Amnesia and Outlast: Survival horror is all well and scarier than ever

It’s barely a month since Resident Evil 6 was released. In the gaming community, it was hoped (somewhat against hope) that the game would resurrect the one-time iconic survival horror series. Purists of the games bemoaned that RE had lost its way after the third game, while many critics believed that the fourth outing struck the perfect cord between action and horror. Either way, few disagreed that subsequent entries in the series have fallen too far from the gnarled, unsettling tree that gave Resident Evil its status in the industry.

Suffice to say that RE 6 disappointed, seemingly pandering to the mass market, and no doubt influenced by the popularity of the films, which are more about action and the tasty Milla Jovovich than about building up a sense of dread. What we were left with was a game with something of an identity crisis, not ticking any boxes in particular, and ultimately lacking both in terms of horror, action and just about everything else.

While the plight of series such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill has led some to cry that survival horror ‘isn’t what it used to be,’ this simply isn’t the case (for PC gamers, anyhow), as the last couple of years have seen the ascent of a new breed of horror.

Games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender immerse the player in the first-person perspective of characters who are presumably hyperventilating from fear as they slop around in piss-drenched pants to escape the nightmare environs they find themselves in. With no weapons, hazy plots, and antagonists who you barely glimpse until it’s too late, these games reawaken the kind of fear we felt when we first went down the darkening back alley in Silent Hill or when we spotted the licker scurry across the window in Resident Evil 2.

It seems that the genre is gathering pace too, as two terrifying trailers released yesterday for Amnesia: Machine for Pigs and Outlast testify to. The former is the sequel to Dark Descent, but eschews the stone dungeons of its predecessor in favour of a more industrial (but still Victorian era) setting. The elusive. shadowy figure of a child and the screeching of what sounds like a particularly angry swine punctuate the puzzles that make up much of the gameplay.

Outlast, meanwhile, is more contemporary, throwing the player into a shut-down mental asylum where things went horribly wrong. Toppled wheelchairs, flickering lights and other horror clichés are all accounted for, as it seems that your only weapon is a sickeningly unsettling night-vision camera. Given that most of the things you see through the camera are dismembered bodies, endless eerie rooms and the occasional stitched-together psychopath looking to rip you apart, you’d probably feel safer without it.

The interest in these games, as well as recent indie outings such as Grey and Slender show that survival horror has gone in a new direction. The main issue, of course, is that it seems to be solely PC developers who are pioneering this new first-person-weaponless-cowardly-protagonist-survival-horror genre. With Capcom and Konami dragging the corpses of their once-great survival horror franchises through the dirt, who will step in to give PS3 and Xbox 360 horror fans the skidmark-inducing game they so badly crave? With XBL and PSN hardly being as indie-friendly as the PC, we may have to wait a while yet…