Why I Hate Survival Horror Games
By Andrew Raub Wednesday, 31 Oct 2007

Yes, that’s right. I hate survival horror games. Let me tell you why.

1. I don’t particularly like being scared. Just the “AHH! SURPRISE!” type of scared, really. I don’t like having to go through a game half-expecting something to jump out around every corner. Of all types of horror, I like slow paced psychological horror. I think Romero does it best in the “Dead” movies. None of those movies are really scary, but they do provoke emotions that aren’t normally brought out in horror, and they show the interaction of characters who aren’t close but have been put in a situation where their true survival instincts come out. In survival horror games you are mostly isolated, and character interaction is minimal.

Surprise!

2. Weird puzzles are neither scary nor fun. Only in movies like Hellraiser are there strange puzzling aspects to the horror. But in a game like Resident Evil, puzzles are shoe-horned into the real-world aspects of the game. Puzzles should fit in to the environment. A great example of a “puzzle” is found in The Goonies, when Andy is forced to play a piano made of human bones, in a cave, that sets of booby traps if played incorrectly. In most survival horror games, the puzzles provide no sense of danger if the player fails to solve them, the player just has to solve them to move on.

Puzzling!

3. I like blowing shit up. If I’m given a shotgun, I want to shot a zombie in the face with it, not run by it because I have to conserve shells. There isn’t much more I can say about this specifically, but it leads to other points…

I want to shoot this guy in the face SO BAD!

4. Either give me a full blown inventory or limit it even further (but adjust the gameplay to match). Survival horror games, despite the supernatural aspects, are supposed to convey a good bit of reality. Why can I have a rocket launcher, shotgun, pistol, and a whole bunch of herbs, but all I see is the knife I am wielding? If this type of inventory system reflects a real survival scenario, then I am sure drug smugglers everywhere would love to learn the secrets of Konami and Capcom for their own herb carrying needs. But this point goes back to the previous one. I have a rocket launcher, shotgun, and pistol all tucked away somewhere, so why is it that I have no use for them because ammo is so sparse!? Either give me more usage with the weapons I have, or give me a fun way to use limited resources. (Hint: running past zombies is not fun.)

I has an attache case…

5. Last time I checked, trying to survive doesn’t entail awkwardly trying to figure out how to walk slowly to a safe haven. One of the biggest complaints with Resident Evil is that the controls are annoying. It is very rare for a game to map controls into a scheme that doesn’t intuitively imply that pressing up makes the character move up on the screen. Other than for the sake of making the game harder, I cannot see why anyone decided this was a good idea. In general though, survival horror controls are clumsy and rely more on planned, careful movement than tight reflex that would be needed in a surprising situation.

Oh… uh… hi there… this is awkward…

6. Interactive environments. Ok, I’ll chalk this up to the PSX having limited capabilities to really push the limits on interactivity. But still, it is not very “survival” like not to be able to use everything around you. Why can’t I hotwire that car over there to mow down these zombies? Oh, probably because it’s just tacked into the background. Fun. I guess I’ll just run past them then. Or how about I go find some safe haven in this empty-looking apartment complex? Hmm… that’s odd… it’s not locked, and the door-knob is still there, there just seems to be some odd force repelling my hand away from opening it! I guess I will just have to enter that one building that is obviously open.

Why are all the locks broken?

7. Let me decide how to survive. Survival is all about using a mix of knowledge, skills, and instinct to get through a situation. Survival is not all about following a path to advance the story. Survival is all about taking risks and delving into the unknown, which is really scary compared to a baddie surprising you. Knowing that the decisions you make in a survival situation could mean life or death for you and others should be the primary element in a survival game. But in survival horror games it’s practically non existent. Decisions in survival horror games are primarily made up of fight-or-flight reactions (which are based on item resources), or whether to take or leave certain items (again, item resources…). Obviously with stronger and stronger enemies, certain paths must be taken, but these paths offer no choice. I’m not getting that rocket launcher because the risk is worth the gain, I’m getting it because if I don’t the game won’t progress.

This is hardcore survival.

Despite my complaints, the biggest push in me not playing survival games is unfortunately point #1. I’m a pussy, and these games do tend to scare me in ways that I don’t like, and I don’t play games that I don’t like.

What I would like to see in survival horror games:

The ultimate survival horror experience in my book would be one where players must work together to survive unknown encounters. The team would be ranked as a whole and individually, so it mixes the personal survival with the team survival. Once a player is dead, they are out of the game. Perhaps it would be possible for them to re-enter as a new character, but the team’s score would drop and the player’s would reset to 0. In an “achievement points” type deal, there could be achievements for being the lone survivor without killing your friends, as well as having the whole team survive, so no matter what the individual drive for survival prevails. If a team mate is wounded, such as being bit by a zombie, the team must decide on a mercy killing, or using their friend as long as possible. And the friend must deal with his fate and what it could mean for his friends. What happens when there is one antidote, but two wounded players? The solution could be solved peacefully, or violently, depending on how badly the players wish to push on.

I have to give a shout out to Zach for reminding me of a few things I hate about survival horror games.

8 Responses to “Why I Hate Survival Horror Games”

  1. Chris Derosa Says:

    Play. Dead. Rising.
    That game answers all of your complaints…except inventory management. You’ll still hate that.

  2. Andrew Raub Says:

    From what I’ve played of Dead Rising, I love it. But that’s not really a survival horror game, is it? I mean, it has zombies, but it’s more of an arcade game to me. Basically State of Emergency + zombies.

  3. Shervin Riahi Says:

    I really agree with point #7….then again, I wanted Alex and Ryan from River City Ransom to give up the fight and just be mall rats.

  4. Chris Derosa Says:

    Dead Rising is absolutely survival horror. It doesn’t follow traditional games but it totally deserves to be in the same sub-genre.

  5. Andrew Raub Says:

    Hmm… I dunno man, I mean, I really haven’t played TOO much of it. But the fact that I can run around hitting hockey pucks at swarms of never ending zombies without a real car as to the fact that they are zombies and my life is in danger… well, that doesn’t really lend itself to survival or horror…

  6. Chris Derosa Says:

    You have to last 3 days in a mall infested with zombies and psychopaths while risking your own life to rescue others if you so choose. The main goal is to survive, and if this was a movie, it would certainly be filed under horror. Get the damn game! You can use a lot of stuff, including cars.

  7. Zach Patterson Says:

    i was strongly considering writing a rebuttal to this, but i think that andrew makes some good points, i just don’t agree with them. call me crazy, but i enjoy a good silent hill or resident evil, and i wouldn’t be upset if these games continue to be made, with all their game cliches intact.

  8. Zach Patterson Says:

    side note: i just added a pic above because i thought it accentuated mr. raub’s point better.

    ah, silent hill and broken locks.

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