It saddens me that it will be some time before I can truly enjoy survival horror in a portable fashion.
Think about it. Just how many bits of handheld horror can you think of? Maybe you remember Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, which came out in February of this year, and ... that's it. And while games like Deadly Silence may be considered part of the genre, they just don't sit right. They mimic the components necessary to create a survival/horror title, but their digital make-up is completely different. Unlike the copious amounts action-adventure or puzzle games on offer, survival/horror games on handheld devices just aren't present.
Deadly Silence suffers because its very existence is mired in the normal console-to-handheld porting ideology. You scale down what can be transferred over, and then work on what needs to be fixed to make it playable. This usually leaves you with watered-down gameplay and a husk of the game's original atmosphere. And without the setting and mood to set the player off balance, survival/horror suffers. It's like comparing a monkey's DNA to a human's: It's that one percent difference that, indeed, makes all the difference.
What makes survival/horror games different and harder to translate is that unlike most genres, horror isn't defined by the gameplay. Instead, it's the thematic elements present in a game that account for its inclusion in the genre.
For example, here's a garden-variety survival/horror game: Put one person up against an army of hellish beasts; toss in plenty of conventional weaponry to tip the scale a tad, but limit the amount of ammunition available (You know, so the player must ration their supply and find baseball bats to kill the undead laying siege to wherever he is currently trapped); oh, and make each location a claustrophobic nightmare.
So, why is this experience so hard to replicate on a portable device? Graphics, for one, haven't reached a point where what's going to be on a portable screen is spooky. Additionally, the size of the viewing area makes a difference. While zombies might get someone to jump when they're on 19- to 62-inch screens, two-inch displays don't make for a particularly yelp-evoking experience. It's like going to see a $50 million horror flick and then checking out the haunted house at a local carnival. Is the latter really going to linger in your mind and haunt your dreams for weeks to come?
A player's physical situation also becomes a variable when making the jump from console to handheld. When designing a game for a console, there's no real thought that needs to go into where the player will be. He will be plopped on the couch, on his bed or sitting directly in front of the TV - inside, in a comfortable place. Once things go pocket-sized, though, developers can't count on a player's attention to be focused entirely on the game.
So much goes into making an atmosphere present and noticeable in a game. If you're out in the park in the middle of the afternoon, playing the game while you're on the phone with dogs barking and kids loudly tossing around the pigskin, you're not going to be able to appreciate the full experience.>