Opinion: Are We Entering A New Golden Age For Survival-Horror?

With countless indie chillers heading our way this year and growing signs that mainstream gaming may be following suit, Mark Butler asks whether we’re about to enter a new golden age for the criminally-neglected survival-horror genre.

The Evil Within

It’s been a torrid few years for survival-horror fans.

We’ve looked on in disappointment as classic series such as Silent Hill and Resident Evil have slipped awkwardly into mediocrity, while promising new creations like the fledgling Condemned have disappeared from the scene almost as abruptly as they emerged.

Action has become the defining characteristic of mainstream horror games this generation, dispensing with atmosphere in favour of bullet-spewing gunplay interspersed with the occasional, tiresome jump-scare.

And yet, not long after many began to fear that the survival-horror genre had died altogether, a glimmer of dark hope appeared.

The indie sphere has played host to some ingenious chillers in recent times. Frictional’s gothic nightmare Amnesia: The Dark Descent; Jasper Byrne’s offbeat surrealist gem Lone Survivor; inspired, amateur-made mods like Cry Of Fear – all have made their mark.

The enthusiasm and appetite for terrifying, atmospheric gaming experience remains, and independent developers have been flocking to meet that demand.

Slender The Arrival

Six months ago, I wrote about the rising trend for uncompromising, ‘super hardcore’ survival-horror – which has paved the way for a feast of high-profile exercises in fear to establish themselves as highlights in the 2013 gaming schedule.

Slender: The Arrival – a more polished successor to the pant-wettingly frightening free game that made waves last year – is the first big name to land. But in the coming months we can look forward to intriguing prospects such as Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, Routine, Outlast, Asylum, and Among The Sleep, to name but a few.

Of course, you could argue that this apparent resurgence in survival-horror is limited largely to PC indie releases via Steam. But there is growing evidence to suggest that a console comeback may be in the offing too.

Godfather of survival-horror Shinji Mikami is making his comeback with major big-budget title The Evil Within, which he insists is committed to putting genuine dread firmly back at the heart of the mainstream horror experience. Backed by Bethesda and using classic genre elements to relate its tale of an ordinary man plunged into an inexplicable nightmare, it appears – in spirit – to be much more of a modern-day successor to the outlandish Silent Hill than that series’ own disappointing recent sequels.

The Evil Within 2

Meanwhile, there’s a strong suggestion that Resident Evil – the seminal survival-horror franchise that himself Mikami originated – could soon be returning to its classic atmospheric roots. Stung by the poor critical reception and sales performance of Resident Evil 6, Capcom are now seriously considering making a U-turn from all that set-piece posturing, cover-based shooting nonsense, and actually going back to making proper Resident Evil games.

Witness the porting of Resident Evil: Revelations to consoles this month. The 3DS title, which was praised for its embracing of more traditional survival-horror elements and emphasis, is now going to be placed firmly in the hands of console gamers. If it sells well – and I sincerely hope that it does – there’s a good chance we may well see the main series itself get a timely survival-horror reboot.

A horror-mad acquaintance of mine recently insisted that “there’s never been a better time to be a horror game fan”. And while it’s arguable that we’re not quite entering that new golden age just yet, with countless indie chillers coming our way and the mainstream console arena starting to catch up – it’s hard to dismiss the sentiment.


Mark Butler is the author of Interactive Nightmares: A History of Video Game Horror, available to download now for Kindle, PC, iPad, iPhone and Android.

Get it for just $2.93 from Amazon.com

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