Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space prove that single-player horror is here to stay

Resident Evil 4 Remake

Remakes like Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space prove that triple-A, single-player horror games still have value in today’s climate…


Three months in, and 2023 is already proving to be a banner year for survival horror. Motive Studios recently revived the Dead Space brand with its jaw-droppingly beautiful rendition of Isaac Clarke’s original bad day at the office – exclusively for current-gen systems. And then, as of today, Leon S. Kennedy will once again descend into a Spanish village full of parasite-crazed locals in the remade Resident Evil 4. By remaking these classics – one admittedly deeply informed by the other – major publishers are seemingly starting to value single-player survival horror again.

It makes sense that in order to re-educate both players and developers in the mechanics of old-school survival horror game design, classics like Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, and Silent Hill 2 (due out later this year) are a good place to start. Prior to Capcom rebooting its zombie series with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard in 2017, a lot of major studios had left the genre behind, giving up on the idea that players “enjoyed” scary games because, hey, why would anyone want to pay for the privilege of scaring themselves, right?

While it’s true that survival horror games have historically sold fewer copies than other popular genres, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still an audience for them. A comparison could be drawn with horror movies, which are often successful to the extent that some pundits suggest they’ve played a part in keeping cinemas afloat in recent years. The difference between horror games and movies, however, is that it’s far easier to make a healthy return on your low-budget indie movie about a psychotic robot doll than your average triple-A horror game. That’s why, at least for now, titan publishers like Capcom and Konami have mostly banked on remakes so far.

Capcom, with its aforementioned reboot of Resident Evil through the likes of Biohazard and most recently Village, is obviously keener than most to invest in the genre again. Yet even then, both these new entries were informed by ideas and mechanics first established Resident Evil 4 in 2005. It’s a dragon Capcom has chased ever since, at first losing its way by choosing a route too action-centric with the likes of Resident Evil 5 and 6, before reigning itself back in. It’s the careful balance of both action and horror that helps offset the risk for major publishers; tension is kept high using an intimidating setting and enemies, but the action means players have a solid (and satisfying) way of fighting back.

And so the market is being tested in 2023 with a flurry of survival horror remakes. Whether or not the genre sticks around long enough will be dependent on how well they sell, of course, but the ones released so far have been well received enough by fans and critics alike that a momentum is now starting to build. On an artistic and creative level, the remakes for Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 have (at least based on what we’ve seen so far) been near faultless; both games perfectly recapture the style of scares that first traumatised us decades ago, while their visual upgrades welcome in new players left starved of this style of game on a triple-A level for a long time.

This isn’t to say that the indie horror game scene doesn’t have value too. Heck, games like Outlast, Layers of Fear, and Soma are likely a big reason why there’s still a hunger for these types of games today. Most do well to expertly ratchet up the tension using stripped-back mechanics and a restrained, often first-person view, providing enough of an obscure narrative to keep you pulled along until the credits roll. Problem is, either due to a lack of time or budget, most indie horror titles tend to excel in one area rather than achieving a satisfying balance across them all, be that combat, exploration, or the survival mechanics themselves. There’s only so long you can swap batteries in Outlast, for example, before it grows tiresome.

Dead Space

Do you dismember this? Motive Studio’s sparkly, scary Dead Space remake. Credit: EA.

Then you have asymmetrical horror titles like Dead by Daylight, in which teams of three or four players face a player-controlled monster or stalker, that have blown up in popularity during the age of Twitch. Even here, though, you’re seeing certain concepts rinsed and repeated, with only the slightest of twists added by new entries, be it the allure of a Hollywood IP or the ability to transform into inanimate objects, as seen in Propnight. Asymmetrical horror is fun to play or watch (via stream) in the moment, but the genre will always be confined within a self-imposed box.

Mainstream triple-A survival horror games, however, are crucial to keeping the genre healthy because they represent a well-rounded package, homing in on the mix of ideas found elsewhere and bringing them to a focused point. Remakes such as those for Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 exemplify this, reshaping their original ideas for a new age to hopefully inspire future games built from the same mould. In single-player games, you’re at the mercy of the developer’s set path, which when combined with high-budget visuals and satisfying gameplay help to create a truly horrific interactive experience capable of making your hands sweat.

Of course, there’s been a few brief instances where we’ve seen smaller teams try to experiment with new single-player horror experiences already. But whereas the likes of, say, The Evil Within and most recently The Callisto Protocol felt like dilutions of a dilution, changing up previously successful survival horror rules just to be different for the sake of it, this new wave of remakes are a reminder of how it’s properly done. By revisiting Dead Space and Resident Evil 4’s systems, mechanics, and approach to tension, they prove there’s still a place for well-crafted single-player survival horror games in the modern day.

Read more: Dead Space | The making of a classic, terrifying horror series

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