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What makes great survival horror games so appealing?

Hey GAF...I booted up ZombiU on the Wii U because today's my birthday so I wanted to see the special birthday animation the Wii U plays on your birthday and it got me to think...regardless of camera (fixed/third person/first person or any combination of these...) what makes survival horror games so great?

For me, as of this writing, it's the following traits:

-Great balance of risk/reward in de-emphasized combat. You can risk using up your ammo going for a headshot on a zombie...or you can run away and find an alternate route to your next objective.
-Atmosphere. Depending on the game, it could be luxurious like castle settings, or it could be grimey like sewers. I generally find that the best survival horrors have various iconic settings, but have one main one that stands out. Spencer Mansion, R.P.D., etc.
-OST that balances between ambient, creepy, and to step things up in certain cases a notch, no music at all. The music or lack of can really enhance the atmosphere of a survival horror game, it can make or break the atmosphere.
-Memorable enemy design. Enemy designs can set apart even the more action packed survival horrors from other similar games.

I could go on, but those are a few of the traits that I find in many of my favorite survival horror games and what I find makes them great. So how about you GAF, what do you think makes survival horror games great?
 

01011001

Member
Atmosphere, lack of resources, good enemy design and AI and maybe a good story.

Too bad everyone is making PT copies now and jumpscare festivals.

that trend was way older than PT. dogshit games like Outlast or even before that Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs already were braindead jumpscare walking sims
 

brian0057

Member
Powerlessness.
The best horror games of all time are those that make a gun feel like the most useless item in your inventory.
Resident Evil (2002), SOMA, Alien: Isolation, Silent Hill 2, System Shock 2, the Shalebridge Cradle from Thief: Deadly Shadows.
Those games just show you the entrance to Dante's inferno and dare you to willingly navigate each concentric circle.

A game like Resident Evil 4, however, is amazing but for the completely opposite reason. It's an amazingly paced action movie pretending to be a horror game... at least for the first third.
 
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Knightime_X

Member
Pacing.
Not too boring and doesn't feel like you're doing chores.

Weapons need to feel good but not op or too weak unless they're balanced with ammo availability.

Guns in vanilla re2 felt better than in re2 remake on normal difficulty.

Let the focus be on what the game is aiming for.. being scary.
 
Atmosphere is probably the X factor. That and a small but open environment to explore and get killed in. You can just have a tiny abandoned town be the setting of your game but fill it with so much more dynamic experiences than a typical open world collectathon.

One thing that really killed Silent Hill-type games is the Internet. Anyone can just look up how to resolve the various puzzles and riddles, so most of the game is rendered null right there.
 

SlimeGooGoo

Party Gooper
Perception.

Having the feeling that you're in a hostile environment and that you barely have the resources to escape that disadvantageous situation.
Obviously the game must make some efforts to enhance the feeling of being in a hostile environment (e.g. music, sounds, visuals, setting, story)

Even non-horror games can have scary moments under the right circunstances (e.g. Minecraft caves)
 

bender

Candy Corn Aficionado
I've not finished many horror games. For as much as I love theme in movies, I just get way to nervous when it comes to an interactive medium.

I nope'd out on Silent Hill 2 early on. I was walking down a wooded path in that fog and heard the groaning of a dog. I turned my PS2 off. I didn't make it much farther into Fatal Frame. While I think forcing players to face their fears is brilliant in that game, it did my heart no good. I turned my PS2 off during the first encounter.

I was able to power through the first Amnesia. I'm not sure how. That game is scary as fuck. I think I just really liked that all the doors and draw opening were analog to your mouse movements. Still, fuck that game.
 

pramod

Member
Basically any game where most of the time running away from enemies instead of fighting is a better idea is a survival horror game.
 
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kingfey

Member
"Less scary jumps, and more lights. Game needs to be easy, and no scary monsters. You know, like siren. No too shappy or scary at all." By IGN.
 

Kuranghi

Gold Member
Perception.

Having the feeling that you're in a hostile environment and that you barely have the resources to escape that disadvantageous situation.
Obviously the game must make some efforts to enhance the feeling of being in a hostile environment (e.g. music, sounds, visuals, setting, story)

Exactly, the best thing about RE2/3 Remake to me is that the first time through on Hardcore you are shitting yourself and feel like its down the wire all the time with ammo and health, but then when you replay it you can avoid the pitfalls that made you lose the health or waste ammo and suddenly you have way more than before, still not too much though, thats important too.

I really loved how RE8 managed to make the game still fun to replay with fully upgraded and infinite ammo guns, due to the enemy dodge animations and the later enemies with really small weakspots, sure you could blast the latter in the leg 50 times to kill them as well but thats just boring and its actually much more fun to engage with the systems/AI.

It was great to do Normal and then a Hardcore NG+ run and you still have to make choices with spending money and such but its also a bit more relaxed since you can rely on an infinite ammo/fully upgraded gun or two.
 

Rickyiez

Member
Atmosphere , but also gameplay elements . It's probably just me but I hate certain horror games like Amnesia or Outlast where all you do is running or sneaking around .

I prefer survival horror with gameplays element where you can defeat evil . Fatal Frame is genius in this because in order to inflict critical damage to the ghost , you need to be at the point blank which is of course the scariest it could be . Silent Hill is also pretty cool because you have the option to fight but that means you have to expend valuable resources and micromanage inventory spaces , which also caused a certain kind of suffocation .
 
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Mozzarella

Member
It's a combination of many things.
- Level Design that contains creepy secrets, clever puzzle solving and good enemy placement.
- Atmosphere: which is made from good art direction merged with amazing soundtrack and ambient sounds.
- Scare factor: which comes from risk/reward and resource management in terms of combat OR chase scene, jumpscare and oppressive defenseless atmosphere from non combat horror games.
Those 3 are the most important.
An optional factor for some can be the Story and its themes, which also adds to the experience. (e.g Soma)

- Resident Evil Remake is my favorite game in this genre, it nails all of those 3 factors while managing to keep interesting story with memorable characters.
- Alien Isolation is the most tense game in this genre, it nails the scare factor the most, with its creepy intelligent and merciless stalker.
- Amnesia The Dark Descent is the most oppressive and terrifying in this genre, it nails oppressive atmosphere the most with its dark lovecraftian gothic Prussian castle and clever use of scare factor.
- Soma and Silent Hill 2 have their own merits as well, they are not the most scary imo, but they give you this uncomfortable feeling, Soma has thought provoking plot and Silent Hill 2 does good job with its symbolism.
 

GymWolf

Gold Member
Most people play these games on normal, so they are just action games with clunky controls.

Few people play on hard where they become really survival horrors and every bulleet count and you need to run from enemies the majority of times.
 
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Spaceman292

Member
that trend was way older than PT. dogshit games like Outlast or even before that Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs already were braindead jumpscare walking sims
I don't get why people say they don't like Outlast. It was good. It was scarier than most horror games, it was tense and fast paced and the night vision camer was a great gimmick.

Machine For Pigs did suck hard.
 

Kev Kev

Gold Member
i dont have much to add that hasnt already been said (btw happy birthday OP!) but i just want to say that if a game/movie has more than 1 or 2 jump scares, its doing something wrong. the jump scare stuff used to not bother me, but as i see examples of how much more chilling and creepy a non jump scare can be, ive realized the jump scare shit is cheap and annoying.

there should still be 1 at the very least, just to keep the player/viewer on their toes that it could happen, and that can really help keep the tension up. but if it does it over and over again throughout the experience, its a sign of a bad horror experience, typically.
 
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fart town usa

Gold Member
Most important thing to me are puzzles, finite resources, and safe rooms. There's nothing better than making it out by the skin of your teeth and find a safe room waiting for you. My girl Whitney describes the feeling below.

 

Saber

Member
Its aways a mix and most of times people dunno why they're the true masterpiece classics.

Take RE1 for instance:
- Great atmosphere
- Great characters
- Amazing story, that flows great during the game
- Good mechanics. The tank mechanics gives you a sense of being "trapped" while fighting zombies
- Great puzzles and ones that makes sense
- Soundtrack that matches the area
- No overabuse of "jumping out of nowhere because of a monster or a loudass sound" moments
- Level design that makes sense
- Rewarding weapon conservation
- Rewarding exploration
- Different endings
 
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01011001

Member
I don't get why people say they don't like Outlast. It was good. It was scarier than most horror games, it was tense and fast paced and the night vision camer was a great gimmick.

Machine For Pigs did suck hard.

the issue is that the gameplay was so limited that enemy design had to be extremely limited as well. this leads to situations that are always relatively easy to survive because you basically always know that in order to make the game fair, there can't be any real danger at any time if you follow the very simple rules the game has.
there are either super easy to manage "action" sequences or harmless scripted events... because in the end, all you can do is run and film... and none of these give the game any real dynamic possibilities

I for one am never scared by games like that because I never feel like I am in any kind of danger, and even then... I get caught and get reset 10 seconds back to the last checkpoint. once the first 2 jumpscares are behind me even those don't really phase me anymore.

meanwhile even just walking around a corner in RE1 gets my heart pumping (or got it pumping... I know the game like my back pocket from start to finish so not that scary anymore after that) because I could die at any moment if I am not careful and I also have to constantly think about how much resources I have + when I last saved... all of this makes a game way more scarey for me.

games like Outlast are just rollercoaster rides with some "action" sequences sprinkled in, but because of the aforementioned limitations in terms of gameplay that these type of games almost always have, there is never any real sense of danger or horror for me.
 
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Spaceman292

Member
the issue is that the gameplay was so limited that enemy design had to be extremely limited as well. this leads to situations that are always relatively easy to survive because you basically always know that in order to make the game fair, there can't be any real danger at any time if you follow the very simple rules the game has.
there are either super easy to manage "action" sequences or harmless scripted events... because in the end, all you can do is run and film... and none of these give the game any real dynamic possibilities

I for one am never scared by games like that because I never feel like I am in any kind of danger, and even then... I get caught and get reset 10 seconds back to the last checkpoint. once the first 2 jumpscares are behind me even those don't really phase me anymore.

meanwhile even just walking around a corner in RE1 gets my heart pumping (or got it pumping... I know the game like my back pocket from start to finish so not that scary anymore after that) because I could die at any moment if I am not careful and I also have to constantly think about how much resources I have + when I last saved... all of this makes a game way more scarey for me.

games like Outlast are just rollercoaster rides with some "action" sequences sprinkled in, but because of the aforementioned limitations in terms of gameplay that these type of games almost always have, there is never any real sense of danger or horror for me.
I think you might have a slight case of 'old thing good, new thing bad.'

Running and hiding is still gameplay. It takes skill and you can fail it. Outlast also has limited recsources that you have to weigh out and keep track of. And it's much easier to die in Outlast than it is in Resident Evil 1, so the sense of danger and horror is still there. And since you don't have a gun, you feel much more helpless.

Also, y'know, RE1 is an ancient and very silly PS1 game that looks like shit and Outlast is actually scary.
 
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