Everyone loves to read them and then proceed to tell the writer that the list is wrong because this game wasn’t included and how could that list possibly have any kind of merit without the inclusion of that other game? Oh, and as for the game you placed at number 1 – Good grief! Have you even played any games in this genre? On and on it goes because lists are like assholes, we all have one and we all think that ours has a better smell than the next persons.
So with all this in mind, I decided that I’d make a list and I hope you enjoy it and then go on to enjoy yourselves in the comments section telling me what I missed and why this list is wrong.
Well then, without further ado – here are the best entries in my favorite videogame genre, survival horror, and what I deem to be the top 5 titles within its gloomy, deranged canon.
5. Silent Hill: Shattered memories
I’m not a huge fan of the Wii. Ours has been relegated to the bedroom where my wife uses it to play Mario and fitness games. However, this was a game that caught my eye. The Silent Hill brand name in the title being the main reason that it hit my radar. As I started playing it, I quickly realized that it wasn’t a typical Silent Hill game and the game itself told me that it would be playing me as much as I played it, which piqued my curiosity.
The game starts with a psychologist asking some personality questions after which we see that our protagonist, loving father Harry Mason has been involved in a car crash and his daughter, a seven year old girl called Cheryl, is missing.
As Harry searches for his daughter armed with only a torch we can’t help but wonder what the hell we’re going to use for a weapon when the inevitable scaries arrive and start dripping ice cold saliva down our necks. Yet still we push on, solving some easy puzzles and some slightly more difficult ones although none are real head scratchers but there is always a feel of dread in the air when we click a button and Harry shouts “Cheryl?” only to be greeted with nothing but deafening silence.
The atmosphere is genuinely creepy and quite terrifying, even more so when you consider that even though no dangerous nasties have shown up yet we still haven’t found a damn weapon. That’s when it happens. After being freaked out by ghosts that can be viewed through our mobile phone camera we meet the real horror of this Silent Hill title. The whole town freezes into a glacial valley and the monsters appear. They seem almost human but twisted and wrong, very wrong.
“What the hell do we fight them with?” We scream at the game but there is no answer because the answer is … nothing. You don’t fight, you just run. Fast.
Even though these sections of absolute threat don’t happen too often, we are still filled with a sense of dread throughout.
It’s a great game worthy of any survival horror fans collection. I won’t spoil the story too much but the psychological profiling feature is actually very clever and it seemed to have me down to a tee. Excellent stuff.
4. Alan Wake
That’s right. I put Alan Wake in my list. You can burn me at the stake later but for now, hear me out.
I loved the show Twin peaks and this reminded me a lot of that and of course Alan Wake has a blatant affinity to Stephen King’s work. Yet even with this almost-but-not-quite plagiarism it is a great game, and although some may find the ending difficult to understand, the ride to get there is breathtaking.
I played this on the ‘hard’ setting (not nightmare) and although it wasn’t as difficult as some of the games in this list, there were points where I had no ammo left and lots and lots of darkness infected people were baying for my blood and the only choice I had left was to run. This epitomizes the genre of survival horror for me, that feeling of dread when you fire your last bullet and there are still some crazies left to kill.
The story follows Alan Wake, a popular author who takes a break in a small town out in the middle of nowhere which he hopes will cure his writers block. His plan is just to rest and the last thing he wants to do is write but his wife ‘surprises’ him with his typewriter which infuriates him and suddenly his world is turned upside down. It soon becomes clear that he is actually writing and his creation has gained a life of its own and in true modern day Prometheus style it has turned against him.
The cast in Alan Wake do a great job. The radio host, the sheriff, the asylum doctor, Alan’s biggest fan, his wife, the two ageing rockers and of course, Alan’s literary agent, Barry who’s comic relief totally steals the show.
The story can get a little strange and at times seems very convoluted but it is very engaging which is in no small part a credit to the cast who make it all very convincing and the downward spiral into Alan’s psyche keeps us wondering what is real and what is imagined.
There are also two extra ‘TV special’ chapters available for download which help a little into understanding the experience as a whole.
Alan Wake is a very enjoyable and scary game, especially when played in the dark with some good headphones. Try that and then come tell me it didn’t freak you out or that your skin didn’t crawl after hearing a strange noise, turning around and seeing four darkness infected behemoths heading your way.
3. Condemned: Criminal Origins
Technically, this isn’t classed as survival horror but it is included in the list because it took survival horror and mixed it with FPS to great effect and the outcome is a truly terrifying game of pant soiling proportions. I will also prove that this really is survival horror in almost every way.
Ethan Thomas is a special agent who gets framed for murder and so he must find the real killer whilst hiding from the police force. So far, so cliché cop story. His search takes him to the dirtiest, scummiest parts of town that are inhabited by the homeless. These aren’t your average standing in the road pissing themselves whilst shouting at oncoming traffic homeless though. These are terrifying, seemingly possessed homeless.
Thus begins the very wrong but undeniably fun smashing in of their faces. Ethan can do this with a variety of weapons, the most boring of which are guns that seem to run out of ammo before we’ve even thought about using them, and this is why I class this as survival horror. A gang of tramps are heading towards Ethan with murder in their eyes and Ethan has no bullets left and no weapons so what do we do? We rip a pipe off the wall and viciously beat them around the head with it. The sound effects add weight to the makeshift weapons and it really does feel like we just smashed someone in the face with a pipe.
The homeless and addicts move with hive-like intelligence as though being controlled by some otherworldly power and they get faster and smarter as the game progresses.
The puzzles involving CSI equipment are slightly annoying but they fit perfectly with the storyline so I won’t complain too much about it.
The section that set this apart from many other games that didn’t quite make my list was of course, the department store.
At first it seemed normal, making my way through the store killing bums and avoiding police. Then I saw the mannequins, those creepy awful mannequins that I just knew would jump out at me but still managed to create a heart attack when they did finally jump out. This is a very intense scene and one of my own personal favorite gaming moments.
Anyone who hasn’t played this game really needs to, and as with all horror survival, do it in the dark with good headphones on.
2. Resident Evil 2.
Resident evil was a triumph among videogames and it’s second offering was more of the same but more polished with better visuals and scarier zombies. The game starts out simply enough and lulls us into a false sense of security as we decide that this is just a third person action game where shooting zombies is the order of the day, seems like fun but hardly scary.
That assessment couldn’t have been more wrong.
It isn’t long before we’re out of ammo and realize that running for our lives is the actual order of the day. From its puzzles that have to be completed while zombies are surrounding us and we just don’t have enough ammo to fight them all to its clunky controls that serve to heighten the already impossibly high tension, this game is amazing and terrifying.
Having to run away from the zombie horde is a feat in itself as the character is normally badly injured and lopes along in an almost zombie-like style as the awkward camera angles serve to convince us that we’re being chased by infinitely more zombies than is actually true.
One of the scariest parts for me was walking through an innocent hallway which has nice windows and a soothing yet haunting melody playing in the background when suddenly a murder of crows comes bursting through the windows and attacks. This filled me with absolute terror and after that experience I just couldn’t relax for the rest of the game, always vigilant for the next crow attack.
Resident Evil 2 is an absolute diamond amongst the many gems of this genre. If you haven’t played this before then you’re really missing out on something special and should procure it as soon as possible. It’s available on the PSN store for around $6, I’m not normally a retro gaming fan but this is an exception.
Here we are then. The all time best ever undisputable champion of the horror survival genre. I’m sure that many of you have guessed it already.
It is of course,
1. Silent Hill 2.
This is what all horror games dream of being compared to. The sheer terror of what could be hiding in the fog shrouded town makes us take every single step slowly and deliberately because we’re not just fighting off zombies or ghosts or other standard horror fare. This time, a whole town seems intent on demolishing us physically, spiritually and mentally.
Silent Hill 2 is one of those rare games that creeps and scratches its way under the players’ skin and stays there to rot our resolve from within.
James Sunderland gets a letter from his wife asking him to come and pick her up from Silent Hill, which he thinks is rather odd as she’s been dead for the last three years. His love for her is so strong though that he decides to drop everything and go find out what’s going on and investigate the possibility that she’s alive.
This was probably the biggest mistake since someone in a horror movie asked “Is anyone there?”in the darkness. The town of Silent Hill decides to mess with Sunderland’s head and tries to kill him at every opportunity.
The actual gameplay is, quite frankly, awful. Combat is terrible, the puzzles make no sense; although it could be argued that they are in keeping with the ‘is this a real town or is it actually James’ psyche that we’re visiting?’ theme of Silent Hill.
Atmosphere is what makes Silent Hill stand head and shoulders above the rest of the games in this list. There is such a feeling of impending doom that it becomes mentally exhausting to play and frequent coffee breaks are definitely in order.
The other humans that Silent Hill has drawn to its wizened, evil bosom seem to be playing a different game to James and where he sees a door or a staircase, they see something totally different, almost as though the town moulds itself to the psyche (there’s that word again) of each individual and thus creates their worst nightmare. So then this is actually James’ psyche we’re a part of right? Not really a town?
That’s the best part of this game, in my opinion. Such questions are left for us to answer. Nothing is spoon-fed to us and if our hands are being held, it’s by the ice cold grip of panic and terror. In fact not much story is actually told as symbolism holds more importance than storytelling here.
This is also the first appearance of the iconic Pyramid head, an amazing character who unfortunately appeared too often in subsequent sequels to the point where I expected to start seeing Pyramid head plushies in toy shop windows.
Silent Hill 2 is a truly perfect horror survival game with no rival. There is no argument about this games number one status on my list.
The Raspberry Award.
Oh stop it, put away the angry villager torches and hear me out.
The game itself wasn’t too bad, in fact it was quite enjoyable but I take umbrage at the survival horror label.
No it isn’t! It’s a third person shooter. I never ran out of ammo, I never felt the pressure of impending doom, heck, the only time I jumped was when a seemingly dead alien jumped up to attack me. Yes that wasn’t a bad moment, it was quite scary but after it happens 30 damn billion times it tends to lose its shock value.
As an action based sci-fi shooter, the game is good. Yet it claims to be a survival horror and so judged by that genre, it’s terrible.
So there it is, my top 5 horror games list.
Some games very nearly made the list, such as System Shock 2, Resident Evil 4, Siren Blood Curse and Silent Hill: The Room were big contenders.
Let me know what you thought of it and also your opinion on what should have been included.