The Fried Critic Survival Horror Handbook - Part One: The Standards
In an age of annoying man-children who screech at eardrum-shattering levels, and of overrated first-person jump scare festivals that can't be bothered with any semblance of a compelling plot or atmosphere, people today aren't really getting the best of what the amazing sub-genre of survival horror has to offer. And while I wouldn't argue that it's dead, per se, survival horror still has yet to reclaim the creativity and vivaciousness that previous generations offered. So, for those not well-versed in the sometimes unnerving, sometimes bizarre, and always entertaining world of horror gaming, I figured it was high time I put together a short series detailing what you should play, what you should avoid, and what's going to make unable to walk around at night.
First up, since you can't beat the classics, here are some games that helped define survival horror as we know it today.
Resident Evil 2 (PSOne/N64/Dreamcast)
Availability: You can get it almost anywhere for under 20 bucks. It's also on PSN for download.
Silent Hill 2 (PS2/Xbox)
Availability: Most places have it for under 20 bucks in good condition. You could also play the HD Collection, which bundles 2&3, but it's kind of buggy and flawed, even with the patched PS3 version.
Fatal Frame (PS2/Xbox)
Availability: You can get it most places for 20 bucks, and bundled with the second entry on PSN for eight bucks, which is a total steal, as both games have a lot to do.
Doom 3 (PC)
First-person shooters are not really known for being scary. At least, they weren't, until Doom 3 exploded onto the scene. It may seem a bit odd, considering that prior Doom games were known for being gory and action-packed, and not for their atmosphere and scares, but the shift in focus on this entry earns it a slot. Even though the most well-known first-person action/horror hybrids are F.E.A.R. and Condemned: Criminal Origins, I would argue that those games couldn't exist without id's innovations present in this game. For every exciting set-piece where you tear demons to ribbons with a chain-gun, or unleash hell on robotic skeletons with a BFG, there's a tight corridor with a demonic baby popping out of nowhere, or a vent spring-loaded with an enemy to pop up in your face, leaving you to frantically claw at it with a chainsaw. While the story is a bit bare-bones, and the later parts of the game are filled with artificial difficulty, Doom 3 is still an incredibly important game. It showed gamers that shooters could actually be terrifying if done the right way, and set in place a mold that many would follow, but few would be able to fill and/or break.
Availability: You can get this on the PC for a reasonable price, whether it's the original version or the recent BFG Edition, which is also on PS3 and 360. Pro Tip: avoid the original Xbox version, as it's scaled-down and pretty terrible, outside of an added co-op mode.
Resident Evil 4 (GC/PS2/Wii)
Availability: Do you have a video game console? No, seriously, this has been released on almost everything since the initial release. For my money, the Wii version is the best, as aiming works fantastically, it has all the bonus content of the PS2 edition, and the graphics of the GameCube edition. To me, the HD versions released on PS3 and 360 are kind of perfunctory... although the new PC version coming out soon looks fantastic.
So, these are the bread and butter of your survival horror gaming experiences. They helped shape the sub-genre, and are legitimately fantastic games in their own right. These are horror games that even people not interested in being scared owe it to themselves to play. Next time, then, I'll take a look at some lesser-known classics that, while not completely obscure (I'll save that for a later entry,) are not as beloved as the games here.