“Resident Evil 2” was the first M-rated videogame I ever got. I was in seventh grade. I hadn’t played the first one, but had asked classmates all about it in that terrified-yet-interested teenage way. I’d long experienced recurring zombie nightmares from seeing “Night of the Living Dead” a few years too early.
The second “RE” was seriously hyped, and by all accounts would not require strong knowledge of its predecessor to enjoy it. The first “Resident Evil” had taken place in a mansion in the woods on the outskirts of fictional Raccoon City, where “RE2” was set in the city itself.
The game petrified me. God, was it creepy, with the intro video, then my character getting killed by the first zombies I encountered. I was freaked out and outmatched; I experienced bad buyer’s remorse and didn’t play again for at least two weeks. Serious bummer. Buying a game guide gave me a bit of nerve, though, as did turning on every light in the room.
They always scared me, but I grew to adore the “RE” games: 2, 1, 3, “Code: Veronica.” I bought a Nintendo GameCube exclusively because they were doing an enhanced re-release of the first game (which was fantastic) and a prequel. The mix of zombies and other morphing abominations (surely influenced by John Carpenter’s “The Thing”), corrupt corporations and authorities, puzzle solving, and guns and gore galore made for this great mix of mystery, dread, excitement, and weirdness that lit up my young mind.
I still appreciate what those games were to me. I fell out of love with videogames, though, during my freshman year of college, after losing a ton of progress in “Metroid Prime”, getting really mad at my roommate who’d shut off my unsaved game (in spite of my “PLEASE DON’T TURN MY GAME OFF!” post-it note) while I was out, but then realizing it really didn’t matter, did it.
But when a friend picked up “Resident Evil 4” a while later, I couldn’t help but be curious, and it was, in fact, cool! Ol’ reliable “RE”. We wound up so into it. Those familiar with the unique, intuition-challenging controls of the series up to that point recall how exciting the new gameplay was. It felt like after years of being horrified and hunted by the worst beasts imaginable, we finally had the coordination to fight back.
The action was so thrilling…that I barely noticed my suspension of disbelief. These weren’t really “zombies” anymore, but “infected” people who angrily attacked, sometimes with weapons, growling menacing lines, and disintegrating (rather than “playing” “dead” like they used to) when they were killed. “RE4”’s enemies were somehow more and less human in ways that made them no longer scary. Sure was fun to shoot ‘em up, though.
In this legendary videogame series so focused on death and undeath, the storytelling would be its most prominent casualty (sorry, Ada Wong). A drive to see what happens next, and to merely survive while exploring the horror, was replaced by dominance and destruction. The pace went from a tip-toe to a sprint. Again, it felt like entertaining vengeance, but at the expense of the once-compelling narrative, ultimately reducing “Resident Evil” to just another action series.
After “RE4” I tried the fifth one, thumbed through other sequels at used stores, and watched the trailer for the seventh game with renewed hope, but unfortunately the series no longer resonates with me. It’s gotten more sci-fi than scary; the enemies in the early games were all soulless, mindless former humans and animals (dogs, crows, reptiles) warped by virii that made them want to eat people, where starting with the fourth game (or maybe even “Code: Veronica”) enemies were evil humanoids and completely made-up creatures (giants, water creatures, fire…creatures) whose hostility (opposed to hunger) was never really explained.
Maybe vids in general have gotten too slick to be make a mark on me. I’m certainly not dying to regain the hobby, so I lack the incentive to put the time in. But I did like “BioShock” for XBOX 360 – again, largely because of its creative story and concept.
Too much media forgoes the brain and aims for the gut. It’s a shame this once gripping series gave up what made it exceptional.
Which videogames or series have or had your favorite storytelling? Disagree with my take on the “RE” series’ (d)evolution?