The survival horror genre has been continually giving ground to combat-driven action games over the last few years, with even the Resident Evil franchise recently promising to "keep going in the action-oriented direction." However, not everyone is happy about this state of affairs. Silent Hill: Downpour producer Tomm Hulett has spoken out to suggest that horror games have lost their way after overcoming the control issues of the early-mid nineties, and that the genre needs to re-focus on "tense, frightening gameplay" over combat.
Speaking to MCV Pacific, Hulett stated that the switch from true horror to action was an accidental move caused by developers improving on early control and camera issues, allowing studios to provide better gameplay but at the expense of proper scares.
I think the genre was lucky, to an extent, when it started out. A lot of horror elements ‘clicked’ such as clunky combat, confusing cameras, and so on.
However, shoddy gameplay can’t be a feature forever, and so everyone fixed the combat – resulting in action games with creepier monsters. If horror games are going to be ‘scary’ in the future, it’s going to take careful game design to do it.
Horror scares are also a hard sell to shareholders and publishers, elaborated Hulett - as it's difficult to show genuine progress at regular intervals until the game is complete. This would explain why a number of publishers have dropped the genre or insist on mainstream appeal.
For the recently-released Silent Hill: Downpour, Hulett explained that Vatra approached gameplay with an eye to providing unpredictable pacing and a tense atmosphere over traditional visceral thrills, and suggests that other studios should attempt to do the same.
While many other games have gone the route of more action oriented game design, attempting to appeal to more mainstream audiences, we’ve taken a very careful approach to the pacing of Downpour to make sure it maintains that original ‘slow-burn’ and keeping the player off guard with less predictability.
If you have tense, frightening gameplay happening naturally, and then some carefully orchestrated designed-scares, you would have a very memorable horror game.
Hopefully that’s the direction the genre is headed.
It's a valid point, and one that we thoroughly agree with. In fairness, though, it's worth noting that Silent Hill: Downpour was only partially successful in this regard, scoring a 6/10 and a rental recommendation in our recent review.
Remember that you can still win a copy of Silent Hill: Downpour in our competition, which closes Friday!