Horror games have gone through something of a renaissance recently, and its breathed fresh air into a genre that’s relied on the same scare tactics for too long. From 2014’s Outlast up to Capcom’s latest entry in the Resident Evil series, developers are redefining how to scare a player beyond what might make them jump. Resident evil is an excellent case study largely because of it’s incredible first half, and its calamitous lows that plaque its latter half. There’s a lot to learn here and as someone who just recently beat the game I wanted to talk about how much I loved and hated it, and why future horror developers should take note as well. Be aware of course that this does mean I’ll be delving into spoiler territory.
Let’s start off by talking about how smart it was to switch the camera to a first-person angle. Personally, I’ve never found third person games nearly as frightening because the player has too much of a handle on the situation around them. You can notice when something is coming up behind you and your immediate environment just isn’t as frightening because of that. It encourages players to be a little more brash because they’re too aware of what’s around them, and then the whole idea of “horror” feels a little lost. A first person view means, just like in real life, you’re only seeing what’s in front of you. That sounds obvious, but let me explain; every single horror novel, movie, or game has to successfully terrorize the reader by throwing him into the unknown. The less control you have and the less you can explain something, the more frightening the situations feels. The first third of REVII is spent hiding from Jack Baker. Neither of you are sprinters, but Jack can catch up to you in a couple seconds time. What makes this part of the game so heart-pounding is that if Jack spots you, there isn’t a detection meter that fills up after 20 seconds, When Jack spots you, he’s out for blood. What makes the first person view so frightening is knowing he’s chasing you and hearing his footprints grow louder, but not knowing the exact moment he’s going to turn you around and thrust his shovel towards your chest. It never got old trying to run from Jack simply because I’d never know when, or how he’d catch up. Take a look at some of the gameplay Capcom put out:
That’s another big thing I loved: the only rule is that anything is fair game. Jack Baker isn’t a typical antagonist, even by typical horror standards. He’s morbidly jovial, and he’s not above busting through walls or letting you shoot him in the head just so he can prove how powerful he really can be. Since shooting him does nothing and he can appear anywhere, he becomes that much more frightening; going back to that idea of the unknown, because none of the rules apply to Jack, his appearance adds a new weight of terror. How do you fight someone who can’t be killed? The last half of that video above shows off a boss fight with Jack in the garage, and I could make an argument its the game’s zenith. Here’s a video of the full boss fight courtesy of youtube channel The Legend:
Everything about this boss fight plays out like a good thriller. An enraged Jack chases you around the garage while you scramble to find some way to escape. Everything you’ve learned about him up to this point applies: he can’t be killed with a gun, and there’s no chance you’ll outrun him. The game has you learn to be observant about the environment around you but keep the distance between yourself and Jack. I also love how the boss fight above can actually play out differently if Jack reaches Ethan before he can start the car. Again, the only rule the game teaches you is that since there are none, stay on your toes. As soon as you let your guard down, that’s when Jack returns. All of this culminates in a badass final confrontation that tests every skill you’ve learned and how you’re going to kill the unkillable (video via Boss Fight Database):
I can’t stress enough how much fun this fight is. It’s not as unpredictable as the garage fight, but I can’t think of another game that could pull off a chainsaw fight so successfully. Jack’s no longer the wisecracking psychopath, he’s someone who’s grown impatient and pulls out all the stops to put you in your place once and for all. It’s a great final encounter because all the effort you’ve put into surviving finally pays off, and the game knows that it no longer has to terrify you, but rather give the player the tools to survive. It’s my personal opinion that after this fight, the game starts to go downhill ever so slowly, but what’s here at the beginning of the game is survival horror at its pinnacle. There’s no safe places, and no matter what kind of weapon you have, Jack’s got a thick skin to stop it. For these opening hours alone, it might be the best horror game I’ve ever played.
In part 2, I’ll analyze the survival mechanics and where the game fell apart.