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LONG BLOG

SPECIAL: Fangs for the Memories (The Piano of Doom)

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The Piano of Doom

As an avid player of horror videogames I feel like I'm spoilt for choice recently, with the release of such gems as OutlastAlien: Isolation, The Evil Within and even some surprises in the form of downloadable teasers; P.T. terrified me more than any other product in any other form of media within the last ten years! However, it's to the the much maligned (upon it's release) Resident Evil 5 that I must return when trying to recount that single defining moment of terror, which caused me to uncharacteristically shriek like a small girl. Seriously, it's uncharacteristic, I swear. Heavily criticised for being too much of a "dude-bro" shooter, the fifth entry in this long-running horror franchise arguably removed all the creepiness and scares of it's forebears by including mandatory co-operative gameplay. Either you played through the campaign with your best mate or relied on the abysmal artificial intelligence, but either way having someone else around rendered the scripted jump-scares and "nail biting" encounters tame and predictable.

So why then am I even dragging this failure of a 'survival horror' up from it's rotting grave? Well, the reason is that, to be honest, I don't think scripted scares could ever really give a truely jump-out-of-your-seat reaction; for that you need something unpredictable, and that is actually where the co-operative aspect of this game worked in it's favour. You see, the defining scary moment in videogames is one that's very personal to me, and could only have emerged because of the local split-screen mode offered by this game. I'm going to recount to you the story of how my best friend Mike and I played through the Lost in Nightmares downloadable chapter, and how having two of us playing simultaneously resulted in diet coke spilling everywhere and almost caused a complete loss of bladder control.

Co-operative gameplay at its finest!

 Mike and I are long-term fans of Resident Evil, especially the original game, so when this DLC came out promising a return to creepy old mansions with all the crank turning and puzzle solving of yore, we jumped right in. Our mission was to play the episode through in one sitting on 'normal' difficulty, and then replay it over the following weeks, each time bumping the difficulty level up. On this particular day we were tackling the game on 'professional' after learning all the tricks and traps on the relatively hard 'veteran' mode. This included the placement and movements of the 'Guardian' enemies, which are huge hulking monstrocities that soak up a ton of bullets before they die and can pretty much kill you in a single hit if you're not careful. We were cocky, and thought we knew everything that they game could throw at us... I was also hung over.

We were at the piano puzzle in an early part of the game, where co-operatively one of us would have to play the musical instrument to reveal a secret passage, while the other player runs in to grab an artifact needed to advance the level. In this run-through I was on piano duty, which in Resident Evil 5 means being on quick-time-event duty; mashing buttons to prompts on screen to "play the piano". My concentration that day was shot due to the hideous room-spinning hangover I was still recovering from and my friend Mike could only sit and wait for me to get my act together. We were both transfixed on the bottom half of the split-screen, with my best chum yelling button prompts at me in an attempt to help; it didn't. Then, out the corner of my eye, I saw some movement on Mike's screen that probably shouldn't be there. It went something like this:

"Did you just move your point of view?"
"No, what are you on about?"
"Something just moved on your screen!"
"Did it? I didn't see anything."
"Shift your view about a second..."

Oh S**T!

It was in the GOD DAMN ROOM WITH US! It took a brief second for us to realise we were mere seconds away from death. People in neighboring houses must have thought a murder was taking place, as Mike and I lost all self-esteem (and self control) shreiking like monkeys as we tried to somehow escape this tiny box room with a huge hulking beast inside. After we escaped the room it was no better as there were more of these ugly brutes roaming the hallways. The game had done a number on us, lulling us into a false sense of security with easier playthroughs where these beasts were constrained to certain areas of the mansion. Constant repetition had numbed us to the scripted events and jump-scares developed by the design team, and so they must have known, the only way to get us would be to turn their creations lose. By unshackling their frankenstein's monsters and setting them free, there was an added layer of chaos, which would produce the true scares.

This is a fantastic example of emergent gameplay at work, where the single most memorable sequence wasn't cooked up by a programmer following a script, but rather by myself and my best friend and as a result of the conditions we were playing in. Without that second split screen there would have been no dramatic build-up, without my friend screaming next to me I probably could have controlled my fear a bit more, and without the balls to let the game do it's own thing Resident Evil 5: Lost in Nightmares would have been just another "good game but time to move on" . But, after running about in a frenzy and being ripped apart by the 'Guardians', Mike and I burst into fits of laughter. This was why we played survival horror games in the first place, to be shocked, surprised and scared, and I've never forgotten.

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About n0signalone of us since 2:01 AM on 10.06.2014

Videogames have come a long way since the 8-bit and 16-bit days of old, and it is now one of the most interesting and constantly-evolving storytelling mediums. I started blogging about videogames a few years ago because I am very passionate about certain experiences I've had, which I don't think could have existed outside of our unique hobby, and I wanted to share this with other like-minded people on the internet.

I'm based in the UK and my favourite videogame of all time is probably still Shadow of the Colossus, but other more recent games such as the impeccable Dark Souls and Journey have given it a run for its money. My other interests, and things I have blogged extensively about, are board games and Japanese anime. I've got a degree in Media Communications and Film, and I'm currently a Teacher of ICT.

I post fairly regularly on my personal blog at https://n0timportant.blogspot.co.uk/, so please visit there for legacy videogame reviews and articles on anime, boardgames, etc.