With the news of Silent Hills being canceled, and Del Toro swearing off of game design. The question over the state of horror games is once again being brought up. I would argue that for a long time there have been two types of horror genre. Horror Action, and Survival Horror.
For me the divide between the two comes from where the emphasis lies. Action Horror- Combat, Survival Horror- Well survival. It doesn’t mean that all action horror doesn’t include instances of just having to survive, but that is not the emphasis of the game. Or that survival horror doesn’t have combat, but again not it’s important feature.
Some examples. DOOM can easily be defined as action horror, combat is clearly the main focus of the game. As such the game supports this with a large variety of weapons, and gives you incentive to fight as often as you can. There are still moments in DOOM where you have to just run though, that combat is not the solution to the problem.
Survival Horror on the other hand seems to have spawned from the days when gameplay didn’t really allow for much combat. As such it’s not the main focus. Silent Hill was really in control of this genre for awhile, the games focused heavily on puzzle solving, and running from enemies instead of fighting them. There is of course combat, but facing off against too many enemies will actually punish you in this game rather than help you.
These days though the line between the two is getting more murky and really action horror has taken over, but under the guise of being survival horror. For me the most notable example is The Evil Within. The Evil Within promised that it was going to bring back to real and true survival horror, and in some ways it did. There are plenty of enemies that you can’t in fact fight, lots of having to run, hide, then run some more. This feels like survival horror, but it’s not. At the end of the day regardless of how much running and hiding you do in this game the emphasis rolls around to being on combat. You fight wave after wave of enemies and for the most part the solution to problems ends up being “fight” rather than “survive”.
Yet this game really held itself in the esteem of being a true “going back to the hay day of survival horror” game. The question is how did we let this happen? And why?
I think it’s because on the side of action horror the divide of what makes it what it is has gotten blurry, while on survival horror side it’s gotten more strict.
Survival horror seems to exist almost exclusively in indie games, and when it says survival horror it means it. You cannot actually fight your enemies you can ONLY survive the encounters. Games like Amnesia, and Among the Sleep are notable examples. There is no such thing as combat, you are a character that can only make it through by running, hiding, and puzzle solving.
This type of survival horror is great, it’s scary, challenging, and interesting. I personally love playing these games. However they shouldn’t be the only survival horror that gamers get to experience anymore.
While on the other hand action horror has been divided into true Action Horror, and Action Horror that wants to disguise itself as survival horror. I mentioned The Evil Within as a notable offender in this instance. The game simply put wants to pass itself off as survival horror while still wearing all the dressing of an action horror game.
This leaves fans in a rather hopeless state. We either get the most extreme version of survival horror, or we get what’s really action horror just trying to pass itself off as something else. Gone are the early Silent Hill games, Fatal Frames, Clock Towers, etc.
Silent Hills PT really seemed like it got it though. It didn’t say “yeah we know what you are looking for” like The Evil Within, then just handed more of the same. PT was really just a survival mode but it felt like old Silent Hill, it felt like it was on the path to creating Silent Hills: We Actually Can Give Fans What They Want. Only now it’s canceled and the PT part is being pulled from consoles. So fans are once again snapping their fingers in disappointment because oh man so close.
So what do I think the state of horror is in video games? Good for the most part. Indie developers are thriving, the action horror market is bringing some good titles. You can even find some good scary levels in non horror games. However we are missing that one piece, it’s a piece that is important and that many gamers (myself included) are salivating over… hoping that it will show up. Maybe Silent Hills wasn’t the answer, but it did certainly raise the question so perhaps some other developers will jump on that missed opportunity and bring us what we’ve been waiting for.