Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.
For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…
This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. This week, famed survival horror video game designer Shinji Mikami has released a brand new game without any connection to his most famous franchise, titled The Evil Within. I find it appropriate to, much as I am using this program of mine to keep trying something, to dig into another medium of horror that I really haven’t touched yet… And with the most popular of said franchise, so everybody gets a shot to know what I’m talking about.
I want to just get the elephant out of the room to begin with, I totally am not even close to a gamer. I continuously indulge myself in oldie classics just because they’d be easy to find at a local arcade and I every once in a while find myself in the company of friends who would be able to incite into joining them to play video games, but unlike literature, music, or film, I never really pursued as a cultural thing as much. Not that I look down to video games at all, but I never had the time or the money to support such pursuit. My most next gen console is a Nintendo Gamecube and I own probably four games for it.
I mention this because this is more of an experiment for me and it will probably not come out of this as best a review as possible. My lack of involvement for video games too much makes me unable to be offended in the case that anyone who comes upon this review finds I might not have enough knowledge or experience to be able to review this video game, because I’m admitting immediately that I possibly will not at the least be able to communicate the very language a review of a video game demands.
But I’ll try my best.
In 1996, Mikami Shinji created Resident Evil (Known in Japan as Biohazard) for the PlayStation and immediately changed the world of survival horror as a platform. Based on many different established horror tropes, such as Lovecraftian elements, haunted houses, zombies, insanely lethal egomaniacs, giant man-eating animals and other threats to asphyxiate the character in an environment where the frights are always up and there is never certain safety. It was universally acclaimed and gave birth to a movement of horror video-gaming that we wouldn’t come back from until the late ’00s. The Gamecube remake that came out in 2002 is also, for the record, my favorite video game that I have ever played.
While Mikami for the most part only took a producer’s role for the franchise that would spawn from the games, from direct sequels to spin-offs, and while none would exactly be to the same amount of shocking quality as the first game got to, they were for the most part enjoyable as games. They kept the ability to make the gamers jump, dropping their controllers, and having them killed through different methods of gameplay. Speaking of gameplay, one of the major facets of the Resident Evil franchise was the fixed camera. Every scene had a point of view that could not be shifted or changed by the player himself. Many people condemned this factor, I personally found it more cinematic and it added to my enjoyment of the game. It was much easier to focus on the situation at hand without worrying about the camera angle. Other facets not exclusive to the Resident Evil franchise but still unique is the exposition being provided mostly by documents, allowing the player to act as his or her own detective for the mystery of the mansion or how the characters would be required to solve puzzles to go on further. Those ended up being extremely important to the progression of the game all the way to the ending.
So, when the 2002 GameCube remake ended up selling not as much as Mikami wanted it to (I would hardly call 1.5 million copies of a remake “a bomb”, though again – not a gamer, grain of salt), he decided the time had come to take ahold of the series once more and change the idea of survival horror once more with the times. The result was that for the first game in the series other than the original and its remake, Mikami took over the directing duties for Resident Evil 4 and decided to change up a few things for what gamers today found popular enough to sell a game to them…
Several revisions took place. Like so many. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess level amount. But after that struggle, Resident Evil 4 was born out of those efforts.
Recapping the story, US Government Agent Leon Kennedy is no stranger to the Umbrella Corporations antics, having survived the events of Resident Evil 2 where Raccoon City had become overrun by an outbreak of the T-Virus. So, upon taking on a mission in Spain to locate the kidnapped daughter of the US President, I’m sure he was thinking he has John McClane level luck upon facing the immediate hostility of the local rundown village, with every single member of the community attempting to kill him, and discovering that there is a more organic bioweapon used for pseudo-religious purposes and that Leon and his mark Ashley are in the middle of a plot to use this weapon to its full potential.
Let’s get it out of the way immediately: The game will immediately come off as racist, portraying the Spanish villagers as either savagely smirking evil, cultish perversions, or mindless kin to the zombie that had been the common antagonist in the series originally. The only Spanish character who isn’t a caricature is ally Luis Sera and well, something tells me he was shoed in largely because they wanted to have that card to play if anybody called this game out as pretty bigoted.
But if I ever allowed bigotry, even bigotry towards me, prevent me from taking a chance on a work of art, I’d pretty much never go anywhere, as crooked as that mentality sounds (I would hope no one begrudges me and understands that when I’m directly witnessing any form of discrimination, it is not given the slightest tolerance and even I don’t excuse this game.). So, I continue playing it despite its introduction and I find myself significantly enjoying it.
It’s a lengthy work, sure to take up a large amount of your time. While the original Resident Evil was a four-hour effort, Resident Evil 4 had taken me a total of 11 hours of gameplay to complete. It takes up its time and it doesn’t really make that time seem too laborious the first time around. The designs are interesting enough and versatile, going from dusty, grungy town to lake that seems certain to give anyone who swims in it for two seconds a urinary tract infection to a large castle with beautiful designs to its sinister intentions underneath all of its flourishes… it’s a very well-spanned out game that doesn’t just take its time to be an adventure, it feels like one too.
Alas, that is one of the more weirder things of this game. It takes the shape more of an action film. It is fast-paced, it is now an over-the-shoulder game that is a few changes in perspective away from being a First Person Shooter, you don’t have to focus on puzzles or your limited saves, and as opposed to the tension of wondering what is behind each door, there is now the certainty that there will always be an enemy behind the door. It is to Resident Evil what Aliens was to Alien, a change from a horrifying circumstance we are unprepared to deal with to a challenge to survive odds of substantial but expected horror, and the fact that it is still able to contain its fright factor is quite a feat. But the video game makes it work.
For instance, the design of many of the monsters still retain the ability to resemble Lovecraftian nightmare fuel – such as the reveal of Las Plagas or the constant existence of the Regeneradors coming after the protagonist. Enough to send shivers down your spine as you first realize “I have to fight my way out of that.” Or the 28 Days Later… effect of the threat… in spite of knowing what’s coming, they will constantly be coming to you with large numbers and in rapid succession and you will have to act fast, from shootouts to kicking down ladders to evasion to springing traps. For all of its expectancy, they still have to make it an adrenaline rush and they go on to provide just that… enough to make you feel you’re not going to get out of this next situation with an large amount of luck and knowing what you’re doing.
And so, that’s how a video game comes to appeal to me. I can’t say much about its script (largely stretched out banter about how to deal with a virus entered into both Leon and Ashley Graham, the woman he was sent to rescue), the AI (which is at points frustrating, especially when you have to deal with Ashley’s incompetence – but it is 2005 and we’ve come a long way) or the graphics (again, the design is pretty amazing, but it’s still 2005… we have come a long way and it’s easy for even me to see the faults), but overall I find it an engaging enough experience of terror, even for all it dilutes the idea of horror storytelling, to at least recommend to game players and horror fans alike.
Not as good as the original, though. Can’t touch this.