* This Article was originally featured on Pause Your Game, and while it was still written by me, it is an article from a different era, and thus, some things may be broken within the article but are kept that way for posterity.
On a previous episode I talked about how The Evil Within truly failed in creating a horrifying experience. At no point did I feel scared or uneasy and it generally did not deliver when it came to creating a horrifying environment. I have forever held a candle when it comes to Resident Evil as my all-time favorite horror game as its one of the few games that has ever actually scared me and kept me uneasy to this day, so I felt it would be appropriate to explain why this is the case by going over the many elements present in Resident Evil to scare the player.
This is actually the least scary part of Resident Evil if you ask me. Sure they play their role quite well to new players to set the tone and get that initial scare but they have no longevity when it comes to their ability to frighten the player… by themselves. What becomes scary is their placement in the environment and how they react. There are a large amount of obvious zombies that serve as roadblocks to your goals, but there are also hidden zombies that lurk in the shadows or play off the camera controls. Here is a good example:
Now that back room over there you can’t see into due to the camera placement but I assure you there is a zombie in there and when you walk in, he’s gonna get ya. The best part is that you can take care of him but upon your return for another item you can’t yet access, he’s back again!
False Sense of Security
What would a survival horror game be without dashing your preconceived notion that a room or area is safe? “Very boring” would be the correct answer. One of the mainstays of the Resident Evil franchise is exploration; many times you are either forced to go back to previous areas with new items or perhaps you are simply just lost and trying to get clues as to where to go next. The point is you are revisiting areas you have been to that you have established as safe and throughout your journey that changes at a moment’s notice. This is where non-zombies come into play in the Resident Evil franchise: they serve as the method to dash away your security. Two prime examples exist: dogs and lickers.
In the original Resident Evil, dogs were present later in the game; you were unaware of them up to a certain point and when you come to know of their existence, you became aware that they could break through windows, thus changing your perception of windows from being “safe” to “not at all.”
Resident Evil 2 continued this trend with the introduction of lickers which not only can break through windows, but have the additional ability to walk on walls, allowing them to play up the camera placement.
Constantly At Risk
One thing that a survival horror game should do is simply make it abundantly clear that you are vulnerable. Weapons and guns should only provide a temporary boost in security because ammunition is rare or a problem cannot be solved by shooting it (I know, many disagree with this). Resident Evil employs both of these methods throughout the series. Ammo is not only scarce but it takes up space, which is very limited. So, do you bring some key items along in lieu of ammunition? Or do you bring extra ammunition but risk having to run back causing you to use up more? This decision is ever present through the entirety of the game.
Another key to what makes a survival horror game great is that your tool to solve problems (bullets in this case) doesn’t always work or only works to an extent. Resident Evil 3 provides the best example with the introduction of Nemesis. Nemesis could appear at random moments and couldn’t be killed; it could only be stopped for a limited time. If it did attack you, the best you could do is waste a ton of ammo causing him to fall to the ground, only to come back as soon as you left the room.
He provided an ever present threat that could not be dealt with until the end of the game, keeping the player on their toes.
More then Just Monsters
Resident Evil has many monsters in it that scare you one way or another but it does not rely on them alone. There is another major aspect of the series that finds a way to make your skin crawl: puzzles. On the surface you may think “How could a puzzle possibly be scary?” and it’s true, they aren’t exactly scary, but they do make you uneasy. Typically this is done through the additional text involved in a puzzle, requiring you to read some supplemental document or interact with the environment in a way that happens to paint a disturbing tone. Resident Evil 3 provides the best example in which three paintings are on one end of a room displaying the world at different stages of its life with god standing next to it.
Once again this does not impart fear, it imparts an uneasiness due to the implications involved in the puzzles. The last painting displays god as nearly dead with the world in the same state. The goal of the puzzle is to set the clocks at the same time to represent the life span of the entire world at the time of the painting (Midnight, Noon, and Midnight). The implication here is that it forces the player for a brief moment to contemplate not only their own mortality but also the universe’s. It’s not a scary notion, it’s one that leaves the player uneasy and throws them off balance forcing them to look inwards rather then just focusing on the game.
New Survival Horrors need to take note
Many of these newer so called “Survival Horror” games do none of these (some have a few), bringing down the overall fear/uneasiness induced by the game. The Evil Within is a prime example of missing many of the notes that made Resident Evil such an amazing series, effectively making it simply an action game with a gruesome overtone. I hope not only future Survival Horror game developers take note but also the creators of Resident Evil franchise itself in order to be mindful of what actually makes a survival horror game truly horrifying.