11.05.12

Can indie games save the survival horror genre?

It's not news that the mainstream horror game is in a bad way: Resident Evil 6 was an atrocity, Silent Hill hasn't been relevant in years, and the Dead Space series (which, to be fair, is excellent) seems to be moving in more of a pure-action direciton. At FMV, Matt Butler takes heart in a groundswell of indie horror games like The Dark Descent and Slender:

What is most fascinating about this new wave of indie horror is how utterly ruthless and uncompromising it is. At a time when the mainstream’s so-called horror titles are nothing more than shooters with a few zombies in them – falling over themselves to empower and entertain the player with gung-ho gore and bravado – the indie upstarts in question are doing everything they can to render the player utterly impotent and powerless.

I would add to this group of games the biofeedback-enhanced Nevermind and the audio-only horror masterpiece BlindSide. Butler looks for causes:

The question of why horror has found new inspiration in the hands of independent developers is an interesting one. Obviously, it is likely to be something of a backlash against the decline of psychological-led experiences in the mainstream, and the rise of action-centric shooters in their wake...But there can be little doubt that there is a real commercial appetite for psychological-horror, too – and this is the key hook for entrepreneurial teams and individuals.

It's a cliche, but I've always found that the less a horror narrative shows me and the more it implies, the more frightened I become. The new mainstream horror games are orgies of visible gore and violence. In this sense, the technological limitations of the new indie horror games may be an advantage: they simply can't show everything. They have to suggest.