Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within, and another Resident Evil– is big-budget survival horror back?
With The Evil Within releasing on August 26, Alien: Isolation due by the end of the year, and an official announcement concerning Resident Evil 7 coming any day now, the survival horror genre is primed to make a splash in 2014-2015.
The genre isn’t dead by any means. The Slender and Amnesia series have kept it in a stable and healthy state. The PS4 exclusive Outlast received very positive reviews. However, these titles could only accomplish so much. Fans of the genre and avid gamers were able to find and enjoy them, but there is a level of market penetration that can usually only be achieved by a big-budget release.
Take this new trailer for The Evil Within:
Do I know what’s going on? No. Do I know what the game is about? HELL no. That dude had a safe for a head!
However, the production value was pretty strong. It was live-action and brings publicity to the game. I certainly want to show it to my friends so that they can share in my “WTF” moment.
Bethesda and Sega are sinking some money into The Evil Within and Alien: Isolation, and I am sure Capcom will do the same for Resident Evil.
Can this investment and the quality of these games bring balance back to the action genre? Shooters and action-survival titles like The Last of Us have dominated the gaming market lately, so is this enough?
First, let’s overview each game.
The Evil Within
Shinji Mikami, creator of Resident Evil and a godfather of the survival horror genre as it exists today, is set to return to his roots with Tango Gameworks’ The Evil Within.
The game was revealed way back in April 2012 and has been toted around as Bethesda’s third-favorite son (after Elder Scrolls Online and Wolfenstein) ever since. It will be the first survival horror title to bring AAA polish to the next generation of systems.
Players will control Detective Sebastian Castellanos, who has arrived at the scene of a grizzly mass murder. He sees some scary things, his friends die, and he blacks out. He is awakened in a terrifying world filled with horrible creatures, and he must escape.
Pretty cut-and-dry survival horror if you ask me. I imagine you won’t use very many weapons or actually stand your ground and fight much; the purpose of the game is to make it out alive, not destroy the baddies. This is as the die-hard survival horror enthusiasts will it, but the question is if Mikami can pull off a critical and financial success to match the praise from the genre’s enthusiasts.
He’s had difficulty with this before. In an interview with IGN, Mikami said ““With Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, and all the rest of the series before Resident Evil 4, I was always saying to the staff, ‘Scaring the player is the number one thing.’ But for the first time, in Resident Evil 4, I told the team that fun gameplay is the most important thing. …that all came out of the commercial failure of the Resident Evil remake. And then of course Resident Evil 4 sold really well. I have kind of a lingering trauma there, because the Resident Evil remake didn’t sell – much more than people would think.”
Luckily, he won’t have to do it alone this time.
First, let’s take a look at the most recent developer diary:
I can dig it. The Creative Assembly team is saying all the right things. They want to take us back to a simpler time when zombies were rare, vampires didn’t sparkle, werewolves weren’t teenagers on MTV, and the Alien franchise was scary.
The game seems like it will definitely remain true to the genre. Al Hope, Creative Lead of Alien: Isolation, says in the video “even if you find a gun, your first thought is going to be ‘if I fire this, will the alien hear it?'” This is textbook survival horror. Impaired vision, minimal (if any) gunplay, reliance on a flashlight, a “run first” mentality, etc. All indications are that Alien: Isolation will be a hit with the genre’s enthusiasts.
But can it be a commercial hit?
I think it has a pretty good shot. There is a decent buzz behind it within the gaming press, and the pairing of a veteran publisher in Sega and a veteran distributor in 20th Century Fox bodes well for the marketing of the game. It has certainly made the rounds at various cons and events, and ads for the game are pretty common on YouTube and various gaming/sci-fi sites. I expect that we will start seeing more TV commercials as we approach the release of the game.
The only thing I worry about is that much of the game’s package relies on a player’s previous experience with the Alien franchise. Isolation’s story fits neatly into the Alien canon and is meant to evoke a sense of nostalgia in players, but that won’t work if the player has no history with the franchise (particularly the first Alien movie). I suspect many teenagers and 20-somethings might know of Alien (maybe from seeing Prometheus), but they may not fully get the game. However, the 30-somethings will get it, and they certainly buy plenty of games too.
Either way, Alien: Isolation only needs to fill part of the puzzle to reinvigorate a genre and shake up the gaming market, and I think it will prove more than capable.
Resident Evil 7
There isn’t much to say about Resident Evil 7 because, officially, there isn’t a Resident Evil 7.
I think it is pretty likely that the game gets made. A major company isn’t going to abandon a successful but critically-maligned franchise like Resident Evil, especially not when zombies are so big right now. I would be shocked if Capcom didn’t capitalize on the success and market penetration of The Last of Us and The Walking Dead show and game series.
Capcom seems to be listening to and actively seeking consumer input on the franchise’s next move, and various executives have promised that the franchise will return to its survival horror roots. However, Capcom is in a state of flux. Many of these very same executives have left the company in the last year. Many of its rock-solid franchises like Megaman and Street Fighter are fading, and I don’t know if Capcom will be able to retain relevancy in today’s gaming world.
Lucky for us, we don’t need it to. I don’t think that anything hinges on whether or not we get a Resident Evil 7. If it returns to survival horror, it won’t be as good as The Evil Within and Alien: Isolation. If it sticks to gimmicky zombie action gaming, then it won’t be as good as The Last of Us or the 50 other games coming out this year in that genre. So who cares?
The survival horror genre is never going to be as big as MMOs, shooters, or traditional action games. These three games will mark a significant step forward, but they probably won’t win many awards or set any records. However, they will open the big studios’ doors for a host of would-be survival horror game developers that may have previously been unable to even secure a meeting. Who knows– in a year or two we may see several significant survival horror games a year. I look forward to that time. I am honestly not a huge fan of the genre, but I appreciate and celebrate diversity and taking things in a different direction.
That’s if they do well. If they don’t, those doors will probably be shut forever and the genre will be forever relegated to indie titles. No pressure.