Saturday, 4 June 2016

Shout Out to Classic Survival Horror

For the first time in a long time I have been wowed by a game; bonus being that it is also a survival horror (my favourite genre). Bonus two being that it is also a Capcom development similar I feel to both Resident Evil and Clock Tower; being said that it is the spiritual successor to the Clock Tower series. I like this game so much, that I feel compelled to write about it after having only played it for around two hours and only just gotten to the part where you are about to take on a companion in the form of a dog named Hewie (cute).  

First of all, I am just getting into this game because of two reasons. One, back in 2005 when it was first released, I was lost in the world of Xbox gaming and paying little attention to the PS2, unless it was anything to do with Resident Evil and Pro Evolution. And secondly, now that I am on a mission to catch up with all of the games that I may of missed or not completed due to various reasons, I have been watching a You-tuber by the name of MetalJesusRocks who very kindly points people like myself in the direction of gaming hidden gems of which I agree Haunting Ground is one. I find it highly amusing that Jesus is helping me to see the light in such a dark way. 

So this is kind of a shout out to what I consider to be classic survival horror with a review of the game coming as I get further into it or upon completion.

The late 90's to the mid 2000's is a time period that I consider to be the time of classic survival horror games, those that gave birth to and some may say eventually death to huge franchises such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill; although Resident Evil is still hanging in there like a desperate old king attempting to pop out one more child in the hope that it may be fit for the throne when he's gone.

Resident Evil 
This time period had both of those franchises on the lips of all survival horror enthusiasts, with talk of which is the better and one eye on the future in anticipation of what may come next. Although both Resident Evil and Silent Hill where absolutely massive, there were a ton of others that I managed to play and some as I am now finding out that I missed and that I am now attempting to find and play. It isn't an easy task to collect those missed titles as some are becoming highly sought after with prices going into the hundreds ( Rule of Rose and Kuon); but as is the case with any committed gamer/collector/addict, I will do my best to add as many as I can to my now growing collection of games on many consoles and probably have many a restless night and moments of intervention from worried friends and family.

Alone in the Dark
The first time that I played a survival horror title I believe was when one of my older step brothers bought a Sega Saturn and introduced me to Alone in the Dark, which I later played and completed The New Nightmare on PS1 and failed to complete the newer version on Xbox 360. Although I didn't play it much on my step brothers console I do believe that it impacted on me such that it set the wheels in motion for what has become my biggest gaming love affair and a bit of a broken heart in later years as the survival horror genre has become more of an action horror type infusion, with big guns and lots of ammo replacing the scarcity of items that made the 90's a time that you actually did have to survive horror rather than quickly obliterate everything that comes your way. I am not saying that I do not like this type of gaming, because there are some very good and scary titles out, but more that like an aboriginal lost in the modern world, I long for a return to the good old days when you bit your nails and almost wet your pants because you didn't want to go to the toilet as you had to find out what was around the next corner or get to the next save spot and then the one after because the story was so gripping as it unfolded. Silent Hill kept this type of survival going right up until the last release on the Xbox 360, with Downpour being a difficult game to master, whereas Resident Evil moving on from the PS2 started to become more action oriented. And what has happened to Alone in the Dark? Christian Slater, that's what and why oh why did they make a second Alone in the Dark film? (And why did I watch it)? Talk about killing a franchise off. Of all the games adapted into films, it has perhaps been Resident Evil that has been the most successful, although the Silent Hill films are worth a watch too; stay away from Doom though!  

Anyhoo! Back to the games. After briefly flirting with Alone in the Dark first time around, I had recognised two important factors that are present in a good game in general and definitely in a survival horror game.
1) Puzzle solving; something that I have loved since back in the days of Amiga gaming.
2) Suspense; the ability to build an atmosphere that sucks you in and makes you not want to move from where you are sat.
Survival horror appealed in a way that horror films had not when I was younger.

Silent Hill
After being the sort of child that didn't want to watch anything remotely scary, all of a sudden in my teens I had let my guard down and begun to venture into the world of horror (It took until age 21 to watch Nightmare on Elm Street). Tentatively and perhaps naively I ventured into Silent Hill after playing the much tamer (but jumpy still) Resident Evil. Both games blew my mind as I had never played anything previously that had had so much depth to the story or the amount of dialogue that is present in both; and then there is the graphics. Although looking terrible today, at the time it was state of the art stuff, with Silent Hill having the overall creep factor throughout and Resident Evil notching more points in terms of replay-ability. Both Capcom and Konami followed up with brilliant sequels that took the attention away from other titles being released. Resident Evil 2 is for me the best survival horror period and as of today I am yet to play Silent Hill 2 (the HD collection is waiting to be opened), but I do know of its impact on gamer's. I stuck with Resident Evil mainly because Konami waited for the PS2 before releasing another title and by the time it came I was off into the Xbox world of gaming and a personal hell of my own which saw me steering away from horror momentarily and into rpg's and action adventures. I did play Silent Hill 4 'The Room', which to this day has still got me spooked. That game is seriously fucked up!

The Xbox itself didn't have a large amount of survival horror titles. Missing a Resident Evil it did have Silent Hill releases, but the two games that stood out on the Xbox in terms of horror that I played are Obscure, of which I now have 1 and 2 and a game that is not a survival horror but has a horror/murder theme, Still Life. Obscure is what it says on the tin. Based on a teen slasher type horror movie, it was unique at the time because you could play two player co-op; something that hadn't been done before with survival horror. As the genre evolved developers experimented whilst always seeming to be able to keep the scare factor priority. Games had claustrophobic tendencies with an emphasis on keeping you stuck in one place or running around in circles as you attempted to figure out what to do next; of which a lot of is present in Haunting Ground. There was also the fixed camera angles that built up an atmosphere of panic, as you were unable to see too far ahead, meaning that anything jumping out from behind something was almost guaranteed to make you jump in your seat.  

In my haze of Xbox gaming I was missing the amazing titles that were abundantly being released on the PS2. But then came the Xbox 360 in all its shiny white might. The expectations were high and the disappointments were low, but after a while it was clear that the likes of Capcom were heading away from the fans of their games and that other developers were now wanting to use the power of the next gen consoles to show off the look of a game rather than game-play and plot building; something that is massively obvious with the now gen consoles. One of the first games that I played and completed on Xbox 360, was Monolith developed game Condemned, which stuck to the idea of horror needing to be survived whilst hugely improving on the game-play and developing and incredible story. Then there was Left for Dead which was more like 28 Days Later, a theme that was developing in both games and in films; horror was now moving fast. And because it is now moving fast, there is little time to think and more action needed, so of course there is the need for lots of guns, lots of ammunition, plenty of health items and more of a desperate fight than a game of survival hide and seek; and it seemed people tagging any old horror under the term 'survival horror'.

'I happen to like both, so you could say that both needs are being catered for, but it is my preference to get lost in hours of trying to figure shit out, whilst be scared shitless, which I feel has had to take a back seat whilst game after game has come out where the emphasis is on blasting away the enemies or even worse where the game is just plain boring (Dead Island springs to mind).'

As I look towards my collection of games, I note only one other title that stands out. Dead Space. Silent Hill in Space on fucking steroids! There are of course the open world experiments, such as Dead Rising and the downloadable State of Decay, but to be honest Dead Rising was just frustrating to play and I am yet to get into State of Decay. So for all the years that the 360 was king (in my opinion), there wasn't and could of been a whole new load of games added to compete with what came off of the old gen consoles. Instead there were one or two fantastic titles (Deadly Premonition and Condemned) and the misuse of the term survival horror in many others.

Today we are seeing a trend of remakes and remasters with Capcom surely proving that classical survival horror is king; why else would they plough so much time and expense into remaking their earlier games? So with little else happening and as I work my way back over, exploring what games I missed in my youth or just simply ignored because I was only playing games on one console, I am asking myself this?

  • Is survival horror dead? Capcom and Konami it seems believe so and other developers do not seem to want to fill the opening that is getting wider with Resident Evil being more action based and Silent Hill being....well Silent for now. 
  • Am I getting to old or stuck in the past? Maybe the time has just passed for survival horror and maybe like most trends survival horror will have a revival period similar to clothes fashion.
  • Have developers gotten lost in the power of new gen consoles and overly focused on the look of a game over the game-play? Off topic I was hugely disappointed with Fallout 4 for this reason, but there has been one success in my opinion; lets have more games like Alien: Isolation.
  • Is there a a hole in the market that other developers could plug? Maybe its time for a new giant or two to develop these types of games or better still maybe those who are familiar could go back to the roots and take away the rot, listening to what the fans are currently asking for. There is hope that Resident Evil 7 may breath life back into this genre. 
Whatever the case may be, for the moment I will find solace in the fact that I have many of the classic survival horror games yet to play and many hours of playing and writing about such games to keep me happy. Happy gaming to you all wherever you are and whatever games you choose to play.

 Let me know in the comments if you have an opinion on survival horror and which games are your favourites or which games you consider to be hidden gems.
@Illuminatitingz on Twitter for instant updates. 
P.s. Stop bitching about the Resident Evil 7 teaser, it is going to possibly be the best Resident Evil released in many years. 

'Finally, I have gotten around to playing RE 7 and I can say that, Capcom, have really pulled it back to the good old days of survival horror.'
'Fantastic game, expect a blog about it soon.'