Resident Evil and The History and Decline of Survival Horror
In the early to mid 90′s, the survival horror genre was on the rise. Popular games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Clock Tower were showing the gaming community that survival horror was a genre that need not be ignored. Silent Hill and Resident Evil in particular launched what would be very profitable franchises that still release titles today on an annual basis. But somewhere along the line, survival horror took a turn for the worse, giving gamers a lackluster experience and poorly written narratives, and in the early 2000′s, the survival horror genre peaked. GamR Mag is going to take a look at the turning point of the genre, and the direction survival horror is headed.
The survival horror genre really began in 1992, with Infogrames ‘Alone in the Dark‘. The game is considered by many as the creation of the action/adventure sub genre, and is widely renowned as a “forefather” of survival horror gaming. Shortly after in 2005, the first iteration of Human Entertainment’s Clock Tower franchise was released, Clock Tower: The First Fear. Clock Tower was the first of the big survival horror franchises to utilize a point-and-click mechanic to move about the world, staying true to traditional adventure games.
But in 1996, everything changed. Resident Evil released on a platform that was gaining tons of popularity among consumers. The game instantly named and defined what a survival horror game should, and could, be by limiting players ammunition and controls, providing interesting camera angles, and timed, ambient music. The success of Resident Evil and the PlayStation console provided a template for many survival horror games to come, and was the game that launched the genre into popularity worldwide.
Soon after, Clock Tower followed suit and released a few more successful titles in Clock Tower 2, and Clock Tower Ghost Head. Both proved to be worthy of the survival horror title, and were helped by the success of the PlayStation console and Resident Evil. But Capcom wasn’t satisfied with the success of just one Resident Evil title, and in 1998, Resident Evil 2 was released an instantly became a commercial success. Capcom would go on to release another Resident Evil title, Resident Evil 3, that would garner success at market as well.
Beginning in 1999, Silent Hill began releasing a series of hits that spanned the left over life of the PlayStation console. Hits like Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2, became staples of the survival horror genre. Even RPG power house SquareSoft couldn’t resist the survival horror bug, releasing Parasite Eve and Parasite Eve II, two video games that combined RPG elements with action/adventure style gameplay. In 2001, Fatal Frame was released, and is still considered by some as one of the better survival horror games of all time.
This is where we see a transformation, and the survival horror genre decline. In the early 2000′s, popular franchises such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill began taking more of an “action” approach to the genre. Titles such as Resident Evil: Code Veronica X, Silent Hill 4: The Room and Clock Tower 3, while commercially successful, began catering to a more Western crowd that was more focused on providing less of the “horror” elements of the sub genre. This is a big deal considering that most of the successful survival horror titles up to this point were created by and large by the Easterners. Games began offering more supplies and ammunition and provided less combat. There was also a decline in ambiance and narrative as well, something Eastern games were known for.
The genre officially transformed with Resident Evil 4, which took a completely different approach to “survival horror”. The game, while amazing in its own right, was more focused on combat and weaponry than it was on providing a personal, horror experience. Many other developers, seeing the success of Resident Evil 4, repeated the trend the way they did in 1996, and used the game as a template for future survival horror releases.
After Resident Evil 4, the quality of survival horror games dropped dramatically. Popular franchises began mass releasing titles on multiple platforms without a focus on quality. Silent Hill and Resident evil games such as Silent Hill: Homecoming, and multiple Resident Evil titles; Revelations, Operation Raccoon City, and the 5th and 6th installments became jokes among the gaming community. A poorly made reboot of the Alone in the Dark title made matters worse, and ruined a game that helped define the genre in its early years.
But survival horror may be on the incline once again. With titles such as The Evil Within and Resident Evil 7 in development, we may see some commercial breakthroughs with a redefined survival horror genre. Independent titles have been doing a great job recently of helping mold a new generation of survival horror with games such as Amnesia: The Dark Decent, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, and Slender: The Eight Pages. One can only hope that the genre reverts back to its roots, and hopefully the Resident Evil series can help redefine something that it has redefined twice. Here is to hoping.