Justin Williams Laser gives a brief overview of the survival horror genre.
The horror genre takes on a much different tone in video games than it does at the movies, Justin Williams Laser points out. While those not totally desensitized to the scares such films can provide can simply cover their eyes and wait it out until the scene is over, while playing a game, you’re required to pay close attention to what’s transpiring on screen, lest you be forced to replay it over again. There’s a reason the “survival” prefix is usually attached to horror games: such games are generally based around resource management and running away when you need to, even in games where you receive weapons as an option for dealing with terrors.
The first such example of the genre, Justin Williams Laser tells us, can be traced to 1989’s Sweet Home, named after the Japanese film of the same name, and released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game, like the movie, revolves around a group of people who enter a haunted mansion and slowly learn the horrifying truth behind its past. The game was unique for its time by offering the ability to learn the background of the story through found items such as diaries and notebooks, the ability to play as multiple characters who help each other out with their own strengths and weaknesses (and who, if killed, will remain dead for the rest of the game), and an emphasis on puzzle-solving and survival over action.
These would all become staples of the genre, leading many to point to Sweet Home as the father of the genre. Sweet Home directly influenced the first Resident Evil title, to the point where Resident Evil initially started as a remake/sequel to the original. While Resident Evil eventually became its own unique entity, it also drew heavy inspiration from another classic: Alone in the Dark.
Alone in the Dark, released in 1993, placed players in the attic of a house filled with grotesque creatures, and tasked them with solving puzzles in order to escape. The fixed camera angles and play style of Alone in the Dark, Justin Williams Laser suspects, was an enormous influence on Resident Evil.
Resident Evil began what most consider to be the golden age of survival horror, with many copycats being released of varying quality, there are a few notable standouts. Justin Williams Laser points to the Silent Hill series: while similar in structure and gameplay to Resident Evil and other survival horror classics, Silent Hill was unique in that instead of relying solely on monsters and other horrors for jump scares, Silent Hill took a more psychological horror approach to the genre. The combination of incredible art design and a more “mature” story-telling angle made Silent Hill a broad critical success, spawning numerous sequels and movie adaptations. Silent Hill 2 is regarded by many as one of the best video games ever created, even outside of the genre of survival horror.
The genre has recently been revitalized with a new trend of first-person survival horror games with updated quality-of-life improvements for modern audiences, including Resident Evil 7, Outlast 1 & 2, and Blair Witch.