By way of introduction (Or: What the hell is this?)
Hi, my name is Kole Ross and this is Hex Crank, a collection of notes and letters regarding survival horror video games. Which, of course, is a type of game that I sincerely enjoy.
Survival horror games are weird, adventurous, and memorable. Still, there’s not an awful lot of digial ink spilled about them. They sell poorly, and often receive middling reviews.
This is meant to be an ongoing exploration of why horror games are so effective, and a historical cataloguing of its successes and failures.
It will primarily be a vanilla blog (because I haven’t written long-form critical prose in a very long time), but I suspect that my inclinations toward podcasting won’t be kept at bay for long. Also, there might be video. Who knows!? All the world is a stage.
Oh, and I’d like to cover the genre in a chronological and methodical fashion as a historian of the form.
What’s with the name?
Surface level: The Resident Evil series contains not just one, but two items loosely called “hex cranks”. This genre is known for its crazy puzzles, which you solve with crazier items. The varishaped cranks are acceptably emblematic of this phenomenon, and the phraselet “Hex Crank” is punchy and catchy (it contains not just one, but two hard “K” sounds!).
A little deeper: It has “crank” in the title, and I’m generally cranky.
Joke answer: My friend Gary Butterfield remarked that the name sounded like the title for an anime about witches… so it was clear that it was my only option.
No, really, why survival horror?
Intellect is complicated, but emotions are easy.
There exists, toward the bottom of our brains (oh boy, here we go) a primeval collection of tissues colloquially referred to as the “lizard brain”. This is what we vertibrates had before things got complicated by the cerebral cortex.
It’s the limbic system. The amygdala. A bunch of other neurological stuff I don’t know enough about to sound intelligent about. This is the region of the brain that controls fear, anxiety, panic, and the flight or flight response.
This is the stuff that’s common to all of us.
Quoting H.P. Lovecraft for a second:
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
Honest truth is, video games are in their adolescence. They’re not so great at stuff that full-grown mediums are (like properly courting a lady, or balancing their checkbooks). A great many games have tried to appeal to pathos and logos. A few of them certainly succeed, but the majority have ultimately failed. What we’re left with, ultimately, is pathos. Our stalwart, maligned friend Pathos. Pity, disgust, loathing, abject horror and panic…
Other media, specifically film, leveraged horror in their early days. The popular novel arose alongside Frankenstein, Dracula, and Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. So did film. And that’s the meat I wish to devour for video games.
Also, horror games are having something of a renaissance. Indie publishing on both PC and iOS have led to some great examples of truly horrifying games. These are remarkable, and I’d like to speak as to why they’re remarkable.
Not everything is significant, but it contributes to the texture. And I wish to be thorough.
Well, what qualifies?
Survival horror is tricky to pin down. I’ve spent the past several months thinking about what would make the cut in a “grand listing of all survival horror”. Here are the criteria that I’ve decided upon:
- A deliberate attempt to scare, unsettle, cause anxiety in, or creep out the consumer.
- An emphasis on atmosphere and mood over systems.
- Must include some kind of puzzle solving and/or resource management.
- Story takes precedence over combat.
Ideally, something that makes the list would meet 3 of the 4 criteria.
There are two things about this set of criteria that I want to clarify at the start.
- They were designed to be flexible and inclusive.
- The classical definition of survival horror isn’t enough. Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and Alone in the Dark are landmarks of the form, but I want to cast a wider net to include horror-themed adventure games, since that’s where a lot of great stuff is happening now.
- I wanted to design these criteria so they would include Don’t Starve, but not Minecraft. It was harder than you might think.
- Ultimately, it’s up to me what I choose to write about or not write about. These guidelines are loose and arbitrary at best.
Here is the list. Know that it is a work in progress. I’ve used all the resources available to me, but I know that it’s far from complete.
That’s where you come in.
Is there anything I’m missing? There are a lot of modern horror games that I’m not aware of. I’d like you to let me know about them, even if I won’t get to them until sometime later.
Is there something that shouldn’t be here? Not every listing is reputable, and there might be something that doesn’t match the criteria above.
I’d also like to address each game on this list, in some form or fashion, chronologically.
Regardless, I would like to hear what you think. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know what you think of this list, or this project.
Without further hemming and hawing, here’s the list as it stands thus far:
- Haunted House (Atari 2600, 1982)
- Ghost Manor (Atari 2600, 1983)
- Sweet Home (NES, Dec 15, 1989)
- Alone in the Dark (PC, 1992)
- Alone in the Dark 2 (PC, Sep 25, 1994)
- System Shock (PC, Dec 23, 1994)
- Alone in the Dark 3 (PC, Mar 16, 1995)
- Clock Tower: The First Fear (SNES, Sep 14, 1995)
- D (PSX, 1996)
- Resident Evil (PSX, Mar 30, 1996)
- OverBlood PSX (May 22, 1997)
- Clock Tower (PSX, Oct 1, 1997)
- Resident Evil 2 (PSX, Jan 21, 1998)
- Sanitarium (PC, Apr 30, 1998)
- Parasite Eve (PSX, Sep 9, 1998)
- Silent Hill (PSX, Jan 31, 1999)
- Echo Night (PSX, Jul 31, 1999)
- System Shock 2 (PC, Aug 11, 1999)
- Dino Crisis (PSX, Aug 31, 1999)
- Blue Stinger (Dreamcast, Sep 9, 1999)
- Clock Tower 2: The Struggle Within (PSX, Oct 31, 1999)
- Nocturne (PC Oct 31, 1999)
- Resident Evil 3 Nemesis (PSX, Nov 11, 1999)
- Parasite Eve 2 (PSX, Jan 12, 2000)
- Fear Effect (PSX, Jan 31, 2000)
- Resident Evil Code Veronica (PS2, Feb 29, 2000)
- Galerians (PSX, Mar 29, 2000)
- D2 (Dreamcast, Aug 22, 2000)
- Resident Evil Gun Survivor (PSX, Aug 30, 2000)
- Dino Crisis 2 (PSX, Sep 29, 2000)
- Fear Effect 2 (PSX, Feb 21, 2001)
- Illbleed (Dreamcast Apr 25, 2001)
- Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (PC, Jun 26, 2001)
- Extermination (PS2, Jul 23, 2001)
- Silent Hill 2 (PS2, Sep 24, 2001)
- Fatal Frame (PS2, Mar 4, 2002)
- REmake (GC, Apr 30, 2002)
- Eternal Darkness (GC, Jun 23, 2002)
- The Thing (PS2, Aug 21, 2002)
- Resident Evil Zero (GC Nov 12, 2002)
- Galerians: Ash (PS2, Feb 3, 2003)
- Clock Tower 3 (PS2, Mar 18, 2003)
- Silent Hill 3 (PS2, Aug 6, 2003)
- Chzo Mythos: 5 Days a Stranger (PC, Sep 29, 2003)
- Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (PS2, Dec 10, 2003)
- Chzo Mythos: 7 Days a Skeptic (PC, Jul 27, 2004)
- Echo Night: Beyond (PS2, Jul 27, 2004)
- Ghost Hunter (PS2, Aug 17, 2004)
- Siren (PS2, Apr 20, 2004)
- Silent Hill 4 (PS2, Sep 7, 2004)
- Kuon (PS2 Dec 7, 2004)
- Resident Evil 4 (Wii, Jan 11, 2005)
- Cold Fear (PS2, Mar 15, 2005)
- ObsCure (PS2, Apr 6, 2005)
- Haunting Ground (PS2, May 10, 2005)
- Killer7 (GC, Jul 7, 2005)
- Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (XBOX, Oct 24, 2005)
- Trapt (PS2, Nov 1, 2005)
- Fatal Frame III: The Tormented (PS2, Nov 8, 2005)
- Condemned: Criminal Origins (XB360, Nov 16, 2005)
- Scratches (PC, Mar 8, 2006)
- Chzo Mythos: Trilby’s Notes (PC, Jun 26, 2006)
- Rule of Rose (PS2, Sep 12, 2006)
- Chzo Mythos: 6 Days a Sacrifice (PC, Jan 25, 2007)
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl (PC, Mar 20, 2007)
- Penumbra: Overture (MAC, Mar 30, 2007)
- Dementium: The Ward (DS, Oct 31, 2007)
- Silent Hill Origins (PS2, Nov 6, 2007)
- Resident Evil The Umbrella Chronicles (Wii, Nov 13, 2007)
- Penumbra: Black Plague (MAC, Feb 12, 2008)
- Condemned 2: Bloodshot (XB360, Mar 11, 2008)
- ObsCure II (PS2, Mar 25, 2008)
- Alone in the Dark (2008) (PS3, Jun 23, 2008)
- Siren: Blood Curse (PS3, Jul 24, 2008)
- Penumbra: Requiem (MAC, Aug 27, 2008)
- Silent Hill Homecoming (XB360, Sep 30, 2008)
- Dead Space (XB360, Oct 14, 2008)
- Theresia Dear Emile (DS, Oct 30, 2008)
- One Night (PC, Jan 2, 2009)
- Resident Evil 5 (XB360, Mar 5, 2009)
- Cryostasis (PC, Apr 24, 2009)
- One Night: The Beyond (PC, Jul 10, 2009)
- Cursed Mountain (Wii, Aug 25, 2009)
- Resident Evil The Darkside Chronicles (Wii, Nov 17, 2009)
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat (PC, Feb 2, 2010)
- Deadly Premonition (XB360, Feb 17, 2010)
- Calling (Wii, Mar 9, 2010)
- Fragile Dreams (Wii, Mar 16, 2010)
- Metro 2033 (XB360, Mar 16, 2010)
- Hysteria Project (iOS, Apr 16, 2010)
- Dementium 2 (DS, May 5, 2010)
- Alan Wake + DLC (XB360, May 18, 2010)
- Amnesia: The Dark Descent (MAC, Sep 8, 2010)
- AMY (XB360, Jan 11, 2012)
- One Night: Full Circle (PC, Apr 10, 2011)
- Dead Space 2 (XB360, Jan 25, 2011)
- Hysteria Project 2 (iOS, Jan 27, 2011)
- The 3rd Birthday (PSP, Mar 29, 2011)
- One Night: Full Circle (PC, Apr 10, 2011)
- The Dark Meadow (iOS, Oct 6, 2011)
- Corpse Party (PSP, Nov 22, 2011)
- Afterfall Insanity: Extended (XBLA, Nov 25, 2011)
- Resident Evil Revelations (3DS, Feb 7, 2012)
- Silent Hill Downpour (XB360, Mar 13, 2012)
- I Am Alive (XBLA, Apr 3, 2012)
- Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir (3DS, Apr 13, 2012)
- Lone Survivor (MAC, Apr 23, 2012)
- Resident Evil 6 (XB360, Oct 2, 2012)
- ZombiU (WiiU, Nov 18, 2012)
- Miasmata (PC, Nov 28, 2012)
What’s it gonna be then, eh?
I want to take a minute to get your responses on this, to hone the list, and then get cracking, with the first installment happening sometime around Halloween 2013. I’d like to update at the pace of about once per week. I’d also like to get contributors to throw in their 2c where applicable.
This is a departure for the network. It’s not as specific as Bonfireside Chat, but it’s certainly more niche. I really want to involve you in the process, so let me know what you think of the list. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and who knows how long it will go… but here’s hoping it’s a weird and memorable journey.