Survival horror was declared dead by those in power a few years ago, under the rather soulless reasoning that it’s very hard to add multiplayer, micro payments and non-stop action to a genre that’s dependent on feeling isolated, making the player feel completely immersed, and having them experience slow pacing and increasing tension. After all, Dead Space 3 had a stab at the more industry-friendly kind of horror, and then we all turned around and tried to stab it back before the infection could spread to any games with integrity.
Thankfully, all those pencil-pushers, bean-counters and boring people in grey suits were wronger than a tuna and ice-cream sandwich; hence survival horror going strength to strength since then. Part of that is the support of Let’s Play channels (why DO people so love folks in their twenties overreacting at stuff?), but maybe it’s just because video games are one of the best mediums for horror, sucking the audience in and refusing to let go. So baring that in mind, here comes our list of the top 10 survival horror games. For the sake of clarification, the survival element demands some sort of resource management gameplay, and the horror element should make me whimper in my chair like a newborn kitten.
Dead by Daylight
Look, Dead By Daylight could’ve been higher on this horror survival list. It’s an interesting idea that’s come up with a creative solution to the horror/multiplayer problem, channeling classic slasher movies via asymmetric gameplay.
What do I mean by that? Well, one person plays Jason Vorhees’ fat cousin (who seems to hold the speed-walking world record), and four others play as the survivors from Left 4 Dead, if the survivors were useless and couldn’t fight their way out of a kindergarten. They have avoid Chunky The Chopper whilst trying to find their way out of a randomly generated junkyard, ideally without them all being turned into ham sandwiches.
So it’s a good idea at the core, hampered by a lack of content and rough implementation. The objectives aren’t as interesting as they could be, the gameplay could use more depth and refinement in general, the matchmaking is still VERY much in need of a tuning up, but I’ll still say this – asymmetric multiplayer is one of the best ideas modern gaming has produced, and I’m fascinated to see it used this way. And provided that the developers clean it up with a few big updates, Dead By Daylight could be something very special. You know, in an utterly ghastly kind of way.
A while ago I wrote about some of the problems of Remedy’s homage to Stephen King; but that doesn’t change the fact that it does a lot of things well and is really trying its hardest to scare you and intrigue you simultaneously. When some horror games will just lazily dump you in a field with a monster and knock off for a smoke break until you die, Alan Wake tried to create an immersive story and world that would give you an emotional investment in what was going on.
No, it doesn’t always work. Yes, the monsters lose their edge after several hours of blinding them with torches. But that first act is so good and that first appearance of the Possessed is so chilling, that Alan Wake deserved a spot on this horror survival list somewhere. Also, the environment design is still some of the best I’ve seen, and that was done five years ago. That’s worthy of a thumbs up, if nothing else.
Dead Space 2
Dead Space as a series was never as restrained as it could’ve been, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t make you leap back from the screen every now and again. As mentioned recently, the scene with Isaac “Do you get the reference” Clarke trying to perform brain surgery on himself via eye-impaling technology is pretty hard to watch, but a lot of Dead Space leans a little too much towards action-spectacle to be genuinely scary. That being said, it’s still a very solid game that can make you twitchy with adrenaline when it’s really trying, and you gotta love the idea of sticking the health bar on Clarkey’s spine to help minimise the GUI. Somebody give that designer a promotion!
Obviously this isn’t the first appearance that Frictional Games will make on this horror survival list, but call me a sucker for philosophical science-fiction. I just can’t say no to something like SOMA and it’s dorky approach to horror, basically because I know that I’d be writing the same sort of thing if I had the chance or intellect to do so. Admittedly the monsters in SOMA are basically redundant, having no real baring on the plot, but they can scare when they have to and as mentioned, you’re not really here for them. You’re here for the existential crisis and well-designed discussion on the nature of humanity, like if The Talos Principle and Bioshock had a baby together. A big, watery, AI-and-monster-covered baby.
The Condemned Series
So far on this top horror survival game list we’ve had immortal serial killers, demonically-possessed lunatics, nightmarish alien mutations and roving aquatic terrors, and yet they’re almost outmatched by one or two homeless men with planks of wood.
It really is one of those moments where gameplay steps up to take the plunge, and does so spectacularly. The Condemned games wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good without their frantic melee combat, where you can practically feel the impact running down your arm as a pipe connects with an attackers’ jaw. What would’ve been the easiest enemies going in any other video game – untrained fighters with improvised weapons – suddenly becomes genuinely worrying when you’re backed into the corner and your taser is out of battery. Clonk.