Off The Record – The “Decay” of The Survival Horror Genre

There was a time in gaming history when the genre of survival horror meant two things. You felt alone, constantly low on ammunition, health items, and save points. You were surviving. Secondly it regarded the persistent uneasiness which couldn’t be shaken throughout the entire game, things were actually scary. You were horrified. It has come to my attention that, perhaps in the same way that the platforming genre has been slowly phased out, the survival horror genre is decaying. Pun intended. Are you ready for another Off The Record? Then join me after the break.

With “older” games like the first Resident Evils and Silent Hills, Dino Crisis, and so on and so forth players were shown true horror. For the first time you were playing a film of terror. You were the character who, in a movie, would be decapitated as the serial murderer moved on to the next teenie-bopper without a passing memory at your existence. Now you were in that position and, instead of facing an early death, you would do all you could to arm yourself with what armaments you could find laying around. Not once during games such as these could a player feel safe.

Now, let us examine a few choice picks of recent “survival” horror games. Resident Evil 5, Condemned 2: Bloodshot and Dead Space are my points of focus for the sake of this article. Of course, there are numerous other games from which to choose but these three will nail my intention perfectly.

Let’s start with Resident Evil 5. Even when Resi 4 released I felt that Capcom had made a huge change, but not in the good way. With the addition of frequent drops for ammunition, money, and health items as well as the introduction of the merchant the Resident Evil games suddenly got a whole lot less survival-oriented. Yes, the player is still going at it alone (with the exception of co-op in Resident Evil 5) but, at least to me, I felt like I was all powerful. Upgrading my weapons and having a nearly limitless surplus of ammunition not once did I feel that fear of running low on supplies. I feel that, because of this, Resident Evils 4 and 5 have changed from survival horror to third person shooter horror.

Next up on the list is Condemned 2: Bloodshot. There is no doubt that this game pitted the player alone against leagues of spooky things. Yet, the high action of Condemned with the concentration on the combination beat-em-up fighting skills seems to devalue the survival aspect. Again, no doubt it belongs in the horror genre but in is my opinion that Condemned should be placed in a classification of beat-em-up horror.

Last, but nearly not least, Dead Space. Visceral Games did an amazing job with Dead Space. The atmosphere is unnerving, the visuals are dark and wary, and basically everything in the game made Dead Space to be utterly horrifying. Now here’s the major difference between this game and Resident Evils 4 and 5. Both DS and RE4/5 feature frequent item drops and merchants/stores where the player can buy health items and ammunition. The separating feature though is in DS the drops are less prolific and credits come much more few and far between. Unless one maintains nearly perfect accuracy and is exceedingly reserved with his or her supplies, it’s very easy to run out of both ammunition and healing items. Thus, Dead Space qualifies for the survival horror label.

My point is not that any of these games are not horror. I tried to make that clear. The point of this Off The Record was to show that horror is much broader than just survival. It’s changed to the extent that, in comparison, a shooter is no longer just a shooter. There are so many more classifications of genre that I feel need to be applied to the horror aspect, yet, when a game shows up boasting horror it’s automatically put into the survival horror category.