Thanks to society’s new found infatuation with walking corpses and vampires that sparkle like fishing lures, the supernatural is now at the forefront of popular culture. The growing phenomenon has prompted a surge in the production of “horror” movies and has even spread from the silver screen to television sets. It seems that nowadays every major network has some sort of ghost, zombie, and/or vampire show in their fall lineup. And while it should go without saying that the majority of these shows are hopeless monstrosities attempting to capitalize on a current trend before their inevitable cancellation, it has proved that there is still room for the macabre in mainstream.
The swelling popularity has also restored some faith for video game developers in their fan base and breathed life back into the once popular survival horror genre. Over the last few years we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of horror based AAA titles as they’ve given way to more action-oriented games. Even releases billed as “survival horror” entries, like The Last of Us and Dead Space, still feature more of an emphasis on action in order to reach a wider audience. However, that’s not so say that true horror games are entirely extinct. In the midst of big studios shying away from the genre indie developers have found success with games like Slender: The Eight Pages and Outlast.
Although horror themes are still common in AAA games (ie. monsters and end of the world scenarios) the need to appeal to the masses and generate revenue often compromises the experience. The most notable example of this is the recent metamorphosis of the Resident Evil franchise. In an effort to compete with the Call of Duty titles CAPCOM adopted a more action focused approach for their series. They accomplished this by splicing faster-paced sequences throughout the narrative and creating a hybrid of horror and action. What resulted was not only an overall shift in the franchise’s tone, but a disjointed experience that turned away a lot of long time fans. This change in direction also prompted the series’ creator, Shinji Mikami, to leave CAPCOM in favor of starting his own studio.
Shinji founded Tango Gameworks in 2010 with the idea of bringing horror back to AAA titles by returning the genre to its roots. Now after four years in development the studio is set to release their first game, The Evil Within. It’s a game that promises to not only revive traditional horror gameplay elements, but also exposes players to intense psychological duress. And from what we’ve been shown so far it’s fair to say that the team at Tango may have hit their mark. The Evil Within features some of the most grotesque imagery we’ve seen in a video game for quite some time. While many fans are excited to see what the Godfather of survival horror has in store for us there are some concerns that the extreme nature of the game will only appeal to a select group of consumers.
In addition to The Evil Within, horror fans are also eagerly anticipating the upcoming release of Alien: Isolation. Isolation is a true survival horror game in every sense and bases its’ narrative around the classic 1979 film. The story picks up 15 years after the original movie with players assuming the role of Amanda Ripley as she investigates her mother’s disappearance. Amanda’s search for the Nostromo’s flight recorder finds her on the Sevastopol where she is relentlessly stalked by a single Xenomorph. Not only are players simply tasked with surviving, but they must do so with little more in their arsenal than a motion tracker. It’s a concept that’s as refreshing as it is terrifying and unlike anything else we’ve seen in a AAA title. And based off the growing excitement from fans of the genre and films alike, it’s certainly clear that there is a definite place for games like this in today’s market.
The resurgence of horror in video games has also attracted several established writers and directors to the medium. With countless suspense novels, screenplays, and even comic books getting snatched up for movie rights it was only a matter of time before we saw a crossover into games. Horror master Guillermo del Toro (Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage) has been attached to several titles over the years. His first project, titled inSANE, was set to be part of a trilogy and scheduled for release in 2013 by the now defunct THQ. Not much has been said recently about the games’ status since the studio’s collapse, but del Toro has assured fans that the project is still underway with an undisclosed developer. In the meantime del Toro has also signed on to co-direct the ninth installment in the Silent Hill series. For those that are familiar with the Silent Hills “playable teaser” (and undoubtedly evacuated your bowels all over yourself) then you’ve already seen the potential for just how disturbing this game will be.
If popular culture and bell bottoms have taught us anything it’s that trends are cyclical. Fortunately for fans of video games and horror, it seems our Day of the Dead has come. Developers are finally starting to return to one of the most beloved genres in gaming. It’s a genre, that until recently, many feared would be as dead as Raccoon City’s remaining inhabitants. But with several big titles set to release and the attraction of some of films’ greatest minds it seems that survival horror games may now be bigger than ever. It’s great news for fans longing to experience the same dread we felt exploring that mansion’s corridors so many years ago. For all those fans that still remember the unnerving sounds echoing from the hallway and the chilling moment right before we’re first met with that lifeless gaze. It’s true our numbers aren’t high enough to crash Activision’s servers, but be assured we are still fans and we’re eagerly awaiting a return to the gory days of gaming.