Resident Evil holds a dear place in my heart. When I was 7 years old, I eagerly awaited the release of Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi…
So much so that I pestered my Dad to take me to the shops the day it was supposed to be released. He unenthusiastically obliged and we headed to the local video game retailer to make my dreams come true. After spending 5 minutes desperately searching high and low for the game, I sheepishly asked my Dad if he would speak to the owner in case the games inevitable popularity had led to an immediate sell out. However, word of the imminent release of the greatest game of all time seemed to have bypassed this particular corner of the world. Instead two grown men looked blankly at each other whilst a little boy tried his hardest not to look utterly devastated.
In an admirable attempt to remedy the situation, my father asked if there were any other games that may fill the void. What followed may be the most brazen flouting of the age-appropriate rating system that I have ever witnessed as the assistant handed me a copy of the recently released Resident Evil: Directors Cut. I was then, and remain to this day, an utter coward. I watch horror movies with my eyes shut, I don’t like to be alone on my own and I get jumpy when walking down the street late at night but I am positively fearless compared to my 7 year old self. So when I booted up Resident Evil for the first time it wasn’t long before I was near petrified. (I mean, once the weird sitcom style introduction video had ended, the one where all the characters names are read out as they each strike a pose). No, it was the now infamous scene where you happen upon a zombie mid elevenses, and it slowly twists its head round to face you. I watched it again recently, still shits me up.
I think I lasted 15 minutes into my first play through before turning it off in terror. The twisting and turning mansion, the camera angles that hide every littered threat, and the possibility that at any moment some bastard dogs could come crashing through the windows. It was pure horror because the tension built over time, it was composed and crafted to allow long periods of nothing before snapping with some perfectly timed jump scare. The atmosphere made it unbearable, but somewhere deep down I was hooked. Perhaps my first experience of an adrenaline rush I hated but couldn’t get enough of. I would never complete the game, but it stayed with me much longer than many that I have.
I was far too young to realise how absolutely ridiculous certain aspects of the game were. Chiefly, the dialogue. I don’t need to rehash how bad it was, I’ll just leave this here:
No. But something’s wrong with this house!
By this point, Jill has mown down up to a dozen ravenous flesh eating zombies, had a roof nearly smush her into a ‘gibble sandwich’ (as Barry jovially exclaims, post rescue) and had two dogs banzai their way through plate glass just to have a go at chomping her. Yeah I’d say something was amiss.
Also, Jill happens upon a colleague in extremely bad shape and he actually says the word ‘ouch’. It’s glorious.
I would play the subsequent iterations of the series; Resident Evils 2 and 3 were both particularly good. I am willing to sacrifice any credibility and say I have never really played Resident Evil 4 but it is supposedly extremely well put together. So it appears it was around number 5 that things started to go a bit wrong. Resident Evil 5 abandoned any pretence to survival horror in favour of a third person shooter focus, with zombies. Except it retained the awkward controls, terrible inventory system and ridiculous setting/plot/dialogue that marred the series to this point. So it took all the worst features, sprinkled on a little latent racism (if you do insist on setting your game in Africa, be very careful with how you depict indigenous tribes), and hey presto, the franchise is in tatters. Capcom would double down on this formula by releasing Resident Evil 6, which was utter wank. I mean look at this goofy shit:
The scene is set for number 7. As a little experiment, I asked a friend of mine who had little experience with Resident Evil to play the demo that was released. The intention being to see how a relative newcomer would react to the games new direction, in order to mitigate any expectations or bias that a series fan might hold.
In short, he was terrified. And so was I, just watching him. And this stands for the game proper. Its core, is raison d’etre is terror. A pure experience, crafted with real purpose to deliver a truly horrifying experience.
To provide a bit of context; the lead character answers a message, supposedly from his missing wife, that leads him to Swamptown, Louisiana* (*this may not be its actual name). He finds a house, breaks in through the back and that’s when things go from bad to fucked. This feels like the sort of game that rests on each section being a surprise so I’ll say no more about the events of the game here.
All you need to know is the game is tremendously paced. The tension builds wonderfully as lighting and sound cues coalesce magnificently. The jump scares are short, sweet and powerful, made all the more effective by their relative scarcity. The urgency to continue stems from fear, rather than confusion and frustration. You will frantically search high and low for the next clue, constantly looking over your shoulder precisely because the threat is omnipresent and unpredictable. The game settles into a pattern eventually though, once the player becomes more familiar with their surroundings and the terrors within. Yet this matches the player characters increasing determination to survive. (How many times are you watching a horror movie and the main characters spend the entire time being completely dumbstruck by what’s happening. Eventually you would just sort of ‘get it’ and stop being so annoyingly surprised by everything).
Fans of the original Resident Evil games may rue the series new direction but it is a much needed shot in the arm for a franchise that had gone completely off the rails. Not only is this a bold step toward reinvention, but its also an absolute cracker of a game, in of itself.
7/10 particularly recommend to people looking to play something a bit different.