It used to be that if you bought a horror game, you’d expect to be fighting zombies or some mutant creatures, and you’d be armed with a melee weapon or two. Handguns, ammo or extra weapons you found were a bonus, and you’d have to carefully conserve your ammo and healing items to survive (or you’d end up seeing a lot of “Game Over” screens). Times have changed: these zombies have come to be called ‘infected,’ as their attack patterns changed from shambling and slow undead creatures that wanted to bite you, to running enemies that charge at you and then attempt to beat you to death. In some games these ‘infected’ are armed, carrying axes, knives, or even firearms as they attempt to kill you. At this point it seemed that the ‘survival horror’ genre, with games like Silent Hill and the classic Resident Evil, had mostly died out to make way for ‘action horror’ games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising.
But when did this all change? The last true survival horror game in the landmark Resident Evil series was Resident Evil: Zero, and this has now been replaced by more fast-paced action horror games. Not everything has changed, however, as some developers continue to produce survival horror games similar to those used to come to mind when thinking of a horror game. There are now (probably) many more action horror games than survival horror games, perhaps because of the belief that more players prefer action horror, since the gameplay is fast paced and generally not as difficult as survival horror. One such example is that action horror games often allow you to save and quit practically whenever you want, which is more than the usual system from survival horror games (which require you to get to a specific location in order to save your game, and often means backtracking, long journeys or even more enemies to pass).
Action horror and survival horror generally appeal to different people, but many of them generally follow the same story routine: A human or group of humans have to survive against a horde of enemies (often undead or infected) to either rescue people, find a cure, escape, or in some cases just survive. Some games have unique twists to the storyline, such as the dramatic irony in Left 4 Dead, in which the survivors are led to believe that reaching their goal will give them salvation, but something happens to prevent their escape and they are forced to continue on to another goal.
So, over the years, horror games have evolved, from the intense survival horror of the original Resident Evil, to today’s action horror games like Dead Rising 2 (with the craziness of killing zombies with frying pans and baseball bats). Those of us that have been around long enough have experienced the evolution of the horror genre, coming out of the dreary mansions and dank hospitals, and moving into infected-crowded airports and zombie-laden shopping malls. Horror games have changed a lot, but there’s one thing that remains the same: it’s really, really fun to kill zombies.