I grew up with horror games. I have many fond memories of playing Silent Hill over at my cousin’s house, or watching her play Resident Evil, hiding behind covers whenever creatures popped out of nowhere. The PS2 era, even going as far back as 1998 and 1999, proved to be a golden era for survival and psychological horror; with games like Resident Evil 2, Silent Hill 2, Fatal Frame, and even Manhunt, horror games were on the rise. This golden age culminated in the ever-popular Resident Evil 4 – but then it began to fall, around 2005, right after the release of RE4.
Slowly, survival horror and psychological horror were replaced with action horror – games that involve horror scenes and creatures, but never make you scared that you might not survive. Gun ammunition was plenty, and, more often than not, they tried to work on the ambiance rather than the gameplay style; games like Dead Space were born, which relied so heavily on jump-scares, it got rid of any fear factor. Of course, the other franchises tried to continue – both Resident Evil and Silent Hill kept churning out games, though it was by completely different teams that were unsuccessful at keeping the feel of those original games. Even with newbie efforts trying to get into the survival horror field – games like Amnesia and Outlast – survival/psychological horror still failed to make a comeback, still replaced with the ever-popular action horror.
Then, The Evil Within was announced. A new game directed by Shinji Mikami, the father of the Resident Evil series. All videos and pictures pointed at the idea that it could mean a renaissance for both survival and psychological horror. It excited players around the world, and many people waited eagerly to see if it would finally be the comeback that horror has been waiting for in video games for nearly 10 years.
However, The Evil Within didn’t end up being the renaissance that I was looking for. The issue with it being that it felt too much like another Resident Evil game, just with a completely different plot and different characters. I must emphasize, however, that it doesn’t mean that I didn’t like Evil Within; I quite enjoyed it, and I think it was the first game in a long time to actually bring about a good amount of both survival and psychological horror. However, it wasn’t anything new. Many situations I felt were straight from Resident Evil, and I found myself growing slightly nostalgic for those other games — yet, I wanted us to move forward, to reach new levels of horror we had yet to reach. Rather than being a game to bring us into a newer, modern age of horror, I found myself back in the older age. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t help to usher in this new age of horror. We’re in a world with so many more things to frighten us — why are we relying on the same tactics?
Evil Within relied on all of those same tactics, all of the same ways to scare us. It simply wasn’t original enough to bring about a new era of horror, even though it wasn’t necessarily a bad game. Many situations occurred that I remember just playing in a previous Resident Evil game. It wasn’t a horror game for the new age, but it was a fantastic call back to the horror games that I loved back in the age of the PS2. It took the best things that I remembered from those games and pieced them together into a game that I very much love to play; but it’s still not distinguishing itself enough as a new experience, and isn’t new enough to be the beginning of the comeback for survival horror .
It did many things good and few things bad, but one of the main complaints I found was that it relied on gore a lot more than I would have liked. Many scenes involved the main character falling down a tube and ending up in a pool full of blood, or just disgusting pieces of bodies strewn about the place. Mind you, I’m not squeamish – but the issue with the massive amounts of blood and gristle is that it took away from the feeling of the setting. A lot of the environment was scary enough, but it tried to rely too heavily on the shock value of gore, as if trying to force that scary feeling onto the player. It’s much like the effect of canned laughter on sitcoms; it tries to rely too heavily on the effect of the conditioned stimulus (gore) to produce the conditioned response (being scared). Which is a shame, because the feeling of the game is scary enough – many situations resulted in me wondering what was going to be around the next corner.
The Evil Within did a lot of things right, and, to be quite honest, not many things wrong. However, the issue with that was that the things it did right were things we’ve seen before, many times. As mentioned, it ended up being more of a callback to classic horror games rather than a new entry into the modern horror genre. Which is a shame; it does so many things well. So much better than the action horror games that have flooded the market these days. In fact, having gone back to the root and brought about the nostalgia, it has made it easier to spring forward from there and make games that will truly be a horror experience for the new century.
We have not reached another golden age of horror gaming. Most of the time, developers try to remain accessible to any markets while still trying to appease former fans of the genre. Honestly, this hasn’t been done successfully since Resident Evil 4. The popularity of RE4 allowed for people to jump in and try to replicate it, yet miss the entire heart of what the game relied on to be a successful horror story. While Evil Within is a good game, masterfully using both survival and psychological horror, it doesn’t hearken a comeback for the genre. It isn’t the second coming; the reason being, it isn’t original enough. It replicates the feeling of Resident Evil and other such games too much to consider it something uniquely its own. However, it does appear to suggest that the new age will be just around the bend, hopefully with the entrance of upcoming Silent Hills into the market.