that survival horror games ever flooded the market.  The horror franchises that exist are counted with the fingers: Alone in The Dark, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Siren, Condemned, Obscure, Clocktower and Dino Crisis.  And there are the one time wonders as Cold Fear, Dead Space (till now), Haunting Ground, Eternal Darkness, Cursed Mountain, Juh-on, Ghosthunter, Nocturne, Rule of Rose, Kuon and The Thing. So it follows the normal flow, with one or two games hopping from time to time. "

I didn't mean Isacc from dead space, i just meant the generic characters which are the focus of this generation of games. 

I can see why that was easily confused lol my bad

Posted by SonicFire
@FlamingHobo:  
 
I'm seriously planning on borrowing a wii just to play this one. Sadly enough, I had a wii, but got rid of it because there were no games like this to pique my interest.