Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
New England Gamer
October 2011

Local Malevolence the Second

Zombies are, perhaps, the ultimate conversation starter. In fact, I dare you to walk up to a stranger, ask them what their contingency plan for the zombie apocalypse is and see if you can't wring some sort of conversation out of them.

Granted, "Get away from me you weirdo!" could count as a conversation if you're especially lonely, but chances are you'll find that a lot of people haven't just thought of it in passing but have actually planned out, in detail, what they would do to survive an onslaught of the living dead. Even the Center for Disease Control has an official plan to deal with the threat of the fictional undead.

It should be of no surprise then that zombies figure prominently in video games and have done so for decades. They've been a presence in gaming since the days of the Atari and show up so regularly now that many gamers are outright sick of them. They're often held up in the ranks of gaming clichés right alongside bald, muscular space marines and breasts that defy all laws of physics and gravity.

Be that as it may, I've always had a soft spot for zombies in every format. They're like the villain equivalent of Play-Doh; able to take on just about any role. Looking for an enemy you can feel sorry for? Zombies. Looking for a baddie that people won't feel bad about shooting (besides Nazis)? Zombies. They are a monster that is bland by nature but can still be scary when used effectively.

On the scary end of things, no game ever got it better than Resident Evil 2.

I'd be lying if I said that the Resident Evil games were one of my favorite gaming series. Back in high school I loved them, and there would be many who would point to them as classics, but looking back on them it's easier to see their flaws than what they did well. They're notorious for their stiff controls, and as the series went on the plot grew from a simple tale of "evil corporation spills zombie goo" to a tale so convoluted and nonsensical that only the most hardcore of fans could compliment it with a straight face.

By the time you arrived at the fourth game, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, the idea that a successful international corporation would accidentally spill a bio-weapon that brings the dead back to life a whopping three times was more than a bit silly.

Resident Evil 2 however is what I would call a bonafide classic. It suffers from its age too, but it also escaped a lot of the problems that the games that would come after it had. It had easily the best story of all the Resident Evil games. It was connected to its predecessor but still self-contained. Whereas later sequels would add layers of conspiracy and twists that you'd need a spreadsheet to keep track of, it kept things simple. In many ways Resident Evil 2 was just a rehash of the original game done exponentially better.

The visuals were better, the voice acting was better (look up Resident Evil 1's cutscenes on YouTube for a laugh), the gameplay was better, the story was better; it was just a well put together game for its time and one that I think holds up really well if you can get past the mechanical problems that came with its era.

In the least, it's still a really scary game.

In fact, what I think really makes this game special is that after all these years Resident Evil 2 still scares me and I've played plenty of scary games since Resident Evil 2. Dead Space for instance, a game released just a few years ago, had my adrenaline pumping from start to finish. Ju-On: The Grudge, while a terrible game on many levels, is actually one I can't even bear to put into my Wii because it terrifies me (I hate those Japanese ghosts!).

None of these, however, nor any other horror game I've played since, really sticks with me the way Resident Evil 2 has. Perhaps it's again just nostalgia. Resident Evil 2 was the first horror game I ever played. I had never seen anything like it. That said, I think there's more to it then that. Every time I pick the game up again (once or twice a year), I can't help but marvel at all the things they did right with it. Everything in the game just sets up this mood of tenseness and fear. From the shadows that darken the halls to the echo of your footsteps against the ambient din of zombies moaning in the distance; it built this perfect mood of expectation that time and again paid off.

Sometimes the pay off was cheap. Resident Evil as a series was notorious for jump scares and Resident Evil 2 was no exception. Whenever there was an opportunity for something to burst through a window or scare you unexpectedly, the game used it. But there were also more subtle terrors. Like the low shuffle of an unseen zombie down a narrow hallway. Or the countless moments when you were low on ammo and unsure if you'd have enough to survive your next encounter. And Mr.X.

If there is a singular figure that will haunt my nightmares for the rest of my life it will be Mr. X. The way he lumbers slowly toward you, face stoic, each footstep shaking the floorboards beneath him. You shoot him over and over again but he keeps coming, absorbing your precious ammunition the way a Sumo wrestler might take a toddler's flailing blows. Even his attack disturbed me; in a game full of biting, clawing and bloody wounds, Mr. X would pummel you to death with his fists.

The game would always make him inescapable. Your every encounter with him would be in a narrow hallway with no exit save the one behind him. He was like a literal boogeyman, showing up at your most vulnerable moments and always returning no matter how many times you beat him . . . It brings chills to my spine just to think of it.

Resident Evil 2 wasn't just a special game for me, it was a special game. It took its concept and nailed it like no other. The franchise would never do it so well again and has all but abandoned its horror roots, becoming yet another pillar of the none-too-ailing action genre. The shame of that can't appropriately be counted. To go from being top of the pile to a shadow of your former self is no uncommon thing in video games. Even in the fall that moment of true brilliance remains, ready to be relived (raised from the dead if you will) when called upon.

This Halloween I might just have to shut the lights off and curl up with a good game.

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