Is Survival Horror Dead?


Resident Evil is a series that dominated the video game market in the late 1990s. Alongside with other brands like Silent Hill, Clocktower, and Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil won the hearts and minds of gamers by delivering suspenseful and intricately designed worlds for players to explore. The survival horror formula consisted of a protagonist fending for themselves in a demented environment inhabited by overwhelming enemies with limited supplies. Players were forced to navigate through dimly lit labyrinths and medicously search for clues whilst also managing a constraint inventory. The first and second mainline installments in the Resident Evil series were considered landmarks in the video game industry, but gamers and critics alike felt the franchise was becoming stagnant with each subsequent release.

Capcom attempted to revitalize the series with a complete re-design of the first Resident Evil, which was released for the Nintendo Game Cube in 2002. The title was well-received by critics who praised the detailed graphics and revamped level-design, but the game itself  was a commercial failure and only sold well among hardened Resident Evil fans. Capcom knew that pure survival horror games would no longer appeal to mainstream video game players with titles like Halo, Killzone, and Call of Duty on the market. 

“Survival horror as a genre is never going to be on the same level, financially, as shooters and much more popular, mainstream games. At the same time, I think we need to have confidence to put money behind these projects, and it doesn’t mean we can’t focus on what we need to do as a survival horror game to meet fan’s needs." - Masachika Kawata (CapCom Producer)
The age of survival horror had been brought to near-extinction by fans who wanted high-octane and visceral action. Capcom went back to the drawing board and hedged their bets on Resident Evil 4. As the Resident Evil brand held its breath, gamers immediately fell in love Resident Evil 4's marriage of horror and action. The game not only shattered both critical and fan expectations, but went on to become one of the greatest and most influential games of all time.  Capcom's gamble lived up to fruition and the Resident Evil video game series could continue to exist with a AAA budget.  

Unfortunately, neither Resident Evil 5 nor 6 could live up to the expectations of Resident Evil 4. Capcom faced market pressure to make the games even more action-driven and included co-operative features that made the games viable on a multi-player market.  While both titles were well-polished and refined as expected for a AAA title, they lacked the innovation and eloquence delivered by Resident Evil 4. The titles were not deplorable by any means but felt tedious and repetitive  over time.

These games disenfranchised many long-time Resident Evil fans, who yearned for a return back to the glory days of survival horror. Resident Evil 7 is a throwback to 1990s-era of survival horror games. Resident Evil 7 borrows the gameplay mechanics from contemporary titles like Outlast and  Amnesia, and marries this with aesthetics that resemble a low-fi horror film (a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Hills Have Eyes). Capcom has taken a fresh take on a series and designated Resident Evil 7 as a partial reboot to the series, though it's safe to speculate that there will be a tie-in to the older games.

Even though survival horror games are not as popular as they once were, Capcom is hoping Resident Evil 7 will bring in a new crowd of gamers looking for a different first-person experience. The VR support is also an interesting addition to the series and will only deepen the emergence factor given it is  properly executed.  Resident Evil 7 debuts on January 24, 2017 on all platforms. A demo is available featuring a bonus level to give players a feel for the new game play mechanics.