Survival Horror: A Delicate Balance - RFXRage Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Survival Horror: A Delicate Balance

I've always found survival horror games to be both incredibly challenging and entertaining. Having the odds stacked against me and then succeeding against those odds gives me a feeling that no other gaming genre does. This makes me wonder why good survival horror games seem to be such diamonds in the rough. Perhaps it is because of just how difficult it is to make a perfectly balanced survival horror game. 

Horror in general is no easy task to pull off. For every good horror movie, there are nine terrible ones. Now infuse this concept of horror with the concept of survival, give real, decision making people the power to control characters, and then make it entertaining enough to draw people of all kinds to it and now you are faced with a real difficult task. This is, however, what any survival horror game must do to be considered a success. 

There must be a balance in survival horror games and this balance can become extremely delicate. Survival horror games must constantly be conceiving new and creative ways of providing scares throughout the entire game. When they start using the same tactics throughout the entire games, the games completely lose their horror factors and just become a bore to play through. Survival horror games, unlike most games, must also refrain from too much action. If there is too much action the game often becomes a adrenaline fueled action-adventure game instead of horror. The Resident Evil series is the most notable of committing this survival horror no-no. The first few Resident Evil games basically set the standard for what survival horror is. As the series progressed it strayed away from its horror roots and became more of an action-adventure game. It is difficult to be scared when you're playing through some action packed sequence. 

Survival Horror games must not only stick to their genre, they must provide the perfect environment. The setting of any survival horror game is perhaps the most important aspect of any good survival horror game. The images and environments must portray fear, but cannot delve into the realm of cheesiness. Over the top environments usually work in most games, but not in survival horror. Lighting is always a key to any environment's mood. A dark, but not too dark, environment in which one can somewhat see what is around them always puts people on edge because it allow our minds to race with ideas of what may be off in the distance, but what about a lighted area? Great survival horror games always incorporate much more lighted areas into their games to give the player that sense of false safety so that they are less expectant of the next scare. 

Also, sound is just as important to any survival horror game as lighting. Every sound sends a subliminal message, thus every sound must be precise to get its meaning across. Dead Space is a perfect example of this. The crisp tapping of necromorphs in the vents and blood curdling screams in the distance always puts me on edge. As the tapping gets closer and I can almost hear the breathing of necromorphs around me, my heart starts pounding, only to look around to see nothing. These moments are what send chills up my spine. Now if the tapping of the necromorphs sounded as if they were a mile away when in reality they were standing two feet behind me, the impact of fear would be diminished greatly. 

There are many other aspects that make up a great survival horror game, but there is one last thing that I believe any survival horror needs: the concept of survival. The game must make the player feel as if they are at a disadvantage whether this be by under equipping the player, giving their character lesser abilities, or even just making supplies scarce. There has to be that feeling of just trying to survive. It's not scary if you are some macho-super soldier like Master Chief mowing through enemies. Once again Dead Space is a great example of being at a disadvantage. You play as Isaac Clarke who's not a soldier, but just a simple engineer. You have no special abilities, no powers, no training, nothing, you're just a man. Ammo and supplies are scarce, enemies are everywhere, and on top of all that, you're going insane with dementia. Every obstacle is in your way, but yet you make it in the end (although scarred, bloodied, and crazy). That is what makes survival horror so great. 

One of my personal favorite aspects of survival games is the challenge they provide. I never have such difficulty beating games like the difficulty I do with survival horror games. Challenges such as Dead Space 2's Hardcore Mode and Left 4 Dead 2's Expert Realism mode bring back memories of rage filled rants and joyous shouts of triumph. No other games can entertain me quite like a survival horror game can. Hopefully some of the upcoming horror games such as Dead Space 3 stick to their survival horror roots and keep the oh so delicate balance intact. 

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