The original Resident Evil 2, along with Resident Evil: Outbreak are some of my favorite games of all time. Both titles captured the tension of survival horror, keeping novice players on the very edge of their seat. My review today has clearly taken inspiration from such titles in order to create, as the front cover states, “a quick and dirty game of survival horror.”
Survival Panic (SP) is an independently published, nine (9) page game by Delilah Worthy. Unlike many TTRPGs this game is intended for only a max of two players and one GM (nicknamed the Horror Host, or simply “Host”). The intent of the game is to recreate the tension and atmosphere as presented in the original Resident Evil (RE) games.
For those unfamiliar with the lore of RE, that just means you are going to have plenty of zombies, mutant abominations, puzzles, deadly traps, and other related horrors to overcome. The core of any game will rely on a specific goal (like to get out of the bioweapons lab/complex), and should encompass a combination of the abovementioned hurdles/horrors having the players steer towards the next encounter.
Characters are made up of four stats that will govern all rolls made for the player, and contribute to some secondary statistics (like Health or Damage). Additionally, there has been some inspiration taken from RE4 concerning inventory. Players only have a limited amount of “stuff” they can take at one time which is represented by a grid on the character sheet. Some items take up specific amounts of space, like 2×2 or 1×3, and so on. This means the players will have to budget what they can afford to carry. Examples are given regarding certain items, including weapons.
SP has made some of the simplest mechanics I have ever seen for a game. Roll a D10 and add the appropriate stat… that’s it! Weapons have fixed damage, with some melee weapons relying on a specific stat for an additional boost. Regarding action, there are only four choices that can be made: Move, Attack, Escape or Defend. Much like the inventory mechanic, players will have to pick and choose what they value most… It’s fight or flight.
Outside of combat there are puzzles, traps, searching rooms, and “soft moments:”
Puzzles – In classic RE style the Host is encouraged to take liberal inspiration from the videogame in order to create puzzles that will move the game forward. Perhaps they need to move statues in a gallery to find a key, or figure out a password on a computer by examining the evidence around the area. Overall, these should be simplistic enough to figure out quickly, and to not stall the game. When in doubt there is a mechanic for giving hints.
Traps – Also, like RE there are a myriad of deadly traps. Some could be puzzles, but others could be set off by taking an item. Perhaps there is a crushing trap set off by taking a shotgun off of a mantel? Jill sandwiches, anyone? Said traps should be sprinkled throughout in order to add tension.
Searching Rooms – This is survival horror, and the players need stuff. When the PCs search a room they roll and see if they hit a target number to find it. The Host will set the difficulty value based on where they are searching and for what item. For instance, it would be much easier to find a rocket launcher inside of an Armory as opposed to a bathroom. Players may need to search quickly (roll for it) or take their time (limited automatic success) in order to find things. However, after a few searches it is assumed that there are no items of value left, thus the game moves on.
Soft Moments – This is the only part of the rules that seem jarringly out of place. Soft moments represent a moment of rest, and “intimacy” among the PCs. Having played quite a few RE games, and horror TTRPGs in general, this doesn’t really mesh with the tone. Honestly, I don’t see when two players, who are constantly under threat of immediate annihilation, would have time to play out any UST. Soft Moments could have just been renamed “Respite,” and would make more sense. To paraphrase the great philosopher, Shortround… “no time for love, Dr. Jones!”
For what it’s worth, Survival Panic does indeed capture the essence of the RE series. Also, the PDF for this game is very budget friendly.
I could see a time where the core stats don’t provide enough substance to resolve something that a creative player may think of. Also, the ability to only take one action at a time may prove to be a hindrance for some players, especially if they are overwhelmed.
If you love the Resident Evil, zombies, or survival horror, Survival Panic will make a nice one shot game.