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Survival-Horror – What Developers Could Be Doing Better
Survival-horror. Two words that feel like they should always be together; the peanut butter and banana of video games, if you will. In my childhood, there were many nights where I would hide in my bedroom with the lights off, blinds closed, and a controller in hand with the sole purpose of scaring the hell out of me. I blame my father, really. At the age of five, he allowed me to watch the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie alone. Wide eyed and cuddling up with my blanket, I watched as the sly Krueger toyed with and killed the vast majority of the cast in wonderful brutality. Now, as a kid, this was absolutely terrifying and probably fairly bad parenting, but it created a terror and fear that I’d never really experienced before. Like many others, I have since looked to other movies to provide a similar stimulus, but to really no avail. The older I got, the less things tended to scare me and I don’t think that I am alone in this.
- Warning! Not suitable for children barely past the fetus stage.
That being said, video games should offer the perfect experience for someone like me, right? I mean, immersing the player in a world full of horror should be a terrifying, yet satisfying experience. Well, often times the experience is fairly lackluster, due to an overlooked story, lack of atmosphere, and terrible accessibility.
- Atmosphere done right.
Atmosphere is one of those things that if your game is lacking it, the horror element is never going to really kick off. A few things that I think really make up atmosphere in a horror game are the soundtrack, artwork, and strong voice-overs. Many games struggle to meet these integral points effectively, and in turn, come off as being either too campy, too bright, or just boring. Darker is always better in this kind of genre, and being able to truly scare a player with suspense and strong narrative (as opposed to spamming ‘jumpy’ moments) is truly an opportunity that is rarely brought to fruition.
The biggest struggle for the survival-horror genre is deciding how accessible developers want the game to be. Limiting the playable character’s inventory slots, fixing the camera to a certain angle, and leaving weapons sparsely throughout the world is a common trend amongst early survival horror games. This tactic, however, is very frustrating. So much so that it jars the player out of the intended atmosphere, thus really dampening the overall experience.
That`s not to say that the alternative is any better, though. The accessibility issue has been addressed by simply giving the player enough guns and ammo to kill any baddy in sight five times over. Frankly, it’s hard to ever feel desperate and isolated when you’re surrounded by fully automatic machine guns and rocket launcher, which, in turn, makes the game infinitely easier; again cheapening the survival-horror experience. This easily makes for a fun experience, but really misses the mark that the genre should strive to attain.
My solution? Skyrim it up. Yes, Skyrim has its issues, but it’s easily one of the most immersive experiences ever created. Imagine the possibilities of an open world horror game, where monsters could randomly generate and stalk you from anywhere, and quests present themselves to you on the fly. Imagine feeling responsible for not only saving the world from whatever horrors plague it, but also saving citizens from deadly situations, not because you have to, but because you want to. The developers would have to keep a close eye on making sure that the player is not overpowered, but this is a strong way to push the genre in a more immersive direction. Linearity is a system that can work really well for a genre, but so far, it has only hindered the potential of what a survival-horror game can truly accomplish.
- I know, Little Sister… I’m sad, too.
This should be a no brainer, but a strong story needs to be present. It isn’t enough to scare the audience with jumpy moments, you really need to make the gamer feel like he/she is desperate and that his/her actions affect the overall outcome. I mean, having a linear story is all well and good, but character defining moments really are much more effective when the player chooses the outcome. Do you let the old lady die to complete a time sensitive mission, or do you save the old lady who will likely play a role in the story later on? It’s really puzzling that this sort of thing has not been implemented well in any survival-horror game to date.
The video game industry is constantly evolving and adapting, much like many popular genres are, so why is the survival-horror genre being left in the dust? There is so much untapped potential and so many amazing developers that could truly bring this genre to where it deserves to be. Until then, there are still amazing games coming out to keep me sated, so I guess that I can stop complaining.