Resident Evil and Survival Horror in Video Games

Let’s fire up the Way Back Machine for this one. Yes, it gets terrible gas mileage, but it’ll be worth the trouble.

Welcome back to 1996…What’s that smell?

The late 1990’s saw the release of plenty of now-classic video games, but one of the most famous was the first Resident Evil game for the upstart console, the Sony Playstation.

Resident Evil was violent, unique and downright scary. It set the standard for “survival horror” video games. Yes, a few such games existed, most notably 1992’s Alone in the Dark (based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft, no less), but Resident Evil took the genre to a new level.

While the voice acting was laughable at times, the rest of the game was great at creating tension and suspense. What’s waiting around that corner? What’s going to happen when you unlock that door?  What’s that sound? Resident Evil was the epitome of survival horror , and you did not dare play with the lights off!

This wasn’t like Mario Bros. where you just had to hit a block and get a power-up: the survival horror player had to save and cherish every First Aid Spray and count every bullet. Ammo was limited. Unlike other action games, you worried over whether to spend ammo to take out that zombie, or just risk running past and hoping it didn’t grab you.  And hoping you had enough for a meeting with a boss monster or any other crazy thing that jumped out of the shadows.

Surviving in Resident Evil meant conserving, rationing resources under pressure and thinking through deadly puzzles.  Those rushing where fools dared to tread, especially without the right weapon, was soon a red smear in the hall.

The best part of the game is what you did not see: the suspense, the unknown, the “what’s behind the corner” moments.

Such moments are important to any successful horror media, especially in audio/visual experiences like video games. Nobody did it better than Resident Evil in those days. Your character would be walking down an old hallway, filled with dark, cracked windows. Spooky enough on its own, sure. Then, halfway down the hall, a duo of rabid zombie dogs crash through the glass!

Sound plays an important part in the game—the shuffling footsteps of zombies, the howls of the dogs, the cackling of the birds hungry for your flesh. Creepy. The worst of it comes later in the game, when the green creatures called the Hunters appear. They have slow, heavy footsteps which are easy to hear, and therein lies the horror: you know they are coming for you, but where and when?

Terrifying.

Resident Evil set the bar for survival horror video games and showed that a game could be as scary as any movie (now, the Resident Evil movies on the other hand…)

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