I’m climbing up a metal ladder; it’s some time at night, and the rain is making everything glisten, including the bodies I left twitching in the yard outside the police station. As I enter the precinct, I round a corner and can see that the helicopter wreckage that had so rudely perforated the interior corridor is no longer flaming. Relief washes over me. At this moment, the aerial flotsam is casually shunted aside, and there before me is an imposing figure. It looks like the Terminator through a film noir lens, and its hulking frame is blocking my way. His grin is indeterminable and fixed while I empty my clip into it. He keeps coming forward. I’m out of ordnance and backed up against the wall. By deft of hand, I counter his lurching attack by turning the console off.
Resident Evil 2 (2019), an entirely rebuilt remake of Resident Evil 2 (1998), is the only game to make me "Nope" out entirely from the reality of a fictional story in this way. The arrival of the titanic Mr. X is also far from the scariest moment in the narrative. After all, he can’t be killed by the player, only by something much more grotesque, which I would discover once I had booted back into the nightmarish simulacrum of a zombie outbreak in late '90s America.
Like the red and green herbs of the games, Resident Evil 2 excels in combining atmosphere and video game pacing to create a more substantive experience. The helicopter scenario was a moment of pathfinding difficulty that had to be resolved in a mechanical way (Turn on the water valve to put the fire out.), but the way in which an escalated threat is introduced during the baited respite is a syncopated interruption straight from the big book of horror.
Earlier in my adventure, I’m offered a notebook from a cop as he is torn in two from the other side of a safety door. Reeling from the dramatic irony and cinematic gratuity of quivering red sausages strewn about the floor, my focus shifts onto solving the game puzzle scrawled onto the bloody paper handed me. As my higher functions work out what I want to do next, my bodily functions have differing plans: kill the reanimated officer that has burst through the only exit to the room, drawn in by the retching sounds of its next meal. His head bobbles and I can’t land a clean shot. After this conflict, the game recognizes that I’m too pretty to die again and offers me an easier Assisted Mode, which I gladly take.
I soon discover that in this game, the trusted “kill them in the head” method of terminal dispatchment has no effect except making skull cavities more visible through where nose cartilage or cheek flaps used to be. The novel solution: knee-capping the undead and hurriedly skip-waltzing past their rising, mulchy corpses. You have a knife, but as the old saying probably goes: If they’re within your arm’s distance, you’re also within theirs. Those that have arms anyway. And knifes can break as much as bones.
The shiny RE Engine behind the remake of Resident Evil 2 offers sublime graphics at a cost of player sanity. The lighting, tension, and set-pieces give an almost lost-footage-film feel to the adventure without being presented in the first-person, as with the last entry in the series, Resident Evil 7 (2017). Bodies throw themselves down stairwells when I’m nearing a save room, and the undead rattle the window frames as I pass them. I hear Mr. X’s footsteps get louder as he gets closer. In the cafeteria, the patrons eat great gobfuls of each other, and monstrous Lickers stand over the carcasses of attack dogs that had been my worst nightmare. A stint playing as an entirely unarmed child in an orphanage briefly intuits that man is the real monster, before real monsters paw at my shrieking face. I’m trapped in trash-compactors, shadowy attics, and high-tech science labs. Running in the streets makes me prey; wading in the sewers brings amorphous horrors bubbling into my eye line. It’s all quite relentless.
Alone, in an area lit only by torch and the quick-flashes of gun-fire, Leon - the rookie-cop protagonist - starts to audibly reassure himself as he presses onward. I lean forward in my seat to listen and take heart from his words of confidence. I don’t turn off the console this time, but I also know that we’re not going to survive the night unscathed. We’ve got this, but everything won’t be fine; I can hear them coming…