Hallowweek

By Shamus
on Oct 26, 2008
Filed under:
Notices

This week I’m going to be talking about survival horror and scary videogames. I’m probably going to be citing Yahtzee‘s reviews a lot during this series. He and I are very different gamers with different tastes and backgrounds and ages, but despite all this our opinions on the Silent Hill series are very nearly identical. I could probably just link him with a, “what he said” and save myself the aggravation of trying to re-word my own opinions in an attempt to avoid plagiarizing him, but that would be the coward’s way out. And this isn’t the week for that sort of thinking.

Both of us rate Silent Hill 2 very highly. (My SH2 review is still one of the longest posts on this site.) I’m not a Yank-hating Brit and / or Aussie like Yahtzee, but I emphatically agree with him about how badly the series has been mucked up in the hands of bungling idiot American designers. They have gone completely James Cameron on the games, making them faster, louder, shallower, better looking, and (most importantly) about a thousand times less frightening. You could argue that perhaps it’s not that survival horror sucks these days, but that the genre has ceased to exist. Cameron turned the thrilling sci-fi horror movies Alien and Terminator into over-amped sci-fi action movies Aliens and Terminator 2, and I think that’s what’s happened to survival horror. The new Resident Evil and Silent Hill titles aren’t bad games on their own, but they’re a non-sequitur in terms of mood and pacing when compared to their predecessors.

I wasn’t able to play Silent Hill Homecoming in time for this series. (Thank you so much for that, City of Heroes, you crack-laced, productivity-murdering monster.) But I will be looking back on Silent Hill 2 & 3, as well as Silent Hill Origins, and doing that armchair game design thing which everyone is so inexplicably willing to tolerate.

I’ll also be commenting a bit on Homecoming, even though I haven’t played it. I’m sure this will enrage a few fanboys and cause them to “lose respect for me”, which is what fanboys do when you tell them the sky is blue without going outside to check first.

Clarification: I did not mean to imply that Terminator 2 and Aliens aren’t completely frickin’ sweet. I’ve seen both of them more than a half dozen times each. They’re great movies. You could even make a good case that they’re better than the movies they were sequeling. My only point is that they just don’t fall into the same genre as the originals.

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201939 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. July says:

    Geez, Shamus. I just lost all respect for you.

    Seriously: I think you’re absolutely right about survival horror games these days.

  2. Tim says:

    I get your meaning about the difference between Alien and Aliens, but it’s worth noting that Cameron co-wrote and directed the original Terminator too, not just the sequel.

  3. Magnus says:

    A particular favourite of mine in the survival horror genre would have to be the original and the best Alone In The Dark, which I had the CD version of, with full speech, a fabulous soundtrack, and truly creepy lovecraft-inspired horror. Oh and of course its then-innovative use of 3D characters and objects.

  4. Puffinstuff says:

    Considering your love of survival-horror Shamus, I was wondering, what do you think of the recently released Dead Space?

  5. Shamus says:

    Considering your love of survival-horror Shamus, I was wondering, what do you think of the recently released Dead Space?

    The hero builder is really fun. The super powers are exciting and varied. Grouping is a snap and the environments have…

    Oh wait… Dead Space? Crap. I thought we were talking about City of Heroes again.

    Um. It’s on my to-do list.

  6. Zukhramm says:

    I’ve allways disliked Aliens. Alien and Alien 3, there should only be one alien, and humans without weapons.

  7. Adam says:

    All the reviews of Dead Space make it sound, to me, that what Aliens is to Alien, Dead Space is to System Shock 2.

  8. trousercuit says:

    If more people did armchair game design, we might appreciate yours less. In other words, it’s novelty that makes it popular.

    Speaking for myself now, I think you’re very good at it.

  9. Tuck says:

    Cameron turned the thrilling sci-fi horror movies Alien and Terminator into over-amped sci-fi action movies Aliens and Terminator 2…

    I think someone already mentioned this, but James Cameron directed the original Terminator as well…so could it not be he wanted to have a very different atmosphere for the second one?

    Although I would argue with your classifying the first as Horror as well. There are tense moments, but T2 had just as many of those (and the villain was far more horrifying).

  10. Jeff says:

    T2 was pretty scary when I first saw it as a wee lad. T1000 was one heck of a scary villian. T3 is very meh, very much action.

  11. LexIcon says:

    Having just played Dead Space, and having never played System Shock 2, I can say that Dead Space really is decent space horror. Survival classification depends on your difficulty level.

    On normal, it feels a little like survival but the majority of the time it’s action horror.

    On hard, I felt just as terrified by the monsters as I did in Silent Hill 2. Even with dismemberment and whatnot on my side, I really was afraid of the things in every fight, and ran away as much as I could. Ammo is tight, the monsters are resilient, and the atmosphere is damn spooky at all times.

    Felt like survival horror to me.

  12. Factoid says:

    Dead Space is a good game, but leave your survival horror expectations checked at the door. I’ve never been a huge SH fan, and I’m certainly not a purist. Some people hate that it has lots of save points, and that it has too much “action” and they don’t limit your supplies enough to make things scary.

    Personally I think that those are overused crutches in survival horror games. If the only reason your game is scary is because you’re “afraid” of losing progress, or because your resources have been so restricted that you have a legitimate reason to be “afraid” of not being able to complete the game.

    Save point limits and scarce resources aren’t BAD…just take to extremes too often.

    Dead Space is a good mix for me. I can play for less than an hour and not be penalized for it. I can have fun killing space zombies, and so far each level has made me jump at least once. I hear the resources become more and more scarce as the game progresses, though. I like that, because it gives you a chance to get good at the combat before your resources dry up.

  13. I can’t really speak for the Silent Hill series (I played the first one a little, when I was a nipper – young enough and little enough not to really remember much aside from the fog and the terror), although I did recently pick up xbox versions of SH2 and 4, so I will get to compare the series progression when I get around to playing them.

    Resident Evil is definitely no longer a survival horror series – as RE4 says on the back of the box “Forget survival horror” (the developers certainly did). It’s a fun game, and RE5 looks to be more of the same, but it’s not survival horror.

    Bioshock (360 version, naturally) is the only recent game I’ve played that has even unsettled me – I’ve only played it a bit, so I’m not sure how well it carries on, but it’s definitely got a similar initial ‘eek!’ feeling to System Shock 2.

    Dead Space excited me as a game that looked like it was actively trying to scare me, but I won’t be picking it up any time soon (I won’t buy games at full price).

  14. Nazgul says:

    I finally picked up a used copy of SH2 for Xbox, based in no small part on Yahtzee’s reviews (I love ZP.)

    I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the genre, but I think I should probably skip the next week or so of Twenty Sided for fear of SH2 spoilers. That’s what I get for playing old games.

  15. Alex says:

    “I’ll also be commenting a bit on Homecoming, even though I haven’t played it. I’m sure this will enrage a few fanboys and cause them to “lose respect for me”, which is what fanboys do when you tell them the sky is blue without going outside to check first.”

    I had a long rant dedicated this paragraph, but I think I’ll just remind you about the last time someone tried to make an opinion about a game they never played before.

    I think his name was Mike McCullough. It was about Mass Effect, if I recall correctly. I wonder how many people respected him for that.

  16. Dragonbane says:

    regarding CoH:
    Have you tried playing a Tanker yet? I’m curious how someone who doesn’t know how they used to play, enjoys them in their current state. Caveat: Must have made it to at least lvl 22 to answer this question in the affirmative.

  17. Thomas says:

    from the wikipedia

    The PC version of Dead Space uses the same SecuRom Copy Protection scheme as Spore and Mass Effect which requires both online authentication and limits the number of times a user can install the game to five. Dead Space has received mixed reviews by gamers regarding DRM. [15]

    ref http://forums.ea.com/mboards/thread.jspa?threadID=450663&tstart=0

    sorry

  18. Ian Price says:

    Aliens was a different genre from Alien and Alien 3, I’ll give you that.

    However, since I like action-horror better than suspense-horror, I enjoyed Aliens a lot more. Plus, it gave us such iconic lines as, “Take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

  19. Wil K says:

    @Dragonbane: Shamus did mention how he tried out Tanker but didn’t like it, and ended up going with Scrapper for Detective Grimm. Didn’t sound like he played it for long though; maybe play gets better?

    from: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1923
    [quote]He should probably have been a tanker using Super Strength if I really wanted to adhere to the concept, but I tried playing a tanker (my first character, actually) and I hated it.[/quote]

  20. Dev Null says:

    If more people did armchair game design, we might appreciate yours less. In other words, it’s novelty that makes it popular.

    If more people did _non_-armchair game design, there might be less to be done from the armchairs after the fact. But since they don’t, its nice to have someone else wield the dissecting knife in public.

  21. Rick says:

    Dragonbane: I don’t know how tankers “used to be,” and I’ve leveled an Invul/SS up to 26, and…

    It’s okay. Of the six characters I’ve played significantly, it’s probably my least favorite. Of course, my tank is far squishier than my scrapper, which doesn’t help matters. (On the other hand, said scrapper is level 50 and kitted out with IOs capping her defense.) And it’s also not much fun trying to get enemies with ranged attacks into melee range to fuel my defense aura which is my primary mitigation against non-smashing/lethal damage. (Issue 13, with its changes to the way taunt powers work, may provide help for that.) On the other hand, going toe-to-toe with Elite Bosses and bringing them down is certainly enjoyable (although, again, it’s more fun on my scrapper who can go toe-to-toe with an EB and have him down in about half the time).

  22. Jordan says:

    ive been watching your blog since DMotR and this is sadly my first post. ive played homecoming, and instead of posting a half of a page ill just say you really have to play it before you judge it, although judge it as a survival horror game and not a silent hill game. i could make a large post, but it wouldnt be very orderly, id be jumping around all over the place.

  23. Shamus says:

    Clarification: I did not mean to imply that Terminator 2 and Aliens aren’t completely frickin’ sweet. Aliens is heavily quoted for a reason. I’ve seen both of them more than a half dozen times each. They’re great movies, they just don’t fall into the same genre as the originals.

  24. Ingvar says:

    Thinking about it, none of the films in the Alien sequence is in the same genre as any other. Admittedly, both #1 and #3 are horror films, but #3 is more a prison film than a straight horror. #2 is an adrenaline-fueled action romp and #4 is just plain strange.

  25. I think that Cameron was just pandering to the fans who always seem to want Bigger Faster More More!!! But the two examples you give are bad examples because both are great films; better to perhaps think about Predator to Predator 2 (to keep with the scifi genre) where the first is extremely tense and the second really just silly. IMHO of course.

  26. Kevin says:

    Sky? Blue!?

    (/em waves fist angrily in the air.)

  27. Loneduck3 says:

    You tell ’em! Of course you can judge a book by it’s cover. Otherwise, we’d have to read all those trashy romance books, sci-fi/fantasy books, and western books just to make sure we didn’t miss a gem. (I admit there are good fantasy/sci-fi books. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the trashy books.)
    Unless you wanna play each game that THQ puts out before establishing an opinion, you will certainly judge games you haven’t played.

  28. Robyrt says:

    From my perspective, Dead Space is equal parts System Shock 2 and Resident Evil 4. There were some genuinely scary sections, of both the “creepy” and “startling” kinds, and also a bunch of straightforward third-person action horror scenes. It’s easy to point out the game’s flaws, but I still found myself coming back to it, because they got the atmosphere right and that’s what counts.

    As far as inventory/ammo is concerned, they are clearly using RE4’s rubber-band system where the loot tables depend on how well you’re doing, but the curve is much harsher – I went down to one clip of ammo several times, and I never felt like a Bioshock-style Gun King unless I was fresh from a trip to the store.

  29. Adam Greenbrier says:

    I can’t really speak for the Silent Hill series (I played the first one a little, when I was a nipper – young enough and little enough not to really remember much aside from the fog and the terror), although I did recently pick up xbox versions of SH2 and 4, so I will get to compare the series progression when I get around to playing them.

    When you do get around to playing them, I highly recommend that you play them on an original Xbox if at all possible. I purchased both games to play on my 360 and discovered that while those games are rated as backwards compatible, they’re anything but. In Silent Hill 2, the game loses textures (replacing them with solid white blocks), doesn’t display 2D screens correctly (causing some puzzles to be unsolvable), and causes the flashlight to not only shine through walls but through the protagonist’s body. There’s also an error that causes your game to not load if you’ve saved it too many times or have multiple game saves; the only way to clear the error to play the game is to delete your save file.

    A more detailed write-up of this (not by me), including screen caps of the missing textures and lighting issues, can be found here.

  30. Kiwipolish says:

    Hey Shamus, have you played Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth? It’s flawed but wonderfully atmospheric, and I’m curious what you would think about it.

  31. R4byde says:

    I don’t understand it when people say that the Resident Evil series is no longer survival horror: when was it ever horror at all? All of the games are more like lame B-rated monster movies, with frustrating controls, than horror films. Except RE4; which is a really, really, super, uber, ultra, extreme B-rated movie with slightly less crappy acting and much improved controls.

    @Kiwipolish – It also has Starforce; which will burn out your disc drive.

  32. Ferrous Buller says:

    “…I emphatically agree with him about how badly the series has been mucked up in the hands of bungling idiot American designers.”

    If you’re talking about just the Silent Hill franchise: AFAIK, the first four SHs were all done in Japan by KCET. SH Origins was done by Climax, a UK developer. SH5 was done by Double Helix, the only American developer to work on the series. I haven’t played SH5 yet, so I couldn’t tell you if they’re bungling idiots or not. :-)

    If you’re talking about survival-horror games in general, that’s a different matter, but most of the major franchises are still from Japan. And it’s arguable whether any Western designers do survival-horror rather than action-horror, anyway.

  33. Roxysteve says:

    I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for “Alien”.

    I like most of the other movies in the series too, with a definite chilling of the enthusiasm at the Heavy Metal Comic one, which was an interesting idea crippled with appaling dialogue and shirt-stupid hyper-machismo scenes. These movies work best when the people in them are scared shirtless.

    I’m also with the other guy who said the Alien should be on its own. More of them, oddly, lowers the fright factor.

    As for that abomination AVP, who in the world thought that would make a good movie? A busload of Aliens mixing it up with a cartload of Predators with a few humans trying to get out of the way? If any film typifies Hollywood’s ability to take a great idea (or better yet: two ideas) and mash it until it doesn’t work any more, AVP is it.

    Yes I know that AVP was a comic book before it was optioned, but these stupid [pick a monster] vs [pick another monster] things pretty much define Hollywood’s anything for a buck philosophy.

    Silent Hill (the movie) intrigued me enough to watch it once and enjoy it, mostly. I don’t think I’d invest the time to do so again. I’d never played the games, either. It wasn’t *that* hard to follow, and horror movies rarely actually make sense, so expectations might have been low. Liked the husband sub-plot. It made the movie actually transcend the movie-uvva-game formula in my opinion.

    Steve.

  34. @Adam Greenbrier

    “When you do get around to playing them, I highly recommend that you play them on an original Xbox if at all possible”

    Silent Hill 2 doesn’t even run on my (PAL) 360, (not the only game to do that despite backwards compatibility claims). SH4 seemed to run ok, but as all I did was check that it loaded up and I could start a game, I didn’t exactly do in-depth testing…

    Thanks for the heads-up – fortunately I do have an old school (ha!) xbox available, which I generally use for games that just don’t work on the 360, although I might be a bit more wary of games that seem to work in future.

  35. Puffinstuff says:

    Thomas said: “The PC version of Dead Space uses the same SecuRom Copy Protection scheme as Spore and Mass Effect which requires both online authentication and limits the number of times a user can install the game to five.”

    I’m planning on getting it for consoles, and USED too just so no one at EA gets any of my money directly. Honestly I’m appalled at EAs DRM schemes, and what’s worse is that other companies *cough*Ubisoft*cough* are starting to follow their lead.

  36. Avilan the Grey says:

    Roxysteve:

    I am all for a GOOD AVP movie. Haven’t seen one yet.
    The fluff is already hinted on in the second Predator after all.
    As far as the Dark Horse AvP comic goes, that one was not bad, at all. If they had only used that as the base for the movie(s)…

  37. Roxysteve says:

    Avilan the Grey:

    AvP falls into a common trap, that if you have two monsters that have been judged to be extremely successful vis-a-vis being scary, than putting multiples of each one together in the same film will be teh awsome.

    Problems with the AvP premise include:

    Too many of everything. One is scary. Twenty seven hundred is boring.

    No winner syndrome. Each of the protagonoists is, in fact, established as something we are supposed to fear and hate by the canon. How are we supposed to care who wins here?

    Helpless humans downgraded to sightseers. So the humans have to get out alive. Sorry, but it has to have more than that, and we have to feel on the winning side when the humans dredge something from the ashes (Ripley survives, Arnold gets out with his life etc). On reflection, I’m not sure why the humans in AvP are so ignorable, but they are.

    Stupid need to involve a character from the previous movies becuase otherwise “we wouldn’t get it”. Wow, they had a Bishop. Didn’t see that coming. The only surprise was that he wasn’t married to Arnold’s daughter.

    Save the millions that AvP will cost in SFX and put the money into one of the following:

    Another Alien movie.
    Another Predator movie.
    Another movie in the Blade Runner universe.

    Even better:

    A movie version of Robert Heinlein’s “Time for the Stars”.
    A movie version of Larry Niven’s “Ringworld”.
    A movie version of Jack McDevitt’s “Polaris”.
    A movie version of Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth”.

    But don’t make any of them sucky, like AvP.

  38. Tom says:

    The feeling I get, is that Dead Space is the game Doom 3 wished it could have been – and playing it feels like walking into a Ridley Scott film. It’s strange how, despite being fairly similar in many ways, Doom 3 rapidly became a total bore-fest after about the second level whereas Dead Space somehow manages to grab your attention and hold it (Although I did feel a bit ho-hum on my second visit to the medical deck. A mad doctor, you say? Whoever heard of such a thing?)

    It’s not perfect, though – an ability to actually hold conversations with other non-hostile characters would really have been good for character development and empathy, and a few longer stretches without a constant onslaught of monsters would have served to build more tension. Dark Corners of the Earth has been mentioned (one of my all time favourites), a game that, while very rough at the edges on account of the developer running out of money towards release, I feel has a fairly solid core design and is one of the better games at balancing frantic combat in infested areas with careful sneaking and exploration through unnervingly deserted regions with maybe just the odd one or two nasties lurking somewhere. Dead Space isn’t bad, but it does get perilously close, occasionally, to the point where you just know that every single room you enter is going to have at least one monster in it somewhere, which of course obliterates the tension and was what probably killed Doom 3 for me (Well, that and being so amazingly, monotonously dark and bereft of light sources that someone once called it a Welsh Coal Mine Simulator!)

    The only thing I really couldn’t believe they let slip in Dead Space is the intro, which is one of the most stilted, wooden cutscenes I’ve ever seen – and it’s inexplicable because once you start the game proper, the acting is mostly fine. Surely a game as huge as this one had the budget for a retake once the actors got into the swing of things? I’d also have liked a bit longer to explore deserted bits of the ship with the landing team before first contact with the enemy (that’s one thing, I feel, that Doom 3 really did get right), or perhaps making the approach to the vessel a bit longer and a playable sequence (it’d give the destruction of the ship you arrived in a lot more impact if you’d actually had a chance to wander about the thing and get to know it first), basically a bit more establishment, but I suppose that’s really just personal preference.

    Oh, and the boss battle in hydroponics? Epic.

  39. Tom says:

    Oh, sod – I just remembered Shamus hasn’t played it yet, and my last post has spoilers. Sorry.

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