Bringing Horror Back to the Survival Horror Genre
Survival horror games are meant to scare us, make us feel nervous as we play them, and reward us with an experience that we won't soon forget. Games like Resident Evil 4, Silent Hill 2, and the horror/stealth hybrid Manhunt all provided some of the most chilling gameplay in the genre, and the horrific vibe that these titles exuded was further strengthened by their use of environment, sound, and visuals. Though there are a few exceptions, most "horror" games that come out these days hardly induce a feeling of loneliness and desperation quite like the classics did. It's time for the genre to go back to basics and once again provide intense nerve-wracking thrills like it used to.
One of the most important factors in any horror game is the use of a proper environment. Without a legitamitely creepy world, it's hard to really get lost in the game and have a lingering sense of fear. Resident Evil 5 was a major indication of this. Though the game had its moments, the open, sun-drenched locales made it nearly impossible to really get that feeling of nervousness that the horror genre is supposed to evoke in players. Horror games need to constantly put the player in a cramped space with dim lighting in order to really create a tense game world.
Crafting a dark and chilling environment is only part of successfully building a terrifying game world. The feeling of aloneness goes hand-in-hand with a horror game's locales, and something that made older games in the genre much scarier than they are now was the solitude that they forced on players. Manhunt is a great example of solitude in a video game. Players were outcasts throughout the entire game and were subjected to hiding in the shadows in order to survive. If a horror game is going to live up to the genre's standards, it needs to turn the player into the prey rather than making that person a hunter. This creates aloneness, and it makes the survival aspect of a horror game all the more meaningful.
In order for players to be lonely, they really need to be alone, and this translates into the real world. Something that doesn't work well at all with horror games is the implementation of a cooperative multiplayer mode. Most people enjoy a good co-op play session with a buddy, but this mode has no place in a horror game. It's hard to get scared while playing when you've got a friend next to you, talking to you the entire time and possibly even straying away from the topic of the game. Co-op in video games may be fun, but it in a horror game, it takes away from the experience that the genre is supposed to offer players.
Something developers need to remember when making horror games is that a surplus of ammo and weapons is only necessary in shooters and action-adventure titles. Early Resident Evil games turned ammo into a precious resource. Ammo clips and powerful weapons should be commodities in horror games, not abundant items scattered throughout every level. In Resident Evil 4, there was nothing more satisfying than being backed up into a corner and making every shot count only to discover that the final enemy you killed took up your last remaining bullet; and there was nothing more terrifying than noticing you were screwed after wasting all of your ammo when a group of Ganados were slowly making their way toward you.
So what would you do if those Ganados, zombies, or mask-wearing lunatics were actually inching closer and closer to you? You ran like heck! There's nothing wrong with running, and horror games that occasionally require the player to run create a true sense of desperation seen mainly in movies. These instances make you think as if you were the protagonist in a horror flick, providing an engrossing gameplay experience that not many genres can create. It's one thing to make Mario jump or make Kratos hack away at a group of enemies; but when you literally feel like it's your life that's in danger, the boundaries between horror game and real life are blurred just slightly enough to really make you feel afraid.
It's no secret that survival horror games have taken a more streamlined action-adventure approach lately. Titles such as Resident Evil 5 and Silent Hill: Homecoming aren't very original, and consequently hurt the genre. Developers need to stick with what worked for horror games in the past: moody environments, isolation, and desperation. These are key elements that help distinguish the genre among other action-adventure games. There is plenty of room for horror-themed sci-fi shooters such as Dead Space and zombie parodies like Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, but there should also be a proper integration of authentic, creepy-as-heck horror games. At this point it's a dying genre, but by going back to basics and expanding on past formulas, developers can breathe new life into survival horror.