The Future of Survival Horror

Updated on April 8, 2020
Matt Pietropaoli profile image

Matt is a scaredy-pants who has spent too many sleepless nights playing "Resident Evil."

The remake of Resident Evil 3 for PlayStation 4 released on April 3, and the future of the survival horror video game subgenre is more unclear than ever. Horror games of the 1990s relied on limiting player control and obscuring their surroundings to create tension and deliver scares. However, the line between survival horror and other kinds of action-adventure games has blurred over time with recent advancements in gaming technology.

There is an undeniable pull toward action that increases as any survival horror series continues and grows in popularity.

"Resident Evil 3" released on April 3, 2020 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows.
"Resident Evil 3" released on April 3, 2020 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows. | Source

Defining a Genre

The term "survival horror" can be traced back to 1996 with the release of the original Resident Evil for the PlayStation, becoming a common descriptor for psychological horror games like Silent Hill and Fatal Frame by the beginning of the 2000s. These games put players in the shoes of an underpowered and vulnerable character, typically in a single complex location with minimal resources.

Whether solving the mysteries of an isolated town shrouded in evil or escaping a police station at the dawn the the zombie apocalypse, survival horror games showcase character-driven stories of heroes escaping a seemingly impossible situation. While most games feature progression in this same way, survival horror titles often face issues with progression in their sequels. The fight-or-flight thrill of a early zombie encounter only lasts so long, so the monsters always get bigger and tougher to kill.

In the earliest hours of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, one panicked encounter with a generic enemy can lead to wasted bullets and valuable healing items. However, players in later chapters are more than prepared for those same challenges with the new items and experience they've earned. The terrifying opening of 2008's Dead Space has the same relationship to its finale, where enemies who once seemed unbeatable are easily conquered with tools and knowledge.


Trending Toward Action

Resident Evil 3's original 1999 release was marketed as being more action-packed and bombastic than its predecessors. Likewise, the remake of Resident Evil 3 follows this trend by promising a smarter, more seemingly indomitable enemy in the bioweapon Nemesis, who pursues players across the game's story. Nemesis' appearances in both the original PlayStation release and the PlayStation 4 remake are scripted events, but they feel organic and tied to key turning points in the story.

There is an undeniable pull toward action that increases as any survival horror series continues and grows in popularity. The Resident Evil series famously pivoted toward action with 2009's Resident Evil 5 and other titles in the 2010s. This trend was reversed with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard's release in 2017 and the remake of Resident Evil 2 that followed in 2019, both of which reintroduced elements like complex enclosed locations and limited items. However, traces of an action-packed past remained baked into the games' control schemes and extra content.

Resident Evil 7's Not A Hero downloadable content featured an action-packed campaign that saw series star Chris Redfield in his classic role as a bioweapon hunting soldier. Resident Evil 2's remake includes a reimagining of the 4th Survivor mode with Hunk, an armored soldier who fights through hordes of zombies to escape the overrun city. The remake of Resident Evil 3 follows this trend by adding the asymmetrical multiplayer experience, Resident Evil 3: Resistance. Additionally, Resident Evil 3's single player campaign includes a dodge mechanic that can slow time and help players land John Wick-like shots on zombies.

"The Last of Us Part II"
"The Last of Us Part II" | Source

Blending of Ideas

The signature clunkiness of classic survival horror games was the result of a compromise with the limitations of 90s gaming technology. Modern games allow for cleaner animations and tighter control, which lends toward a more streamlined action-adventure title in almost all cases. Without the baggage associated with genre and franchise, action-adventure games like The Last of Us seem nearly indistinguishable from the modern Resident Evil games with its focus on resource management and survival.

The remake of Resident Evil 3 certainly delivers on nostalgia for those who played the original, but the gameplay itself can feel more like an Uncharted or The Last of Us adventure title than a bitter fight for survival. Between weaving through crowds of zombies, dodging rocket launcher fire, and falling a dozen stories from the roof of a burning building with nothing more than a scratch, it's a surprise that Resident Evil 3 player character Jill Valentine hasn't been recruited to replace Black Widow in Marvel's Avengers.



The best games that define themselves as survival horror feature iconic and intricate locations for players to explore. The dilapidated streets of Resident Evil 3's Racoon City offer the illusion of an open-world setting, but the constricting alleyways and abandoned storefronts draw clear connections to the earlier games' cramped hallways and secret passageways.

There will often be a clear A-to-B destination for players, but the real fun in survival horror comes from plotting the best route to a goal while collecting enough supplies to fend off any unexpected assault along the way. The remake of Resident Evil 2 expanded the role of the original's Mr. X enemy to pursue the player consistently through large portions of the game, and the winding hallways of Raccoon City Police Department are a great setting for such a high stakes cat-and-mouse game.

Unfortunately, the remake of Resident Evil 3 often feels more linear than any of its predecessors. Brief diversions from the critical path are few and far between, and typically only reward the player with a small amount of extra ammunition that is already in abundance. The game has also been criticized by fans and media alike for its paltry single player campaign, which is alleged to last only about five hours. Compared to last year's Resident Evil 2 and its 10+ hour campaign between two protagonists, many consumers are opting to wait for Capcom to put the game on sale instead of paying full price.

"Lone Survivor"
"Lone Survivor" | Source

The Indie Variable

The last bastion of pure survival horror may be found with indie developers. Lone Survivor, originally released in 2012 and currently available on Steam and PlayStation 4, presents itself as "a psychological survival adventure game" that plays like a lofi adaptation of Silent Hill. The Amnesia series also offers similar spooks and puzzles, but rather with a hind-and-seek mentality where combat is almost never an option.

What's your favorite survival horror game? Post it in the comments below!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • John A Roberts profile image

      John Roberts 

      3 months ago from South Yorkshire, England.

      Given Two Point Hospital is a spiritual successor to a single albeit popular game in a very niche market, I think its success speaks volumes to the potential of a much more popular, well known market if ever it goes out of fashion.

      Of course, I hope the genre never goes out of fashion. I think horror does wonders to the flavour of a year's lineup, and it's always interesting to see lesser experienced publishers get involved (see Bethesda publishing the newly formed Tango Gameworks' The Evil Within.... who would've thought that a good idea?).

      I'll keep your thoughts on Two Point Hospital in mind when I'm ever in doubt of crowdsourcing, fewer indie darlings or the mainstream becoming, well, more mainstream. I think the world has many more Two Point Hospitals to offer us before long! ^^

    • Matt Pietropaoli profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt Pietropaoli 

      3 months ago

      Thanks John. I think there's big room in the market for these old subgenres, as you said, be it through crowdfunding or otherwise.

      Your comment immediately made me think of Two Point Hospital, the indie-revival of Theme Hospital that released last year. Totally different genre, but I'd like to see support like that for classic survival horror games some day.

    • John A Roberts profile image

      John Roberts 

      3 months ago from South Yorkshire, England.

      Excellent write-up! Though I'm not a fan of horror video games, least of all survival horror, I think what will happen is what happens in any other genre: if the so-called AAA companies such as Capcom and Naughty Dog move away from it, there's plenty of people who will resort to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding means to fund their games that way. "If you build it, they will come" is more true than ever for long unpopular genres - see platform games, turn-based games, old school RPGs and management sims' many successes.

      Survival Horror as we know it might not be around for much longer, but I think there'll always be a demand for it in its various iterations. People like horror, and I think they always will in some fashion. We might see less of it going forward, but I think it'll always remain.

      I guess if I had to pick a favourite SH game, it'd be Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It was the one horror game I could really get behind, even at 20 frames-per-second on super low settings on a laptop during college. xD


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)