Happy 25th Birthday, Resident Evil 2


I still remember my first hours in Raccoon City–the blazing inferno, that fade-in from black right at the start of the game that immediately saw you surrounded by zombies with hardly any ammo to fight them off with. It was the first time I played a horror game that not only felt so dauntingly cinematic, but actually encouraged me to flee rather than use the weapon it handed me.

Despite the fact that all the creatures after your brains moved at the speed of your sherry-addled grandad shambling off to bed after his ill-advised rant about immigrants, the intensity of that initial gauntlet through the alleys of Raccoon City to the fleeting safety of the Police Station made it all feel like a fast-paced nightmarish blur… a bit like the 25 years of life since the game came out, am I right?


Nah, it’s not really been a blur at all. I think back to when I first played Resident Evil 2 and it’s like thinking back to a previous existence. I was in Poland, booting up a bootleg PS1 disc with my cousin on his chipped PlayStation 1 (the default way of playing video games in Poland in the 90s, but that’s a story for another day). It was all so deliciously horrifying to us–the picture of the zombie at the start of the game, the ominous bell to signal the start of the actual game, the fact that you had to get survive a whole lot of hell in that early going before you got to a save room, the works.

Yes, you could point back to the previous Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark, or even Sweet Home on the NES as the true beginnings of survival horror, but Resident Evil 2 blew it all out to a truly apocalyptic sense of scale. Unlike all those aforementioned games, in Resi 2 you weren’t just going into some ornate house of horrors, but the horrors quite literally spilled out onto the streets of the city. You never get the sense that you could just leave if you wanted to.

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And Resident Evil 2 was all about transgression and shattering boundaries. In much the same way as amplified the horror of its survival horror forerunners by ‘taking it to the streets,’ so many of its greatest scares relied on terrible things breaking through the seemingly static safety of pre-rendered backgrounds. There were the zombies smashing through into the gun shop, the Licker breaking in through the window in the Police Station, the hands clawing in through the barricaded window.

Eventually you get used to this flavour of jumpscare, but the game wasn’t done. Later on, just as you’d start feeling familiar with the game’s dirty jumpscare tricks, it really gets you with the greatest jumpscare of all.

See, for the game to buy a little time to load the next scene when you’d go through a door, you’d get this little cutscene of passing through a door surrounded by pitch blackness (in the first-person perspective, no less). Over hours of play and dozens of doors, you get used to these doors as a kind of safe space–an isolation chamber from the horrors behind and ahead of you.

But later on, just that one time, as you’re passing through a door and are in that loading screen, a pair of gods-shitting zombies appear in the blackness, on the loading screen, while you’re in first-person. The music goes into full frantic mode, and 11-year-old me threw down the controller, not to return to the game for at least another decade. It was one boundary-cross too many, because if loading screens weren’t safe spaces, then how could I trust that anything else was? How could I know it wouldn’t happen again, or that something wouldn’t come stomping into the save room next time?

I didn’t complete Resident Evil 2 around the time it came out, and yet even those several hours I spent with it entrenched it in my memory. It would later go on to become one of the favourite horror games, but playing it 25 years ago, back in 1998, felt like so much more than playing a horror game–it was so cutting-edge, so impressive, that it completely submerged you in the horror.

So thank you, Resident Evil 2, for opening me up to the capabilities of gaming as a medium for horror, and Happy 25th birthday, you absolute nightmare.

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