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Survival Horror

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Just hide and pray.

Somehow, the world, or at least the city you are in, has had its inhabitants slaughtered and resurrected with a hunger for brains, or their murderers have minions trying to find you and any accomplices. Your goal: Don't die before help arrives or before you reach an exit. You will have close escapes from horrible creatures. Things will jump through windows at you. Sometimes, you will be forced to fight the horrible creatures or flee for your life. Other times you will hide in a shadowy corner praying the invincible monstrosity doesn't notice you as it lumbers past. Ultimately, you tend to be the only one who survives as anybody who could help you will die a horrible death-by-cutscene.

Not unlike Postmodernism, modern survival horror isn't really a clear-cut genre in itself; it exists more as a blurred subset of Horror and First- or Third-Person Shooter. Many games in the genre are closer to Adventure Games in gameplay, with much less focus on combat and more on puzzles (such examples may overlap with Explorer Horror). While at first the goal seems to be pure survival, or calling for help, the game tends to add a little something by requiring you to solve the source of the problem, whether it's an alien relic or your own personal issues. Only then do you have a chance - if there is a chance to be had.

Two science fiction television series which were examples of this subgenre, were Star Trek: Voyager and Stargate Universe. However, while the initial premise was there, both series were handicapped by the generally much more optimistic legacies of their respective franchises. They therefore suffered from Executive Meddling in order to try and make them more acceptable to each franchise' existing fanbase, although each show occasionally still had episodes where their adherence to this genre was visible.

Note that simply featuring large amounts of monsters, zombies and/or demons does not make it survival horror; even if the game has supernatural elements, manages to scare you or contains horror tropes, it may not be a survival horror game. Conversely, even though Portal has Chell fighting for her life against a scary adversary without a real gun, it is most definitely not a survival horror title.

Unlike shooter games, the typical protagonist of a Survival Horror game will be an Action Survivor or Non-Action Guy who is poor at combat, rather than a badass. There is generally no penalty for not killing non-boss enemies, and in some games ammo is in such short supply and enemies so difficult to take down that evasion, not confrontation, is the best tactic, similar to Stealth Based Games. In several notable examples of the genre, combat is even nearly or completely non-existent. The player instead spends the entire time evading an entire world of Demonic Spiders, or in a game of hide and seek with a single invincible enemy. If the default reaction to a monster appearing is not to riddle it full of bullets but to run away frantically looking for a closet to hide in before it kills you, it might just be a Survival Horror game.

As a rule of thumb, a game typically labelled Action Horror is not Survival Horror. This includes games such as Resident Evil 4, which, despite keeping the tense atmosphere of the previous games, has the player sitting on a pile of ammo and supplies by comparison, making it a different genre to its Ur-Example predecessors. In order to minimize confusion, try looking at the protagonist's despair; if the protagonist is oppressed and their major issues seem too petty for action games (extreme scarcity of ammunition & supplies, very tough enemies regardless of difficulty or relentless attacks by merely dangerous ones, enormous objectives, etc.), then you may be looking at survival horror.

The Ur-Example of the genre is Nostromo (1981). The Trope Maker is Sweet Home (1989). The Trope Namer and Trope Codifier is Resident Evil (1996).

Examples of Survival Horror games:
Metro 2033, Manhunt, Silent Hill, ZombiU, and Five Nights at Freddy's; overwhelmed protagonist(s), oppressive atmosphere and a need for careful management of resources (ammo, health, etc.).

Examples of non-Survival Horror games:
Halo, Doom, The House of the Dead, Half-Life 2, Resident Evil 4, Left 4 Dead and so on; despite grim prospects and scary content, just about any fight can be won at a gain and there is always enough ammo and supplies on hand to win most scenarios.

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Action Horror games with Survival Horror elements:

  • Control starts out seeming like this. You're just a gal in a hostile environment filled with these weird hissing zombies, spooky janitors and vending machines filled with white bags just labeled "Chips". And all you have is a pistol. Then you start getting superpowers, the gun turns into a weapon of mass destruction, and suddenly, the House which shifts at its own whim starts to feel a little like home... though the Cosmic Horror is still invading it.
  • Doom³ borrows strongly from survival horror: Environments are dark and gloomy. You can't use your flashlight and your gun at the same time. Ammo is relatively scarce, and enemy encounters are just scarce enough to constantly keep you on your toes. The BFG Edition mostly eliminates the survival horror elements and feels more like a standard FPS.
    • The Overthinked mod cranks up the survival horror aspects. The amount of ammo you can carry is reduced to a more realistic level, One Bullet Clips is averted, and enemies are smarter and tougher.
  • Eternal Evil is basically "Resident Evil with vampires". The recurring zombie enemies are called "ghouls", for instance.
  • Halo gains this once the Flood show up, but it really gets it in Halo 2, where the flood are tougher, and ammo is scarcer. Particularly on the level ‘High Charity’, where the only weapons available are covenant weapons which the flood have high resistance to.
  • killer7 has unlimited ammo, but the awkward control scheme and the surreal invisible enemies create a tense tone not unlike survival horror.
  • Remorse: The List, an FPS loaded with extra-powerful Elite Zombies and you're granted fairly limited ammunition or weapons.
  • The later Resident Evil titles qualify as this, as Resident Evil 4 gives the player ludicrous amounts of supplies by comparison (in addition to martial arts moves which are empowering), Resident Evil 5 takes it further by granting the player an A.I. partner to help them.
    • In Resident Evil 6 multiple character campaigns are available, each with different horror sub-genres: Chris' campaign is basically a straight up 3rd person shooter, although ammo management is important; Jake's campaign seems to focus on set-piece encounters interspersed with short areas with few enemies and a lot of resources to be used for the next encounter; and Leon's campaign is probably the closest to Survival Horror, as it holds a greater emphasis on the horror aspects with limited resources and long stretches without enemies (though it's only until about the middle, and even then it's still more like Dead Space than the earlier Resident Evil games).
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Those Wacky Nazis have awakened legions of undead and created mutant abominations and it's up to the Allied protagonist to kill them all in-between classic World War II sabotage missions.
  • Splatter House has you playing as a strong slasher villain inspired brawler who can easily pummel the enemies he encounters into submission, provided the player can anticipate their ambushes, as being caught off guard can be disastrous. Later into the series the focus switches to beating the monsters quickly enough to save Rick's family.

Other Games with Survival Horror Elements

  • Baroque is described as an attempt to create a Survival Horror Roguelike game. It did have survival horror elements, but other than that, it's not.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum is set in a Bedlam House and builds a tense atmosphere, and the hallucinatory Scarecrow segments could fit in most survival horror games. However, most of the time the horror is you, as no matter if those mooks are armed and can easily shoot Batman dead, he's still using his stealth tactics to take them out one by one, each one getting more terrified.
  • Darkest Dungeon is a roguelike involving parties of competent (if dysfunctional) adventurers able to meet the creatures of the eponymous dungeon in combat, but the management of certain vital resources (food, limited healing, and especially light) and the general oppressive feel take cues from survival horror.
  • Soulsborne games have a tinge of Survival Horror to them. You have limited healing supplies, become fatigued and useless if you overexert your character with excessive attacking, blocking, or dodging, and every death can have disastrous consequences. Most of the games are standard hack-and-slash, but only if you play carefully and stick to the safer routes; if you find yourself underleveled and underequipped, holding a vast cache of exp that is destroyed if you die twice in a row, you'll have to plan your escape carefully, run away from enemies that can eviscerate you in seconds, and manage your dwindling stock of remaining healing potions as you desperately attempt to carry the cargo to the save point... or just far enough that your next runner can grab the goods from the territory of whatever Boss in Mook's Clothing destroyed you. Most importantly, you're never given a full understanding of the plot, depending on story breadcrumbs and the general setting to vaguely guess why you and everything trying to kill you is even here in the first place.
    • Dark Souls: a game that takes acrophobia and claustrophobia to its extremes. You have to scale a ruined mountain kingdom made for literal giants, fighting off monsters that have been so weathered and rotted that they no longer care about falling off a cliff as long as they can push you off first. The bright splendor of the upper kingdoms is overshadowed by the rotting, disgusting undercities filled with shambling undead, piles of corpses, and monsters that don't fit any sanitized mythology. It only gets lonelier and scarier with every sequel.
    • Bloodborne, on the other hand is a gothic horror tale about hunting beasts that are stronger and angrier than you. Unlike it's sister-game, Bloodborne has been argued as being a Survival Horror game. The entire town is infested, and for the first few hours of the game you are definitely the prey. You can't level up until you witness a boss meant to describe how thoroughly out of your depth you are, and everything from illogically-large mobs with torches and pitchforks to giant rabid werewolves will tear you and your precious blood experience to shreds. The game becomes a near-pure hack-and-slash once you learn to stop screaming in terror and start shooting them dead, but as you progress, the monsters get bloodier and stranger, and the world around you stops making sense on purpose. Puzzles and maps grow convoluted as the game world descends into madness, and you'll spend some time trying to understand what it is you've stepped into while your enemies take advantage of your obliviousness. The final level involves a giant eye-abomination taking up a sniping position while driving everything it can see insane, meaning you cannot fight this creature directly and must juggle between killing any nearby guards and running between safe hiding spots where you can calm down from your own madness.
  • Following the release of P.T. in 2014, a trend emerged of Environmental Narrative Games which attempted to emulate the oppressive, threatening atmosphere of survival horror, but without placing the player character in any actual danger. Examples include Devotion, Layers of Fear and Gray Dawn. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is an edge case, as a survival horror game which features so few enemies and puzzles that it might as well be an Environmental Narrative Game, and the creators of SOMA patched in a "Safe Mode" which prevented the enemies from attacking the player character, effectively removing all threat from the game.
  • Eternal Darkness often gets listed with survival horror titles for the sake of convenience but really is not. Your problems are simultaneously on a larger and smaller scale than your personal survival, and it has an extremely heavy emphasis on melee combat and unleashing powerful spells (both of which are effectively unlimited).
  • Fallout: New Vegas has elements of this with the optional hard core mode, which adds heavy survival element such as weight to ammo, hydration, sleep, etc. giving you more to worry about than most Survival Horror games. However, there isn't much horror in the game, except for DLCs such as Dead Money, which is packed with enough horror to qualify and takes away all your previous items and gives you next to nothing in return.
    • The Hell on Earth mod alters the game by turning it in a Silent Hill inspired Survival Horror, with an Ominous Fog, reduced ammunition loots, horrific monsters, a Dark World named "Otherworld", and an alternate background in which the apocalypse was a failed scientific experiment instead of a nuclear war, while the Legion of Caesar is turned into cultists from the Otherworld.
    • Fallout: Dust is another mod with a similar goal, taking place after a Time Skip where the Mojave has been almost completely destroyed due to a series of disasters unfolding after the events of the original game, such as a disastrous experiment with the Cloud from Dead Money wiping out most of New Vegas, the Tunnelers from Lonesome Road finding their way to the Mojave, and the few survivors still around being homicidal psychopaths. The mod was apparently created in response to the original game not being apocalyptic enough.
  • Ghostwire: Tokyo is mostly an action game with a supernatural theme, but the side mission in the school has elements of survival horror:
    • One enemy only moves when you look away, e.g. to check a clue or leave the room. You can easily knock it down, but it gets up again when you look away.
    • Another enemy deals continuous damage when you look at it. Good luck doing anything other than sneaking past that one.
  • Homeworld: Cataclysm, despite being a space-based Real-Time Strategy game, has the threat of facing a tough, horrific enemy that can subvert your ships against you while you have to deal with limited resources. The fact that the enemy in question is essentially a zombie-hivemind causing bio-mechanical mutations in your subverted ships only strengthens the connotation.
  • Koudelka has many elements of a survival horror game, like Breakable Weapons, limited resources, and horrific enemies. But it also has RPG random battles, equipment, and level system.
  • Live A Live has a multitude of chapters with differing themes. The Distant Future chapter starts off with slightly comedic interactions between the crew members of the Cogito Ergosum ship, but soon into it the antenna array malfunctions and everything takes a long nosedive into this genre. Your character is a well-designed support robot in terms of programming, but is fundamentally helpless in the real world, and of the two enemies in the chapter, the physical one will instakill you on contact and the other is the ship's Master Computer that is trying to kill the crew.
  • Luigi's Mansion, in contrast to the other platormer games set in the universe of Super Mario Bros., is a slower-paced action-adventure game taking place in the dark, spooky, titular, haunted mansion. It's essentially a Lighter and Softer Mario-themed comic parody of the Survival Horror genre, right down to a spoof of the Resident Evil loading animation though it still manages to have a dark and unnerving atmosphere. The same goes for its sequels, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon and Luigi's Mansion 3.
  • Metroid Fusion borrows tropes from this genre, like its claustrophobic environment, very hard-hitting enemies, the strictly linear gameplay, the profusion of locked doors, and the relentless pursuit by an invincible enemy. Some of its bosses are also absolutely disturbing and/or surreal in appearance, like BOX or Nightmare. However, it's still an action game with a player character who can tear through the landscape while acrobatically avoiding most hazards she can't blow apart. The player has to get used to being more fragile than in other Metroid games, and having to manage more uncrackable nuts from longer than ever before, but the locked doors also mean there will be fewer instances of accidentally getting in over one's head.
  • Metroid Dread leans in on survival horror tropes even further with its designated "E.M.M.I. Zones." In these sections Samus is constantly stalked and chased by indestructible robots that can One-Hit Kill her if they get their claws on her, similar to the Xenomorph from Alien Isolation. Her only hope of survival is to avoid a confrontation either by running or using Phantom Cloak to hide herself. Outside of these zones, however, the game is a fast-paced 2D action game where Samus is more than capable enough to defeat any foe coming her way.
  • Minecraft is usually a sandbox game, but turns to Survival Horror during the night, when the hostile mobs spawn. Without a bed in which to skip to dawn, you will have to spend all night dodging archer skeletons, zombies, spiders, creepers, and Endermen. The latter are tall, elongated, black humanoid figures with purple eyes who can teleport, and if you look directly at them, they will attack you, and probably kill you, since they're some of the strongest monsters in the Overworld.
  • The Stomping Land focuses more on Rule of Cool than horror elements, but attempting to forage for resources in the forest at night is still an adrenaline-pumping experience.
  • Til Morning's Light is a Survival Horror game that leans more on the Action Adventure element, but the protagonist relies on every day tools to battle enemies and must rely on their wits solve puzzles and clues. The battles with enemies play out in rhythm based fashion.
  • The Core Design Tomb Raider games have elements of this though how far they lean into it depends on the individual game. Traps and late-game enemies can drain Lara's health rapidly if not outright kill her, finding powerful weapons can take a while if the player isn't good at secret huntingnote , ammunition for these weapons can be just as scarce and poison enemies pretty much take away an entire medkit if they hit Lara once. On top of that, certain sections of various games are outright designed with horror vibes, like Antarctica or Ireland.
  • Total War: Attila is described as "Survival Strategy" by the developers. If you're playing the Western Romans, then this is particularly true - your goal is not to conquer the map, it's to survive the collapse of your empire, the coming of winter and the arrival of the Huns and Great Migrations.
  • Tyke & Sons Lumber Co. literally shifts between management-style gameplay and survival horror, as the game is based on two different ones, Chipper & Sons Lumber Co. and Five Nights at Freddy's, that use these genres, respectively.
  • World of Horror is a Rogue-lite RPG that features some elements of survival horror. In particular is the overall lack of restoratives (with some healing items and spells having negative side-effects to balance out their benefits), inventory management, light puzzle-solving, and fights with otherworldly creatures where the odds are stacked against you and clever thinking can be just as important as, if not moreso than, martial prowess in surviving.
  • The XCOM games and their spinoffs carry Survival Horror elements into a strategy game, requiring you to keep soldiers alive (generally) and manage your faction's strategic resources (budget, ordnance, research, approval ratings, etc.) in order to fend off humanity's extermination or enslavement at the hands of an Alien Invasion.


Tormented Souls

Tormented Souls is a third-person Survival Horror game developed by Dual Effect and published by PQube, released in August 2021 for Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, and PC. The game is a homage to classic survival horror series such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Alone in the Dark.

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