The clickety-clack of multiple nearby feet, the abrupt hum of a chainsaw cutting into the air, an empty hallway with no sound at all and only a series of large windows running down the left side . . . these are just three of the terrifying things that you come across in the Resident Evil game series. A world in which it’s not so much about whether you know where they are, but by god, you hope they don’t know where you are!
This gaming series from Capcom which began its takeover of the video game industry in 1996 was immediately terrifying to me. I had never played anything quite like it before. The dialogue had that B-movie cheese melting off of it, the controls were a little weird to tangle with at times which sometimes made encounters even scarier(!), and we always laughed as the game would load the next level (saying in a deep Resident Evil voice, “Must…load…next…level…”), but the wait was always worth it to find out what was in the next room. Hopefully, a green plant and not your demise!
The most terrifying thing was of course running out of bullets and hoping you’d find more before the next zombie shambled through, or dog burst through a window, or… *gulp* giant spider pounced from a corner. The survival element was crucial to the fear; giving you less than enough to survive on was different than any other game out there, which would normally feed you with endless amounts of ammunition, and healing was always right around the corner.
Then, there was the mystery. What started out as a lonely, empty mansion was suddenly a deep-seated conspiracy covered up by the Umbrella Corporation.
The sequel which would put you in the midst of Raccoon City as the virus spread was just as terrifying and expanded the world in some fun ways, as was part 3, but after two sequels, the unfettered dread lessened. It started to feel like a big-budget action movie during the climax, which wasn’t terribly scary. You started knowing what to expect; it started to feel familiar which only meant that nothing could have prepared me for … dons the deep voice … “Resident Evil Foooouuuuuur.” I mean, holy crap. Which sociopaths created this? Shinki Mikami (director) and Hiroyuki Kobayashi (producer), that’s who!
Gone were the somewhat janky one-room-at-a-time controls and less than detailed graphics. Say goodbye to one or two zombies in a room to worry about at a time. How about an open village swarmed by zombies that do more than shamble, some chainsaw-wielding mother f****ers that can take your head off in one fell swoop, and freaky cult zombies that - when you blow their heads off - grow blade-wielding tentacles. Cthulu who?
Blocking doors and windows, barely escaping to rooftops, up and down ladders which you’d then knock over, diving through windows, hoping you’d have just enough ammunition to survive even another thirty seconds. The game made you live in the moment, reflexively reacting to what was happening right in front of you. You couldn’t plan ahead; you hoped your instincts would pay off against a really smart A.I. Many times, it simply didn’t!
All the rules were changing. I no long moved my body along with whichever hero was maneuvering through the world. I was leaning forward, my sweaty hands gripping the controllers as I tried to survive each and every onslaught. My first reaction upon my first entrance to that first village was sheer panic. I was, once again, as genuinely terrified playing this game as I was the first.
The newest iteration, taking a first-person point of view to a cabin in the woods, has been wonderfully fun and uniquely traumatizing. (I’m mid-game right now.) Why does it still work so well on a psychological level after all these years? The characters never take over the story. It’s never about how Chris Redfield becomes a better human. Or Ada Wong having to defeat her personal demons. Yes, some episodes in the franchise are better written than others, but you’re never taken on a character’s journey. You are the character. You are the one stuck in this mess. You are the one low on ammo. You are the one that needs to escape. You are the one who gets their hand cut off by the Evil Dead II possessed wife. You are the one that realizes, “Well, that ain’t comin’ back!” The characters are simply avatars for your most likely demise. As that deep bass voice declares every time your avatar falls, “You are dead.”
Hopefully, the Resident Evil franchise will continue to come back in new and refreshing ways as the years continue. I will never not be excited to play, if only with the hope to be terrified all over again as I once was when I first entered the mansion on a dark and stormy night, chuckled at the dialogue, and then spent the next 30 hours running for my life!