The Best and Worst Survival Horror Games of The Generation
Just like that, another console generation is coming to an end. The PlayStation 4 is now out to play (station-ed in your living room), and the Xbox One will follow suit next Friday. It seems like it was just yesterday that we were first marveling at the thought of “next-gen” thanks to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It’s been basically a couple of years shy of a decade since both juggernauts hit the market. That’s quite a long time. Where did all those years go?
So to commemorate the launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, I’ve gathered our team of editors to pitch in with their picks for the best and worst survival horror games of the closing generation. Keep in mind that we’re just talking home consoles here; we all know you PC folk are always ahead of us!
Dead Space (Best), Resident Evil 5 (Worst)
At the time of its release, Dead Space was the next-gen horror experience I’d been waiting for. After coming off a golden age in survival horror with the era of the PlayStation 1 and PS2, Dead Space provided an amazing follow up to the games from those previous generations in terms of, you know, actually being a scary game that kept the genre alive and relevant.
EA (put down those torches!) gave horror fans a gem, resulting in the genre’s very own Alien, with a good dose of The Thing influence. Everything in the game just oozed dread. Its amazing atmosphere was brought to life thanks to the power of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The Ishimura ended up becoming the Spencer Estate for a new generation. Its corridors and different sectors filled with death, painted with the remains of those who formerly resided there, now claimed by a new strain of horror: the Necromorphs. And the game ensured that players were always immersed in its gruesome world by stripping away any form of traditional HUD.
While they were plenty, Dead Space wasn’t all about just pop-up scares, with the Necros bursting out of vents as if they were paid to by the hour. It was also about the psychological terror inflicted upon Isaac Clarke. And who can forget that ending? Man, that sure made me jump out of my seat.
Where to begin…Let’s get this out of the way first. Resident Evil 5 is truly a great video game. It’s super fun, even more so in co-op, beautiful (even to this day) and has a good amount of memorable moments peppered throughout its story. But that doesn’t mean it’s a great survival horror game. It’s not. At all.
And to think we were going to get a true survival horror experience at one point, by the looks of the game’s debut trailer. That first trailer gave me one of the most memorable moments in this generation. I remember seeing it over and over again countless times. Seeing Chris all on his lonesome in a desert environment with shadows of monsters swarming around him. It was glorious to witness. But, it was just that: a trailer. Sure, the game kept the sunlight-showered environments, but it stripped away that feeling of being alone in a world where monsters lurked and that would stop at nothing to see you dead on the ground. Oh, and Sheva.
Sheva was added to the game as an effort, to perhaps, ease the whole “this game is racist!” controversy Capcom was faced with. Doing so took away from the sense of horror even more. You felt much safer having Sheva around, as annoying as she may be. Unfortunately, this is also kick-started a trend in horror games, where established series went on to take a more action-oriented co-operative approach to ensure more stacks of cash. *sigh*
??? (Best), AMY (Worst)
Choosing the best game of a generation for me is a daunting task. I mean, I’ve been pulling my hair out mulling over this. Jorge, our Editor in Chief, has been sending me dirty, unwanted text messages demanding my personal best game of this generation, and I just can’t do it. There are so many games, so many hours within years that I’ve enjoyed, across different games. It’s so hard picking one, so I’ll be the odd man out and point out a few of my favorite horror games this generation.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was quite the phenomenal game; it took something so familiar, flipped it upside down and gave us such an emotional and memorable story. As for Silent Hill: Downpour, it was everything I wanted in terms of gameplay, from a current gen Silent Hill (exploration, more side stories, another personal story). Two Silent Hill games this gen that wowed me into scary bliss.
As for a few mentions, Deadly Premonition was pretty surprising – although it was technically a last (now twice last) gen game put on the Xbox 360. Such a cooky game with an oddly captivating story and protagonist. many fun times in Greenvale were had. Dead Rising, Alan Wake, and BioShock also all deserve mentions as well. When those released, I was captivated for hours on end. Get all of them.
Over the years, I’ve played my fair share of bad games. Many of those games even had some redeeming qualities which I could acknowledge and walk away from with a “too bad” on my mind. But there’s one game that stands out this generation that was not only badly made, but called “hardcore” by its creators when players complained about how broken and poor the game was. That game is AMY.
When AMY was announced, I was pretty excited to see an authentic survival horror experience come to consoles. The game stars a female protagonist by the name of Lana that has to escort a small, autistic child by the name of Amy. Amy has special abilities that help Lana avoid an infection that has spread across the city. Watching gameplay videos led me to hope that AMY would take all the best parts of a survival horror experience and mix it with a little bit of Ico, watching over and assisting someone weaker than you as the role of a caretaker. What we got from developer VectorCell was an unfinished, broken, and terribly designed game.
AMY is so bad that a bug that prevented players from using all of Amy’s unlocked powers somehow snuck past QA. The game requires a stealthy approach when facing mutant enemies; that’d be fine and dandy if Lana’s character model didn’t get stuck to the environment when she was crouching! Did I mention that the checkpoint system prior to game’s patch was so horrendous that large sections of the game had to be replayed if players were killed? Oh, and let’s not forget Chapter 5: the chapter so terribly designed that few people completed it, because the only only way to figure out the very specific path to be taken was either to spend hours in a masochistic daze replaying the game over and over, or being one of the game’s designers. Brilliant.
I won’t even focus on the terrible voice acting, the pathetic cliff hanger ending, or the many other bugs that sent me into a rage when I reviewed this game. I tried AMY for bit after they finally patched it, but you can’t patch all of the terrible out of a game as bad as this. Some people liked it, but some people also enjoy getting punched in the teeth.
Left 4 Dead 2 (Best), Resident Evil 6 (Worst)
Let’s start with the best. There is no horror game that I had more fun with than Left 4 Dead 2. Now I might have gotten most of my play time in on the PC, but I still played a few sessions on the Xbox 360. Then I went back to playing it on the PC again because Valve loves its PC fans, and it shows.
Even after all of this time, there’s still life left in Left 4 Dead. There’s still fun to be had and challenges to overcome. I couldn’t even really explain all the reasons that I love Left 4 Dead – I’ve pinned it, more than once to this unexplainable Left 4 Dead Effect, and that game still has its pull on me.
As for the worst. For that, there’s No Hope Left. Resident Evil 6 was everything that I feared would happen to Resident Evil. I understand that things like these happen – games grow and change over time. But I don’t think anyone could have reasonably expected what was going to happen with RE6. Gears of Evil gameplay, the ridiculous premium version of the game, the anthology that bundles in a ton of better games and the insistence of online multiplayer. The story of the series as a whole is like one long, twisted train wreck. RE6 trying to cram four stories at one didn’t help matters and the fact that Capcom tried to tailor the game for everyone made the game’s story disjointed, hollow, and just…just awful.
Perhaps worst of all, the hype surrounding RE6 hit a fever pitch just before the game’s release. Everyone was counting on it to bring the series back from the death spiral it seemed to be in. People hated Resident Evil 5 because it was too action-oriented and Sheva was annoying. People hated Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City because it was a mess. People hated Resident Evil: Revelations because at the time, who the hell owned a 3DS? Resident Evil 6 was supposed to return Resident Evil to its roots and be the savior of the series. Instead, it hammered another nail into the series’ coffin.
Our only hope now is that the series can do itself now what it made so popular – come back from the dead.
Dead Space (Best), Dead Space 3 (Worst)
When Dead Space first arrived, it seemed to come out of nowhere. EA was at a particularly rough spot, and with this and Mirror’s Edge they were temporarily back in the good graces of gamers.
While not a wholly original story, Dead Space took the best elements of franchises such as Alien, Resident Evil, Event Horizon, and System Shock to create a memorable action horror title. It was also the first example I can remember of the whole “you’re grabbed, can’t control your movement, but you can still aim and fire” sequence (in third-person). Remember the first time a tentacle grabbed you? Probably thought it was a cutscene, huh? You scrub.
The rich lore featuring a new religion, harvesting entire planets (dang it planet cracking just sounds so cool), and these horrifying creatures was clearly set up for a sequel, and Dead Space 2, while a little more action-y was still a monstrously good time. But they weren’t done yet, which leads me to…
TO CLARIFY: Dead Space 3 is a great time when you’re playing with a good bro (or she-bro!). But it’s also the perfect example of what has gone wrong with horror this console generation.
After the first game had made it’s mark solely with a single-player campaign, the second added a humans vs. necromorphs game type. This caused a measurable amount of ire, but it was easily ignored as it had no bearing on the story. However, with the third game came everything we feared (but not the kind of fear we like!).
Co-op play was added, and it was clearly the way we were intended to play it. Though you can play it solo, you’ll start to notice that there is two of everything. Oh, time for a turret sequence? Look at the empty chair next to you. Door puzzle? Two consoles. The world feels oddly hollow when you’re by yourself seeing as how everything is built for two.
There are other issues such as universal ammo (conservation is a core tenet of survival horror!) and that the bits of story giving you more insight into the partner character’s motivation are EXCLUSIVE to co-op missions even though he’s part of the solo story. The microtransactions, for all their controversy, were largely inoffensive and even existed in previous games. No one really complained then.
The shift of focus to accessibility is unfortunately what is hurting horror. The rise and fall of Dead Space exemplify this perfectly.
Siren Blood Curse/New Translation (Best), Dead Space 3 (Worst)
The Siren series has always been something of a love/hate relationship to me. With a remake of the first game on the PS3, I was very excited to be able to play the game with updates graphics, controls, and re-worked difficulty, as the first game was very tough and unforgiving.
In Siren Blood Curse, you cannot kill the Shibito, which are sentient, smart zombie people that utter Japanese as they chase you. It’s horrifying once you see one running at you with a knife and I’m amazed at how such a simple enemy design comes off as frightening. Your only means of defense is typically your fists, a melee weapon, or a gun with little ammo, but it doesn’t matter, because you can’t kill a Shibito; they will rise again within minutes.
The darkness in Blood Curse is also something to be wary of, because it not only hides enemies but some just plain creepy shit, like giant mutant heads hiding within closets and deformed monster Shibito beneath blankets. The game always managed to scare me in one way or another, even with multiple play-throughs.
Racking things up a notch, the sightjacking ability adds more suspense. This ability allows players to see through the eyes of one particular monster and the screen splits in half so you can move while watching them, but you suffer a blur effect during the use of sightjacking.
Horror fan veteran will appreciate the strange mind-trip of a story. While it holds many similarities to the first Silent Hill, the tone of Blood Curse is much different, and frankly, scarier.
While Blood Curse isn’t perfect, it does what a horror game should do; it’s damn scary and it’s difficult, often putting us on a Game Over screen. I’ve had my fingers crossed for a fourth game for a long time, and it was at one point confirmed. Here’s hoping for more Hanuda horror!
What started off as an amazing new horror IP on the PS3 and Xbox 360, Dead Space was a new up and comer to something bigger than itself, such as Resident Evil. The first two games in the series were full of tense moments, interesting characters, a whacked out and enthralling storyline, and action horror. Keyword: horror!
Dead Space 3 was under pressure to broaden the audience, therefore it made a few changes and additions that, in my opinion, robbed Dead Space of what it was. The first and biggest is the inclusion of co-op. Two players going through a horror game can be scary, but in this case it presented one new problem and a missed opportunity.
The problem is that Dead Space 3 simply has too many damn enemies, some of which are even human. Horde after horde comes after the two of you, sometimes seemingly endless. Quickly, the shock value wears off, because sooner or later, with the new weapon upgrade system, the two players will have such powerful weapons there won’t be any fear left. It also doesn’t help that all of the ammo in the game is universal, which means no tension from having to aim correctly and reload; just blast away.
Secondly, Dead Space plays around with this fun thing called dementia. In Dead Space 3, only the second player suffers from it, and only in three co-op specific side missions. These three missions are the best part of the game, because Player 2 says “Hey man, do you see that?” “No, what is it?” Player 1 asks. “Oh, shit!” Player 2 screams and starts firing, only for what they saw to disappear, leaving Player 1 in shock. What’s happening? Player 2 is hallucinating. But the fact that these instances are scripted and happen only three times is a bummer. Imagine a horror game where both players were hallucinating and constantly freaking one another out; Dead Space 3 then may have actually redeemed itself.
Those are my two main gripes that kick Dead Space 3 down a couple of notches from the first two games. There’s plenty more that I can complain about, such as the stupid and unnecessary love triangle in the story, the shitty writing, or the ridiculous ending and tacked on DLC.
My final verdict is that the game is fun as a co-op shooter, but it holds almost nothing for fans of the horror genre, the genre that gave Dead Space its start. I believe it’s a prime example of what not to do for a horror, but for a pure action title.
Alan Wake (Best), Resident Evil 5 (Worst)
Where to begin with Alan Wake? I remember following its progress and just marveling at the fact that Remedy was taking their time with it to make sure it was as good as they could make it. That’s something we rarely see anymore. It seems like the game market has become run by mass production, deadlines and release dates – creativity be damned. The graphics seemed impressive, especially taking into account that they were on the Xbox 360, which at the time, struggled to produce such amazing looking first party exclusive titles when compared to the PS3.
The first thing about Alan Wake that hooked me was the soundtrack, it was cinematic, but not alike so many other games that attempt to capture the same sound. Then came the narrative, which for the first time, a game truly captivated me with. This game was basically a playable novel complete with more than enough richness to enjoy, without shoving it in your face. You can stay to enjoy the scenery and dialogue or rush on through. These things would have been enough, but the icing on the cake was that the combat was original and fun. At a time when Call of Duty and Gears of War really had me wondering if video games were going the ways of explosive shooters, I bought Alan Wake and played it for 8+ hours from beginning to end, happy to see something so refreshing.
Speaking of titles that turned me away from video games, it’s time to move to my pick for worst survival horror game of the generation, Capcom’s top selling game, Resident Evil 5. Having followed every Resident Evil since the second and being a huge fan of the series, I started where everyone else did with Resident Evil 5: the teaser trailer. It featured Chris Redfield running from some shambling shadows in a desert town. I believe it was released the summer before Resident Evil: Extinction debuted in theaters, so naturally it seemed like Capcom was trying to give the game a similar environment to the films, like when Resident Evil Outbreak was released in conjunction with Resident Evil: Apocalypse. It also was the first part of an ad campaign that would completely mislead gamers as to what they were buying.
The live action ads with Chris experiencing symptoms of PTSD, one where he even seemed suicidal, all had nothing to do with the game. Even more annoying was that slogan “fear you can’t forget”, at no point is the game frightening, Resident Evil 5 is an action game first and foremost. The entire point of the game’s advertisement, it seems, was to convince all fans of the previous horror themed games to buy Resident Evil 5 on their word, when it was made for fans of games like Gears of War. Another thing that bothered me was that they used Jill Valentine, my favorite character’s, “death” as another shock ploy to get people to buy the game and find out what happens. SPOILERS: She’s not dead, obviously. Then, once you get past that, there’s the overall quality of the game which, although it looks nice, borrows so many animations, sounds, and enemies from Resident Evil 4, that it’s just depressing. Want to know the best part of Resident evil 5? The music and the DLC. That’s why it’s the worst survival horror game of this generation.
Alan Wake (Best Game), Vampire Rain (Worst)
Stephen King once wrote that “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” In a horror game, the player keeps asking “Why?” But there can be no explanation, and there shouldn’t be one. The unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest, and it’s what we’ll remember in the end. My best game is Alan Wake.
Alan Wake, the game, not only understands how horror should be written, it understands perfectly how it should be presented in combination with gameplay. In Alan Wake you constantly find yourself pushing forward, trying to figure out what’ll be around the next corner. Enemies are always a threat and while you’re well-armed and can take them on, it almost always ends up being a option best avoided.
A lot of people criticized the game for being linear. They say that the game is practically a corridor shooter masquerading as a survival horror game. These people, while entitled to their opinion, have missed the very point of why Alan Wake is designed the way it is. While the game could certainly have been open world, and even was in a earlier stage of development. But that’s not what Alan Wake wanted to be.
By forcing the player as Alan Wake, the writer, to constantly be moving forward in linear levels, the actual diversion from the paths become more important and far scarier. Constantly you’ll be offered paths to walk down in other directions for exploration, be it for more manuscript pages, a radio or a coffee thermos. You have to leave the beaten path to discover these things, and it’ll put you in even more danger as the enemies can attack you at any point. It’s a trick to force you, the player, to discover the game for yourself. Just like Alan Wake, the writer, would have to discover it. One could say that upon exploring the world, you come to find that the game is not a lake, it’s an ocean.
And that’s just the gameplay design, the fact that the story is so amazingly well crafted, the atmosphere as tight as it can be and the jump-scares fresh and functional makes for a great survival horror game no matter how badly it wants to be called a psychological action thriller.
But where Alan Wake, the game, can be seen as the pinnacle of modern horror, there are far too many games that did not end up as good. In fact, there were quite many this generation that ended up plain bad. This next game is one of those games.
When you think Survival Horror and Stealth, some great games should be popping into your mind right away. It’s been the most common style of horror game this generation thanks to the sudden boom of indie games that test this method of aproach. But before Amnesia: The Dark Descent had chilled the bones of players worldwide, there was another game this generation that tried to mix the two genres. Let’s talk about Vampire Rain.
Vampire Rain is a Splinter Cell clone with vampires. That’s the short version of it. If you’ve ever picked up a Tom Clancy novel and thought that you could do with some Anne Rice inside of it, maybe you too can understand whatever went through the developers head when making this game.
In the game you fight Nightwalkers, because calling vampires vampires when your game has vampire in the title is too silly, as the American Information Bureau Special Ops. The story is filled with cliche plottwists, scary little girls and all the stuff you expect to find in a uninspired mess, but it’s done in such a intensely dull way that the concepts feel even deader than they already are.
The gameplay is completely broken as well, with AI being a total joke (not good in a stealth game, guys) and every single gameplay mechanic feeling more unfinished and/or unpolished than last year’s Amy. The game was universally panned for a good reason and despite ending with a terrible cliffhanger teasing a sequel, I’m fairly certain we’ll never see any more of Vampire Rain ever again. Although, the game did get a PS3 port a year later called Vampire Rain: Altered Species, it’s garbage as well.
F.E.A.R. (Best), Shadow Warrior (Worst)
To me, F.E.A.R. is the game that got me interested in both the horror genre and PC gaming, as it was the subject of the first review I ever read. The game was far beyond what my Gamecube could handle, featuring revolutionary AI, great level-design and plenty of memorable scares. I hate having to express my love for this game in so few words, so let me just end this by saying that this eight year old game is still a mechanically-better first-person shooter than anything coming out this year.
The original Shadow Warrior from 1997 was one of the best games 3D Realms ever made, so I was very excited for the remake that launched earlier this year. Sadly, the game was extremely below-average: levels are completely linear, extra enemies spawn out of nowhere to pad out the combat and it was very easy. Just play Rise of the Triad instead.
Well there you have it! What survival horror games are your pick for the best of the generation? Sound off in the comments below!