Adopinions – Can Battle Royale Games be Classed as Survival Horror?

I have always been a fan of survival horror games. I grew up with games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Project Zero, Dino Crisis, the list goes on and on. Many of these games and their sequels I now count amongst my favourites.

There is a trend I’ve noticed over the years though. The first few games in the genre I tried in the early days did manage to scare me a bit but either through desensitisation or experience these games quickly stopped scaring me for the most part. A feeling of tension usually remained on my first playthrough of games, but by nature of the games usually being the same on repeat runs that never lasted.

Resident Evil 7 is the most recent example. The game was one of the more tense survival horror games I’ve played on my first go and a couple of the scares really got me, but on a second playthrough (and beyond, I love that game!) that wasn’t the case. Knowing when scares would trigger, when certain enemies would appear and how far they would follow me before giving up, made the game fun in different ways. This also meant though that any tension the game was going for was gone.

For years I’ve always just taken it as part of the genre. Ultimately no matter how tense, creepy and scary these games can be, that lightning can’t be put back into the bottle after the first strike, right?

It’ll never cease to be interesting when something comes along and throws a curve ball to my expectations.

Throughout most of 2017 there was one game I’d heard about over and over again – PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). Hard not to really, it was all over places like YouTube and Twitch. Whilst a lot of it seemed interesting – up to 100 players going up against each other, limited resources, chicken dinners and so on, I never really understood the appeal and skipped over many times.

Months later on a quiet August evening last year, I was watching a streamer and they decided to play it after another game they had just finished and so I made the fateful decision to give it a chance and continued watching. I liked what I saw and then on a whim I decided to pick it up and try it for myself. I had no PC-playing friends and I didn’t want to be holding back random people so I loaded it up and went solo.

Oh boy.

Everything seemed alright at first. I landed in and quickly managed to find a house. Eager to get geared up I ran inside without noticing that the door was open and immediately ran into someone else who wasted no time in opening fire. Thankfully he missed, but he caught the attention of someone else that took care of him quite quick. Not really thinking I dived into a bathroom, shut the door and jumped into the bath behind it.

Then silence. I gave it a couple of minutes and heard more fighting in the distance and decided to open the door. Nothing happened. Thinking it was safe I went to leave and BLAM!

Game over.

I was conflicted. I’d played many first and third-person shooters over the years and whilst I’d always had fun playing them, none of them ever had me as tense and on the edge of my seat as those few minutes had been. It got me thinking and I stopped the session there. Life got in the way a bit and I never got back to playing it outside of a couple of matches in the following weeks but the memory stays with me to this day.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and me and and some of my friends decided to try out the Battle Royale mode for Fortnite on our trusty consoles. We had a blast and seeing how very similar it was to PUBG stirred those memories of hiding like a coward in that bathroom. Good times.

Not long after that I decided to boot the game up one day on my own to see if it produced a similar reaction to that match and sure enough, it did. Time and time again I experienced tension, uncertainty, dread, excitement and no matter how positive or negative it was, a payoff worthy of those emotions. It reminded me of similarly strong reactions I had running around the mansion in Resident Evil for the first time all those years ago.

This was different though. Resident Evil may have had that effect on me as have many other games, but this was somehow keeping me in suspense every single match without fail. It had me thinking – how could this be? This was an action game with survival elements yet it was in many ways had me on edge in a way actual survival horror games never could. But why?

Let me ask a question – what makes a game be a survival horror to you?

Many things define the genre but to me, things like resource management, atmosphere and tension, threats both seen and unseen, facing great odds alone, a simultaneous sense of both unease and hope are what I feel are important.

The more I think about it though, games like PUBG and Fortnite do all of this. Finding supplies is crucial, running out of weapons, ammo, healing items or potentially having none of these can make or break your chances when you run into someone else. The available play area gets smaller and smaller, leaving fewer supplies and more chances to run into people that are driven by a need to survive and succeed just as much as you do.

That final point, the other players? That’s the difference.

Going back to Resident Evil, I’ve completed that game so many times I have every room, item pickup, enemy location and all the other little details ingrained into my memory. Every time I play that game I know exactly what to do, where to go, what I’ll need.

That goes completely out of the window with battle royale games. Whenever a match starts, you spend a short period of time in a lobby area whilst the game loads everyone in and prepares for the match proper. No harm can be done to anyone, messing around is common. This peaceful calm before the storm can’t hide what is coming though – odds are good, very good, that one of these other players will be the one to bring an end to the match.

Then the match begins and all bets are off. A huge island. Anyone can go anywhere, gear isn’t guaranteed and even if the player does quickly find something, who can get to it first could change how that match plays out.

In the matches where you do survive that initial landing, the real test begins as the survivors slowly get closed in. The tension ramps up quickly as the realisation sets in that whether it be someone in a nearby building with a pistol or someone way off in the hills with a sniper rifle, the end could come from anywhere. The sense of unease grows with every glance at the distance whilst dread and a fight-or-flight response kicks in whenever the sound of nearby movement or combat rings out. The player has very good reason to fear every other player at any place, at any time. The same is true for all the other players as they too want nothing more than to avoid you at all costs unless they think the odds favours them.

When it comes to traditional survival horror, enemies are just AI. Predictable and usually easy to read once you know what to look for. Actual human beings on the other hand? In a game where they are the only opposition you face in an environment forcing survival as the only goal, that unpredictability drives everything battle royale games are about.

And do I believe that pushes it into survival horror territory?

You bet I do.

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