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?