Halloween Horror Video Game Roundup Day 1: Resident Evil

So here we are, internet, getting close to Halloween, a time where we are supposed to indulge in creatures, ghosts, and all things horror. As such, until Halloween, I’m going to devote this blog to looking at horror video games and series. I figured since I just reviewed Resident Evil 6, it may be a good idea to look at the original Resident Evil, and maybe a couple of its sequels/remakes. Resident Evil 1 may not be the first survival horror game (Most people give that to Alone in the Dark), but it was the game that coined the term. The series is one of the most mainstream and respected horror series out there; however, the series has been garnering more and more criticism because of its abandonment of its horror roots. Today, we are going to look at what makes this game/series so scary, and where it lost its sense of fright.

This is the scariest part of the game.

First off lets get this out of the way, Resident Evil 1 isn’t scary in most senses of the word. The lighting is horrible and never really induces any real fear, the dialogue is so bad that you may as well be watching an awful B-movie creature feature, you have a wide variety of weapons, and play as soldiers, and the enemies are mostly slow and shambling to the point where many can be avoided altogether. True there are occasional jump scares such as the infamous “dog hallway”, but these are kept to a minimum. It is easy to see why so many young gamers who didn’t play this game in its prime dismiss it as completely not scary.

This is not how you do horror environments, Capcom!

However, the game is scary. It is scary purely because of its genre and the tropes that this game helped to defined. Survival horror, as a concept is terrifying, or maybe the better word is thrilling. You see, most of the enemies in the game aren’t incredibly threatening, but you aren’t either. The total lack of ammo and healing items is what makes this game so scary. For newcomers to the game/genre, it is easy to simply unload your powerful weapons on mindless zombies and then be forced to battle a hulking reptilian hunter with nothing but handgun ammo. It is the knowledge that around any corner could be something that doesn’t kill you, but forces you to waste your dwindling resources. Resident Evil 1 isn’t scary, but it is very very tense, which in many ways is analogous to horror.

When you are in the position of needing to use the knife, you’re in big trouble.

However, that was a game from 1996 on the Playstation 1. What could you really expect considering the technical limitations (Quite a bit, but bare with me here)? The Remake of Resident Evil 1 on the Gamecube (The “REmake”) brought the same survival horror tenseness, but gave the game a fresh coat of paint. Gone is the horrible lighting. Like many of the great horror games out there, the REmake was able to use the setting to instil fear in a way that the original never had a chance of doing. Adding in some truly horrific monstrosities such as Lisa and not going overboard so such a monstrosity seems common place, the REmake was and remains a very frightening game.

This is learning how to do horror environments, Capcom!

While the Resident Evil games were criticized for a lack of innovation around the release of Code Veronica, they were actually quite experimental with horror concepts early on. Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis is a great example of this. Nemesis is a nearly indestructible creature that could appear at any time and would race to kill you. This idea was first introduced in Resident Evil 2’s second story by a similar monster called Mr. X, but since Resident Evil 3 made the whole game around it, we’re going to look at it. Nemesis made Resident Evil 3 far tenser than either 1 or 2. The ideal that you could have your whole plan ruined by a sudden appearance of Nemesis, and there was no way to avoid these encounters led to a very stressful game.

Nemesis is so mainstream. Mr. X is more underground.

So what I have been trying to say is that early Resident Evil games were scary because they created such a tense experience. This is contrasted by series like Silent Hill, which create a sense of dread. This also explains why series criticisms of lack of horror started up mostly around Resident Evil 4. By shifting the focus of the game towards shooting, making it worthwhile to kill enemies because of item drops, and thus encouraging players to kill all enemies, Resident Evil 4 lost the tension. The setting is no more or less horrific and the creature design is still horrific, although a bit overdone, but by dropping survival horror, Resident Evil 4 dropped the most scare inducing aspect of the series.

Regenerators are still horrifying even if you don’t have to conserve ammo.

I want to take a minute to talk about enemy design, as I’ve been alluding to it throughout. Resident Evil 4 introduced increasingly mutated creatures as regular enemies. While there were certainly weird creatures before in the series, the main enemy was always regular looking zombies and the like. That is important because when you throw something like a licker at you, it has more impact if you hadn’t seen a whole host of crazy critters before that. This particularly came to a head in Resident Evil 5 and 6, which was flooded by really well designed, but overused mutants. By the time lickers showed up in Resident Evil 5, they were a rather banal enemy instead of the horror they were in older games. My point is that overexposing the player to horrifically designed monsters really sabotages your game, as the creatures you want to seem truly horrific simply don’t seem so bad anymore.

That’s a pretty keen mutation there Ted, but I’ve seen worse.

Unfortunately, it does not look like Resident Evil as a series will be returning to a horror focus any time soon. There is a strong contingent of gamers who mourn this, but the fact of the matter is that the newer games sell better. Let’s face it, when the mixed reception of Resident Evil 6 leads to 4.5 million units sold, it is hard to argue that they should go back to their old style. For horror fans, this is a shame as it was the survival horror aspects of the series that made it scary, and without that all we get is horrific creatures, an occasional forced jump scare and lots of bad dialogue.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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