Since the start of video gaming, companies have always competed to prove themselves as masters of certain genres – Tekken versus Street fighter, Fifa versus Pro Evolution soccer. When two similar games challenge for the top spot people have to take sides. What is truly special, however, is when they work together to better each other and take a genre to the next level. This all stems from the invention of the survival horror genre, and the birth of Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
Arguably, Capcoms Resident Evil created the genre back in 1996; it most definitely created a more solid vision of what the genre should be like. Using stunning graphics, in depth character development and some scenes that mean even today playing in the dark is not advisable. The use of rich characters, albeit heavily stereotyped, make the game even more enjoyable, and even being able to select who to play as at the start, meaning that the only way to find out the true events is by playing both stories as they weave together to create the final picture.
Resident Evil follows some burly and sinister characters, more fighters than thinkers, which is where the survival element comes in. When you send weapons-trained police operatives into a mansion infested with undead nightmares, but only give them a few bullets to deal with them, that’s where the tension begins to mount. The stories are always the result of ‘dark science’ and then the black-market distribution of viruses, which always ends badly for humanity, leaving a few unsung heroes to save the world from a man made apocalypse. One main theme running through the game is the main result of the viruses, the ‘Umbrella Corporation.’ This is a fictional pharmaceutical company with a dark past and evil intentions, and the majority of titles sees our heroes battling against this corporate giant in order to stop everything at its source, but with numerous cover-ups, Umbrella is finally taken down, only to be replaced by an even more sinister company, and so it continues.
This was the main idea all the way through the series up until the newest addition, Resident Evil 5, in which our protagonists work for and anti-bio terrorism strain of the government.
Many will argue, and with good reason, that this has now broken away from the survival horror genre, but I believe that like most things in the Resident Evil world, this is just an evolution.
In 1999 (Capcom had already released Resident Evil 2 and 3 following a cast of new and already established characters) Silent Hill tries to make a name for itself in the survival horror genre.
What Silent Hill brings is a massive psychological twist to the survival horror genre, playing with the mind rather than with physical fear.
The opening scene of the original game sees the main character, a loving father, waking up in an abandoned restaurant with nothing but a pot of mustard for defence against the supernatural as he hunts for his daughter lost in the ghost town of Silent Hill.
Unlike the man-made horrors of Resident Evil, Silent Hill deals in the supernatural and religion. The enemies that you face are twisted creatures that posses some form of humanoid resemblance, however they are all grotesque monsters and are all equally as frightening, whether they are waiting for you in the shadows or just below the surface of the water.
The main themes in the game revolve around the feelings of being watched and the loss of control that you face, with the fighting elements literally there to prove how vulnerable humans can be. At points you will come face to face with a demon and the adrenaline starts pumping, the game very much promotes flight over fight, and that is always a reliable route and you often see yourself sprinting through the abandoned streets looking for shelter, if they manage to catch you then you really feel the fear, as with nothing but a lead pipe to defend yourself, be prepared for a gruesome fight against unimaginable odds.
The game continues this attitude throughout the series, with the introduction of richer graphics and a better shadow engine and more interactive game play. The last game shows the pinnacle of this, as choices that you make in the game lead to one of nine different endings.
The reason that I don’t call these games competitors is that they take something that is already well established and pull it in different directions. Resident Evil pulls at the thread of fear. What if this could happen? Surely science could take a dark turn? Where as Silent Hill really follows the path of psychological turmoil, to the point when you stop playing for a bit and wonder if its actually all in your head, and then are still left guessing.
Both series have put there own mark on the genre, whether it is fighting back against the fear that pursues you, or the introduction of interactivity and conquering the fear to help others. These are elements that can only be born from a stable base, which both of these titles have firmly under their belts.
Over the years, the series have run parallel to each other, each going into the new technological age with profound steps, with no intentions of stopping.
These titles have co-existed peacefully, and have pushed each other to create something new and more developed game play, not to stay with the old and ‘safe’ style that many games sit in.
Their popularity is highlighted by the fact that they both have feature films released with a cast of respected actors, with the newest Resident evil film just being released and was the flagship film for a new strain of 3D cinema worldwide. These aren’t feats of an average series of games; it is something that has constantly hit the right buttons all the way through their developments.
This is rivalry is something to be respected, as without this kind of battle pushing to develop more complex and visually stunning games, then the industry would never advance.
In conclusion, these titles have a lot to be thanked for. With so many games trying to follow in their footsteps, compared to the originals, they never really emerge from the shadows.