Here we are, at the longest section of this series of blog posts and where the initial idea for this began – my scariest Resident Evil
Did you ever play Resident Evil Remake
? There is a good chance you haven’t. The fact it was a GameCube exclusive is enough to enforce that prediction, but it was also, as I stated, a remake. Its technically titled simply Resident Evil
, but let's call it Remake for the sake of preventing confusion. It’s often considered a travesty to enjoy a remake more than the original game it is based on – especially as a die-hard RE fan. I absolutely love the original, its charm, camp voice acting and timeless quotes make for a phenomenal start to the series. And though even the "Jill-sandwich" line is now gone, this moodier take on the original is, at least what I feel, what Capcom wanted the series to be all along.
It’s important to note that I say scariest, and not necessarily best. It could possibly be my favourite, but deciding between this, RE2 and RE4 is like deciding which of your children you love most. Its a debate I'll have with myself until my dying days. However, in terms of what I feel Capcom intended all along, which was of course to scare the player, I’d say that this without a doubt did it best.
In Part 1, I discussed how I got into the franchise when I was young. If you missed it, I ended it on a car ride home with my cousin, with our new Resident Evil
game. You guessed it, it was Resident Evil Remake
. At the time, I didn’t know it was a remake, or anything else about it really – all I cared was that it said “Resident Evil” on the box. My lack of knowledge left me unprepared, making it all the more terrifying.
It was already getting dark during the winter afternoon when we got back, running upstairs to the GameCube. I turned off the lights as we started up the game, so I could revisit that “fun fear” once again with my cousin. We watched the opening cutscene. What was once a hilarious, goofy live-action B-movie clip on the PlayStation was now a fully animated, atmospheric prologue of a man being ripped apart by zombie dogs in the woods. As the remaining S.T.A.R.S members escape to the iconic mansion, I soon assumed control of my precious Jill Valentine. Hey baby, remember me, the one who saved you from the Raccoon City outbreak a few years back? This time she didn’t have her huge assault rifle. It’s cool though, I had Mr. Barry Burton accompanying me. They wouldn’t go and do a silly thing like separating
After discovering (hopefully not Chris’) blood by the fireplace, I began investigating by going through the next door, leaving Barry to examine the claret substance stained in front of the fireplace. That iconic opening door transition animation lead into a very dark corridor, only illuminated momentarily by the lightning from a nearby window. Despite it being a renowned horror series, I think this was the first time I’d seen it this dark – the original games are actually brightly lit and colourful most of the time, and still manage to scare despite this. I turned the corner, to the iconic scene with the very first zombie encounter.
Now, you’d think that after gunning down and avoiding all the zombies in RE2 and RE3, just this one foe wouldn’t really have any effect on my mental state. Despite not playing the original myself and only watching my Grandad play it briefly, I had actually seen this scene in the original game, which was one of the few memories I have of the first game. But now it was even grittier, darker and bloodier than before – the munching sounds, the blood dripping down the zombie’s chin, Kenneth’s face twitching during his final living moment... and of course, the famous final shot of the zombie’s head turning towards the player. It had scared me as a child, and it was somehow scaring me already now.
Already I could tell that these zombies were far more menacing than the ones I’d seen before. It was an accurate sign of things to come. I tried shooting it, pounding multiple rounds into its undead chest as it lurched towards me as I stood before it, enclosed in the tiny corridor space. As I backed away, the camera angle changed, positioned from the other end of the corridor, leaving the zombie out of sight. I heard a thud, and presumed it was dead. No problem. My cousin and I taking a breather from that intense encounter, we left Jill standing by what we thought was now a corpse. Until the zombie then grabbed Jill from around the corner, causing us to simultaneously scream.
Again I backed away and fired at it, this time ensuring that that bitch stayed down. I saw the blood seeping animation that, as experience told me, meant that he really was dead this time. Again I sighed in relief, my cousin and I laughing at ourselves. I checked Kenneth’s corpse – ammo, awesome. I almost couldn’t believe how few pistol rounds I began with, and how many of those precious bullets I used just on that one zombie. In RE2, Leon gets a shotgun from the gun store near the start of the game, while Jill in RE3 jumps into gameplay with the aforementioned frickin’ huge assault rifle. I always played in Easy mode on those games, too. I felt scared, but I usually felt somewhat safe. But there was no Easy mode in Remake. And no assault rifle.
I headed back to Mr. Burton, triggering a cutscene. “Barry! Look out, its a monster!” Jill screams, before a zombie follows her through the door. That guy is still alive?!
“Let me take care of it!” Barry exclaims, handcannon at the ready. Three
magnum shots are fired before this thing is put down. After the initial shake-up, the duo head back to report to Wesker. Before retreating through the door to the main hall, there’s a groan and a door closing where the “dead” zombie once was. You’ve got to be freaking kidding me
I started to wonder if those things can die. It only took a few bullet rounds to put them out of their misery in the previous games I played, but here they keep on coming. Of course, you can kill them. But funnily enough, it’s often best not to. And this is one of my favourite aspects of Remake, and what makes it so terrifying: the introduction of Crimson Heads.
Simply killing a zombie in Remake can have dire consequences. Naturally, the extremely limited ammunition is a factor – any rounds that are wasted on them are rounds that won’t later save your life in times of danger. But it goes beyond that. If you kill a zombie, they will later reincarnate as the terrifying Crimson Heads. Not only does this mean more ammo, but they’re faster and more vicious than ever before. Of course, going into this game with no knowledge of the game or the story, I learned the hard way.
As I revisited a corridor that was en route to a puzzle that required solving, I noticed the corpse of a zombie I had previously killed. This corridor was narrower than even the one at the start where Kenneth’s undead buddy was having dinner. I had to kill that guy, or I’d surely get bitten every time I passed through. It was a simple and effective strategy. I found it odd that the corpse remained – in the classic games, the zombie bodies had disappeared in any areas you went back to, complying with that classic video game trope of enemies disappearing after death. I shrugged it off – we’re not on the Playstation anymore – this is the future on GameCube! I assumed that the bodies remained simply because there were fewer limitations in this newer generation.
I ran past the corpse, towards the door. As I did, the thing leapt up and roared inhumanely, before sprinting towards me. Wide-eyed and panicking, I continued desperately running for the door, and somehow made it through. What the hell was that?! I was safe for now. I completed the puzzle and received a new key. But this room was a dead end. I had to go back in order to use my new key... through the room where that freak is waiting.
I hesitated with fear before exiting the room. But there was no other way.
Reluctantly pressing the A button and again triggering that opening door transition, I then re-entered the corridor, and immediately paused the game. Sometimes the pause menu was my only safe haven – stopping all of Umbrella’s experiments from tearing me apart and devouring me, at least momentarily. I began preparing myself, taking a deep breath. Opening my eyes fractionally and gritting my teeth, my thumb edged toward the Start button to unpause. I returned. Nothing was coming towards me. I did, however, hear the insane growls and guttural groans that it made. This wasn’t like the normal zombie groans, this was the noise made from something far sinister. Again, remember that the camera was fixed in place. I couldn’t see where that thing was, all I could see at that moment was Jill and the door she just came through. That thing could be straight ahead of me for all I knew, biding its time. I’d have to edge slowly forwards to change the camera angle to find out.
And so I did. I walked her forward, almost halfway across the small hallway. The camera changed... and the beast was nowhere in sight. This corridor was U-shaped, and so it must be hiding around the corner. I ran for the door, and sure enough, the camera changed and exposed the Crimson Head, sprinting and getting dangerously close to my position. I made it. But it wasn’t over. It’s never over in Remake. You have to revisit a rooms and corridors constantly to unlock doors with a new key, or use it as a route to get to a new destination. And that was the case here – I’d be visiting Mr. Crimson again soon, and inevitably re-incarnate his buddies throughout the mansion in the same way.
There are two methods of preventing this monstrosity though: scoring a headshot, and thus destroying the head of a zombie means you can rest easy – he won’t be coming back as a Crimson as they require the head for the transformation (hence the name). However, this method is purely based on luck as there is no skill involved in headshots, despite what every shooter ever this generation may have taught you. Headshots with a pistol are rare, but if you use a shotgun you can raise those chances. That is, if you want to risk using your limited but precious shotgun shells and not save them for more dangerous enemies later. There’s infected Dobermans (or Cerberus’), Hunters, and Chimeras, all of which are more powerful, agile and vicious than zombies. Yay!
The second method is incineration. If you have kerosene in your inventory, you can make Kentucky-fried zombies, preventing them from ever getting up again. Hooray! But it’s not that simple. Of course it isn’t. First, you have to consider your limited inventory – as Jill, you have 8 item slots. You can’t simply drop items either, as you constantly need to visit item boxes in save rooms to swap items around and make space. So you can’t hold onto a kerosene canister forever. And even if you do have it on you, you must make sure that canister is filled, and a filled canister only has enough to incinerate two zombies. As well as safe rooms, you have to also visit kerosene tanks for refills. Did I mention you only have 6 item slots as Chris?
Sounds complicated, right? I bet to anyone who hasn’t played the game, it sounds like a drag, too. Fixed camera angles, limited inventory, limited ammunition, revisiting old areas... These are all things that have been phased out in favour of modern conveniences in the current generation. But it’s these very things, these restrictions on the player, that make me adore this game. I spent a lot of the time staring at the map, as unlike recent games, this was an essential tool. I couldn’t simply run to my destination, as that kind of thinking would get me killed. Taking to account my current health, ammunition and empty inventory slots, I would plan which route would be best.
I’d consider all the different paths to take, sometimes noting down what dangers lie in each room and weighing up the advantages of each route. If I go this way, I can make a pit stop at the save room, but that corridor has three zombies in it and I don’t have herbs... I could go this way that’s safer, but I really need to make space in my inventory for that key I need to pick up... and I don’t want to go that way because I left a Crimson in there...
And when you think
you have the perfect plan, an impenetrable strategy in the path you have chosen, something new will come along when you least expect it. You’ll run through the same empty corridor dozens of times with nothing happening, but then this time ten zombies will smash and slide through the windows making that once safe path an extremely hazardous route. And you’ll be stuck in the middle of it, unprepared for this new fiasco that’s torn a hole in your plan. And if you’re enough of a pansy like I was, you’ll restart the GameCube with deep breaths, and start planning all over again.
Of course, the game is full of these jump-scares. No one forgets the dogs jumping through the window, and it’ll get you every time. Jump-scares may now be considered an old horror trope, but damn does it work. And as I said, you just won’t expect it. This depth of strategy and these shake-ups that constantly threaten your survival, testing your instincts in a new unexpected situation, make for perhaps the purest survival-horror game I’ve ever played.
Did I mention there were boss fights? “Now come on bro, they can’t be scary. They’re methodical practises consisting of attacking an exposed weak spot a set number of times”. Guess again, dawg. In the courtyard cemetery, you’ll have to go underground in order to remove the four chains from a suspended coffin, in order to open it. As each chain is removed you’ll hear demonic growls from within and blood seep out as it shakes around. So why the heck would you open and release the inevitably horrific creature that waits angrily inside? Duh, there’s a key in there too. And then there’s my encounter with Neptune the shark boss, as I’m forced to wade through waist-high water across a scaffolding, while it waits for me in the depths. I’ll scream every time she rockets to the surface, her gigantic teeth smashing together as she attempts to eat me whole. Then there’s a whole new level of creepiness with the introduction of the new boss exclusive to the remake: Lisa Trevor. Oh yes, Ms. Trevor...
An invincible, chain-bearing, hunched shadow of the sweet girl she once was, wearing the skin of her beloved mother’s face on her own. She won’t stop following you and groaning in despair, and all you can do is run. You’ll find excerpts of her diary that records the process of her transformation, an example of the many unsettling and tragic glimpses of the endless victims of the virus that many of the game’s files explore. Even as you’re reading, the game wants you to be uncomfortable.
And gosh, those graphics. They blew my mind back then and a decade later it still looks stunning. Even as an early GC release, it puts later games to shame in the visual department. Characters models, monsters, environments are brought to life with stunning animations and amazing lighting effects. The sound design is similarly fantastic, as each groan, footstep, and thunder strike will instantly alert you.
I could go on about this game forever, as you can tell from this long blog post that I’ve had to separate into three parts. But I don’t want to spoil everything nor turn this into a novel. This game is definitely underrated in my opinion, and doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves compared the other instalments. If you’re an RE or simply a horror fan I hope you’ll give this game a look if you haven’t before. Lisa is waiting for you and a hug.
In the final part, we’ll be looking into the future!