The Death of Survival Horror, Rise of Zombies & How Indies Are Taking It Back

by Stephen Heller Featured 10 Comments 17 Votes 4457 Views 18/07/2012 Back to Articles

So there I was, back against the wall and my hands literally shaking as the Licker bounded towards me. I only had six rounds left in my pistol as I took aim, firing the gun with my eyes closed hoping that it would be enough to take the monster out. I fired my second last round and I heard my grotesque enemy scream in agony, as he slumped to the floor and let out one more gruelling breath. My heart was pounding against my chest, I took one step forward and I put the controller down.

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That was my experience with Resident Evil 2 as a teenager, fighting for survival in a game that was the true embodiment of the entire survival horror genre. It was scary, I needed new underpants, and I loved every second of it. Although it may have been the infancy of the genre, developers quickly caught onto the immense success Resident Evil was gaining world-wide, and we saw some of the best survival horror titles hitting store shelves in the early 2000s.

Today it's a totally different story. Elite publishers and AAA developers throw around the term survival horror loosely, serving up deplorable third-person shooters with inventory systems under the guise of horror. If your game includes zombies, and inventory system and bad dialogue, you have grounds to label your title as a survival horror.

I beg to differ.

When I think back to the "survival horror" titles of recent times, none of them even come close to what the genre is all about. While there is a laundry list of games that don't make the cut in my opinion, I'm going to focus on just a few of them for now.

It's almost arrived at the point when we need to have three separate genres: survival horror, action horror and zombie horror."

First on the chopping board is I Am Alive from Ubisoft, a challenging downloadable title that places gamers into a wasteland after a catastrophic event leaves the world covered in dust. Combining combat, survival skills and platforming, the developers have created a title that is hard, tense and enjoyable. However according to Ubisoft, the game is firmly nested in the survival horror genre.

While I'm not disputing the hardcore survival aspect of the game; during the adventure you will often find yourself foraging for ammo and other necessities, the horror element is non-existent.

Dead Space 2

Dead Space 2 was more about action than survival.

Perhaps one of the most disappointing turns from the genre for me personally was Dead Space 2. The first Dead Space delivered an entirely new survival horror franchise that was focused on hard enemies, limited supplies and delivered a pants-wettingly good horror element. The sequel on the other hand threw all of that tension and atmosphere out the window and adopted an action heavy, infinite ammo drop experience, despite expressing directly to MMGN that the series would not be an action-orientated game.

It’s by no means a hardcore action game, where you have heaps of ammo and stuff." -Shereif Fattouh, Dead Space 2 Producer

The game was still great, don't get me wrong, however it changed from being a survival horror franchise and decided it would become an action horror title. There's nothing wrong with that either, but stop marketing the game as being a survival horror. Dead Space 3 looks set to take things even further towards the action genre, announcing a co-op campaign so you can experience the horror with a friend.

Resident Evil 4 is considered by many to be the ultimate survival horror game of the new generation. Changing up the gameplay mechanics significantly from its predecessors, it set the standard for the survival horror genre moving forward. However Capcom followed it up with the extremely action-heavy Resident Evil 5 which was nothing more than a third-person shooter with bad storytelling. Co-op once again took away from the isolation feeling, and constant item drops ensured that the game was less about survival and more about zombie-slaying fun.

Perhaps the revolutions that Resident Evil 4 brought with it was the catalyst for this shift from survival horror towards action horror? Maybe the increased focus on first-person shooters and fast-paced action games are to blame? Or could the survival horror genre be under attack from a new enemy?


It's no secret that zombie-infested games are all the rage right now. It seems every second title coming out of the industry has something to do with zombies, infected humans and the end of the world. Titles like Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising, House of the Dead: Overkill and Lollipop Chainsaw have captured the attention of gamers across the globe, and the zombie phenomenon doesn't show any signs of slowing down. It's almost arrived at the point when we need to have three separate genres: survival horror, action horror and zombie horror.

But what if the survival horror genre was still living and breathing? "Where?" I hear you ask? Inside the indie gaming community.

Indie developers are keeping the genre alive and well, albeit a little differently than past survival horror titles. These games are intense, stressful and horrific in the best kind of way.

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Lone Survivor may sport a pixel art style, however Jasper Byrnes has managed to create a side-scrolling survival horror adventure that will test your wits, bravery and inventory management skills. Frightening visions, solid story and most importantly, survival-based gameplay are on display in full-force, testing the skills of even the most experienced horror gamer.

If you need any indication that the survival horror genre is safe in the hands of indie developers, you need to look no further than DayZ. Currently a free-to-play mod for the ageing ARMA II, the development team is currently working out specifics to bring the game out as a standalone product. The player is placed in a massive world (approximately 4 times bigger than the Skyrim map) with nothing more than a flashlight and a backpack. They must find weapons, food, stay warm, avoid confrontation and watch their back. It's not just the zombies they need to worry about, but human players who go rogue, killing anyone who presents a threat towards their chances of survival.

Trust me when I say you've never played a survival horror game like this. The amount of sheer terror the player experiences every second they step into the game is insane. Did I mention it also features perma-death? That's right, once you're dead you need to restart from scratch.

Big wig publishers may continue to push off action horror games as survival, but at least we know that indie developers are working hard to keep the true survival horror genre alive and well. A quick Google search will reveal a huge list of upcoming indie survival projects on the horizon, and while there is a place for zombies and action games, we'd still love to be tested in the survival arena from time to time.

By Stephen Heller - Bio

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Tags: 3 4 dead Death Evil gaming Horror left of Resident rise space Survival The Zombies
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The Death of Survival Horror, Rise of Zombies & How Indies Are Taking It Back Comments

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As you pointed out, actually trying to survive is where all the horror comes from. Low moaning, grotesque creatures, and dark corridors can only do so much to scare a person.

That said, Amnesia's title screen and the anticipation was enough to make me drop the game. :P
Big devs seem to do Survival without horror or action-horror at the moment.

I actually quite like the survivalist games like I Am Alive, but it won't last. A passing fad.
I'm all for survival games, I think it's a neat fad to be having right now, but Ubisoft still marketed I AM ALIVE as a survival horror title.

has anyone seen that game slender? would that be horror survivor or just horror?
I haven't heard of it, care to share a link?

Basically anything that features tense gameplay and limited resources could be considered survival horror. If you're struggling to find ammo and you're sitting on the edge of your've pretty much nailed it!
I downloaded Amnesia. I have yet to play it. It seems too scary for me. [MOG]

jenrob said: has anyone seen that game slender? would that be horror survivor or just horror?


And Amnesia isn't all that scary really, but it's a good game.
Here's the game Slender.
1st person shooters used to have an element of survival in them.i used to love the tension.

I think the shift is more far reaching and goes for most media.

Modern society wants more action, action, action. Well at least that is what producers decide we want.
it seems developers are trying to have their cake and eat it too with these kinds of games - i.e. they want it to be scary but they also want the player to feel empowered

therein lies the inherent issue - its tough to feel scared while being empowered

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