Compared to other video game genres, survival horror continues to be the outlier. If you were to pluck two racing simulators or two first person shooters from your collection and compare them side by side, chances are, they share a lot in common. Art direction and levels of production quality will vary, as will hundreds of other small nuances yet, at their core, they will play near enough the same, even adopting a near-universal control scheme.
Take two survival horror games, however, and you’ll often find little in common, at least in terms of gameplay. From Resident Evil and Condemned, to Outlast and Dead Space, all are fundamentally different yet, for some reason, we still categorise them in the same genre. Instead of denoting games that share similar mechanics and feature sets, survival horror is used more as a thematic umbrella, mimicking the way in which we group and define films. It’s a bizarre paradigm yet one that continues to be accepted in our industry, even today.
Still, the genre lives on and has, over recent years, branched out in myriad directions. This revolution has mainly taken place in the realm of PC gaming yet consoles are catching up, with PlayStation 4 leading the pack.
During this year’s Gamescom, Sony unveiled three major survival horror titles for its platform including Until Dawn and P.T., as well as a console debut for the immensely popular DayZ. Combined with existing games, Outlast, Daylight, and the onslaught of upcoming horrors titles such Dead Island 2, Let It Die, and The Evil Within, PlayStation 4 is fast becoming a horror haven for next-gen gamers.
First on our list we have Until Dawn, a game which – until a few months ago – had completely fallen off the radar. Announced during Gamescom 2012, it made a solid first impression with a simple, albeit ambitious, premise: to emulate teen horror in video game form. For those who rarely frequent cinemas, “teen horror” is often used to label horror films that share a similar narrative cycle. Take a group of rowdy young adults, place them in a remote environment, throw in a terrifying serial killer, and watch them tear themselves apart for the next hour and a half.
Though elements from these films already exist in the video game medium, developers have traditionally gone for something much darker and less superficial, often dropping players into a terrifying scenario and leaving them to find a way out on their own. This approach has always seemed to work well and has been championed by many of the genres stand-out hits, from Silent Hill and Siren, to Fatal Frame and F.E.A.R.
Still, shifting the focus to teen horror will have its benefits. If anything like the slasher flicks it models itself on, Until Dawn will have one or maybe a few antagonists lurking in the shadows. Immediately, this tells us that the game isn’t going to stray into third person shooter territory, prioritising its characters and sense of atmosphere over regurgitated game mechanics. If this is the case, players should expect something more in line with Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls or Heavy Rain, both of which managed to balance their cinematic focus with exploration and player interaction. If you’ve yet to play it, check out “The Taxidermist” in Heavy Rain; arguably it’s by far the best horror sequence seen in a video game, at least in the past several years.
The one game we know least about is the latest Silent Hill. For those who missed it, straight after Sony’s Gamescom media briefing a demo launched via the PlayStation Store dubbed “P.T.”. Those who managed to brave the interactive teaser and solve its beguiling puzzles, were treated to a first look at the next Silent Hill game.
Titled “Silent Hills”, this latest instalment looks to distance itself from the fairly average “Downpour” and “Book of Memories”. Instead of just handing the iconic franchise to a western studio, Konami has enlisted Hideo Kojima – the father of Metal Gear Solid – to helm the project. On top of that film director and master of horror, Guillermo Del Toro, has also been drafted in, his recent works including Pacific Rim, Mama, and TV series, The Strain. With Kojima’s obsession over detail and Del Toro’s classic yet intuitive approach to horror, Silent Hills could be a ground-breaking return to form for the series. Let’s just hope The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus can bring something to the game other than a few well-placed crossbow bolts.
Rounding out our trio of terror is DayZ. For a while now there has been talk of a PlayStation 4 version yet Gamescom finally gave us solid confirmation. For those who have only heard of the game in passing, it may not sound like much to get excited about; after all, for the past three years, it has existed purely as a half-baked mod for soldier sim, ARMA II.
However, in many ways, DayZ has been leading a revolution within the horror genre. Instead of presenting players with a story-driven campaign to be funnelled through, Bohemia Interactive’s Dean Hall made a zombie-infested sandbox that drew the attention of thousands.
Within this virtual space, you are left to fend for yourself, amassing resources while also encountering other players. It’s these encounters that propelled DayZ into the spotlight, allowing players to loot each other and perform all sorts of degrading and hilarious actions. If you want to be part of a scavenger group who handcuff and capture other players, you can totally do that. In DayZ there are no timed jump scares. The only thing you really need to fear are other humans and that is what sets the game apart.
What the PlayStation 4 version will include still remains unclear. DayZ is constantly being updated with new features, meaning the product we see now will likely be drastically different from what may eventually end up on Sony’s console.