Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Survival" Horror

Okay, I give up. I'm not going to complete The Last of Us, although I think I'm in the final chapter. I think it's probably my last ever purchase of a survival horror game.

The problem I have with TLoU is the same problem I have with any other modern "survival" "horror" game, and it's gotten so bad that I think I have to give up the genre.

To me, survival horror is about knowing that you can't win if you try to fight straight on. It's a struggle to survive on the outskirts of the monster's attention. You scrounge up resources, avoid fights, and plan things out carefully.

There are actually a large number of games like this. Obviously System Shock II, but also the early Resident Evil games and a bunch of "strategic" zombie flash games where you have to recapture a city. Also: games like Minecraft.

The problem I have with the modern "survival "horror" game is that you aren't skirting around the edge of disaster. The writers just toss you into the disaster and... you find it's not really that disastrous. It's just some tedious quicktime events to not die, plus some running around. Don't worry, in the likely event that you can't muster up the energy to try to survive, it'll happily respawn you a few seconds earlier so you can try again.

What part of that is "survival"?

Well, they have the "horror" down, I suppose. Forcing me to fight human characters in incredibly gory cutscenes so I can watch humans torture each other. If I was even vaguely allowed to actually act on my own recognizance, I would just jump out a window like the hundreds of windows I've jumped out of before... but, no, these windows are the mysterious "have a little bit of a wood plank across the outside" variety, and therefore cannot be jumped through.

The railroading is painfully obvious. You know exactly when the writers have decided that you need to have an "exciting" sequence, because you suddenly lose the ability to actually play the game. All your avenues of exploration are closed off, all your mobility is locked in, and you are funneled politely into a batch of stupid. Even in-game, the characters clearly know that they are walking into a trap.

Then... why? Just leave.

Just leave.

Just go away and survive.

In earlier generations, I could allow for the funneled-in boss fights and encounters, but those were the days when the world was coarse and simplistic. You could forgive scripts that spawned enemies to ambush you, because you knew that was the limit of the technology.

But in these new games, the world is vast and beautiful. You can go so many great places. All the potential threats have hearing and vision and pathing and all sorts of wonderful simulations that make them actually interactive. And just as you begin to revel in it - WHOOSH, all the windows are replaced by decals and you're on a rickety bridge one foot too high above the dry riverbed to jump down. And enemies pop into existence!

This is not only a cheap holdover from earlier times, it's actually even worse. Few of those early survival horror games ever featured cutscenes where you torture people, or people torture you. They didn't really have the ability to show humans being ripped apart in quite that much detail, so they were forced to actually have gameplay.

So I keep buying survival horror games hoping to find a game where I try to survive, but all I find are action games where surviving doesn't matter and you're just tossed into the horror straightaway. And, of course, you find that the writers have "added depth" to their game by taking control away from you and rubbing your face in torture porn.

It's a crappy genre.

And what really gets me - what really makes me mad - is I could literally just wander around in the world doing nothing.

These are amazing set pieces. These are astounding works of art. They outshine all the classic masterpieces of canvas and sculpture - detailed, varied, gorgeous. Everything - light, color, sound... it's all masterful and it would be great to just dwell there. Live there. Just sit around in that place and I dunno, play the guitar.


1 comment:

Andy_Panthro said...

Is the problem combat? Does the game industry rely on killing far too much? Is that what is draining the suspense and tension from the games?

One of the reasons I like the original Alone in the Dark (1992), is that most of the monsters are really puzzles, rather than combat. It's up to you to figure out how to get past them, rather than just punching your way through.

Even with the more standard zombies (which you could fight and kill) the game would often give you alternative ways to get past them.