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The Evil Within!

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The Evil Within did not make a good first impression on me.  I started the game on PS4 near the time of its release, played maybe three or four hours, decided I wasn’t having fun with the gruelling experience, and I sold it off.  Years later, The Evil Within II came out to generally favorable impressions, and I thought I might give the series another try. But, I often get OCD around playing a series in order, and the first game was really cheap on Steam.  What ultimately pushed me over into giving The Evil Within another shot was some encouraging words here on the WordPress community and elsewhere that gave favorable, if not reasonably measured, praise to the game. And I’m glad I gave the game another chance, as I found I enjoyed TEW after getting past the hump that I got stuck on earlier, and I feel good having seen it  to the end. The game is a giant mess, of course, but it’s a mess that leaves a strange and surprising impression.

The Evil Within begins with Krimson City detectives Sebastian Castellanos (the protagonist), Joseph Oda, and Juli Kidman responding to an emergency at Beacon Mental Hospital.  The lobby of the hospital has been the site of a massacre, and Sebastian is subdued by a strange assailant in a white robe. He wakes up chained deep in the bowels of the facility, the captive of a large blood-soaked man who has other corpses strung from the ceiling and looks to be cannibalizing his victims.  Defenseless, Sebastian manages to evade and escape from his captor, but not before the hospital reveals itself to be filled with gruesome mechanisms designed to slaughter those attempting to flee. In the courtyard, he meets up with Oda and Kidman, and the group finds an ambulance to make their exit. As they race through the city, an immense earthquake strikes.  Massive fissures open up in the ground, and buildings begin to tumble down. They narrowly avoid being consumed by the cataclysm that destroys the city, only to fly off the edge of a cliff when their driver loses control of the vehicle. After the crash, Sebastian wakes up alone in the dark countryside. With his colleagues having abandoned him and the overturned ambulance, he begins his long journey to survive the complete breakdown of reality itself.

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That long and ridiculous last paragraph perfectly encapsulates the experience of The Evil Within.  I feel exhausted just having written it. The game simply never settles down. I don’t think there is ever a moment when I thought to myself “I understand where this is going.”  Settings are constantly being shifted, enemies are constantly changing, the story picks up in one direction only to abruptly change course. There’s never any moment of comfort to be found.  There is never any expectation that will not be subverted.

There are many types of horror games that are distinguished both by theme and mechanics, and what makes The Evil Within incredible is that it basically tries to do everything a horror game can do.  It manages to find a way to merge psychological horror (e.g., Silent Hill), supernatural elements (e.g., Fatal Frame), and science fiction elements (e.g., Resident Evil). Superficially, it is a game that focuses on action and shooting (like Resident Evil 4 or Dead Space), but it also attempts to prominently include stealth (like The Last of Us), run-and-hide sequences (like Amnesia), and survival and resource management mechanics (like the original Resident Evil).  By trying to fuse together all of these different approaches to making a horror game, The Evil Within is at its best highly admirably for ambition, but also many times manages to go over the edge and collapse into a clumsy or confusing mess.

In his quest to figure out just what the hell is really going on, Sebastian Castellanos treks across a post-apocalyptic cityscape, an evil mansion, a depraved hospital, an infested sewer, dreamcapes carved out of nightmare, and essentially almost every other popular staple of the horror genre.  Each of the different environments absolutely nails the aesthetics of its chosen subject and feature expertly designed atmosphere, mood, tension, and foreboding. The Evil Within never lets the player forget they are in a horror story. And despite each setting being radically different, they all feel as if they are a part of the same gruesome world.  There is a distinctive aesthetic style to The Evil Within that it manages to maintain across the entirety of its expansive journey.

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Principally, The Evil Within is the successor to Resident Evil 4, the prime connection between the two being legendary director Shinji Mikami.  As such, the action focused parts of the game tend to dominate over everything else, which is to say that the player spends a lot of time shooting at pseudo-zombies and other warped creatures.  Another important feature of the game are the stealth kills, whereby the player can sneak up directly behind an enemy and execute a sneak attack that results in an instant kill. I found this to be a fairly important element of the game considering that ammo is relatively scarce, and I also just personally enjoy games that let me sneak up on enemies like this.

But aside from these key components, the game introduces a ton of other mechanics.  Some of them work really well. For instance, levels are wired with inconspicuous booby traps that can do a lot of damage to Sebastian if triggered.  However, if the player is cautious enough and manages to dismantle these traps, they turn into spare parts which can be used to craft bolts for Sebastian’s crossbow.  There are a handful of different types of bolts that deal different types of damage (for instance, proximity explosives, freeze bolts, etc.), so the player is offered the choice of determining the best way to spend the spare parts.  My favorite aspect of the game, which I’ve never seen any other horror game do, are the matchbooks that Sebastian uses to set enemies on the ground on fire. So, for instance, if Sebastian knocks an enemy to the ground, he can light them on fire with one of the matches for an instant kill.  If there are other enemies standing in close proximity to the burning hostile, they will also catch on fire and suffer the insta-kill. This also applies to corpses on the ground, which creates a fun strategy where Sebastian can lure enemies over to a defeated corpse which can then be set ablaze to chain together several standing enemies with the ensuing flames.

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However for every good idea The Evil Within puts together, there seems to be at least one bad one.  I thought one of the dumbest mechanics of the game were the hiding spots which presumably were meant to conceal Sebastian from enemies.  Sebastian can hide under beds, under cars, in closets, etc., but enemies always seem to be able to find him in these spots. There is this one unkillable enemy that chases Sebastian through a mansion, and when I encountered him, I put some distance between him and I, rounded a few corners, and then went into a room and hid in a closet.  About fifteen seconds later, the thing chasing me walked in, went directly to the closet, opened it, and insta-killed Sebastian. I looked up the best way to escape from this enemy, and most of the recommendations I saw told me to just circle strafe around him until he disappears. What even is the point of the hiding spots then? And this wasn’t an isolated incident.  Each time I tried to make use of the hiding spots, the results were more or less the same: they do nothing to keep Sebastian out of sight.

One of the real highlights of The Evil Within were the boss monsters that the game is really good at building up.  The bosses are all really well designed and creatively distinct from an aesthetic standpoint. The boss fights themselves tend to be more creative than simply requiring Sebastian to unload ammo into the creatures.  Usually, they require the player to make use of aspects of the environment, almost like a puzzle. This tends to lead to a trial-and-error cycle, which can be frustrating at first, but I also felt was very rewarding once I was finally able to nail it.  While there are a few boss encounters that just felt clumsy and confusing, on the whole, I thought these enemies were one of the high points of the game.

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Sebastian’s journey took me approximately 16 hours to complete which seems to be typical going by howlongtobeat.com.  That’s a huge amount of time for a linear action game like The Evil Within, and the entire quest definitely felt epic as a result.  This is in spite of the story being largely meandering and insubstantial for the first three quarters or so of the game. Sebastian’s warped reality is constantly shifting, and at any given moment he can be teleported to a completely different setting with seemingly no rhyme or reason behind it.  This results in plot threads being constantly interrupted with no resolution until the very end. In one moment, Sebastian will be trying to help a doctor and his patient survive a haunted village, and then abruptly the world will change around him, and he’ll be trying to survive an onslaught of monsters in the basement of a hospital, all with no thought given to the doctor and patient that were just left in danger in the countryside.

In this way, The Evil Within feels like a nightmare.  A real nightmare.  When I wake from dark dreams, for the fleeting moments I can remember them, I usually realize that they don’t have any form of sense.  Nightmares and dreams are largely illogical, unstable, internally inconsistent experiences. The only reason they can feel the way they do is because the mind exists within them in a semi-conscious, semi-functioning state.  When thought and reason are applied, they fall apart. Of course, I don’t necessarily think a desire to replicate the qualities of dreams was the intent behind the sloppy story of The Evil Within. I think they just had a lot of ideas they wanted to include in their game and gave no real thought toward creating more substantial connective tissue between them all.

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Nonetheless, The Evil Within is best appreciated when simply opening oneself up to raw, uncritical, moment-to-moment experience is prioritized over the need for overarching narrative to create a coherent world.  The Evil Within, as a story, is utterly unsatisfying otherwise. The last stretch of the game does begin to try to satiate the player’s need to understand the events of the game, and for the most part, I understood the broad strokes of the plot.  But there’s still so many things I don’t understand, and I don’t know if they’re just the result of plot holes, or if there are things that just went over my head. The game has three DLC chapters that perhaps shed more light (I have yet to play them), but I find it unfortunate that the main game really left me with more questions than answers.

I have basically done a complete turn around on The Evil Within, and I’m glad that I gave it a second chance.  It oozes style. It’s boss monsters are well designed terrors. It has a satisfying loop of stealth and action.  It’s almost an encyclopedia of horror. However, everyone I’ve known who likes this game will immediately admit that it has numerous flaws and sharp corners.  It’s incredibly ambitious, a creation that wasn’t designed to be restrained. This is precisely what makes the game special, as it wouldn’t have nearly the gravity if it wasn’t as expansive as it is.  But at the same time, the game struggles under the weight of it all. It has a ton of weaknesses, and patience and perseverance is required to enjoy the totality of the experience. I’m glad I was able to finally get past all of these faults, but I don’t necessarily begrudge anyone who can’t.

 

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White Day: A Labyrinth Named School!

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White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is a recently remastered horror game for Steam and PS4 that was originally released on PC in 2001 in Korea.  No official English version had existed until the remastered edition that was released this year, but there was an unofficial English fan translation that managed to garner a strong cult following.  This was my first time playing White Day, but for years now, I’ve heard tales of it being the scariest game ever made, so it’s been something I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while.  

Hee-Min Lee is the new kid at Yeondu High School (frequently referred to as Y High School).  One day during school, he finds the lost diary of So-Young Han, the girl all the boys crush on, and decides to sneak into school that night to return the diary to her desk along with a gift of candies.  Alone in the school, he suddenly finds himself locked in the building, and while creeping around looking for his way through, witnesses a student being captured and brutally beaten by the janitor.  Hee-Min soon realizes that the patrolling janitor is not the only danger lurking within the dark corridors of the school, rather the entire place is haunted by a menagerie of ghosts born from its shadowy and tragedy-stricken past.

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Like the previous two horror games I reviewed, White Day is another run-and-hide game.  The main threat of the game, the janitors which patrol each school building, spend their time searching for the player, while the player attempts to evade their detection.  When caught, there’s no other option than to simply try to outrun the adversary and find a hiding spot.  What makes White Day a little unique is its age.  These run-and-hide horror games have really only become popular since the release of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but the original version of White Day was released in 2001, meaning it significantly predates the current trend.  

Despite the fact that the place is haunted and guarded by a psychotic crew of custodial staff, the students of YHS seem to really like to sneak onto school property after hours.  Hee-Min frequently crosses paths with three other female students who are on their own missions in the school.  In addition to So-Young, there is the brash and suspicious Sung-A Kim and the timid and bookish Ji-Hyeon Seol.  Interactions with these girls are a big part of the game, because the dialogue choices the player makes will have an impact on the ending (as I found out maybe a bit too late).  

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The ghost encounters at Y High School often play out like a puzzle, and usually require the player to already be in possession of certain items or documents to survive.  Thoroughly exploring the school is critically important in White Day, as scattered about are tons of documents, from faculty and staff notes to rumors to ghost stories, most of which contain snippets of information that are needed to solve these puzzles.  In addition, many ghost encounters require the player to be in possession of specific key items to even be able to initiate or complete the encounter.  Via the ghost stories and objects the player receives, the game does a fair job of giving color and lore to each ghost.

This, however, leads into one of the biggest flaws I found the game to have: there are a few out-of-nowhere deaths.  For instance, I specifically had trouble with one enemy toward the end which requires a specific power switch in the school to be flipped beforehand, or else there’s no way the enemy can be defeated (and at a certain point, they will perform an instant kill on the player).  As far as I can tell, there’s no way to know that this switch needs to be flipped until you fight the enemy and see the instant death sequence.  There’s a few instances of this, where the player needs to die to certain enemies at least once before they have an idea of what they need to do.  Fortunately, the game is pretty good about checkpointing right before you initiate these no-win encounters, so it’s not a huge setback, but it can still be confusing when it happens.

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Going back to what I said earlier, White Day was introduced to me long ago as “the scariest game ever made”.  As it turns out, this was…………a significant exaggeration.  When the original version of this game was released in 2001, I could perhaps see this maybe being the case, but even then, it has easily been surpassed in the many years since.  I think perhaps a lot of this may be due to the fact that it was a game where the player is mostly defenseless released in a time when survival-horror games were still mostly focused on characters that carry guns.  Still, even though it might not be the scariest game ever made, it definitely has a very thick and moody atmosphere, and most of the monsters and spooks the player encounters in the game are definitely creepy enough to leave an impression.

In particular, White Day really excels in sound design, and the sound effects and music go a long way to elevate the nightmarish atmosphere that pervades the school.  There’s a handful of music tracks that seem to play randomly through the course of the game, and I felt they all really nailed the sinister feeling the game was going for.  This one in particular  really struck a chord with me.

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That being said, the main foe of the game, the prowling janitors, can be a mixed bag.  They definitely are the prime driver of tension throughout White Day.  Their presence is always telegraphed by the silence-shattering jangle of their keys or the creepy tune they whistle.  It’s definitely an alarming experience when they enter close proximity.  But the janitors can also just become a nuisance sometimes.  There were a few situations where I had to stay in my hiding spot for just too long a time while I waited for them to leave the area.  Sometimes, you’ve just got to make a break for it and try to outrun them and get to another part of the building, but other times you can’t leave the area where you’re at because there’s an important puzzle that needs to be solved there.

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White Day has multiple endings and I think I might have gotten the worst one of them all.  Reading over online guides, it seems that the ending changes based on a few key dialogue choices the player makes when talking to the girls.  I guess if you only intend to play through this game once, these multiple endings can be a bit annoying, since it seems to me like you would need a guide to get one of the better ones.  But it certainly adds replay value to the game, especially if you want to tackle the harder difficulty levels.  I’ve read the game has additional content on the higher difficulty levels, which I think further helps to create incentive to replay.

White Day might not be the scariest game ever made, but I think it’s still highly worthwhile for horror game fans.  The game has easily been surpassed since 2001, but I think the remastered version available on Steam and PS4 presents a package that has aged reasonably well.  I’m certainly grateful that we’ve finally received an official English version.

Soma!

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Last year, I did three posts for October, but I had actually meant to do four.  I had been meaning to finish off my Halloween series of reviews with some words on Soma, but, unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to finish the game before Halloween ended, so I decided to hold off until I started doing spooky games again in 2017.  Fast forward a year, and I boot up Soma again to realize that I was only like 20 minutes away from the end of the game, which was much closer than I had thought.  Had I known that, I would have just powered through and completed it last year………. hindsight is 20/20.

Soma is the story of Simon, a terminally ill man from the modern day who agrees to have his brain scanned as part of a medical experiment.  Upon waking from the scan, he finds himself not in the present day, but flung a century into the future to the abandoned and decaying deep sea station, PATHOS-II.  He soon discovers that the WAU, the biological computer which maintains the facility, has gone awry, and in its misguided attempt to preserve the life of the crew has created a number of deranged cybernetic monsters which now roam the facility.  As Simon contends with the threat of the WAU and its creations, he sets out to discover the ultimate truth of the new world he has awoken to and the ultimate fate of humanity.

Soma is a run-and-hide style of horror game, similar to the studio’s other infamous horror title, Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  Simon has no real way to fight back against threats, and instead must make use of stealth and evasion to steer clear of dangerous encounters.  Unlike Amnesia, however, Soma puts considerably less focus on handling the enemies, and a far greater focus on story and exploration.  It’s one of those games where there isn’t a lot of interpersonal interaction, but instead most information is relayed in the past tense via computer terminals, written messages, and something akin to audio logs.  

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To be honest, most of the horror in Soma isn’t really derived from the threat of the wandering enemies.  Rather, it’s the bleakness and existential nausea of Soma’s plot combined with the oppressive and alien atmosphere of the deep sea that makes the game unsettling.  It’s less of a horror story that focuses on mysterious physical threats (like zombies or monsters), and more a kind of cerebral horror that is focused on questions that rattle the comfortability we have with our own human existence  It’s more Eraserhead than Friday the 13th.

As a consequence, I’ve read more than a few opinions that state that Soma is best played with the enemies turned off.  There exists a popular mod on Steam that basically makes all the monsters disappear, allowing the player to fully engage with the atmosphere and story without any distraction.  Personally, I played through the entirety of the game with the monsters fully functional, and I found the encounters with them to be a mixed bag.  There were a few that were really exciting, but there were just as many that I thought were rather menial.  None of them were particularly hard to handle, save for one that I found unusually annoying.  I recommend new players start the game with the enemies on, but if they become too much of a nuisance, just download the mod and turn them off.  Don’t let them stop you from enjoying the things that the game truly excels at.

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And the things that Soma excels at, it really excels at.  There are tons of games that are set in sci-fi settings, but few games that really create stories that contend with the best sci-fi literature and film out there.  It’s often said that sci-fi is best used as a tool to frame questions about the nature of human existence, but few games actually tread into this territory.  Games like Halo and Half-life really just boil down to power fantasies of humans taking on overwhelming alien invaders.  They don’t make the player actually question the world in ways they’ve never done before.  They’re basically popcorn flicks like Independence Day.  But Soma really digs deep into the ideas that it wants to explore.  It’s the video game version of Blade Runner or  2001: A Space Odyssey.

PATHOS-II is also just incredible to explore.  At a technical level, the graphics in the game are far from the most sophisticated, but the team behind the game made up for it with an incredible use of lighting and their own aesthetic design.  The picturesque quality of so many areas had me constantly hitting the screenshot button.  These environments do a great job of evoking disquiet and wonder.  My favorite moment in the game is one in which the player character is trekking on foot across the bottom of a dark abyss filled with strange deep sea creatures, and I was just left in awe by the sheer alienness of the experience.

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Finally, I have to talk about the ending, but I’ll keep it spoiler free and merely offer my reaction to it.  At first, I found the final sequence of the game to be incredibly anti-climactic, and I wondered if I had gotten a bad ending.  But after the credits were over, there was a significant playable section that made me reflect on how the game had ended before.  Lots of horror games have multiple endings, often times some are considered “good” and others considered “bad”.  As far as I know, Soma has one ending, but it could be considered both the good and bad ending.  It’s definitely a troubling ending that drives home the ideas and themes the game focuses on.  It goes back to how I can’t stress enough that this is a story-driven game first and a survival horror game second.

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Soma has received an enormous amount of acclaim since its release, and I can definitely understand where all that’s coming from.  It’s an exceptional storytelling experience that synthesizes an intricate and thought-provoking sci-fi narrative with a dense and immersive atmosphere.  But the monsters in the game definitely feel vestigial to the whole experience.  It’s unfortunate that they couldn’t make something more out of this aspect of the game, but, on the other hand, the fact that the monsters are so disposable means that players who choose to turn them off aren’t going to have a compromised experience.  Definitely, Soma has become one of those games I feel I can recommend easily to anyone.

 

Yomawari: Night Alone!

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I love October.  The changing of the seasons always gives me a tinge of serenity.  But it’s not just the arrival of fall that makes October great, but also the fact that I love the atmosphere of Halloween time.  For my blog each year, I like to take the month of October to play and write about a few horror games I’ve been meaning to get around to.  This year has been kind of rough, and I haven’t had a lot of time to write here, but I’d like to get that back on track, and I’m also hoping these Halloween posts can kick off a reasonable amount of regularity again.  First up this year is Yomawari: Night Alone, a Vita game I’ve wanted to try out for a while now.  

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Late at night a young girl, who I believe is only ever called “little sister”, is walking her dog when she becomes separated from her animal companion.  Upon returning home, her big sister questions the girl about the dog’s whereabouts, but little sister is unable to tell her the truth.  Not understanding what has happened, big sister leaves the house to find the missing pet.  As time passes and she doesn’t return, little sister becomes worried and sets out into the dark, empty night to try to find out what happened to her.  (Where the parents are in all of this is never explained.)  Venturing out into the sleeping town, she finds it has become infested with dangerous ghosts and begins a long journey to rescue her sister.

Yomawari is played from an top-down isometric perspective as the little sister explores her haunted town.  Wandering the town are various ghost enemies that attack if they sense the presence of the player.  The girl is armed only with a flashlight and small pebbles.  The flashlight is used to illuminate the roaming enemies, while the rocks can sometimes be used to distract them.  The player is given no means of attack, which means that if a ghost gives chase, little sister has to either run away and lose them or find a nearby hiding spot, which are things like large bushes and street signs.  The enemies won’t attack if little sister is hidden in one of these spots, so if the player can reach one, it then just becomes a matter of waiting for the enemy to leave before proceeding.

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Behavior patterns among the basic enemies are fairly varied.  For example, one enemy type is sensitive to sound, while another type stands perfectly still and will only attack if little sister crosses their line of vision.  Aesthetically, the different ghost types aren’t particularly horrific in appearance.  While they’re not at all gory or grotesque, I did find a few of them to be oddly unsettling.  In addition to these smaller enemies, each chapter of the game tends to feature a more elaborate monster as its focus.  I guess you could consider these the bosses of the game.  The encounters with these boss ghosts tend to be a little bit more complex than just running and hiding, and require better reflexes and sometimes puzzle-solving.

What really creates tension in the game is the fact that most of the basic enemies are invisible unless the flashlight illuminates them, which results in an atmosphere of suspicion and unease in the player’s surroundings.  If an enemy is nearby, however, you can hear little sister’s heart beat increase, which is the telltale sign that the player needs to be careful.  Furthermore, the flashlight will only shine directly in front of the player, which means that when a ghost is pursuing little sister, there’s a greater sense of suspense, since the player can’t tell exactly where the enemy is behind them.  Unfortunately, horror games always tend to walk a fine line between tension and frustration, and at times the invisible enemies can result in a lot of irritation.  This is compounded by the fact that the game operates on a one-hit game-over principle, so if a ghost touches little sister, the player is immediately sent back to the last checkpoint.

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The one-hit deaths in the game are by far my greatest complaint.  It can be really frustrating to randomly die to an unseen enemy when you’re busy trying to figure out a puzzle or find an important item that you just can’t seem to locate.  In addition, little sister’s movement is quite slow (even when running) and a bit stiff, which sometimes made evading even the enemies that I was fully aware of a clumsy experience.  Particularly late in the game, there are several enemies that require a high degree of agile movement to avoid, and the game became rather tedious at points.  Getting past those sections felt more like luck to me than skill.

On the positive side, I found the story to possess rather interesting themes, and little sister definitely has a surprising character arc that I didn’t quite expect.  Little sister is scared by the supernatural dangers she faces, but her resolve to save her sister keeps her steadfast in the face of her fear.  The entire story is approached with a level of innocence that I found unusual for a horror game, probably because most horror games feature adult protagonists.

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Yomawari is one of those games that I kind of wish I liked more than I actually do.  That’s because it’s both tonally and mechanically trying to do something different as a horror game, and I always appreciate when games set out to try to be something original.  I found little sister’s quest to be really endearing.  Unfortunately, particularly in the second half of the game, it can become rather tedious for the reasons I’ve described above.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a bad game, but I don’t feel like I can give it my highest recommendation either.  But it is certainly good enough that I’m looking forward the to upcoming sequel, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows.  I will definitely check it out if they can clean up some of the frustrations I had with this first iteration.

Should Resident Evil abandon zombies?

Resident Evil has already had one rebirth after the lackluster Resident Evil 0, when Capcom took decisive action to mix up the standard formula and breathe new life into the weary series with Resident Evil 4. Two sequels and an unnumbered spinoff later, it feels like the series is on its last legs again in the wake of the abysmal Resident Evil 6. This time, though, with much of their visionary talent having defected from the company, I’m far less certain that Capcom can develop a cohesive plan for reinvigorating their old standby megaseller.

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Personally, I wouldn’t be too upset if Resident Evil just faded away. Some great games have come out of this series, many of which are still worthwhile today. I’m also much more confident now of the preservation of the horror genre going forward without it. Particularly amongst smaller developers, there seems to be renewed interest in delivering games in this arena, and the quality of these new efforts is definitely there. And if Resident Evil is to survive as a popular brand that people remain enthusiastic for, I think radical changes are once again needed, and these changes will need to be informed by the new trends in the genre that are occurring outside of Capcom’s doors. Unfortunately, my lack of faith originates precisely from Capcom’s ability to perceive the new environment in which it needs adapt.

Although horror games are getting a bit of a new wind, “survival horror” in the vein of the classic Resident Evil or Silent Hill games is rather scarce. Those games were action games with a heavy emphasis on having to choose between offense or evasion. During a monster encounter, there was a calculation between fight or flight: can I successfully evade the enemies in this area and maneuver around them without getting hurt, or do I need to expend limited ammo to eliminate them as a threat? Modern horror games don’t really have this balance and instead gravitate toward one of the two extremes, being either heavily offense focused (e.g., Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, Evil Within) or heavily evasion focused (e.g., Amnesia, Outlast). In the action-focused offensive games, protagonists are well-armed and empowered, but the enemies they face are mercilessly aggressive monstrosities capable of applying extreme violence (or sometimes extreme numbers) to overpower their otherwise formidable prey. On the other hand, the evasion-focused titles are more like Clocktower than Resident Evil: there are only a few powerful monsters who the protagonist must stealthily outmaneuver or conceal themselves from, as they are incapable of responding to the threat in kind.

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Dead Space 2: A good example of action-focused horror.

Part of the reason the balance has disappeared is the result of advancing technology. The PSX Resident Evils had notorious “tank controls” that were a product of the PSX and Saturn controllers lacking analog sticks for smooth 360° movement. Consequently, sidestepping zombies and other monsters unscathed was not a simple trick, otherwise you would never need to consider attacking them. Similarly, aiming wasn’t particularly fluid as a result of the camera angles imposed by the pre-rendered backgrounds. Both control methods and graphics have improved since then, so these limitations would only appear in a game if they were self-imposed, and since gamers seem to be more frustrated by controls that deviate from accepted norms, developers rarely choose to implement old-school control schemes.

So where does that leave Resident Evil? Resident Evil 4 already took it down the path of being amongst the action-focused games, and probably for good reason. Resident Evil always gave the impression of being influenced by B-tier action movies, and combined with the fact that most of the protagonists are law enforcement agents, it’s logical that it would eventually move farther down that route. I don’t see the alternative, of Leon Kennedy running away from the monsters to hide under the bed, as being fitting for RE.

But still even with the action-focus, I feel that RE is lagging behind its counterparts in this area. My main problem with modern RE is that the enemies simply aren’t all that threatening. I felt Dead Space really exceled at making aggressive, dangerous monsters. When you hear a necromorph growling and snarling from down the hall, you know that it is coming straight for your throat, and when the creature is bearing down on Isaac, wildly firing at it won’t help. The player has to keep focus in the face of panic to strategically target limbs and appendages to neutralize the threat. For these reasons, the necromorphs maintain an ability to create tension and dread, even though Isaac is outfitted like a futuristic supersoldier. In contrast, the enemies from the last few REs have been relatively limp. Resident Evil 5 drove me crazy in this way. The monsters are definitely holding back in that game. For instance, majini would often charge at Chris and Sheva, only to stop short upon reaching them and sway back and forth for a few moments before making an attack. In reflection, even Resident Evil 4 had a similar problem with the Ganados. When you realize that these unnatural foes are playing with kid’s gloves, much of the tension disappears.

So what is my proposal? This might be sacrilege to some, but I say get rid of the zombies. And not just the shambling classic zombies, but the more intelligent Ganado-type enemies as well. As I discussed above, these sluggish enemies just aren’t that hazardous when the player is using a modern control scheme which allows them to outmaneuver such slow opponents easily. I know some might groan at this suggestion, as zombies tend to be central to the identity of Resident Evil, but should they be? There are so many more monsters in Resident Evil that are much more interesting, such as regenerators, lickers, hunters, scarmigliones, verdugos, etc. These are what the next RE should be looking at when developing new creatures. And these new creatures should be brutal, like necromorphs, unrelenting in their belligerence, which is necessary to outmatch the well-armed and combat-seasoned protagonists we have in these games. They’ve already sort of made the move in this direction as RE:Revelations mostly nixed the zombie-style enemies in favor of more grotesque mutants.

Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4

Some might complain that my plan might permanently take Resident Evil out of the “survival horror” milieu into what might be better categorized as “action horror.” My counterpoint would be that Resident Evil was never really a game about “survival” in the first place, and in modern gaming, that label is better reserved for games such as DayZ and State of Decay which are actually about survival in a zombie-ravaged world, not just ammo management.

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