Swallow your fears and pull the covers over your heads because it’s time to talk about Survival Horror! This spooky genre is primarily defined by its dedication to everything frightening: body horror, supernatural horror, psychological horror, jump scare horror, clunky gameplay horror. You name it. There’s little more terrifying than having to stand still to shoot a gun, or making every bullet count because your never know when you’ll run out. A lot has been done with this genre in gaming over the years and it has more than its share of viral hits.
These are just a few of our favorites, or least favorites depending on which one of us are the biggest sissies.
The Green Screen Mage
Horror might be one of my least favorite genres. I am a big baby. But I love Until Dawn! It has one of my favorite horror monsters, a bunch of entertaining protagonists you have to save/or kill, creepy good soundtrack, some pretty good twists, and it’s overall just a highly entertaining game.
The Black Humor Mage
This one was a little tough. I’ve played a handful of survival horror games, and they all feel a little similar, but ultimately Alien: Isolation is my favorite in this genre. If survival horror is about making you feel less in control, then this game definitely did it for me. You can’t even kill the Xenomorph in this game, and it makes it twice as terrifying. This game oozes a dreadful atmosphere, but it is science fiction at the same time. I love science fiction much more as genre too, so this game has it all for me.
The Midnight Mystic Mage (Sublime Reviews)
Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Probably the scariest game that I have ever played in my life. Amnesia could definitely be in the Stealth category as well, but it being the game that gave me lucid nightmares and made me question my own sanity while playing, it deserves this top spot in Survival Horror. (Honorable Mentions – Condemned: Criminal Origins, Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem)
The Spoony Bard Mage (Nerd Speaker)
I’m a wuss. I don’t like horror. I don’t like being scared. There came a point when the Resident Evil games weren’t really scary though, and RE4 was the pinnacle of the series for its gameplay, particularly on the Wii. Now that RE series (with 7 having just come out) is legitimately scary again, I won’t play it.
The Five More Minutes Mage (Gamegato)
Don’t Escape 3 is probably another game you may never heard of. You wake up in an airlock, and the console is counting down to opening. Your objective is survival. Think it’s not scary enough? Finding your dead crewmates and hallucinating is.
The Hopeful Handheld Mage (Retro Redress)
The Last of Us (PS4). I wasn’t sure if TLOU fitted this category, but upon further thought it really does. It’s definitely a game of survival, about a group of survivors simply trying to keep going towards a potentially hopeless goal. The horror isn’t just about zombies, it’s the horror of what society has become and how people have reacted to it. As a regular civilian, the bleakness of TLOU terrifies me more than any monsters.
Read Well-Red Mage’s excellent review for a better breakdown of how bleak TLOU is…I’m just happy I’ve played it and don’t have to go back to it.
The Brave Blue Mage (924COLLECTIVE)
There are a lot of Survival Horror titles to choose from but Parasite Eve immediately comes to mind. The Opera scene at Carnegie Hall still gives me the chills. Square delivers a dynamic hybrid of real time combat with RPG elements, this really was the Nightmare before Christmas.
The Dapper Zaffre Mage (Save File 02)
I’m not quite sure if the PSX’s Parasite Eve counts as ‘survival’ horror, but I’ll admit: the game terrified me as a child. NYPD officer Aya Brea’s battle against the mutated creatures roaming the city seemed pretty vivid at the time, especially with the engine that would go on to become Final Fantasy VIII. Seriously, it’s not but ten minutes into the game when you’re treated to the lovely sight an entire room of theater-goers spontaneously combusting and flailing in panic. Manage to get past that and the prologue boss, and say hello to the FMV of an ordinary rat mutating into some crime-against-nature fireball-tossing enemy that proceeds to attack the moment the cutscene ends. Fishing a key off of a charred body was also probably not what I thought I’d be doing that evening, either.
Parasite Eve, while arguably short, was a great game with a fun combat system (one that I only fault for having your character stand rooted in the spot every time she fires a gun.) I adore the idea of RPG characters being able to dodge attacks, so me and Parasite Eve got along pretty well, even moreso when I came back to it years later and knew what I was doing. Aya herself is a strong character, and pretty much ties with only one other as my go-to example on a solid, well-written female protagonist.
The Over-Caffeinated Nostalgia Mage (Nostalgia Trigger)
There was a period of time where I was obsessed with everything horror. Movies and games being the primary focus, I couldn’t get enough of them! It was at this time I discovered what I consider one of my favorite survival-horror games of all time: Penumbra: Black Plague. This game was far ahead of its time for its graphical prowess, and the atmosphere looked like real-life, especially considering it game back in 2008. Do yourself a favor and look up some screenshots, keeping your head in the context of almost 10 years ago. It really was incredible for the time.
What made it scarier than any other game I’ve played is the fact that you don’t have any weapons. No means of attacking, whatsoever. As you’re playing through the game, you’re avoiding all enemy creatures to your best ability. At the same time, the game engine kept a sanity meter and your vision would blur as you witnessed horrifying events unfold before your eyes. It was very advanced at the time and it still plays great today!
The followup title Amnesia: The Dark Descent was also terrifyingly brilliant, but Black Plague still holds the title for creepiest survival horror I’ve ever played. Some terrific work by Frictional Games, who continues to put out great survival horror content to this day.
The Rage Mage
There’s this old P&C adventure horror game about insanity, torture, rape, and artificial intelligence called I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. More like “I Have No Taste, so I Must Play Survival Horror Games”.
The Well-Red Mage
I have to echo so many sentiments of my mage colleagues: Spoony not liking horror, H. Handheld’s relief at never having to go through TLOU again, but ultimately I have to agree with the Black Humor Mage because Alien: Isolation is indeed survival horror perfection. This is a genre that I generally have a strong aversion to, not because I’m a ‘fraidy cat, but because there’s so much gratuitousness in the typical gore, gross-out shock factor shmutz, and violence overdose that it’s just revolting to me. I’m not so much scared as I am nauseated, and that’s not the same thing, nor is it a feeling I’ll cherish. Every once in a while, a morbid fancy overcomes me, but not very often and even then I’m quite persnickety, preferring horror literature and film over horror gaming.
Alien: Isolation, on the other hand, adapts one of the greatest, most atmospheric sci-fi horror films of all time and evokes all the the terror of running from an unstoppable Xenomorph with its great attention to detail and recreating score… But for the sake of diversity I’m going to name Luigi’s Mansion. What a hilariously fun game, with a few survival horror features tucked neatly away inside it. Besides, it’s a special kind of delight watching a horror protagonist that’s hilariously more scared than you.
Well… try to get some sleep tonight. Don’t let the horrifying nightmares bite. Come back tomorrow for something I bit cheerier, I bit more hipster. Thanks for reading!
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