– Karly Taylor
By definition, an ode is typically a piece of writing in lyrical/poetic format, created with the intention of being sung as a melody. Now, I’m not going to do that for two reasons. First reason being I’m a journalist, not a song writer, so anything I churn out in an effort to try and be musical will turn out more of a parody than anything else. Secondly, nobody wants to hear me sing anything, trust me on this. But I’ll write my own form of poetry, in a love letter to a particular kind of gaming that has, sadly, been lost to time.
Halloween is around the corner, and it’s that time of year where everybody’s minds typically turn to the horror side of things. Even if you’re in Australia, where it’s not a holiday that’s typically celebrated or recognised, you still get the odd ball here and there who will go trick or treating, or the occasional Halloween-themed party at someone’s house. Unless of course you’re a horror buff, then your mind is likely always sitting at the end of the horror spectrum with your feet hanging off the edge.
We’ve no shortage of horror games available for our playing pleasure, especially in the last few years –*good* horror games is a whole other kettle of fish, though. Thanks to some newer titles and the Slenderman craze, we have walking simulators and 8-bit indie horror galore. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a game like that nowadays.
I’m not knocking these formulas, mind you. But what I want is to turn a bit of attention to a specific style, or even genre of horror. Back in the day, Playstation horror was where it was at. Fatal Frame, Clocktower, Haunting Ground, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Siren, Rule of Rose, etc. All fantastic games, all early Playstation 1 era. Sure some of the graphics for a few of these titles may not have held up so well, but you can’t fault some of the incredibly original story telling and dark atmosphere, even now.
In these games, you could typically fight back against the monsters that plagued you – whether it was with a conventional weapon, like a gun, or something ordinary and unexpected, like a camera – but even with a way of defending yourself, you never felt completely safe, or on even ground with your adversary. It was a constant fight for survival, from beginning to end.
Depending on the difficulty (and even some of the “Easy” difficulties were hardly so), you had to ration the supplies you found throughout the game in order to not gimp yourself later on. If you hit the big bad at the end of the game without any more health packs and little to no ammunition, well, it was curtains for you, bud.
Sure, you had a map to navigate these claustrophobic, dark areas… if you could find it in the first place. Missed out on picking up that flash light earlier? Well, that’s a bit of bad luck, isn’t it? These games were as fun to play as they were brutal and unforgiving. There were no hints, no hand holding, no co-op or multiplayer. You were thrown into the thick of things alone and expected to crawl your way out of the pit by yourself. And it was so, so satisfying when you did. Avoiding enemies or risking a fight, solving difficult, time-consuming puzzles that really required some thought, stock piling ammo and supplies for that inevitable end fight.
Completing these games genuinely felt like accomplishing something.
It’s almost painful to see, by comparison, how much hand holding there is in games these days. Hints, tutorials, whatever you want to call them. I don’t want to go on at length about “back in my day…” because I discovered this treasure trove when it’s reign was over. A lot of older gamers I know complain about this, however. Everything has been made too easy. It’s rare to find a game that doesn’t spoon feed you everything you need to know. Dark Souls and Bloodborne are probably the closest thing we have to “survival horror” these days, but even those are too combat heavy to truly be part of the genre.
I’ve heard arguments from other gamers that these games are a relic of a time when gaming wasn’t all it could be. We live in a great time to be alive if you’re a gamer, with all this new technology available. Call me old fashioned or nostalgic, though, but I miss those damn fixed camera angles and clunky controls. It aligned perfectly with what I felt survival horror had to do – make you feel helpless and not totally in control of the situation.
With the remake of Resident Evil 0 coming in a few shorts months, a confirmed remake of Resident Evil 2 in the works, and Fatal Frame V getting a European release on the 30th of October, it’s a comforting salve for fans who are currently mourning the now-confirmed end of the Silent Hill franchise. Who knows, maybe survival horror will pull itself out of the grave one day, especially with Allison Road looming on the horizon, promising some seriously scary shit.
Games don’t necessarily need fixed camera angles and clunky controls to be terrifying, I’ll be the first to admit this. But some of that same passion of old revitalised, using today’s stunning engines and smooth controls, could create some seriously horrific and memorable games that may prove ample competition for the PS2 survival horror era. I’ll hold true to my nostalgia regardless.