Until Dawn is just over a month away and I couldn’t think of a better time to revisit the classics I grew up playing from beneath my impenetrable blanket fort. Growing up I was always drawn to games that would keep me invested long enough to play to completion while simultaneously scaring the ever-loving shit out of me. Thankfully for my childhood there was a plethora of survival horror games to choose from; the Playstation One was practically drowning in pure terror. The mid 90s to early 2000s was an age where gaming was still in its infancy, not yet was it overflowing with remasters, cover based combat and the yearly franchise iterations we are so used to today.
The survival horror genre was something I could never have imagined following the trends of cattle prod cinema and action based shooters. But yet here we are in an age where only one out of every 10 games released follows those terrifying and callous traits that I loved. We had a ray of hope last E3 when Konami released the now notorious P.T demo, leaving us with little to no information- they said here it is, go play it. I found myself filled to the brim with a joyful childlike excitement that I could never have imagined feeling again while playing a video game. Alas that feeling was only fleeting as Silent Hills was cancelled and all my hope for the survival horror genre was once again crushed by the megalomaniacs that seem to run today’s horror titles.
Until Dawn and the indie published Alison Roads have filled me with that same excitement. With their upcoming releases I felt it more than appropriate to go back and experience the titles I loved growing up. So without any further yammering I`ll get to my Top 5 survival horror titles – you may notice a trend here so keep an open eye.
#5 Parasite Eve 2
Parasite Eve 2 was SquareSoft‘s second foray into the survival horror genre. Parasite Eve was an originally fantastic horror title and the sequel improved on it in almost every way, giving the story a much wider scope and creating an array of nightmarish creatures to haunt my dreams while also improving on the overly original action RPG system.
Parasite Eve 2 was a title that needed to be experienced by both horror enthusiasts and RPG lovers alike. The story was gripping and compelling while simultaneously being terrifying. While Parasite Eve 1 left you with a turn based combat system that was unlike anything the survival horror genre had seen before, Parasite Eve 2 takes the faster approach adding more action to the system, leaving you with a different experience that doesn’t rehash it predecessors’ ideas. While I would have loved to place this title higher on my list there are just far too many staples that deserve higher in my eyes.
#4 Clock Tower 2: The Struggle Within
What can I say about Clock Tower 2? It’s a truly terrifying experience in almost every sense of the word. The gameplay focuses purely on hiding and solving the puzzles rather than attacking the psychotic enemies out to murder you. This is perhaps the most engaging and easily forgotten feature in survival horror games. I don’t want to be fully equipped with a rocket launcher, two hand guns and a million bullets to take down my pursuers – survival horror was about getting through alive, not killing everyone in your path.
The game is laid out in a point and click fashion leaving you to manages your inventory and move around the world with limited control. This lack of direct control added another level to the terror and at times left you feeling completely helpless. Some of the scenarios were so terrifying that they have been engrained in my memory, so much so that I could type out a play-by-play walkthrough by memory and if that isn’t the sign of a great game then I don’t know what is. I understand that Clock Tower 2 was met with less than positive critical reaction but this is a game that stands to me as the game that opened my eyes to horror and fascinatingly different world of survival horror.
#3 Fatal Frame 2: The Crimson Butterfly
The first Playstation 2 title on the list- and probably not the last, but I mean who knows? Going back and revisiting these games is so fun I’ll probably change this list ten times. Now I am sure many of you know this but Fatal Frame 2 is one of the most terrifying games you can experience – trust me it still stands up by today’s standards. Following the more than formulaic “X is travelling alone to a desolate village to find their lost sister” approach, Fatal Frame leaves you with an experience that is far less formulaic and by the books than you first realize. You are equipped with a camera; this camera can see ghosts and will serve as your primary weapon throughout the entirety of the story.
In typical survival horror fashion you are set out through the world solving puzzles and collecting keys but Fatal Frame 2’s atmosphere really lends to the horror and loneliness you feel while traversing the Lost Village. The mix of camera combat, a horrifyingly lonely atmosphere and a genuinely interesting story really leave you with a game that stands out among the sheep and survives the test of time with flying colors.
#2 Resident Evil: Remake (2002) & (2015)
Originally when adding Resident Evil to the list I was going to list the original from 1996 but I was honestly torn. The original is fantastic and ground-breaking all in its own rights, but the remakes are the best examples of a remake that improves on the original without taking anything away. I am not going to bore you with the synopsis of Resident Evil as I am sure you all know what it is by this point- you are put in the shoes of either Chris or Jill and must explore the creepy old mansion while killing the undead horrors that lay in wait.
This is survival horror at its most pure; you must solve the puzzles and uncover the mysteries of the mansion before its horrifying abominations cut you to shreds. The remake boasts an incredibly plentiful amount of upgrades and tweaks while leaving the main game completely intact and mostly unchanged. Besides the enhanced visuals, better voice acting will be the first thing you notice about this remake and trust me it’s more than welcome. I mean there is a certain charm to the overly bad and b-movie style of the originals voice acting but it does lose its flair after the 2nd or 3rd playthrough. Some puzzles are slightly altered and crimson heads (a tougher and more durable enemy) are added to make the experience that much more difficult. Resident Evil isn’t for the light of heart. It doesn’t hold your hand and it can be devastatingly difficult at times, but it’s a must play for survi…wait no everyone should play this game.
Now before I get to my first pick I am going to say that this is my personal Top 5 list and there are plenty of games I would have loved to include. I narrowed it down to the games the impacted me the most while growing up and opened my eyes to the every growing world of horror media. With that said here is a quick list of honorable mentions:
- Siren: Blood Curse
- Amnesia: The Dark Descent
- System Shock 2
- Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
I could go on for days listing great horror titles that impacted my life in gaming but alas I can’t go on forever, you people have lives and better things to do. Rather than hear me rant about gaming I’ll give you my number one survival horror title and it should come as no surprise to fans of the genre.
#1 Silent Hill 2: Shattered Memories
Silent Hill 2 is the type of game that only comes along once in a lifetime. It holds the number one place in millions of gamers’ hearts and continues to be brought up time and time again when asked what a survival horror game should be – Konami really smacked it out of the park and into another dimension with this game. Putting you in the shoes of James Sunderland, Silent Hill 2 sends you through the foggy unforgiving streets of Silent Hill to face your proverbial demons, solve puzzles and hopefully come out on the other side with your head intact.
Everything is woven into the games psychological elements from the strange soundtrack to impaired vision and to the creatures that are ripped straight out of nightmares. This is a game that sticks with you for years to come and it’s a title I try to revisit on a yearly basis. It may seem like the obvious choice for number one but it’s the obvious choice for a reason – nothing can dethrone this survival horror juggernaut.
So here it is my Top 5 Survival Horror games. I understand that top lists are very subjective and singular to the person who writes them so I would love to hear about the games that scared and traumatized you growing up; maybe even leave a list of your own in the comments!
Until Dawn is out August 25th for Playstation 4.