Back in the 90’s when I had just been introduced to video games, the market was alive with horrifyingly unique titles like Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Parasite Eve and Fatal Frame. The best part about this era was the fact that horror games like the aforementioned could be released within the same decade and still be different from one another. With gaming turning a corner in the new year of 2016, survival horror has made a drastic shift in defining what it means to be a horror title.
The year 2015 was a depressing time for survival horror with the exception of titles like Until Dawn and Fatal Frame V: Maiden Of Black Water. Even little gems like SOMA kept the dream alive. But overall, the survival horror genre has been suffering for awhile. A number of horror titles have been announced for 2016 and they may or may not breathe life into the genre again.
1. Outlast 2
I played through almost the entire first installment of the Outlast series and it wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. The narrative was weak and the gameplay consisted of the player running around an abandoned asylum—sometimes running into naked, deformed creatures with very detailed “packages”. Since the player was given nothing for defense, the tactic was just to run and hide and hope they didn’t find you. My playtime came to an end when I had finally made it outside the asylum walls, out into the rain and the darkness. I was so close to freedom, only to run out of batteries and lose light and a means of finding anything—and the hope of ever beating the game. I threw my computer mouse angrily and vowed to never play the game again. We don’t know much about the second installment other than it’s going to be a different place with different characters and probably the same irritating gameplay. Outlast 2 has a Fall 2016 release date.
2. We Happy Few
We Happy Few is what would’ve popped out if the horror film, The Strangers, and video game, Bioshock, had a baby. I wouldn’t really call it the kind of survival horror I remember, but the narrative is intriguing. We Happy Few takes place in a twisted 1960’s dystopia where the people are too drugged up to realize what’s really going on. The character design is pretty unique and seeing everyone wearing strange, white masks really makes me wonder what the underlying narrative is. I can’t really say this is a game I’ll rejoice about in 2016, but it’s one I’m definitely going to try for myself. We Happy Few is slated for a June 2016 release.
3. Resident Evil Zero
Resident Evil Zero is just another remastered version of another Gamecube Resident Evil game. I’ve always been a little split on whether or not I like Resident Evil. I started playing that game right alongside the first Silent Hill and my problem with it was it wasn’t as great as Silent Hill. Zombies are zombies. But one thing Resident Evil did was create horrifying and unique zombies. They weren’t just people walking around half-dead. They were nightmarish creations like the Licker and the zombie dogs. Resident Evil made zombies scarier than they already were. With that in mind, I want to believe this game will be as good as I remember. But with the imminent release of Resident Evil: Umbrella Corps, I think Capcom is trying to cash in on the Call Of Duty zombies hype. Not my cup of tea. Resident Evil Zero comes out in just a couple weeks on January 19.
4. Last Year
Looks like Until Dawn has really started a trend in survival horror. Too bad all of the copycats aren’t as good. Well, with the exception of Friday The 13th: The Game—that actually wasn’t too horrible. Last Year is one of those copycats I am really not looking forward to. It’s basically the same concept as the other imminent survival horror release, Dead By Daylight. This slasher trend in survival horror gaming really grinds my gears. It was fantastic when Until Dawn did it because they did it right: stunning visuals, a classic slasher narrative with the stereotypical character design and a cinematic setting. But the copycats are trying to live up to something that’s already been done, and done well. There’s only so many slasher narratives you can do (how many are set at a summer camp/in the woods now?). It’s time to move on to something else. Luckily, I don’t see this trend lasting long. Last Year posted a launch date on their Kickstarter of Fall 2016.
This is probably one of my most anticipated horror games of 2016. Perception has all of the classic elements of a horror game: impaired sight, unknown enemies, lots of darkness and a twisted storyline. The game stands out because it’s different, it hasn’t been done before. And to me, when a horror game can be creative enough to go where other games haven’t yet explored, that’s what grabs my attention. The main protagonist is blind and you must use echolocation to find your way around. You can tap the young woman’s support cane on the ground, which illuminates part of the room—only for a second though. The scariest part of the game is not knowing what’s beyond the edge of sight. Perception is looking at a June 2016 release.
6. The Hum: Abductions
The Hum: Abductions is a stunning first-person horror adventure that is about, you guessed it, aliens. The game is a different take on the survival horror genre; rather than focusing on gore and classic horror elements like ghosts and zombies, The Hum: Abductions explores the realm of science fiction. I don’t think I’ve ever played a survival horror game centered around the subject of aliens. It’s like we just stepped into an episode of The X-FIles. I’m impressed with the unsettling tension and the extreme terror felt during gameplay, as you’ll witness in the gameplay trailer above. The game is set to release in Q1 of 2016, so very soon.
7. The Forest
In the story of The Forest, you take control of a lone surviving passenger from an airplane crash. You find yourself in the middle of a thick, barren forest where you’re hunted by a gang of crazy mutants. Sound familiar? It brings back memories of the mutant craze that caught on in the horror film industry when Wrong Turn was released in May of 2003. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Unlike the slasher stories mentioned previously, The Forest encompasses a different element: you’re alone and isolated. If there’s anything that truly terrifies me, it’s being isolated when you need help the most. I have high expectations for The Forest to genuinely scare its audience. The Forest is already available on Steam, but will release on the PS4 sometime this year.
I have mixed feelings about Kodoku. I’m a strong believer that the Japanese are super talented at making any kind of horror story, whether it be in games, anime or films. So I want to have high hopes for this game mostly because it’s not like the average horror game. Players get to explore an island overflowing with spirits derived straight out of Japanese folklore. And Japanese folklore is absolutely terrifying, if you don’t already know. The art style in this game is extremely fascinating; it almost feels like the characters from a highly-detailed, heavily disturbed painting have come to life. You can explore it more through the images on Carnivore Studio’s website. Kodoku only has a 2016 release window right now.
9. Through The Woods
I first got to demo Through The Woods at the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) last year. You play as a mother who is trying to locate her missing son in the forest. In your search, you come upon terrifying things lurking in the forest, things hiding in the darkness around you. The sound design in this game is spectacular, because you’re always listening for any indication that something is near you or coming up behind you. Many times I ran and didn’t want to look at what was chasing me. I was too scared. But coming from an experienced player in survival horror games, that’s a good thing. Through The Woods will release in the first quarter of the year.
10. What Remains Of Edith Finch
What Remains Of Edith Finch tells the story of the mysterious Finch family with a number of short stories centered around each member of the family. The stories range from the 1900’s to present day. Edith Finch is the main protagonist—and the last surviving member of the Finch family. She wants to learn about her family and why she’s the only Finch left. What immediately draws me to this game is the obvious heavy emphasis on narrative. I am a person who is obsessed with stories in games, and those games whose stories are strong and colorful, I usually end up enjoying. The game has a release window of 2016.
So what’s my conclusion? Survival horror has made a major shift since the late 90’s and early 2000’s when the gruesome nightmares of Silent Hill and Resident Evil was the norm. Rather than faced with the gruesome gore of the darkest parts of our nightmares, survival horror today has faced us with something seemingly worse: fear of the unknown. I’ve touched on this notion before in previous posts. Many of the horror games releasing today include unseen enemies, shadows moving in the dark and brief flashes of someone—or something— out of the corner of your eye. And many of the horror games are independent. Indie games aren’t a bad thing, rather exactly the opposite. Since the indie developers have complete creative control over the game, it sometimes comes out better than a major title would. Even though I’ll always prefer a Silent Hill-style of gameplay, I do enjoy many of the games mentioned on my list. I’m beginning to embrace the notion that the tension of not seeing your enemy face to face is the greatest and most satisfying fear of all in a horror setting, because it leaves you wanting more. Just let me see it. What does it look like? And one day, I’ll have moved on from the Silent Hill days completely, to accepting the horror games of the future. One day.
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