Indie devs are saving Survival/Adventure Horror

Posted: June 9, 2014 by ryanlecocq in Features

With the recent decline in the quality and sales of the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises, things were looking pretty dire for the bullet-hoarding genre.  Suddenly, over the last year independent developers have released several hits, with more on the way.  Here are a few of the ones I’ve played, some of which are released and some of which are still in alpha or beta.

 

Outlast

Outlast

 Quick, change the channel!

Outlast borrows a lot from two of my favorite horror games; Fatal Frame and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.  Like in Fatal Frame, the camera is your only tool and it serves several functions.  Like in Shattered Memories, there are many chase scenes where you run through the environment using interactive objects to your advantage.  Besides its’ excellent presentation, the best thing about Outlast is that it masters the “something is coming to get you” vibe.  It’s a very difficult trick to balance the player’s will to escape vs. frustration at being pursued.  The game intersperses the running away with creepy investigation scenes ala Silent Hill for a very “core-genre” experience that focuses on the creepy and the scary and doesn’t screw it up with a melee weapon combo system or some such crap.  This one is available on Steam and the PS4.

Among the Sleep

Among-the-Sleep-title

I love you Teddy, you creepy mother-effer.

Among the Sleep brings back the most primal of fears: the fear we experienced before we developed rationalizations.  As a small child, you don’t know anything, so you don’t have reasons to explain away the bumps you hear in the night.  Every distant animal scream and thump through the wall is terrifying.  The majority of this game takes place in the dreams and imagination of a two year old.  Accompanied by your trusty teddy bear, you will sneak through the dark world of your fears and solve puzzles.  Although there are definitely some rough edges as far as production values, this game is brilliant.  I love the way everyday objects like coats and knife blocks take on disturbing properties when you are 2′ tall and the lights are off.  Among the Sleep is available for Windows, OSX, Linux and PS4 (Sony is all over the indie scene, good job guys!)

Lifeless Planet

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Cheryl?  Cheryl!

It’s almost incorrect to call Lifeless Planet a Survival Horror game.  Most of the game is a very bad platformer.  Luckily, in between the long sections of bad space platforming, are some really creepy scenes and some puzzles.  I want to emphasize that to enjoy this game you must traverse a planet and jump across many rocks with astronaut boots that seem to be greased with butter.  IF you can deal with that, the atmosphere and SciFi creepiness are top notch.  It’s got Cold War fears, creepy space bases and ancient alien technology, who doesn’t love that combo?  This game is officially “finished” but could use a few more updates to iron out that platforming.  Lifeless Planet is available for Windows on Steam.

The Forest

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Fear me, for I am a god!  No?  Well it was worth a shot.

The Forest is still in very early alpha, but it looks so promising I had to include it.  Even in a sandbox that is little more than an empty shell at the moment, there is already a lot of fun to be had in this game.  Glitches abound, but they often lead to more entertainment, or are easy to ignore with all of the genius ideas on display.  Basically in this game your plane crashes on an island full of mutant cannibals.  They have taken a wounded child who is possibly your son.  I don’t really care if he’s my son or not, I just hate the idea that cannibals and cults are out there somewhere getting away with not being civilized.  With your superior knowledge of science, you must MacGyver your way to victory against the savage tribesmen.  At the moment, that’s pretty much all you can do.  After you kill enough of the cannibals in horrible enough ways, they avoid you until the game eventually crashes.  What makes this game so promising is the convincing AI and compelling survival.  I had so many cool water-cooler moments where I was hiding under a bluff as tribesmen ran past my location after spotting me from a distance or similar.  You can also craft and build a variety of shelters, traps and other necessities right out of a Gary Paulsen book!  You manage things like hunger, energy and body temperature while being hunted by intelligent, yet ignorant adversaries.  They will attempt to run away when wounded or will carry disabled comrades out of the fray.  When one sees you, they will run for help and then come back with a scouting party.  All around pretty convincing and entertaining.  The Forest has a long way to go before release, but with the attention the game is getting, I have no doubts it will get the funding it needs to do so.  Available for Windows early access on Steam.

Inescapable

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Fortunately my beard filters the alien atmosphere.

Before there was Resident Evil, the closest thing to Survival Horror was games like Metroid and Castlevania, now simply called Metroidvanias.  Much like later 3D horror games, you explore, collect items and solve puzzles.  Since the advent of 3D games, Metroidvanias have pretty much thinned out to the point where handheld Castlevania games are the only major releases.  Sure, there are indie side-scrollers that are kind of like Metroidvanias, but they lack the gritty and detailed creepy atmosphere of those legendary games.  Then along comes Inescapable, the most old-school, hardcore Metroidvania style game in years.  You are a disgraced ex-military mercenary who is marooned on a planet whose ownership is under dispute by space megacorporations.  There are of course ancient alien ruins down there and all hell breaks loose.  Combining the best elements of genre classics and hard science fiction, Inescapable is a must play for any fan of the precursors to modern Survival Horror.  Available now for Windows on Steam.

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