Running (Un)scared: Survival Horror and Me

I’d say I’d miss the survival horror genre, except the genre’s beginnings weren’t all that survival-y to begin with.  In the first Resident Evil you played one of two members of an elite paramilitary police force; not exactly the cart wrangler at the local grocery store.

At E3 this year they showed off Resident Evil 6, and it was indicative of the natural progression the series has taken with recent iterations.  Agile, lithely-built protagonists who carry pairs of high-powered handguns in either fist and have perfectly straight and capped teeth run around gunning down zombies without a really suspenseful moment in sight.  Everyone’s either a highly-trained government agent, a spy, or some kind of soldier.

It’s not really horror if your reaction to seeing a zombie horde is “Oh, awesome!”

 

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I think I’ll use the rocket launcher this time.

I know there’s enough people out there arguing for more titles where you play as an everyman thrust into an intense situation.  This is why I used to prefer the Silent Hill series.  The main characters in those games have been writers, store clerks, teenage girls and the like.  Average people with average weapons.   There’s something visceral and enchanting about being forced to bash an animated mannequin’s head in with a length of steel pipe.  And the terror comes from knowing you are an average person dealing with crazy, horrific occurrences.

But still, survival horror gives way to action horror, and it worries me that we’ll see a genre disappear.  The latest Silent Hill iterations have been less-than-stellar, despite showing an upturn toward the more highly regarded parts of the series.  Dead Space, while a good starting point for survival horror, felt like it was starting to get more action-oriented in 2.  I think a good rule of thumb is if the game starts adding in weapons that give you the power to torture enemies and exercise and element of control, you’re losing some of the “survival” part.  How scared could I possibly be of enemies when I have a gun that lets me impale them, then run an electric current through their body so I can watch them dance around like a shoddily-constructed marionette?

The Amnesia:  Dark Descents are few and far in between at this point, and we’re being inundated with heroes with big, glistening muscles and big, glistening guns starring in games that wouldn’t know suspense if it stalked them down a hall and didn’t bite them in the ass, but somehow jump out of a closet in front of them.

I want horror games where I play a Wal-Mart greeter, or a schoolteacher with a classroom full of kids, or a handsome, burgeoning blogger.  I want a game where my character’s normal life is turned upside by horrific occurrences.  I want more games where I know something is following me, but I never, ever get to look at it because it’s toying with me.  If I get to fight, I want to fight with hilariously ineffectual weapons that only serve to heighten the sense of “I’m so screwed”-ness.

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Big magazine, but the stopping power leaves something to be desired.