It’s no secret the horror genre has seen quite a bit of change over the last few years. The end of this console generation has brought with it a potential end of the AAA blockbuster horror game, after series like F.E.A.R., Condemned, Dead Space, Silent Hill and Resident Evil haven’t seen a significant enough return on the millions of dollars required to make games of that quality and scale. F.E.A.R. 3, Dead Space 3, Condemned 2, Resident Evil 6 and Silent Hill: Downpour — more so than its predecessors, which also haven’t been terribly successful — have caused their respective publishers to change the way they approach these series, or, in the case of Condemned, shutter them entirely.
You may not know his name, but Keiichiro Toyama has brought us two of the greatest survival horror franchises of all time. He was the director on both Siren and the original Silent Hill, so he understands the genre. In a recent interview with Famitsu, translated by Polygon, Toyama discusses his desire to return to the genre and the barriers that are keeping AAA horror games from getting made.
“I’ve worked on horror for a long time,” Toyama told Famitsu. “Whenever I work on something different, I can’t help but come up with new horror-oriented ideas. So I’d like to make another horror game someday, but the thing is, unlike in the past, I think it’s become kind of hard to make horror games. To some extent, horror is a good match for the ‘B’ genre, in terms of taking advantage of low budgets for the maximum return and maximum quality. However, we’re now in an environment where B-grade titles are simply being priced out of the retail-software market. I think making a pure horror AAA console title is going to be really difficult going into the future. Instead, if I have a chance to make something like Journey that you can complete in two or three hours, but still offers an intense horror experience, I’d love to try that.”
He has a point. Over the last couple years, more developers have turned to indie development and self-publishing to get shorter, more focused horror games on the market, usually through Steam or Sony and Microsoft’s indie platforms.
Zombie Studios, the makers of the two games based on the Saw films, are working on Daylight, a low budget paranormal adventure with gameplay similar to Slender: The Eight Pages. Then there’s The Atronauts, a new studio made up of ex-People Can Fly (Bulletstorm, Gears of War: Judgment) developers. Their next game, the story-driven The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is much smaller than their previous efforts. There’s also Red Barrels, the makers of Outlast, Frictional Games and their sci-fi horror game, SOMA — the list goes on.
All this isn’t to say the AAA horror game will soon be extinct. There will always be room for them — like The Evil Within, Dying Light and Dead Rising 3 — but I imagine we’ll be seeing less of these sprawling, big budget franchises once the next generation comes along.
I hope Toyama decides to return to horror, because his brand of it is a unique one. Silent Hill and Siren are two of the most original and psychologically terrifying video games ever and with the myriad horror games that are currently copying and pasting the mechanics and style of successful ones — like Slender: The Eight Pages — we need someone to come in and shake things up.