The Fried Critic Survival Horror Handbook - Part Two: Touchstone Franchises
(Last time on AFC's Survival Horror Handbook, I talked about the landmark titles of the genre. These were the titles that defined being terrified at video games, works that set standards which are still in place today. Today, it's time to look at some signature series that are known for offering up bloodcurdling chills in copious amounts.)
It's a simple fact that most survival horror titles are standalone experiences, not bound by a license or established canon or anything of that nature. That being said, over the course of their existence, it's natural for some developers to tap the same well a few times over, building upon lore and canon with each passing entry. Either that, or simply using a title as an umbrella for a similar set of aesthetics and design ethos. Naturally, some of these series have built upon themselves over the years with a series of respectable games. So, like any genre, survival horror has its own set of important franchises, and today, I'm going to show you the most important ones, and my favorites out of them... along with the ones that are better left for dead. Grab your green herbs and lead pipes, and let's dig right in.
Resident Evil (Capcom)
Given that Resident Evil 1&2 gave developers a blueprint for survival horror games, and that Resident Evil 4 set the bar for current action and horror games alike, it would be a gross oversight not to put Capcom's flagship franchise here. Granted, Resident Evil Giraffe... erm, Resident Evil 6 was complete garbage, and the series pretty much started taking a nosedive after 4, yet its importance is still huge when it comes to horror gaming. In fact, horror games as we know them today might not even exist without this series, and by proxy, I probably wouldn't be writing this. Capcom popularized horror in video games, bringing it to a wide audience, and regardless of how you feel about the direction they've taken the series in recent years, there's no denying it's still one of most important in gaming history.
Killer: If you're looking for classic survival horror, you can't go wrong with Resident Evil 2 and Zero. Or, if you're in the mood for a hybrid of action and horror, Resident Evil 4 is what you want, and for all action (not to mention fun as hell co-op), Resident Evil 5 has got you covered. Also, Resident Evil Revelations (or Revelaitons, if you prefer) is a bloody fantastic experience, either on the 3DS or home consoles.
Slaughtered: Resident Evil 6 is one of the most offensively terrible games I've ever played, misconceived at every possible step; it spits in the face of the franchise, and should have never been released. Operation: Raccoon City is a rinky-dink third-person shooter, and Resident Evil Gaiden is the ugly result of an inbreeding experiment with tank controls and a Game Boy Color.
Silent Hill (Konami)
Arguably gaming's first foray into psychological horror, Konami's disturbing yarns center around a mysterious town known as Silent Hill, which had a disturbing and mysterious fate befall it decades prior to the first game. Within this town lurks the darkest fears of anybody who is unlucky enough to visit it, not to mention physical projections of their fucked-up psyches. Complemented by some of the best music out there, the Silent Hill franchise has managed to consistently scare and excite since its inception in the late 90's, and with the exception of the occasional misfire, has maintained a more or less even level of quality after the departure of the original developers. To be frank, parts from the various Silent Hill entries still stick with me whenever I walk outside alone at night, and probably will for years to come. If that's not a solid recommendation for a horror game, then I'm not sure what is.
Killer: The standard, of course, is Silent Hill 2, but personally, I found Silent Hill 3 to be more interesting, varied, and possessing of a more engaging lead character. Looking beyond the original four games, Downpour and Shattered Memories are both fantastic experiences that are not to be missed.
Slaughtered: Words can't describe how awful Silent Hill: Book of Memories is, but trust me when I say that not even the most diehard fans should touch this one with a lead pipe. Also pretty shitty is Silent Hill Origins, which can be beaten in 2-3 hours and has a thoroughly forgettable narrative.
Fatal Frame (Tecmo)
Perhaps it doesn't have the big-budget adaptations or household recognition of the previous two franchises, but Fatal Frame is one of the most important contributions to survival horror ever created. Period. It did things that no other game had dreamed of, such as combat-free survival, and the concept of assailants that aren't bound by the laws of physics. Ghosts do what they will, and you're left to scramble and catch their souls inside of mysterious camera... unless, that is, you want to join their ranks. While, for my tastes, the series is too focused on jump scares and gimmicks, Fatal Frame is nevertheless a franchise that changed the course of survival horror games, and deserves props for that.
Killer: Pretty much, you're safe with any of the Fatal Frame games. They're entertaining and sometimes frightening, and there isn't a completely bad one in the bunch, as far as the main series is concerned.
Slaughtered: The 3DS spin-off, Spirit Camera, can pretty much be skipped. It's a gimmicky AR game that has to be played in a brightly lit environment. A horror game. In a bright environment. Using the 3DS camera. Really, that should tell you everything you need to know.
Dead Space (EA)
For all those who said survival horror is dead, I would like to point to Visceral's wonderful Dead Space franchise. Admittedly, the third title went the Resident Evil 5 route and focused on more action, but the first two are still among the scariest games I've ever touched. Taking the over-the-shoulders view of Resident Evil 4 and expanding upon it in every way possible, the initial two titles cast you as Isaac Clarke, a technician thrust into an intergalactic journey to hell. Exploring ships crawling with nightmarish demons that only be killed by total dismemberment, barely having enough ammo to fight off said demons most of the time... things in this game will most likely send you into a full-on panic, which is what makes it so great. Very few games today capture that feeling of intense dread and fright in such a pure, distilled form, and despite the questionable direction EA eventually took the franchise, the first two are incredibly popular and important entries.
Killer: The first two are pretty much perfect, but Dead Space 2 is the better of the duo, being much scarier and more interesting.
Slaughtered: I don't hate Dead Space 3, and in fact, I actually thought it was pretty fun. But it's not really a survival horror game, per se, and it would be unfair to label it as such. Also, EA's microtransaction bullshit consistently manages to irritate.
Now that you're familiar with some of the landmark titles and important series, it's time to get a little more obscure. Next time, I'm going to take a look at some of the most underrated survival horror games out there, including a certain cult favorite obsessed with coffee, and a psychotic trip aboard a zeppelin inhabited by sadistic little girls. Yep.