31 Days Of Dreadtober: Atmosphere Is Everything In Resident Evil

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Day 27

Resident Evil 1 Original Intro posted by McPattern

When I was a child, my teenage uncle brought home the Resident Evil: Director’s Cut for the original PlayStation. This was before the game received a much-needed facelift in the form of the REmake, so it was a cheese-filled game brimming with awkward live-action cutscenes, terrible writing, and laughably bad acting from inexperienced performers paired with the rudimentary 3-D of the early console generations. Looking back, it’s a wonder the game scared anyone at all and yet this legendary horror-survival franchise is still going strong all these years later.

How could such an uneven experience be remembered as one of the scariest games in video game history? Despite its many flaws, Resident Evil really nailed an ambient atmosphere that instilled a sense of dread in its player base. There was also a cinematic flair to the game’s directing that emphasized on building suspense rather than Michael Bay style of action as seen in the later games.

RE used a fixed camera to set up many of its scares and to give the game the illusion of a greater sense of scale. When the franchise made the jump from a fixed camera position to an over the shoulder type of camera, the games started to naturally drift more toward the action genre. When the player can turn away from what’s happening, it becomes harder to set up a scare, so the later games choose to throw wave after wave of enemies at you as a solution.

Then there was the now iconic door opening animations, lending a sense of mystery and danger as you further explored the Spencer Mansion and the nerve-inducing soundtrack. The clunky controls were no accident either. They were meant to be a handicap and gave the game a layer of strategy.

Because of your limited supplies, it was often more beneficial to evade monsters than to blast your way through a room. When you did have to use your weapons, you had to do so strategically, using positioning and timing to maximize your effectiveness. Missing your shots could be the difference between surviving or seeing the dreaded “You are dead” screen. You could only save at certain locations in the game and the system itself was a limited resource. All these core gameplay systems were so good at generating an atmosphere that players forgave the more ridiculous aspects of the game. For Resident Evil, atmosphere is king.

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