Now, I don't intend to either diagnose or cure what I think the issue/trouble/problem with video games that fall into the survival horror genre, I just want to talk about them, partly because of two of the games that I'm playing right now are Cry of Fear and Dead Space.
The first game I played that fell within the survival horror genre, probably along with a lot of other gamers was Resident Evil on the PS1 when I lived with Dr. Potts, The Jestre and handful of others in a pseudo-stereotypical 1st College Apartment-type setting back in 1999. It was an amazing game and very different than most games I had played up to that point. (I was able to get the ending where you don't fight Tyrant and thought that was an absolutely brilliant ending to such a tension filled game; very anti-climactic but such a departure from stereotypical/Hollywood ending. This was before I found out there were multiple endings).
Now, rather than go through a history of all the survival-horror, fps-horror, adventure-horror, et cetera games that I've played, I want to get down to brass tacks. I have found, for myself at least, that horror games run a pretty high risk of becoming frustrating, annoying boxes of frustration. There have been games that I love that have dipped into the pool of frustration. Take Resident Evil 4 (A game I enjoyed but didn't love mind you) and the knife fight with Krauser. That battle was all about reaction time and not much else. There was some muscle memory involved, but which button to press changed between a couple options with each playthrough. One misstep and you had to start over. I appreciate boss fights, but this fight alone took me out of the horror atmosphere from everything that came before.
More recently in Amnesia: The Dark Descent, in the second area where you're wading through water and on boxes, attempting to avoid an invisible creature who's stalking you, I very quickly became frustrated. Most due to the fact that I had run out of oil for the lamp (which was it's own frustration throughout the game) and I couldn't tell if I was backtracking through the area or if I was heading in the correct direction.
I get it though. Video games are supposed to be challenging, that is why difficulty levels exist, but not in all games. Often times, harder difficulty levels means that you will find less ammunition and the enemies take more damage. In Resident Evil 2, if you play on Easy, you start off with a sub-machine gun with infinite ammunition. Infinite ammunition in any Resident Evil game immediately takes away any sense of fear that the creatures are trying to have the gamer experience. At the moment, in Dead Space, I am playing the game on Medium, which I feel is about the average person would play the game on. I could easily see how Hard difficulty would obviously make the game harder, but for myself, it would also mean having to restart frequently and conserving my ammunition to the point where I would reload if I miss-fire because I am wasting a much needed resource. I don't want to play that kind of game and have that mentality when playing. No, I do not want to be spoon fed bullets so that I don't fear like I'm constantly running out, but I also do not want to play a game where there is an allotment of bullets for specific enemies.
In Doom 3, I played through the game on Marine, which is one above Recruit and then below Veteran and Nightmare. I was able to play the game very successfully (without the flashlight attachment) on Marine with the exception of the fight between either between two Hell Knights or the Guadrian, I can't remember which. After many attempts, I handed the game over to Vorlynx, who has much more FPS experience than I. It was something that brought my enjoyment of the game to a standstill, but I thankfully had someone who knew their shit and could get me through to the other side. The rest of the game went well.
One game that I had to give up on due to missing an "optional" weapon that turns out is pretty damn important, was Dementium: The Ward for the DS. In Chapter 12: The Cleaver's Return, there's an area where it is beyond beneficial to have the buzz saw. There are multiple banshees flying at you and the buzz saw is necessary if you don't want to die, which I kind of don't. I had to give up on that game (at least for the time being) as backtracking is not an option.
The last game I want to bring up is Slender: The Eight Pages. It's a simple game that is pretty difficult to complete, but I can only play it two or three times before giving up. Not because I get so frustrated and only being able to find four or five pages, but because after a couple of plays, the fear of being spotted by the Slender Man wears off, and I don't want to play the game if I'm no longer afraid. The game loses what makes it fun to play.
In these games, there always feels like there is a point when the horror becomes routine and not scary anymore. For me, this happens when the game become so difficult that I'm not experiencing a scary and intense story, but playing a difficult video game. Playing a game on Hard/Insane/Nightmare/Jedi, as I can see it, doesn't make the game scarier, but only serves to give bragging rights, which I guess makes achievements and trophies so desirable.
So give me a horror game and I'll play it, partly because I enjoy being scared without the fear of actually having my body quartered and partly because I enjoy the "fear of the unknown."
The Filth of Mankind