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One of the most surprising aspects of this year’s Gamescom was how well the survival horror genre is currently doing on the new consoles. Specifically Sony seem to be very invested in the genre currently for PlayStation 4 with Until Dawn being a exclusive title previously for PS3 with Move support, now fully upgraded and looking way more big budget while still be positioned at the horror crowd.
The Evil Within is just around the corner and announced recently is the enhanced Resident Evil remake coming early next year. Then of course one of the biggest stories to come from the show was P.T which ended up being a clever way to introduce a new Silent Hill game by Hideo Kojima called Silent Hills. So where does this revival of sorts come from? Hasn’t horror been dead on the consoles for a while now? Let’s look back at some notable titles from the past and whether or not this current trend is a surprise or not.
Horror games have been around for a very long time but survival horror arguably did not establish itself until Resident Evil was released on PlayStation in 1996. The game spawned two fantastic sequels on the same console and really kick-started the genre as we know it today. The Clock Tower series also enjoyed success in the aftermath as well as Alone in the Dark and the first Silent Hill. This generation may have started what we know think of as console survival horror but it’s peak was still to come.
On PlayStation 2/GameCube we were treated to some of the best survival horror games ever seen on consoles. Resident Evil 4 and REmake were both released as well as multiple Silent Hill and Fatal Frame games. With many other Japanese horror games, this era was a high point for the genre and really set the benchmark in what we would grow to expect from future titles.
The next generation however was a mixed bag. Highlights were Alan Wake, Condemned and the first Dead Space but unfortunately it will be remembered more for a change in direction for some franchises. Dead Space quickly became something else by it’s third iteration, Silent Hill released it’s worst two entries to the date and then there’s the change in direction for Resident Evil.
While Resident Evil 4 was a dramatic change in terms of controls, it was Resident Evil 5 that completely changed the tone of the series. Ultimately it was a good game but really moved the series into a direction more in line with the films and paved the way for the next entry. The less I say about Resident Evil 6 the better before I get angry but overall I think it summed up where the genre was headed. The success of big budget action games like Call of Duty really made developers scared to take a chance on a slower, more atmospheric title in favor of explosions and car chases.
I was convinced this would be where the genre would continue to head going into PlayStation 4/Xbox One but that seems to not be the case so far. Of course we are only talking about console survival horror as the genre has been kept alive elsewhere; on the PC in the form of indie titles. Slender, Outlast, Amnesia and countless others have really reinvented what we expect from the genre with an emphasis on environment and mood over gameplay.
Which brings us to this current wave of survival horror we seem to be at the start of. Why have developers seemingly changed their tune and want to create these games that many deem outdated? Perhaps looking at each individual title rather than them as a whole will help understand. The Resident Evil remake seems to be a reaction to the negative response Resident Evil 6 received by it’s loyal fan base. The best way they could get the fans back on their side was by releasing it’s most loved entry once again, and could also serve as a test from Capcom to see how well it is received before releasing the next new installment.
Silent Hill has been in a bad place for a while now and I thought it would never return to it’s best so this one is more surprising. I believe it stems mainly from Kojima personally wanted to make a game in the series for a while and with the trust Konami have in him at this point they probably had zero objections to any idea that gets people talking after years of stagnation. Hopefully his unique style will suit the strange world of Silent Hill perfectly.
Calling this slew of new announcements a comeback for survival horror on consoles may be slightly premature for several reasons. Firstly these games could potentially turn out terrible and permanently kill the two biggest franchises as well as the return of Shinji Mikami be a huge disappointment resulting in the final nail in the coffin for the genre for good. Also even if these games are all fantastic and suddenly big budget AAA survival horror becomes a viable product once again, horror may never have been dead but just in a bad place after a few mixed releases. We’ll know more this time next year but for now it’s just nice to actually be excited for big horror titles once again.