As usual, we need to start from a definition of survival horror. Seriously, at this point it won't be long before I've defined just about every genre ever, I'm moving at such an annoying rate. Horror is something in which video games can really excel beyond any other medium, because the player has a much more vested stake in the action. They can't look away from the screen, because the character in the horrifying situation is an extension of themselves. Yet that notion is not what makes the genre - that's why there's that whole other word in the title. Horror can show up in action games like RE4 or Devil May Cry, RPGs like Shin Megami Tensei, or shooters like DOOM. Survival is the real gameplay meat here. Survival. What the hell does that mean. Not dying?
|That creature you see before you is the antithesis of survival|
Whew. That felt good. These definitions aren't always easy, because it has to be simple. If it can't fit in one sentence, you've lost it. I'm happy with this one though. Survival horror means you put your life on the line with every step. I'm not really interested in conventions and all that baggage, that's what I mean when I say the definition has to be short and snappy. We want the heart that drives the classics, so we can look at it in a new light.
XCOM is a good way to do that. Taken through the lens of SRPG, it's still a smashing game, but a familiar one. Units are fragile and expendable, weapons are inaccurate, fog of war. That about covers it. But if we look at it as a survival horror, it's a unique and expansive experiment. Now I know the other Greg out there reading is all riled up right about now and gonna tell me this is completely a writing gimmick, but hear me out. I think the game very much invites this analysis and reflects some interesting ideas back at surv-hor.
You can plan and strategize and play it safe as much as you want, but in the end you just never know who might die. The situation can always escalate. This is worked into the turn-based gameplay with simple die-roll statistics. For everything that should happen, you never know that it will. This tension builds up with every move, as you ask yourself whether you want to take that step into the dark.
Yeah. I think the answer to the title is yes. XCOM is survival horror, in its own way. So the genre's not as dead as someone wants you to think you believe. There's Dark Souls too.