Horror through the Years: A Look at Some Pivotal Titles in the Horror Genre

October 27, 2008

Horror through the Years: A Look
at Some Pivotal Titles in the Horror Genre
Steven Hopper

From Texas Chainsaw Massacre to
Dead Space, the Horror Genre has seen some change for the better over the

With titles like Dead Space earning
critical acclaim and sales numbers, and highly anticipated titles like Resident
Evil 5 looming on the horizon, the horror genre is alive and well in the video
game industry. However, while some may feel that the genre may be a recent
development beginning with the Resident Evil franchise a little over a decade
ago, the genre has been going strong for even longer, representing some of the
finest games ever created and fan favorite franchises.

The horror genre began fairly
unremarkably, usually as tie-ins with licensed slasher movies. The both the
Atari 2600 and the original Nintendo Entertainment System saw their fair share
of lousy horror movie tie-ins, including infamously bad titles based on films
like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Texas Chainsaw
Massacre standing out as having little to do with the films on which they were
based, and relying on silly gimmicks like huge spiders and skeletons in an
attempt to illicit a horror feeling. There were certainly some standouts like
Splatterhouse and to a lesser extent the Castlevania franchise, the genre was
unfortunately littered mostly with lousy film-based games.

A Nightmare on Elm Street was just one
shallow attempt at cashing in on an existing film franchise,
and didn’t bear much of a resemblance to the movies.

The game definitely changed when
Infogrames’ Alone in the Dark hit the PC in 1992, pioneering the survival horror
genre in America and introducing gamers to a new brand of gaming. Combining the
exploration elements of the then popular adventure genre with a terrifying
storyline based on the works of well-known horror author H.P. Lovecraft. Also
being one of the first titles to make use of 3D-polygon character models, the
game was an instant success and spawned a franchise that is going to this day.

Alone in the Dark added some great
new mechanics to the horror genre, as well as a brand new direction. The
Resident Evil franchise came along about four years later, owing a great deal to
Alone in the Dark while adding its own brand of terror and zombie shooting. The
game series has garnered massive critical acclaim as well as a huge fanbase over
the years, spawning several sequels and spin-offs, as well as a trilogy of
feature films.

The Alone in the Dark franchise was pivotal in
bringing horror games to the mainstream.

Resident Evil’s influence has also
been felt across the genre, with titles like Silent Hill, Clock Tower, Fatal
Frame and Siren, each offering their own distinct takes on horror, but also
adding the element of survival to it. In survival-horror games, you’ll be faced
with situations that have you outnumbered and outgunned, requiring you to
utilize your mind and wits, often running away from combat situations instead of
taking them head on. Factors like ammo and health power-ups are often few and
far between, creating a unique sense of suspense that isn’t present in other
genres. This has made the survival horror stand out and create some of the most
popular game franchises around.

Aside from the survival horror
genre, there have been a great many games that offer some pretty impressive
scares. Clive Barker’s Undying is a good example of a horror title that offered
some truly terrifying gameplay within the FPS genre, weaving an impressive story
through the gameplay without relying on cutscenes to progress the story. The
game was a critical success, but didn’t make a huge commercial dent, making it
one of the most underrated PC games out there.

Additionally, the adventure genre
made a nice transition into the horror genre during the late nineties. Titles
from Sierra like Shivers, Gabriel Knight, and Phantasmagoria presented some
frightening narratives intermixed with classic point-and-click gameplay. These
games bore the great adventure game pedigree that Sierra titles had for years,
as well as horror based storylines. Unfortunately, when these games where
released, the adventure genre was waning in popularity and never quite recovered
from the downslide. However, these great titles were a great swan song for the
genre and a fine representation on horror gaming.

Clive Barker’s Undying was a terrifying and
underrated PC horror title.

Recently, the horror genre has been
continuing to go strong on the current generation of consoles, making an
impressive transition to high-def with great atmosphere and ambience. The
just-released Dead Space stands as one of the strongest horror games to launch
this year, appropriately capturing the cold, frightening atmosphere of films
like Alien, and providing some genuine scares. The game boasts a truly
terrifying aesthetic, and should definitely be given a look by horror fans this

The future holds great things for
horror gamers, with the zombie shooter Left 4 Dead coming next month, Resident
Evil 5 down the pipeline, as well as new Wii entry from the Fatal Frame
franchise currently out in Japan with a possible US launch later on. The horror
genre has certainly grown leaps and bounds over past few decades, and will
continue to be one that will garner huge fans with high-profile launches and a
chilling feeling that you can’t find in other genres.


Watch this space this Wednesday
as GameZone’s Louis Bedigian gives us a rundown of the Resident Evil and Silent
Hill franchises.