Dead Space 3 and Other Horror Games (And why I miss Survival Horror).

Played the demo today. Name should be changed to Gears of War: Hoth edition.
While a demo of course doesn’t quite paint all of what a game has to offer, It feels like it took the same direction started in Dead Space 2, and put more on a direction towards action and combat over fear and atmosphere. Sure for new players there’s going to be the initial shock factor of the grotesque enemies, but that wears off rather quick, and then when they add in things like religious zealots who shoot at you with guns, it definitely takes away from the “horror” experience.
That isn’t to say it’s bad, it handled really well, finding parts for to customize weapons (I made a carbine with a line gun attached) was pretty neat, blasting away at enemies is still satisfying, cutting limbs off with the cutter, the areas looked wonderfully detailed,so kudos to the programmers and art directors.
The problem I have is that they seem to have failed to set any sort of atmosphere that says either Survival, or Horror, instead devolving into a slower paced third person shooter, with an emphasis on “Boo” scares where things pop out and then you shoot them.
I know it’s the same gripe that comes up whenever a sequel to an established horror game comes up, but they come up for a reason. Mainly, it seems the things that made these games like Resident Evil and Dead Space (I’m not quite sure went wrong with Silent Hill, it just went on until each game seemed like a parody of the earlier ones), Which start out with settings and pacing and atmosphere that was all about the built up until you were tense enough to attack anything you even thought moved (sometimes even things that were in the room with you), shout a few obscenities, and possibly drop your controller.

Something I’ve noticed in the last few years is that horror games diverged into two categories: Horror Adventures (Read: Point and Click, Text adventures), where you interact with the environment, but slowly, like with Amnesia: the Dark Descent, or more flailingly laughable Rise of Nightmares for the Kinect. The other, of course is the more widely accepted Horror Action (Read: Survival Horror, FPS horror)  genre, where now there’s a emphasis on action, and more Surprise and Shock scares.

Now, for me, both types of these have their pro’s and cons. With the Horror Adventure styled games, on top of greater depth, there’s a lot of build up and tension, and you’re never quite sure when or where, or what might happen, and the real sense of helplessness because you have no way of fighting off anything that might come, of very limited ways of doing so while you run away. The con to this, for me anyway, is the pacing is usually very slow, While it does help build up any paranoia and fear, you can end up spending hours and essentially accomplish nothing beyond finding a note or a statue with a key attached before the pig monster that somehow the game designers ripped from your nightmares gently brushes his fingertips out of the shadow in the corner of your screen. Did you see that? Or was the suspense just .making you paranoid? The counter to this, of course is the Horror Action games. These rely heavily on shocking imagery like elaborate nasty monsters, or surprises like things just popping out of nowhere right in your face.Walking down the hallway and then HOLY FREAKING CRAP, there’s a frogmonster with an axe jumping towards as you fumble to hit aim, then fire, and then 20 zombies! These keep you going because the pacing is a lot quicker, and you’re usually just shooting with no less than a couple of minutes between combat, or they just throw hundreds of hundreds of certain types of monsters at you *cough*ZOMBIES*cough* but any scare is just, “Oh look at that thing, kinda looks like someone took a dog, turned it inside out, and microwaved it,” and then just becomes “Oh another one?… and another… 4 more you say…” So any feeling of helplessness is removed as a factor as you figure out the best way to kill and/or avoid them, even boss fights lose their edge in that department because they stuck to a formula that you HAVE to fight one at the end of each stage.Don’t get me wrong, I still find these fun as shooting galleries, but they irk me because they always try to sell me the game as something scary, when its a yawnsome popcorn scare at best.

I liked survival horror games, because they seemed to be the best of two worlds, in the way that they kept you engaged to tell you a story, while engrossing you in that world, and why you should be afraid. Half the scares were in the presenation, a good chunk of it was the story telling, and then the rest came out of visuals and things the game would throw at you.

Silent Hill 2 always seems to be the best example for this argument, I mean you’re in Silent Hill, trying to find your wife, whom you thought was dead, but this fog, this all encompassing fog keeps you from seeing what’s really there, or not there. Then you meet these characters that seem entirely off, but you can’t tell why, just yet. then at certain points, everything is turned inside out into meat walls and Pyramid heads, you don’t know why and there’s a rapist with a butcher knife bigger than you chasing you for some yet, unknown reason, all the while fighting off little things and big things, with breakable weapons and trying to find your way to the next location until you find your wife who, as it turns out, you freaking killed and the entire scenario was all in your head as a way of dealing with your guilt and building your own personal hell.
It had everything: Scenery, characters, action gameplay that still left you feeling weak and defenseless half of the time, a story that lead you deeper and deeper into a scary, but real feeling scenario of psychosis and guilt, or a surreal fantasy that brought you straight into a fleshy pit that punished someone for their acts in life similar to part’s of Dante’s Inferno.

Resident Evils first few games didn’t have so much scariness in it as it did suspense. Yeah sure, zombies and genetic freaks, but it was more about being thrown into a completely unknown situation. Sure you were sent in as a S.T.A.R.S. Alpha teams Chris “Captain Kickass” Redfield or Jill “Sandwich” Valentine, who were both highly trained and decorated ex military, who go to check on what was reportedly a bunch of scientists in the boonies, after rumors were spreading, they still managed to put you in that Helpless state by trapping you in a house with not only mutations and killer freaks, but pitfalls, puzzles, and little to no ammo, with things turning sour at each and every turn, and a greater mystery being unraveled with all the betrayal and intrigue leading up to player finding out that they were sent there by Wesker intentionally as a test of the BOWs.

Both of these series managed to do these things well enough to still be praised even by today’s standards, but along the line I guess they tried to eke out a formula in order to print  survival horror money. Capcom ended up with a homogenized third person action game, and Silent Hill, well I haven’t really played them since 4, but from what I’ve read, and playthroughs I watched,  they all just lost any sort of… personal nature to the scenarios. They just weren’t   sucking people in, or seemingly trying to be scarier on a deeper level.

Now Let me briefly talk about Co-Op in horror. There’s a frame of mind that says Co Op diminishes any horror elements in a game. I disagree on the grounds that They just keep screwing up how to do it. in the games that do it, they drop both you, and your partner into a setting, with guns, together. No real threats arise, because Bimbette and Commander badass are gonna kill all the zombies together and go skipping through the supposed wasteland on their way looking for a hexagonal crank.
Instead, I would propose a cooperative game, that makes you as isolated as you are cooperative.You’d be dependent on them for survival and progress, but at the same time you’d go through bits where you’d talk to them via in game chat, and all of a sudden it would cut out, and you’d still have to depend on them, You just wouldn’t know how. In a vast labyrinth where you have to fight off monsters on your own, figure out traps and pitfalls, and solve puzzles that would unlock their path while you have to travel forward not knowing what’ll be around the corner while you wait for them to find your next door opener. It’s all about building tension. For all you know, this random labyrinth could be built so your partner could go off and send you into a trap for no reason, or when the comm cuts out, they could be dead and you’d have no idea until the last second, with no way of knowing you can or should help them. I’m not making a damn game, I’m just saying things that build tension until that big scare comes up as you explore it. Don’t criticize lol.

I’m not trying to start a revolution, just trying to figure out where it all went wrong.



2 thoughts on “Dead Space 3 and Other Horror Games (And why I miss Survival Horror).

  1. This was an excellent piece, Mega! I haven’t played the demo of Dead Space 3 yet (PS3 here), but from watching others play through, I agree that it seems to have lost it’s survival horror edge and has changed into horror-action. I would like to see games return to the old survival horror formula (like in Silent Hill 2–the best game of that series), but with more and unique kind of scares. I like your idea of a co-op game that also allows you to be isolated. While not survival horror games, Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls offer that kind of play to some extent, which I thought was well done.

    • Well thanks for the read, I certainly didn’t expect to get a comment back so soon after posting! I haven’;t played Demon’s Souls (360 here lol), or Dark Souls but I did like how it was described as a type of hint system left by other players, with messages and things. What I would like, and I’m aware it’s just something pondered in the middle of the night, but something far more in depth, in depending on other players.
      After posting I realized I was describing something similar to what I experienced with Resident Evil Zero, where you had two characters, and rather than having CoOp, you would just switch between them as they separated into different rooms simultaneously while fighting off enemies in real time, and solving puzzles, but with a far different setting.

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