Halloween approaches and we're in the mood for frights. Horror is a fine tradition in video games, and arguably one of the most affecting genres in the medium. Games are unique in that they force you make the poor protagonist's ill-advised decisions yourself -- not to to turn back and run, but to push on towards your darkest fears -- which makes those scares all the more intense when they do come at you.
Resident Evil is the standout franchise when it comes to interactive horror, defining the 'survival horror' genre back in the 90s before adopting more action-focussed elements and now, with Resident Evil 7, virtual reality.
While I have a lot of love for Silent Hill, there's no denying that Resident Evil is survival horror's breakout star. It's touched us all, in one way or another. To get us into the seasonal spirit, I put the Now Loading crew down on the therapist's couch and began the torturous process of resurfacing the memories that made them such messed-up individuals in the first place.
10. First Licker Encounter — Resident Evil 2
So says Marlon MacDonald, his shaky voice punctuated with nervous laughter. Our patient Marlon is a clearly damaged individual with a history of taking out his anger on innocent game peripherals. The root of this lashing out can be traced back to a feeling of helplessness after his chilling first encounter with the Licker in Resident Evil 2. Uncanny, animalistic and disturbingly humanlike in its attacks, the Licker makes one hell of an entrance.
9. Grabby Hallway — Resident Evil 2
Significant trauma also seems to stem from what has to be one of the best jump scares of the series — a pair of arms bursting through a hallway window in RE2. These grasping limbs shoot out of a seemingly empty corridor just as you turn a corner and no doubt had many first time players jumping right out of their skins.
8. Chased by Nemesis — Resident Evil 3
One of the key elements of survival horror is just that you can't just blast your way through the monsters...they're terrifying because you're weak and vulnerable, and you have to run to stay alive. RE3 does this really well with the Nemesis chase sequence, as you backtrack through the areas, trying to avoid being caught by uber-boss Nemesis, the presence of which is signified by his dread-inducing musical theme.
7. The Axeman Cometh — Resident Evil 5
Ordinarily calm and steely-eyed patient Rob is initially flippant and reluctant to open up, but proves especially responsive to electroshock treatment and later makes some progress and admits his fears. The Executioner boss in RE5 is a lumbering, faceless killer reminiscent of Silent Hill's Pyramid Head, with a pedigree to such classic horror hulks as Leatherface and Jason. Thanks the the brutal punishment he dealt out, this faceless brute still stalks Rob's nightmares in a way that Freddy Krueger can only dream of.
6. Chainsaw Death — Resident Evil 4
In between convulsions, Rob reveals more trauma tracing back to a terror of faceless killers with huge weapons. We've successfully isolated the memory of the incident that started it all: RE4's sack-headed chainsaw wielder.
5. Running Out of Ink Ribbons — Resident Evil
This particular trauma is a common one and focuses more on survival than horror. On a more meta level, most terrifying thing in Resident Evil isn't the zombies, but running out of ink ribbons. There are only 30 or so hidden throughout the game and they are the only way to save your progress. The game is 11 hours long, and good luck keeping more than one in your inventory. This device can cause frustration but it's a constant source of tension that makes every unopened door, unexplored room and uncleared hallway a nail-biting affair.
4. Birkin Transforms — Resident Evil 2
And now for some personal confessions. I'll admit that what haunts me is the body horror of the mutations that you can see in the games, especially if you know something about the monster's human past.
Resident Evil 2 antagonist William Birkin infects himself with the G-Virus after being shot. Although providing 'godlike' physical power and adaptability, the virus ravages his body, forcing him to adopt monstrous forms through a series of sickening transformations, each more horrifying than the last. Nigh indestructible and recurring like the horror of a nightmare, players of RE2 always knew s**t was about to get real (real gross) when Birkin arrived on the scene.
3. Mayday, Mayday! — Resident Evil Revelations
This particular encounter is reminiscent of Birkin, featuring a similarly mutated monster, but always struck me as more harrowing in the way that the humanity of the Comms Officer is still somewhere in there, at first in his 'mayday' call, which teases that you might still be able to save him, and then in his pathetic whimpers that emerge from the two-headed, saw-armed boss monster, trying in vain to resist his aggression, repeating the phrases that he spoke in his last moments of humanity. This discovery of his journal after the boss fight provides the icing on the death-cake, detailing the isolated Comms Officer's descent into mutation and madness.
2. Mo-ther... — Resident Evil Remastered
The encounters with Lisa Trevor in the Resident Evil remake combine the series's signature sickening body horror with the psychological terror of destroyed humanity. Lisa Trevor, daughter of the architect of the Spencer Mansion, was taken from her family and subjected to horrible experiments at the hands of Umbrella Corp, eventually transformed into a hideously strong, near indestructible monster.
This is one reason why she's so scary...bullets won't stop her, no matter how powerful your gun is, she can't be fought. The other reason is that you find writings from her in the mansion that detail her thoughts and fears while she still retains enough sanity to remember her loss and pain...even in her monstrous form, she mourns over the remains of her dead mother.
1. The First Zombie — Resident Evil
Plain old zombies might seem old hat to a seasoned Resident Evil player, especially after going through several games and encountering the likes of Birkin, but you can't deny that the original encounter is very effective given the suspense leading up to that moment. The initial face-off with an infected zombie in Resident Evil is literally a game changer, marking the point where the series escalated into real survival horror. It's always that first fright that makes you jump the highest and sets your heart racing in expectation of what's to come. Re-live that primal terror in its original and remastered forms.