Is the original Resident Evil still scary?

4 mins read

Last week in Europe and Australia, Capcom released Resident Evil: Director’s Cut on the PlayStation Network as a PSOne Classic release.

On the surface, you wouldn’t expect this game to be worth the premium price Capcom is asking for it – after all, games have come a long way since the PlayStation One. Developers can now render high-definition creatures of the night, dynamic lighting, and surround sound. How can this game possibly be worth playing if it’s not even slightly scary?

Doesn’t exactly look scary by modern standards, does it?
But it is worth downloading, and if not outright scary, it’s still a tense, absorbing game. Many modern horror game developers would do well to play this game themselves, and get back in touch with what makes a horror game good. Heck, Capcom themselves should try playing this again after the action-packed turns the series has recently taken.
What Resident Evil does well is create an atmosphere of mortality. You can die in this game, and there are no checkpoints – it’s straight back to the last save game… and your ability to save every few minutes is severely hampered by a rationing of the ink ribbons needed to use the save game typewriters.
Your character struggles to move or turn quickly. It’s a theory that has since been superseded by the idea that your character should be a regular Indiana Jones (look at Resident Evil 4 and 5) – and while Indiana Jones movies and recent Resident Evil games had some light horror touches, it doesn’t quite compare to the knowledge that you are controlling a character of inferior power and capabilities to some of the evils it is up against.

The static camera was used so effectively in this game, it’s still impressive
It’s actually a philosophy that made the grandfather of modern horror, H.P Lovecraft, so successful. His characters were cosmic ants, and completely unable to handle the horrors they faced. Resident Evil, although not explicitly a “Lovecraftian” game, boils that philosophy down into a control scheme that, deliberately or otherwise, puts players in a similarly “helpless” position.  
The static camera angles, too, provided opportunities for tension and fear that dynamic cameras have since taken away. When you can’t manipulate the camera, you’re at the mercy of it. When you’re at the mercy of it, the developers are able to control the scares better. The timing of enemy attacks becomes more effective, because the developers have a better idea of the actions players are taking inside the frame.
Throw in limited, low power weapons (without the psychological relief you’ll get from being able to upgrade and “power up” weapons), with limited ammunition, and Resident Evil still shows up to be a tense, atmospheric trip. We could do without the dialogue, which is now embarrassing even by B-grade standards, and this style of gameplay would benefit immensely from the higher visual and sound production values of modern technology.

Moving slowly and turning even more slowly makes it easier to die… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for horror
The horror genre is one that has largely lost its way – trading the chilling, lonely and claustrophobic experiences of the early days for high-action melees with grotesque monsters. We would very much like to see a return of the philosophy that drove Capcom in the early days of Resident Evil.

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