As Resident Evil Village fast approaches, Ross is going to be revisiting some of his favourite titles from a series that has undergone many permutations since 1996—from survival horror to white-knuckle third-person action—reinventing itself whenever the formula became too staid, to varying levels of success. But when it works, it really works.
“Carefully I lit the last match. I had to see what it was… A grave! But deeply engraved into the stone was my name!”
You know of the grand Spencer Mansion in the Arklay Mountains, with its baroque dining rooms and gloomy, thunder-clapped corridors, even if you’ve never been there. You already know what monsters stalk its halls, even if you’ve never faced them. You know where they come from, even if you’ve never penetrated the secret research centre beneath its marbled floors and crimson carpets.
And you know why all of the above exists, even if you’ve never confronted the Umbrella Corporation directly.
Of course, you might have been there and done that—back when there were clowns farting in the basement.
But let’s say you haven’t, with or without farts and clowns. You know what went down that night because you’ve likely felt the consequences.
When the virus inevitably slipped into that strange piece of Americana in the Midwest and sent a cop’s first day careening into a gnarled and bloody nightmare.
When the devoted sister pursued the truth to a secret island and then an Antarctic base, where that same truth, cowering before death, revealed itself to be incestuous and grotesque in the extreme.
When the cop-turned-secret-agent penetrated a decaying rural community in Spain to rescue the President’s daughter, only to be again confronted with the mysterious woman in a dress and her sinister employer in shades.
When the bland husband tracked his less bland wife to a bayou in the Deep South, and found another bio-hazard disaster waiting for him—one where the once evil corporation was doing the clean-up and not the instigating. For a change.
And on, and on, and on. There’s no end to the consequences of that night, not soon.
Not when it helped define the survival horror as we know it.
Not when Umbrella’s demented research crossed platforms and mediums and created a multimedia franchise that still entrances us with its monsters and melodrama.
I’ve written before about my problems with remakes and my lack of interest them, knowing there’s a glaring hypocrisy to it all: one of my favourite games is a remake, and one I would choose to play over the original if I had to make a choice (I don’t).
Shinji Mikami’s return to his 1996 classic resulted in something quite rare: the creation of another. As terrifying as it is beautiful, Resident Evil (2002) was a bold statement on the efficacy of Mikami’s original concept and the strengths of survival horror.
It’s a second bat at a haunted house with zombies and monsters wrapped in an appallingly stupid narrative, yet still it triumphs.
It’s a triumph encoded in the foundations of the mansion. This illogical nightmare of an edifice that only game designers could have built. To beat Resident Evil, remake or otherwise, basement or clown farts, is to beat the Spencer Mansion—to evade its traps, solve its puzzles, repel its assaults, and master its topography.
It makes no overtures to reality, existing only to conjure horror from the shape and colour of its halls.
In this it proves itself a master. It’s probably why you know about that mansion even if you haven’t played it.
But you should. You should step inside where there’s no turning back, face its monsters, penetrate its research facility, and confront what hides beneath it all—if only to set those consequences in motion.
And maybe burn a zombie or two
before they come back
as something worse.