Released way back in 1996, Resident Evil was the first true survival horror that reached a widespread audience on the consoles. Playing as one of two characters sent to investigate the disappearance of a Bravo team in the mountains, the game got off to a ferocious start. No sooner had you arrived, a pack of zombie dogs forced you to take refuge in a supposedly abandoned mansion. From here the game really picked up pace and was filled with jump out of your seat moments, who can walk past a window in a survival horror game without leaning forward nervously?
Resident Evil had a creepy atmosphere and the enemies were generally scary, some having the ability to kill you in a single hit. This meant that despite being tooled up with weapons, the lack of ammunition meant that the game was an unnerving and adrenaline filled experience. It is hardly surprising that the title spawned a huge franchise on multiple platforms, with the sequels managing to stand up well. Yet, it is the original that still remains one of the classic survival horror titles.
Project Zero (also known as Fatal Frame) was a surprise hit. Developed by little known developer Tecmo, this was a true horror game. Set inside a haunted Japanese mansion most people initially thought of it as a Resident Evil clone, yet this was the only real similarity.
Project Zero has a much scarier atmosphere and is supposedly based on a true story, though this wasn't exactly true. The story follows the plot of Kiri, who investigates the mansion when her brother disappears. The building turns out to be populated by very aggressive ghosts and her only defence is a camera imbued with supernatural powers. Whilst this may seem far fetched, it is unbelievably creepy. Walking through the mansion usually results in glimpses of harmless ghosts as they flit around corners and disappear suddenly coupled with an undead face suddenly looming straight into your camera.
There were moments in this game that were truly terrifying; a sequence in a room full of dolls, the sudden realisation that there was a hanging corpse above you and desperately trying to battle a spirit that floated towards you arms outstretched. Project Zero was unappreciated and little known in Europe, but its atmosphere rivalled other series' for sheer fear. A Wii update is due out soon which should increase the number of people who won't want to use their digital camera in the dark.
System Shock 2
Created in 1999, System Shock 2 is regarded as a staggering multi-genre game. Key to its success was the combination of sci-fi and horror to create a brilliant atmosphere. Taking place on a space expedition in the far future, two ships investigate a distress call and are soon infected into an alien community called the Many led by System Shock nemesis SHODAN. The game was a stunning combination of different styles though the game had thick horror undertones.
The player was very vulnerable to the enemies and the inclusion of breakable weapons and scarce ammunition only furthered the fear created. Light and sound effects were also very important in the atmosphere and could often make you jump as enemies suddenly loomed towards you. The game was also unrelentingly sinister, with SHODAN being a strange and unusual enemy.
The lack of other characters in the game also made it stand out, as well as a surprising twist which helped to keep the game compelling. Sadly the game failed to meet sales expectations and as such a third game has only been rumoured. However the game received a successor in the form of Bioshock and its upcoming sequel which helped to preserve a similar environment, but still couldn't quite match the creepy ambience of System Shock 2.
Alone in the Dark
Alone in the Dark was released in 1992 and as such remains one of the first ever survival horror games. At the time it was at the cutting edge of technology, though by today's standards it remains rather dated and tame. The game was in full 3D and tasked players with investigating the house of a man who committed suicide under mysterious circumstances.
Soon it is revealed that the house was built on a sinister location and a former resident is desperate to try and use the player in a sinister occult ritual, which you must find a way to stop and escape the house. The game was influenced heavily by the famous horror writer, H. P. Lovecraft and as such featured an excellent set of enemies and a great horror atmosphere.
Many enemies couldn't be defeated using normal means and had to be stopped by solving a puzzle which would disable or destroy them, leading to a game focused on exploration and clue gathering. The ability to play as two characters was a welcome addition and added extra playability to the game.
Alone in the Dark was a pioneer and helped to lay down a template and formula that was taken and developed by most other horror franchise, but the game remains an excellent example of how to make a survival horror title. Besides, the game had one of the best endings ever, be careful getting into a taxi in future...
Releasing a new survival horror franchise was always going to be a risky move, especially when the field was dominated by a few genre examples. However, Midway had a surprise hit on their hands with this very adult horror title which didn't pull any punches.
You play as a death-row inmate who is thrown out of the frying pan into the fire when his island prison is suddenly overrun by bizarre monstrosities who promptly set out slaughtering everything in their path. Having no choice but to team up with whoever he can (or simply kill them), Torque tries to escape and survive. The game is very well designed and features monster design by Stan Winston, with the enemies all designed around methods of execution.
The plot was also remarkably well fleshed out, with 3 possible outcomes and differences occurring depending on how you played the game. The story was fairly shocking and there are several points in the game where events get very creepy.
A sequel soon followed which built on the first game introducing new elements and continuing the story, it is currently unknown whether the story will continue on the next generation of consoles.
Forbidden Siren was released in Europe in 2004 and plays like a different type of survival horror. The game appears similar to Silent Hill in design due to members of the development team pursuing Siren as a different project. The game takes place in an isolated town during the horrific aftermath of a ritual in which it is raining blood and the locals have been turned into monstrous indestructible creatures.
The game was very strong and adult, enemies were terrifying in design: their eyes constantly bled, they wielded weaponry and actively hunted down the player. The focus in this game was very much on stealth and hiding, which led to unbearable scenes of tension.
Fortunately the player has the ability to "sightjack" which allows them to see through the eyes of the creatures and this can be used to avoid confrontation and sneak past.
The game proved successful in Japan (despite one of the advertisements being banned) and spawned a variety of sequels, the latest of which is due for release soon.
A point and click survival horror? Surprisingly the answer to that question is yes. Released in 1995, the game was a different style. You play a girl who, alongside a few other children is adopted and sent to the "Clock Tower" mansion of the title (mansions are popular horror locations, no?). Upon arrival, she is promptly pursued by a psychopathic scissor-wielding killer who proceeds to kill off her friends. Desperate to try to know what is going on, you solve a series of puzzles and clues, all the whiles trying to avoid death.
The point and click format made the game surprisingly engaging and tense. The fact that you had no choice but to flee was a clever one to implement and there were often subtle chilling interactions, like taps which ran with blood.
The series received a few sequels, but never really gathered popularity in Europe or America and as such another sequel seems unlikely.
F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault and Recon) literally blasted its way into the horror genre in 2005. Instead of favouring the sow and methodical psychological terror of many other games on this list, F.E.A.R. instead went for the jump out of your seat shocks.
About as subtle as shooting someone in slow motion with a shotgun can be, the game nonetheless had some eerie moments.
The sections of the game in between the stand out gun fights were actually really rather sinister. Faint glimpses of a small child walking around corners only to vanish were commonplace but set the scene well. The developers also used off screen action to get the shocks, sudden flashes on screen, screams and members of your team mysteriously vanishing were all effective ways off making you jump.
Perhaps one of the best moments in the game is the sudden introduction of an enemy that can appear out of thin air and their introduction which takes you by surprise.
With a series of expansions and an upcoming sequel, some have criticised F.E.A.R. for sticking to the same predictable scares over and over. F.E.A.R. 2 is scheduled for release in February, where it remains to be seen whether some new methods can be found.
This is a game that shows that Nintendo can do games for adults as well as new franchises, which only raises the question, why don't they do it more often? Eternal Darkness was a breath of fresh air and a true survival horror classic.
This was a game of sheer genius, which rested on the sanity of the protagonist. You take the role of Alexandra who is investigating the murder of her grandfather, when mysterious things start to happen.
The scarier things get the game changes, which is an incredibly sinister and manipulative device: it's brilliant. Messages saying that saved data was erased, coupled with messages saying that the console was broken weren't real but appeared to be, leading to many people switching off their console and losing saved progress. This was a survival horror game that could actually make you lose your grip on reality. The game was frustrating but scary as you weren't entirely sure when you would lose control of your character due to "the controller not being plugged in" or when the game decides to double the number of enemies on screen and then realising half aren't there!
Eternal Darkness is a game that deserves a sequel as it was a great original idea that deserved to be developed. Sadly, it seems that the story won't be developed.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl
A largely non-linear FPS-RPG doesn't sound like the normal formula for a scary game, but that's what helps make S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl so terrifyingly atmospheric. You're lost and alone with weak weapons and little ammo, surrounded by hungry mutants. Now that's the definition of scary. Chills down the back of the spine are too frequent to ever feel relaxed and comfortable, but what fun it is when you realise how you've just reacted to some glorified pixels on a screen.
But what makes S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl so scary isn't just the frightening shock of being jumped on by a pack of irradiated hounds, its constant trepidation you experience as you walk through the eerie "Zone" with an accompanying score of howls and screams.
To add to this are the linear missions, most notably Labs X18 and X16. The type of nightmares you haven't even imagined yet are waiting to emotionally scar even the bravest of souls. And I'm not talking about graphical violence, but strange and freaky events you could never anticipate beforehand or forget afterwards.
The sequel Clear Sky failed to capitalise on any of these spooky fortes, but what happened to me in those dark and lonely labs will haunt forever.