Resident Evil was Never Scary for Its Scares

[Originally published June 28, 2016]

Hail, Caesar! He has returned! After fantastic 4th, a forgettable 5th, and a sickening 6th, our King hath returned!

Maybe.

Resident Evil 7 kept it wavy, baby, at the 2016 E3-stravaganza – a demo, meant to showcase the tone and style of the upcoming game. One Life. One Night. High lights… of gameplay that’s not part of the main game. Now, this is all well and good. Great, even – but it all depends on how you demo, and many came away disappointed with their experience. GI’s crew found the scares predictable – clichéd, even. They certainly weren’t the only ones. Horror is a strange, subjective genre – hard to nail down. I’m of the belief that it’s equal parts iconography and gameplay.

But what if I told you that Resident Evil’s scares never came from its iconography?

I don’t mean to say that Resident Evil doesn’t have a distinct visual style. First and foremost, these titles have always rooted themselves in Kronenberg-ian body-horror. This series has always been about icky-yucky wet-n’-nasty flesh mounds come to deliver you to your final reward. They’re a gaggle of sweaty dads telling you to rake the leaves, or else – terrifying, but goofy. It’s why the series was an unintentional tonal masterpiece until they went for the Clint Eastwood grit of later titles – complete with racial tone-deafness! Gore and violence is a wonderfully indulgent thing, but it clashes when your voice talent treats everything like their lover, and mother, and father, and brother, and sister, and butcher, and postman have been gangland-style executed before their very eyes. This was the ultimate failure of the Resident Evil franchise – it maintained all the cheese of its iconography, but changed the quality of its VO.

Now we still have the giant snakes, the bat-wing-torso-human-creatures, and the… the… I’m not even sure what you’d call some of these things, to be honest. It looks like, maybe… a million overfried eggs all smooshed together? Regardless, the series kept the silly creatures, but none of the fun that came with them. When Leon or Rebecca or Chris somberly sulks about how sad this is and how sad they are, they suck the mirth out of the series. Why not embrace the ridiculous nature that the series has always been known for? These nasty T-V-X-Y-Z-virus critters are goofy as hell! Always have been, always will be. Even in the days where the series tried to keep things grounded, they were still hilarious. The iconography of Resident Evil has never been the scary part. The realscares come from its gameplay.

Resident Evil’s two most series-wide frightening enemies, for my money, are the Crimsonhead and the Hunter. They were birthed by game designers who relished in the terror and misery of their players. They are cruel, unrelenting Gods of Play, whose existence, goal, and duty was to bring the player to their utmost ruin. They’re not scary because of the way they look, however. One is just a re-skinned zombie, and the other is some kind of frog-lizard man. Listen, I come from Washington D.C., and I can tell you this – I’ve seen far worse on the midnight Metro. What makes these enemies so frightening is that they will come and destroy you – no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Boy howdy, I hope you saved, cos these things will eat up entire hours of your life if you didn’t. That’s what was really terrifying about them though, wasn’t it? Their reach extended beyond the game. They couldn’t hop out and IRL kill you outright, but they could kill a part of you. Tim McGraw says to Live Like You Were Dyin’, but you’re always dying.

Every minute of every day you spend drawing breath, you come a little closer to your final moment. Maybe you’ll go in your sleep. Maybe you’ll go on accident. Maybe you’ll get sick. Scary thought, no? But that’s what so terrifying about Resident Evil’s most powerful monsters. Those sons of guns could practically come out of the TV and snatch some of your life right outta you, and you were practically giving it to them. At the end of the day, you wanted this. Maybe you didn’t want to lose an hour of your life, but you were willing to risk it.

Nothing’s scarier than when you were the one at fault.

I could go on about narrow corridors and inventory management and limited saves, but – ultimately – we don’t know if any of that’s going to be a part of Resident Evil 7. We don’t know anything about Resident Evil 7– other than the fact that the scares are quite corny. But that’s never what I’ve been looking for in a Resident Evil. Jump scares, giant sharks, and invisible snakes come and go.

But my life?

It’s a finite resource, and I hope Resident Evil 7 finds a way to take it from me

P.S. S/O to any of y’all that got the hip-hop references. A+ good job.

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