SURVIVAL HORROR is a subgenre of video games inspired by horror
fiction that focuses on survival of the character as the game tries to
frighten players with either horror graphics or scary ambience.
Although combat can be part of the gameplay, the player is made to
feel less in control than in typical action games through limited
ammunition, health, speed and vision, or through various obstructions
of the player's interaction with the game mechanics . The player is
also challenged to find items that unlock the path to new areas and
solve puzzles to proceed in the game. Games make use of strong horror
themes, like dark maze-like environments and unexpected attacks from
The term "survival horror" was first used for the original Japanese
Resident Evil in 1996, which was influenced by earlier
games with a horror theme such as 1989's Sweet Home or 1992's Alone in
the Dark . The name has been used since then for games with similar
gameplay, and has been retroactively applied to earlier titles.
Starting with the release of
Resident Evil 4 in 2005, the genre began
to incorporate more features from action games and more traditional
first person and third-person shooter games. This has led game
journalists to question whether long-standing survival horror
franchises and more recent franchises have abandoned the genre and
moved into a different distinct genre often referred to as "action
horror". Still, the survival horror genre has persisted in one
form or another.
* 1 Definition
* 2 Game design
* 2.1 De-emphasized combat
* 2.2 Enemy design
* 3 History
* 3.1 Origins (1980s–1996)
* 3.2 Golden age (1996–2004)
* 3.3 Transformation (2005–present)
* 4 See also
* 5 References
Resident Evil (1996) named and defined the survival horror
Survival horror refers to a subgenre of horror video games . The
player character is vulnerable and under-armed, which puts emphasis
on puzzle-solving and evasion, rather than violence. Games commonly
challenge the player to manage their inventory and ration scarce
resources such as ammunition. Another major theme throughout the
genre is that of isolation. Typically, these games contain relatively
few non-player characters and, as a result, frequently tell much of
their story second-hand through the usage of journals, texts, or audio
While many action games feature lone protagonists versus swarms of
enemies in a suspenseful environment, survival horror games are
distinct from otherwise horror-themed action games. They tend to
de-emphasize combat in favor of challenges such as hiding or running
from enemies and solving puzzles. Still, it is not unusual for
survival horror games to draw upon elements from first-person shooters
, action-adventure games, or even role-playing games . "Survival
horror is different from typical game genres in that it is not defined
strictly by specific mechanics, but subject matter, tone, pacing, and
Survival horror games are a subgenre of horror games, where the
player is unable to fully prepare or arm their avatar. The player
usually encounters several factors to make combat unattractive as a
primary option, such as a limited number of weapons or invulnerable
enemies, if weapons are available, their ammunition is sparser than
in other games, and powerful weapons such as rocket launchers are
rare, if even available at all. Thus, players are more vulnerable
than in action games , and the hostility of the environment sets up a
narrative where the odds are weighed decisively against the avatar.
This gameplay shifts away from direct combat, and players must learn
to evade enemies or turn the environment against them. Games try to
enhance the experience of vulnerability by making the game single
player rather than multiplayer, and by giving the player an avatar
who is more frail than the typical action game hero.
The survival horror genre is also known for other non-combat
challenges, such as solving puzzles at certain locations in the game
world, and collecting and managing an inventory of items. Areas of
the game world will be off limits until the player gains certain
items. Occasionally, levels are designed with alternative routes.
Levels also challenge players with maze-like environments, which test
the player's navigational skills. Levels are often designed as dark
and claustrophobic (often making use of dim or shadowy light
conditions and camera angles and sightlines which restrict visibility)
to challenge the player and provide suspense, although games in the
genre also make use of enormous spatial environments.
A survival horror storyline usually involves the investigation and
confrontation of horrific forces, and thus many games transform
common elements from horror fiction into gameplay challenges. Early
releases utilized camera angles seen in horror films , which allowed
enemies to lurk in areas that are concealed from the player's view.
Also, many survival horror games make use of off-screen sound or other
warning cues to notify the player of impending danger. This feedback
assists the player, but also creates feelings of anxiety and
Games typically feature a variety of monsters with unique behavior
patterns. Enemies can appear unexpectedly or suddenly, and levels
are often designed with scripted sequences where enemies drop from the
ceiling or crash through windows.
Survival horror games, like many
action-adventure games, are structured around the boss encounter where
the player must confront a formidable opponent in order to advance to
the next area. These boss encounters draw elements from antagonists
seen in classic horror stories, and defeating the boss will advance
the story of the game.
The origins of the survival horror game can be traced back to earlier
horror fiction. Archetypes have been linked to the books of H. P.
Lovecraft , which include investigative narratives, or journeys
through the depths. Comparisons have been made between Lovecraft's
Cthulhoid Old Ones and the boss encounters seen in many survival
horror games. Themes of survival have also been traced to the slasher
film subgenre, where the protagonist endures a confrontation with the
ultimate antagonist. Another major influence on the genre is Japanese
horror , including classical
Noh theatre , the books of Edogawa Rampo
, and Japanese cinema . The survival horror genre largely draws from
both Western (mainly American ) and Asian (mainly Japanese )
traditions, with the Western approach to horror generally favouring
action -oriented visceral horror while the Japanese approach tends to
favour psychological horror .
Several video games have been retroactively described as survival
horror. Nostromo was the first survival horror game developed by Akira
Tokyo University student and
Taito contractor, for the
PET 2001 . It was ported to the
PC-6001 by Masakuni Mitsuhashi (also
known as Hiromi Ohba, later joined
Game Arts ), and published by ASCII
in 1981, exclusively for Japan. Inspired by the 1980 stealth game
Manibiki Shoujo and the 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien , the gameplay
of Nostromo involved a player attempting to escape a spaceship while
avoiding the sight of an invisible alien, which only becomes visible
when appearing in front of the player. The gameplay also involved
limited resources, where the player needs to collect certain items in
order to escape the ship, and if certain required items are not
available in the warehouse, the player is unable to escape and
eventually has no choice but be killed getting caught by the alien.
Another early example is the 1981
Atari 2600 game Haunted House .
Gameplay is typical of future survival horror titles, as it emphasizes
puzzle-solving and evasive action, rather than violence. The game
uses monsters commonly featured in horror fiction, such as bats and
ghosts, each of which has unique behaviors. Gameplay also incorporates
item collection and inventory management, along with areas that are
inaccessible until the appropriate item is found. Because it has
several features that have been seen in later survival horror games,
some reviewers have retroactively classified this game as the first in
Malcolm Evans '
3D Monster Maze , released for the
Sinclair ZX81 in
1982, is a first-person game without a weapon; the player cannot fight
the enemy, a
Tyrannosaurus Rex , so must escape by finding the exit
before the monster finds him. The game states its distance and
awareness of the player, further raising tension. Edge stated it was
about "fear, panic, terror and facing an implacable, relentless foe
who’s going to get you in the end" and considers it "the original
survival horror game".
Retro Gamer stated, "
Survival horror may have
been a phrase first coined by
Resident Evil , but it could’ve easily
applied to Malcolm Evans’ massive hit."
1982 saw the release of another early horror game,
Bandai 's Terror
House, based on traditional Japanese horror, released as a Bandai
LCD Solarpower handheld game . It was a solar-powered game with two
LCD panels on top of each other to enable impressive scene changes and
early pseudo-3D effects. The amount of ambient light the game
received also had an effect on the gaming experience. Another early
example of a horror game released that year was
Sega 's arcade game
Monster Bash, which introduced classic horror-movie monsters,
including the likes of
Dracula , the
Frankenstein monster, and
werewolves , helping to lay the foundations for future survival horror
games. Its 1986 remake Ghost House had gameplay specifically designed
around the horror theme, featuring haunted house stages full of traps
and secrets, and enemies that were fast, powerful, and intimidating,
forcing players to learn the intricacies of the house and rely on
their wits. Another game that has been cited as one of the first
horror-themed games is
Quicksilva 's 1983 maze game
Ant Attack .
In 1985, Magical Zoo's The Screamer was a bio-horror RPG released for
the NEC PC-88 that was set in a post-apocalyptic research facility,
while the gameplay featured shooter -based combat and permanent death
. The latter half of the 1980s saw the release of several other
horror-themed games, including
Castlevania in 1986, and
Splatterhouse in 1988, though despite
the macabre imagery of these games, their gameplay did not diverge
much from other action games at the time.
Splatterhouse in particular
is notable for its large amount of bloodshed and terror, despite being
an arcade beat \'em up with very little emphasis on survival.
Shiryou Sensen: War of the Dead, a 1987 title developed by Fun
Factory and published by
Victor Music Industries for the
MSX2 , PC-88
PC Engine platforms, is considered the first true survival horror
game by Kevin Gifford (of
GamePro and 1UP ) and John Szczepaniak (of
Retro Gamer and The Escapist ). Designed by Katsuya Iwamoto, the game
was a horror action RPG revolving around a female
SWAT member Lila
rescuing survivors in an isolated monster-infested town and bringing
them to safety in a church. It has open environments like Dragon Quest
and real-time side-view battles like
Zelda II , though War of the Dead
departed from other RPGs with its dark and creepy atmosphere expressed
through the storytelling, graphics, and music. The player character
has limited ammunition, though the player character can punch or use a
knife if out of ammunition. The game also has a limited item inventory
and crates to store items, and introduced a day-night cycle ; the
player can sleep to recover health, and a record is kept of how many
days the player has survived. That same year saw the release of
Laplace no Ma , another hybrid of survival horror and RPG, though with
more traditional RPG elements such as turn-based combat. It is mostly
set in a mansion infested with undead creatures, and the player
controls a party of characters with different professions, including a
scientist who constructs tools and a journalist who takes pictures.
In 1988, War of the Dead Part 2 for the
MSX2 and PC-88 abandoned the
RPG elements of its predecessor, such as random encounters , and
instead adopted action-adventure elements from Metal Gear while
retaining the horror atmosphere of its predecessor. Sweet Home
(1989), pictured above, was a role-playing video game often called the
first survival horror and cited as the main inspiration for Resident
However, the game often considered the first true survival horror,
due to having the most influence on Resident Evil, was the 1989
release Sweet Home , for the
Nintendo Entertainment System . It was
Tokuro Fujiwara , who would later go on to create Resident
Evil. Sweet Home's gameplay focused on solving a variety of puzzles
using items stored in a limited inventory, while battling or escaping
from horrifying creatures, which could lead to permanent death for any
of the characters, thus creating tension and an emphasis on survival.
It was also the first attempt at creating a scary and frightening
storyline within a game, mainly told through scattered diary entries
left behind fifty years before the events of the game. Developed by
Capcom , the game would become the main inspiration behind their later
release Resident Evil. Its horrific imagery prevented its release in
the Western world, though its influence was felt through Resident
Evil, which was originally intended to be a remake of the game. Some
consider Sweet Home to be the first true survival horror game.
In 1989, Electronic Arts published
Project Firestart , developed by
Dynamix . Unlike most other early games in the genre, it featured a
science fiction setting inspired by the film Alien , but had gameplay
that closely resembled later survival horror games in many ways. Fahs
considers it the first to achieve "the kind of fully formed vision of
survival horror as we know it today," citing its balance of action and
adventure, limited ammunition, weak weaponry, vulnerable main
character, feeling of isolation, storytelling through journals,
graphic violence, and use of dynamically triggered music - all of
which are characteristic elements of later games in the survival
horror genre. Despite this, it is not likely a direct influence on
later games in the genre and the similarities are largely an example
of parallel thinking . Alone in the Dark (1992) is considered a
forefather of the survival horror genre, and is sometimes called a
survival horror game in retrospect.
Infogrames released Alone in the Dark , which has been
considered a forefather of the genre. The game featured a lone
protagonist against hordes of monsters, and made use of traditional
adventure game challenges such as puzzle-solving and finding hidden
keys to new areas. Graphically, Alone in the Dark utilized static
prerendered camera views that were cinematic in nature. Although
players had the ability to fight monsters as in action games , players
also had the option to evade or block them. Many monsters could not
be killed, and thus could only be dealt with using problem-solving
abilities. The game also used the mechanism of notes and books as
expository devices. Many of these elements were used in later
survival horror games, and thus the game is credited with making the
survival horror genre possible.
Riverhillsoft released the first fully 3D survival horror
game, Doctor Hauzer, for the 3DO . Both the player character and the
environment are rendered entirely in polygons , while allowing the
player to switch the view between three different perspectives:
third-person , first-person , and overhead view . In a departure from
most other survival horror games before and after it, Doctor Hauzer
lacks any enemies; the main threat is instead the sentient house that
the game takes place in, with the player having to survive the house's
traps and solve puzzles. It also uses background music that heightens
tension and changes depending on the situation, and the sound of the
player character's echoing footsteps can change depending on the
surface; these would later be used in Resident Evil. The game is today
considered a formative step in the creation of the survival horror
genre, improving on Alone in the Dark.
In 1995, WARP 's horror adventure game D featured a first-person
perspective, CGI full-motion video , gameplay that consisted entirely
of puzzle-solving , and taboo content such as cannibalism . The same
Human Entertainment 's
Clock Tower was a survival horror game
that employed point-and-click graphic adventure gameplay and a deadly
stalker known as
Scissorman that chases players throughout the game.
The game introduced stealth game elements, and was unique for its
lack of combat, with the player only able to run away or outsmart
Scissorman in order to survive. It features up to nine different
The term "survival horror" was first used by
Capcom to market their
1996 release, Resident Evil. It began as a remake of Sweet Home,
borrowing various elements from the game, such as its mansion setting,
puzzles, "opening door" load screen, death animations, multiple
endings depending on which characters survive, dual character paths,
individual character skills, limited item management, story told
through diary entries and frescos, emphasis on atmosphere, and
Resident Evil also adopted several features seen in
Alone in the Dark, notably its cinematic fixed camera angles and
pre-rendered backdrops. The control scheme in
Resident Evil also
became a staple of the genre, and future titles imitated its challenge
of rationing very limited resources and items. The game's commercial
success is credited with helping the
PlayStation become the dominant
game console , and also led to a series of
Resident Evil films. Many
games have tried to replicate the successful formula seen in Resident
Evil, and every subsequent survival horror game has arguably taken a
stance in relation to it.
GOLDEN AGE (1996–2004)
The success of
Resident Evil in 1996 was responsible for its template
being used as the basis for a wave of successful survival horror
games, many of which were referred to as "
Resident Evil clones." The
golden age of survival horror started by
Resident Evil reached its
peak around the turn of the millennium with Silent Hill, followed by a
general decline a few years later. Among the
Resident Evil clones at
the time, there were several survival horror titles that stood out,
Clock Tower (1996) and
Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within
(1998) for the PlayStation. These
Clock Tower games proved to be hits,
capitalizing on the success of
Resident Evil while staying true to the
graphic-adventure gameplay of the original
Clock Tower rather than
Resident Evil formula. Another survival horror title
that differentiated itself was
Corpse Party (1996), an indie ,
psychological horror adventure game created using the RPG Maker
engine. Much like
Clock Tower and later
Haunting Ground (2005), the
player characters in
Corpse Party lack any means of defending
themselves; the game also featured up to 20 possible endings .
However, the game would not be released in Western markets until 2011.
Another game similar to the
Clock Tower series of games and Haunting
Ground, which was also inspired by Resident Evil's success is the
Korean game known as White Day: A Labyrinth Named School (2001), this
game was reportedly so scary that the developers had to release
several patches adding multiple difficulty options, the game was
slated for localization in 2004 but was cancelled, building on its
previous success in Korea and interest, a remake has been developed in
Overblood , released in 1996, is considered
one of the first survival horror games to make use of a fully
three-dimensional virtual environment, second only to Riverhillsoft's
own Doctor Hauzer in 1994. The Note in 1997 and
Hellnight in 1998
experimented with using a real-time 3D first-person perspective rather
than pre-rendered backgrounds like Resident Evil.
Capcom released the successful sequel
Resident Evil 2 ,
which series creator
Shinji Mikami intended to tap into the classic
notion of horror as "the ordinary made strange," thus rather than
setting the game in a creepy mansion no one would visit, he wanted to
use familiar urban settings transformed by the chaos of a viral
outbreak. The game sold over five million copies, proving the
popularity of survival horror. That year saw the release of Square 's
Parasite Eve , which combined elements from
Resident Evil with the RPG
Final Fantasy . It was followed by a more action-based
Parasite Eve II , in 1999. In 1998,
Galerians discarded the
use of guns in favour of psychic powers that make it difficult to
fight more than one enemy at a time. Also in 1998,
Blue Stinger was a
fully 3D survival horror for the
Dreamcast incorporating action
elements from beat \'em up and shooter games . The Silent Hill
series, pictured above, introduced a psychological horror style to the
genre. The most renowned was
Silent Hill 2 (2001), for its strong
Silent Hill , released in 1999, drew heavily from Resident
Evil while using realtime 3D environments in contrast to Resident
Evil's pre-rendered graphics.
Silent Hill in particular was praised
for moving away from
B movie horror elements to the psychological
style seen in art house or
Japanese horror films, due to the game's
emphasis on a disturbing atmosphere rather than visceral horror. The
game also featured stealth elements, making use of the fog to dodge
enemies or turning off the flashlight to avoid detection. The
Silent Hill is considered one of the scariest games of all
time, and the strong narrative from
Silent Hill 2 in 2001 has made
Silent Hill series one of the most influential in the genre.
According to IGN, the "golden age of survival horror came to a
crescendo" with the release of Silent Hill.
Also in 1999,
Capcom released the original
Dino Crisis , which was
noted for incorporating certain elements from survival horror games.
It was followed by a more action-based sequel,
Dino Crisis 2 , in
Fatal Frame from 2001 was a unique entry into the genre, as the
player explores a mansion and takes photographs of ghosts in order to
defeat them. The
Fatal Frame series has since gained a reputation as
one of the most distinctive in the genre, with the first game in the
series credited as one of the best-written survival horror games ever
UGO Networks . Meanwhile,
Capcom incorporated shooter
elements into several survival horror titles, such as 2000's Resident
Evil Survivor which used both light gun shooter and first-person
shooter elements, and 2003's Resident Evil: Dead Aim which used light
gun and third-person shooter elements.
Western developers began to return to the survival horror formula.
The Thing from 2002 has been called a survival horror game, although
it is distinct from other titles in the genre due to its emphasis on
action, and the challenge of holding a team together. The 2004 title
Doom 3 is sometimes categorized as survival horror, although it is
considered an Americanized take on the genre due to the player's
ability to directly confront monsters with weaponry. Thus, it is
usually considered a first-person shooter with survival horror
elements. Regardless, the genre's increased popularity led Western
developers to incorporate horror elements into action games, rather
than follow the Japanese survival style.
Overall, the traditional survival horror genre continued to be
dominated by Japanese designers and aesthetics. 2002's
Clock Tower 3
eschewed the graphic adventure game formula seen in the original Clock
Tower, and embraced full 3D survival horror gameplay. In 2003,
Resident Evil Outbreak introduced a new gameplay element to the genre:
online multiplayer and cooperative gameplay .
Sony employed Silent
Keiichiro Toyama to develop Siren . The game was
released in 2004, and added unprecedented challenge to the genre by
making the player mostly defenseless, thus making it vital to learn
the enemy's patrol routes and hide from them. However, reviewers
eventually criticized the traditional Japanese survival horror formula
for becoming stagnant. As the console market drifted towards
Western-style action games, players became impatient with the limited
resources and cumbersome controls seen in Japanese titles such as
Resident Evil Code: Veronica and
Silent Hill 4: The Room .
In recent years, developers have combined traditional survival
horror gameplay with other concepts.
Left 4 Dead (2008) fused survival
horror with cooperative multiplayer and action .
Resident Evil 4 attempted to redefine the genre by
emphasizing reflexes and precision aiming , broadening the gameplay
with elements from the wider action genre. Its ambitions paid off,
earning the title several Game of the Year awards for 2005, and the
top rank on IGN's Readers' Picks Top 99 Games list. However, this
also led some reviewers to suggest that the
Resident Evil series had
abandoned the survival horror genre, by demolishing the genre
conventions that it had established. Other major survival horror
series followed suit by developing their combat systems to feature
more action, such as
Silent Hill Homecoming , and the 2008 version of
Alone in the Dark . These changes were part of an overall trend among
console games to shift towards visceral action gameplay. These
changes in gameplay have led some purists to suggest that the genre
has deteriorated into the conventions of other action games. Jim
Sterling suggests that the genre lost its core gameplay when it
improved the combat interface, thus shifting the gameplay away from
hiding and running towards direct combat. Leigh Alexander argues that
this represents a shift towards more Western horror aesthetics, which
emphasize action and gore rather than the psychological experience of
The original genre has persisted in one form or another. The 2005
F.E.A.R. was praised for both its atmospheric tension and
fast action, successfully combining
Japanese horror with cinematic
action, while Dead Space from 2008 brought survival horror to a
science fiction setting. However, critics argue that these titles
represent the continuing trend away from pure survival horror and
towards general action. The release of
Left 4 Dead in 2008 helped
popularize cooperative multiplayer among survival horror games,
although it is mostly a first person shooter at its core. Meanwhile,
Fatal Frame series has remained true to the roots of the genre,
Fatal Frame IV transitioned from the use of fixed cameras to
an over-the-shoulder viewpoint. Also in 2009,
Silent Hill made a
transition to an over-the-shoulder viewpoint in Silent Hill: Shattered
Memories . This Wii effort was, however, considered by most reviewers
as a return to form for the series due to several developmental
decisions taken by
Climax Studios . This included the decision to
openly break the fourth wall by psychologically profiling the player,
and the decision to remove any weapons from the game, forcing the
player to run whenever they see an enemy.
Examples of independent survival horror games are the Penumbra series
and Amnesia: The Dark Descent by
Frictional Games , Nightfall: Escape
by Zeenoh ,
Cry of Fear by Team Psykskallar and Slender: The Eight
Pages , all of which were praised for creating a horrific setting and
atmosphere without the overuse of violence or gore. In 2010, the
Deadly Premonition by
Access Games was notable for
introducing open world nonlinear gameplay and a comedy horror theme to
the genre. Overall, game developers have continued to make and
release survival horror games, and the genre continues to grow among
independent video game developers .
The Last of Us , released in 2013 by
Naughty Dog , incorporated many
horror elements into a third-person action game. Set twenty years
after a pandemic plague, the player must use scarce ammo and
distraction tactics to evade or kill malformed humans infected by a
brain parasite, as well as dangerous survivalists.
Shinji Mikami , the creator of the
Resident Evil franchise, released
his new survival horror game
The Evil Within , in 2014. Mikami stated
that his goal was to bring survival horror back to its roots (even
though this is his last directorial work), as he was disappointed by
recent survival horror games for having too much action.
Present games like
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard utilize a futuristic
style but optional virtual simulation, using
PlayStation VR .
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