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How Do You Define “Survival Horror”?

The 1996 zombie game Resident Evil was the foundation of the “survival horror” subgenre. It’s one of those indisputable facts, much like how Night of the Living Dead gave birth to the modern idea of zombies. But that term has since become rather confusing as more and more horror games are adding elements that seemingly detract from what Resident Evil brought to the table.

In the below video from Argent Cypher, the case is made that not only did Resident Evil coin the term “survival horror” but that the sequel Resident Evil 4 essentially killed it! It’s a rather interesting video that provides several good examples and arguments as to what the true definition of “survival horror” should be while at the same time explaining that certain titles don’t deserve that moniker.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Looking back on certain games and their franchises, did you see a change in gameplay, such as with the Dead Space series, that necessitated a different way to describe them? Give us your thoughts in the comments!


12 Comments
  • WALKTER

    The only thing I wouldn’t agree with in the video is the adventure aspect of survival horror, not because he’s wrong (he’s right), but because I always hated that aspect of survival horror games. Find the key to open the door so you can find the key to open another door, fuck off. Recently it feels like game devs forgot about that mechanic, because it was in everything and now it isn’t (thankfully), don’t go reminding them about it, shush up.
    But yeah, good video.

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    “The 1996 zombie game Resident Evil was the foundation of the “survival horror” subgenre.” wrong, get your facts straight “the sequel Resident Evil 4 essentially killed it” wrong again, that game is many thing but is barely horror ,is mainly just action

    • deepdark

      Resident Evil was the game that had the term coined; while it wasn’t the first horror game, it’s considered to be the granddaddy of survival horror by basically everyone.

      “wrong again, that game is many thing but is barely horror ,is mainly just action”
      That’s the point. RE4 was the game that began the trend of survival horror franchises becoming more action-oriented and less focused on scaring players; hence the belief that it killed the genre.

  • Rohan Sorensen

    I think the perfect example of survival horror is the Evil Within. You are walking around with three shotgun shells and two revolver rounds, and you know that there is a horde of enemies around the corner. Survival horror is feeling as though you are never prepared for what is to come, it is about facing the horrors that await you and conquering them using your wits and limited resources.

    • Deadcalm

      What, did you just forget about the city/bus level (a complete shooting gallery,) or throwing unlimited rockets at the final boss, or even the first chainsaw section where all the enemies could be steamrolled pretty damn easily.

      Evil Within was as much action-horror as survival, with some psychological stuff thrown in.

      • Rohan Sorensen

        Yeah but that’s just a few small parts. Overall it was pretty solid. If you think about it, Resident Evil just gave you a rocket launcher at the end, and you had a load of rifle ammo at the end of silent hill 2. There are always cinematic parts in survival horror, it’s just part of the game.

      • LoveAnimation

        You need to worry about ammo and health items during most of The Evil Within and its only a few action parts where you blast away all you want.
        Its not like ammo must be limited during the entire game.

        • Deadcalm

          It is not pure survival horror, ergo it is not “the perfect example of survival horror”.

          Clock Tower (PSX), Amnesia: The Dark Descent, etc..
          Those are the examples.
          Games like RE and Evil Within are hybrids of action and survival.

  • Werewolf

    LOL! I define survival horror as being the only creature of my kind in rural Georgia.
    I live shit that would make the entire genre piss it’s pants.

    I would gladly trade my toothless moonshiner hillbillies for zombies, or Las Plagas.
    At least those things don’t inbreed.

  • Fracassi

    Lack of bullets, inventory and health, where you can’t rely on killing every enemy in a nightmarish atmosphere.

    • 100% agree, this is what survival horror is. To be honest the new Resident Evil game (7) is a big return to this formula, but most people can’t see past the switch to first-person perspective (or they compare it to Outlast even though it will feature gun combat/ammo management).

  • Branden_Lucero

    survival horror is an action-based sub-genre of the action-adventure genre. a strong emphasis on gore and violence, with suppressible use of combat involved, but not a necessity.

    psychological horror is a further sub-branch of survival horror containing the emphasis of strong character development and story, while either again suppressing the use of combat, or eliminating it entirely. psychological horror tends to the use of the mind and the supernatural.

    elements include the use of puzzle solving (hence action-adventure, like Zelda), item management, limited resources (a key element that fails a lot more than people realize, even in games like RE2 and Silent Hill 2).

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