Survival horror thrived on the PlayStation 2, thanks to a library of games bursting at the seems with creativity and originality. Picking just seven is going to be tricky, but after seeing 16 Bit Dad’s personal list, it's only fair that I give it a go.
Go read his blog - chock full of great selections. And while I did enjoy all of these picks back in the day, every gamer is different. So, I’m taking the chance to highlight games that both entertained and terrified me in my earlier teenage gaming years.
What is a #Blogvengers rebuttal?
Recently, I had the absolute pleasure of joining a group of geek-centric bloggers known as the Blogvengers! Our strength is clearly the diverse sets of opinions we all have about, and I want to celebrate that (while spotlighting my favourite bloggers) by posting a rebuttal every week.
Some of these choices may seem bizarre. But think of it like picking your favourite food. Chances are your choice isn’t 100% logical and based upon the specific elements making a tasty whole. Ultimately, your life story at the time will impact that decision, and I will do my best to give you that context in each.
Now that I’m thinking about my favourite food (pizza in Rome - eating it straight from the birthplace kind of exemplifies just how underwhelming that Dominos down the road really is (also got to test the DJI Osmo out there)), let’s move swiftly on before I get too hungry!
Wait - isn’t this more action adventure than survival horror? Well, if Resident Evil got away with calling the action-centric sixth instalment a “survival horror” title, I can get away with this too!
Ghosthunter is a pretty rudimentary, bland action game on the surface - with a far too easy difficulty level that means you only really need 8-9 hours to complete it. However, upon second glance, you really start to see it’s charm and the main reason I fell in love with this way back when I was 14.
A tightly knit blend of fantastic visual detail, brilliantly delivered voice acting and stunning sound design delivers that perfect balance between creepy and campy horror - probably better than any game that attempts it. The ride may be as easy as it is short, but its a thrilling one while it lasts.
And given the year it was released and the thriving video game rental industry, Ghosthunter had it’s place as one of the best weeklong rentals on PS2.
6. Clock Tower 3
Now, for some classic horror traits - a school girl locked in a giant mansion hiding from monsters.
Story originality was not the strong point of Clock Tower 3, separate of the brilliantly directed cutscenes by Kinji Fukasaku of Battle Royale fame.
But through cleverly constructed gameplay mechanics involving an in-game representation of fear, stellar voiceover work and the classic musical tropes of deafeningly tense silences paid off by explosively dissonant chords, this one is sure to scare you with absolute precision.
5. Resident Evil 4
What could I possible say about this game that hasn’t already been uttered by many bloggers other than myself?
Totally agree with 16 Bit Dad’s addition of this to his list, but would put it lower down (which I have), only because the escort mission element of the game grew to become more of an annoyance than a scary plot device that immersed you.
Beyond this blunder, everything else was a slam dunk. From the farewell to fixed camera angles for a dynamic over the shoulder system, to Capcom’s wild departure from the usual city-based/laboratory scenarios into a rural setting.
I will never forget a favourite moment of mine, which also shows off the best and most unspoken element of this game - the unpredictability. Trapped in a small shack as a growing crowd of hostile cult villagers started trying to crawl through the windows and break down the doors. The sense of helpless anxiety in this confined space grew over me as I continued to fight the waves off.
Once silence was restored, I head for the shack’s door, only for it to be broken down by a chainsaw-wielding, potato sack-masked madman and for “head” to be the ironic word in this sentence as I lost mine.
A true return to form at the time, much like the series’ more recent reinvention with seven.
4. The Thing
The Thing is an incredible horror film - but upon seeing a video game adaptation, alarm bells started ringing. It’s incredibly rare to get a truly memorable movie-game crossover (the only ones I remember being good on PS2 are Spider-Man 2, King Kong and The Warriors).
But luckily, I was certainly wrong about The Thing, which turned out to be one of the most iconic survival horror titles of this console generation.
And the reason it worked so well? A thoroughly unique blend of action, puzzle-solving and (most interestingly) psychological team management, all in the well-envisioned and crafted backdrop of John Carpenter’s masterpiece.
Not only did you have to ensure every member of your team was well stocked and healthy, you have to earn their trust and save them from paralysing fear (a fantastic call back to the movie’s signature element).
An all-encompassing experience that continues to be one of a kind to this very day.
3. The Suffering
An underrated gem in my opinion.
The Suffering is an incredibly bloody tale of one man sentenced to death. Without going into too much detail, as he’s led to his cell on death row, monsters attack and it is your job to escape.
So far, so generic, right? But much like Clock Tower 3, the forte doesn’t lie in the story’s originality. Rather, you can find it in the surprising levels of creativity shown throughout.
For an action-centric game like this, you’d expect a paint-by-numbers approach to the design. But with enemies intricately designed to reflect the way in which their death sentences were fulfilled, a unique insanity meter-based gameplay element and a soundscape that works well to crawl uncomfortably under your skin, this is another “game unlike any other” example of survival horror greatness.
2. Project Zero (Fatal Frame)
Yes, I know that technically speaking, the sequels were better constructed. But my heart was taken by the groundbreaking first entry to the series.
Not much was known beyond the odd small preview in PSM2 magazine, until I got my hands on a demo. At that point, I was sold.
The incredibly inventive camera-based gameplay immediately captivated my younger self, along with oh-so classily delivered suspense and horror without relying on the standard “a bloody death could be around every corner” trope of many titles at the time.
A Japanese setting and use of the nation’s folklore gives it a rich flavour that many western gamers had not necessarily sampled before, but led to an all-the-more delectable dish with a pinch of ominous presence for a good dose of tension.
Simply put, if you are any kind of survival horror fan (of course you are, you’ve made it this far in my blog), you owe it to yourself to find a copy of this game.
1. Silent Hill 3
So, I see many of you slowly reaching to flip over that table after seeing Silent Hill 2 is not on this list, but let me explain. While the second game was a true trailblazer in unusually dark & psychological survival horror gaming (a further realisation of what the team wanted to achieve), the third iteration perfected the formula in my mind.
First experiencing this game on a PlayStation 2 Magazine demo disc, that opening scene of exploration across the incredibly creepy theme park attractions sticks with me to this very day as one of the best moments in gaming.
From the staggering visuals and almost psychotropic imagery, to the audio tour de force, Silent Hill 3 does more than immerse you - it grabs you by the scruff of your neck and refuses to relent until you hit the end credits.
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.