#9561628, By FogHeart What makes and breaks a Survival Horror game

  • FogHeart 10 May 2013 22:17:05 944 posts
    Seen 8 hours ago
    Registered 7 years ago
    Three cornerstones of survival horror: stressful combat, continual feeling of threat and isolation, and a harrowing story.


    The scarcity of ammo and the need to sever limbs in Dead Space have the same thing in common - you need to handle the combat with high precision in a tense situation. If you don't shoot accurately you'll be wasting ammo, or your hits aren't effective enough. Most of the time the consequences of failure are a mauling at the hands of a mutilated creature, this invokes the primal fear of infection.

    That's the paradox of the combat, that the nature of the enemy induces fright and panic just as you need a clear head and a steady hand. You are fighting your own impulses, and it's very stressful to do that.

    But if you become over-familiar with the combat you are no longer frightened by the enemies and so become adept at the combat, so we kept seeing survival horror series that 'upped the ante' - more enemies versus bigger guns with more ammo.

    Threat and isolation:

    A great many of the most effective survival horror games ask that the player explore a large environment on their own. This is to invoke two more primal fears - of being lost, and of having no one around to help. The player must feel that they can come under attack at any time. Think of the rooms where there's a body that you haven't killed, or the warped world of Silent Hill, when you change over you know you'll come up against something.

    It's also important to have certain places in the game where the player can feel safe. In Dead Space it's the tram, and the elevators. In Resident Evil it's the save rooms with their melancholic music. You need a contrast, a place where the player can 'let go' of their tension, otherwise they get burned out and can't keep feeling 'on edge'.

    The harrowing story:

    It's not enough to have a story where the protagonist comes across a lot of people who have suffered violent death. Often their deaths mean they join the ranks of the creatures that assaulted them, twin nightmares of insanity and infection. You often read or hear the backstory of characters affected in gruelling detail. Remember the keeper's diary in Resident Evil? "Itchy. Tasty." Or the ghost in System Shock 2 who crosses himself with a pistol, applies it to his temple and fires. Or the audio log of Dallas in Dead Space who kneecaps himself - both legs - so when he is infected he won't be able to kill anyone. Their stores have to generate conflicting emotions of sympathy and disgust.

    It also helps if the protagonist is all that stands between some horrible fate and everyone - the spread of the T-Virus to the population, the infection of all the human race via the markers, Shodan recreating the entire universe according to her whim. So a lost, lone, powerless individual has to risk infection and insanity over and over in order to save an unknowing human race from its destruction. Now that's the pinnacle of survival horror.
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