The Evolution Of The Survival Horror Genre

Andrew Burke examines the recent changes in survival horror, and what developers have done to make the genre frighten us once more..

One of the greatest genres of video games today is of course, horror – more specifically survival horror . It brought upon countless memories for gamers like myself, none of them pleasant but all of them unforgettable. Like most games, as time has gone on, the genre itself has had to adapt to survive and find new interesting ways to scare an innocent gamer and, for the most part it has. Survival horror is a subgenre of horror that focuses on the survival aspect. They are meant to make you feel at a severe disadvantage against what you are up against and limit your resources greatly. You have to feel you are vulnerable to whatever enemies are in the game and that there isn’t much of a chance for surviving until the end.

The most significant first survival horror game to emerge is Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan). Made in 1998 by Capcom, the game focuses on a group of people surviving in a mansion full of zombies in a third person perspective, with limited ammo and weapons to defeat the horde. The point of RE was to create suspense and make you think “I was almost a Jill sandwich” throughout your close encounters and it was extremely successful. 8.63 million copies of the game were sold worldwide. It truly defined the survival horror genre, being remastered twice, spawning several games, movies and comics and being the template for all third person horror games to follow, such as Silent Hill, F.E.A.R. and Dead Space. All of these give you the power to take on the enemies, but have an incredible story and still find a way to make you feel weak.

As the years went on, the direction of survival horror changed and focused more on the action aspect rather than the survival or horror. People were growing sick of the genre and felt the horror was missing from new games like Resident Evil 6 or Alien: Colonial Marines. While the triple A horror games of the early 2010’s were flopping, it began the rise of independent horror games. I present to you the four horsemen of the survival horror revolution; Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender: The Eight Pages, Five Nights At Freddie’s and Outlast. Each game was made by fans of the horror genre that wanted to add something new and it created an unstoppable wave of indie games that to a lot of people, win out over many of the recent triple A titles. What do these four games have in common? All of them are in a first person perspective, all are innovative, none have guns and all were a big success.

What makes these four games special is how they tackle the survival horror genre. Previous games gave you weapons or a way to defeat what’s ahead of you, but these four games tell you from the get-go that there is no way to kill what’s trying to kill you. These games not only made you feel weak, they made you have no other choice but to duck and hide and pray you don’t get caught, creative innovative ways to play. A major factor in these games’ growth is YouTube. People playing these games and recording their reactions was something people couldn’t help but watch, myself included. Amnesia is what blew up the largest channel on YouTube, PewDiePie, with 66 million subscribers. Slenderman and Five Nights At Freddie’s were so popular that they have or will be getting film adaptations. These games spawned sequels, merchandise, fan games and people obsessed with the lore. They may have even affected the triple A horror genre, with the release of Resident Evil 7 getting a first person mode and having a similar feeling to the four horsemen.

The horror genre will continue to adapt and evolve over time to find new ways to scare people, but I believe that indie developers will from now on be the leaders of that movement.