I don’t think I’ve ever played a game, this generation, that has actually scared me. In the sense that you’re full of fear and dread of what lurks around the corner, or what is chasing you. I feel that Dead Space as a series has killed Survival Horror and evolved it into this action-horror hybrid that we’re now used to. It’s stupid and silly to call it survival horror as there’s zero survival mechanics or design at work. In a survival horror game such as Silent Hill 2 the combat is weak and you have to conserve everything you get, but usually you have to run for your life. Amnesia also does this, probably on an even more brilliant level, removing combat completely.
So when the main mechanic and design of your game is based around dismembering monster’s limbs and throwing them back in their faces, you can’t exactly call yourself a survival horror. Survival horrorSurvival horror, as a genre, is about the player preserving his on-screen protagonist’s life.In real life terms, it’s like trying to hold your breath for a long time and then your brain just tells you to open your mouth and breathe. There’s a little spurt of fear and dizzyness in your guts, that’s what happens when I play survival horror game, it’s like being on a roller-coaster that’s about to tip over. Dead Space 2 is about flying down, not about that painful climb up.
Not to say that isn’t a bad thing, or to say it isn’t horror. Horror isn’t always scary and I see creepiness and genuine fear as two completely separate elements. Dead Space 2 is creepy in things they do when it comes to children necromorphs and various hints of what takes place. The monsters themselves are beautifully disgusting and it’s generally a massive gorefeast for the eyes. I made a new word there, gorefeast, I expect to have a phonecall from The National Dictionary Society shouting verbal abuse. Screw you, lexicon-humpers.
I have genuinely never been scared by any game this generation. BioShock came close but on an entirely different level, not on a conservation or creepiness scale, but on this twisted morph of both sides. It was when I was running away from the Big Daddies that conservation kicked in and I felt the roller coaster just travelling up and up and up. Creepiness came into play in the various images during the medical section of the game, but I never genuinely dreaded or feared what was chasing me. It came very close, but the fear evaporated as soon as I realized how to conquer the Big Daddies. Great fear, in Amnesia for instance, can’t be overcome.
It’s not to say I don’t enjoy Dead Space 2 in its horror merits. It’s creepy, it’s disgusting and it’s great to see something that doesn’t just copy Saw in terms of its expression of horror. There’s still grotesque pieces of flesh being ripped apart and bodies spilling all over the floor, but you get used it but thankfully not bored with it as you do with Saw. I’m not angry with Dead Space 2 and many other games burying survival horror’s corpse, I’m angry with them just trying to stick its own graveyard to its chest and prance around. You’re action-horror, you don’t have to be ashamed of it.
In many ways, the only similarity between action-horror and survival-horror is the horror aesthetics and expressions. Otherwise, there’s a cosmic difference. I never feel like ‘I should run away oh my life oh my god I’m going to be cut in half’ with the likes of Dead Space 2. I generally just let out noises of disgust before carrying on impaling ghoulies with their own arms. Nothing wrong with that, they’re both horror at the end of the day, but I don’t think with ‘horror’ comes fear or necessarily the compulsion to be scared. I feel creeped out by both Silent Hill 2 and Dead Space 2, but Silent Hill 2 goes further in instilling fear into the player’s course of play.
Dead Space 2 however decides to let the player fight back and overcome the fear. I see it as Silent Hill 2 finding its fun in finally coming out of the fear and reflecting how invested you were in the rollercoaster of virtual death. Dead Space 2 however is like a rollercoaster that you enjoy while being on it rather than once you have finished. I think I’m going to drop the rollercoaster analogy here as it’s becoming a bit abstract, but to put it in Laymon’s terms, Dead Space 2‘s horror (and ultimately enjoyment) comes from the moment-to-moment experience whereas Silent Hill 2‘s horror is in the reflection of the full experience.
I’m around four hours into Dead Space 2 and it’s turning out to be unlike any other action-horror game I’ve played this generation. There is more emphasis on the action side, I will admit , but I find such pleasure in the action that it’s hard to remember it’s a horror game. It’s not scary, it’s creepy – two completely separate elements of horror – if I’m being honest then it’s without a doubt the most fun I’ve had with horror. Not necessarily taking a meaning or message or just a raw emotional or even physical state away from it, as I did with Silent Hill 2, but just the absolute ‘fun’ of it all.
I disagree with all those who say that survival horror is dead; since we have the fantastically amazing Amnesia and a large portion of Minecraft devoted to instilling fear in our hearts. Over time, however, branches have sprung from the tree of horror. Action-horror has emerged as the king of this generation, as survival horror was the king of last. Maybe we just have problem adjusting because we’re so old and we like our traditions, such is the way people often look down on video-games and as they did way back then with comic books and rock and roll. I say embrace the new and play Dead Space 2. It’s the very best gorefeast in years.