We like a bit of horror here at Low Fat Gaming – be it in video game, TV, film or novel form. We want more of it. Better still, we want a better quality of it, especially when it comes to gaming. There have been some gems over the years – the criminally underrated Call of Cthulu, Silent Hill 2, Eternal Darkness, Condemned, Amnesia – but it’s a genre on the downturn, in arguably the medium that can do horror in the best way. We’re going to explore horror over the next few days (just in time for Christmas!) so, for now, read on as James Paton explains their might be hope just beyond the fog…
“What…what is this?” muttered gamers around the world as they sampled the last main iteration of Resident Evil, echoing dialogue from the first entry into the ever popular series. It was the game that put the survival horror genre on the map for most of us, bringing it out of the shadows and into the mainstream with stunning visuals, excellent puzzles and sublime B-movie style cut-scenes and voice acting. With the last generation of consoles owners having the incredible Resident Evil 4 (not to mention the stunning remake of the first game) to see them through, survival horror fans may have found this current crop of consoles somewhat lacking… but why?
This current generation of video game consoles hasn’t exactly been well endowed with examples of survival horror, particularly disappointing after opening so promisingly with the release of Monolith’s fantastic Condemned: Criminal Origins. Undoubtedly, the most atmospheric video game to see a release on either the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360, only for it to be followed up with what could only be described as a contender for the most disappointing sequel of all time, if such a dubious award actually existed. Its excellent sound design puts players on edge – much like the game’s protagonist – as they face up to a horde of unpredictable and vicious enemies using almost anything that comes to hand as a weapon. The bulk of the game is exactly what the genre is generally intended to be, a battle for survival, and not a generic shooter. In terms of its visual quality, the game has dated quite badly, and as such, it could really be a contender for a remake, and with the arrival of a new generation of consoles, the time simply couldn’t be better to do so either. So, where did it all go wrong for the sequel?
Aside from its technical shortcomings, Condemned 2: Bloodshot featured a gross misrepresentation of the protagonist from the first game, Ethan Thomas. Originally, he was depicted as a man falling from grace and forced to bear witness to the darkness behind the façade of everyday life, only to then find himself simply transformed into a thoroughly generic, drunken and altogether angry impersonator of the original character. Oddly, this was perhaps mimicked somewhat in Resident Evil 6 with Chris Redfield, who was now no longer the character that he once was but a drunken, steroid user with little, or no memory of anything that had occurred in the previous games – a flimsy excuse to initiate a complete change to both him, and the manner in which his section of the game was played out.
Resident Evil was turned into a generic shooter in this particular chunk of the game. We were forced to tolerate yet another Gears of War style cover shooter, which again mimicked one of the changes found in Condemned 2. No longer was the game about survival, or puzzle solving, but rather the vastly toughened up character of Ethan was simply sent out to scour the streets in search of poorly designed creatures to punch repeatedly in the face, whilst whatever shreds of dignity the designers had were torn asunder by the use of comic sans as their font of choice. Personally, I felt as though Monolith weren’t taking their duties very seriously, and were perhaps even having a laugh at our expense. This joke, however, was certainly not amusing from the outside.
And where was the original proponent of the genre whilst all of this was going on? In the bin, where it belonged. Alone in the Dark was brought back by Atari and developer, Eden Studios, whose almighty claim to fame was the decidedly average Test Drive Unlimited – though the less said about its sequel, the better. Alone in the Dark arrived amid a fairly substantial amount of excitement, brought about by a lengthy build up that focused on the game’s use of fire as a core element of its game design, something which was obviously intended to kick off a hype machine that would ultimately come back to haunt this ill-fated release. It was a video game that was altogether flawed and, ultimately, broken. Whilst I could make some comments on the glitchy nature of Bethesda’s output, especially where Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas is concerned, quite frankly even they pale in comparison to what could be the worst release of this generation. Given that the generation also bore EA’s Superman Returns, that’s quite an (under? – Ed) achievement.
This, naturally, brings me to Silent Hill. Konami’s survival horror series has been following an oblique path that has invariably led it downwards towards the bowels of hell, however, there is still hope left for it. Despite how pitiable that this generation’s first entry into the series was (Silent Hill: Homecoming), Vatra Games (the American development team in charge of it) managed to make amends with their latest attempt at cracking the genre. Downpour is a title that is well worth checking out; built using Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, the game is visually strong, features an atmospheric soundtrack by composer, Daniel Licht, and a mature storyline that manages to match the previous high points of the series so far. In no uncertain terms, this – despite its flaws – is the finest attempt to create a console survival horror experience since the original Condemned and is now the title to beat. So whilst Capcom faff around with poor quality action titles and overpriced conversions of handheld games, who exactly is left to steal this almighty crown and revive the flagging genre? Shinji Mikami, that’s who.
With his new team at Tango Gameworks, Shinji Mikami – creator of the Resident Evil series – is putting the finishing touches to one of next year’s most anticipated titles and, hopefully, what should promise to be the survival horror masterpiece that we have been waiting years on – The Evil Within. Apparently, the great designer is intending to make this latest effort his last project as a game director, and as such, is surely planning to go to out on a high by once again reinvigorating the genre that he made popular back in 1996. Promising to deliver the very definition of the genre with a skilfully woven storyline, highly detailed environments and gruesome creature designs brought to life with its stunning, Tech-5 powered visuals, this is a release that every gamer should be very excited about.
In The Evil Within, players take control of Sebastien Castellanos, a detective who has arrived with his partners at a mental asylum and the scene of a mass murder, only to find that a malevolent presence awaits them. Forced to witness the deaths of his fellow police officers, Sebastien himself is then attacked and loses consciousness, eventually awakening upside down on a hook, seemingly awaiting death – this is where the game really gets going. Bearing some mild similarities to Warp’s D, Sebastien must face up to his own fears and confront not only the darkness that surrounds him, but also the evil within his own heart.
Very little is known about the game, a wonderful achievement in this day and age, but the official website does offer some gameplay videos that provide a glimpse of what the finished product will present to gamers brave enough to play this title. Bearing striking similarities to aspects of Mikami’s previous work, gamers will instantly feel at home amongst the action packed set pieces, though these only form a mere fragment of the game’s brilliance – it’s how the action is balanced with its atmosphere that really differentiate it from the many pretenders that currently reside in the “survival horror” genre. The terror that permeates every second of the character’s journey is almost nauseating, and a stark reminder of what these games were once able to offer us before they were so crudely replaced with run and gun mediocrity.
The Evil Within is a game that is simultaneously both old and new; it is a glimpse into the glorious past of an almost forgotten style of video game, whilst offering the genre – as much as its fans – a future to look forward to. The survival horror genre may be currently laying upon the autopsy table, but like the creations that fill its proponent’s many releases, it is now starting to show signs of life. So, keep an eye out to see this particular title shuffling into stores early next year when The Evil Within is published by Bethesda Softworks on PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
– James Paton @TheBlackPage81
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