I've never beaten a Resident Evil game. When I was a kid, I would often watch friends play through the games. I was too scared, too terrible with the controls, and too bad at inventory management to make it very far myself. I would often walk through a door or up a staircase and immediately throw the controller at whoever's face was next to me. Such a babby, but I was hell-bent to conquer Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
There are spoilers ahead.
Why are the games so scary, or rather, why was I so scared of them? Those were the questions I started asking myself while playing through Biohazard. Sure, the series is full zombies and other creatures which are oh so spook, but there are also villains who straight up act like they came out of a Saturday morning cartoon. The games are ridiculous and over the top at points. So, what was it?
Like Resident Evil 4, you begin by getting out of a car and walking into some unknown hell. It's almost pleasant, the walk to the Guest House. No zombies, no threats, plenty of light, and plenty of space to run. Safe. You pass a broken gate with a sign that reads "ACCEPT HER GIFT." After a crow spooks you, you pass through another gate or sorts: a portal of hanging saw blades and what look like cow legs bound by bloodstained ropes. On the nose? Nah.
This was the game asking me to give up my control and embrace the horror. If I wanted to receive the "gift," I had to acquiesce to the game's demands, step out of the safety of the light and space, and into the unknown that awaits. The horror of RE was starting to reveal itself to me.
When I think about Resident Evil, my thoughts immediately go the the first entry in the series. Miles outside of the city and surrounded by zombie dogs, the Spencer Mansion was the stuff of my nightmares for years to come. While uninhabited by the living, the mansion was far from empty. This was a place where someone lived. This was someone's home. Full of traps and puzzles, it was clear that unwanted guests were not welcome here.
RE7 does a fantastic job of making sure you know you are the outsider. The place is littered with photos and other keepsakes belonging to the Bakers. I hated being there. It was gross for a number of reasons. It's easy to imagine what you would do if a threat came to your home. You know where all the doors are. You know where the best hiding spots are. You know where the weapons are, and you know where to run. When you're in foreign dwelling, you're at a clear disadvantage. It's puzzling and aggravating which leads to poor decision making, followed by hyperventilating and pants shitting. Luckily, the level design in RE7 is so amazing that even an idiot like me was able to learn the layout of the estate. After a few hours, I hardly ever referenced my map.
When I first encountered the Molded, I can't say I was very scared. Sure, they killed me a lot, but that was due to my sub-par shooting skills. I wasn't stricken with the same paralyzing fear that the RE1 zombies instilled in me so many years ago. They are, more or less, the zombies of RE7; they walk slowly towards you, munch on you if they can, and are too dumb for doors. So, why wasn't I scared?
By now, the walking dead are hackneyed as fuck. Peek into any Hot Topic, and you'll see this once symbol of horror demoted to nothing more than an icon of cute quirky nerdiness. The Hello Kitty of horror. Just throw a zambone on a shirt and you're set for life. Suffice it to say that zombies aren't scary anymore.
That first zombie you encounter in RE1, the Turning Around Zombie, was my first intimate encounter with the undead. Sure, I've killed many zombies in other games like Final Fantasy and I've seen a George Romero film, but I've never had to "deal" with the shambling horror that is the Resident Evil zombie. The slow moving, insatiable, fearless mess that stumbles through the uncanny valley of human resemblance wants nothing, but is rather driven to devour your body. They are unreasonable, and inscrutable.
The scariest thing to me was how expressionless the Turning Around Zombie was. It simply didn't make sense to me. Up to that point, most video game enemies I encountered wanted me dead for one reason or another. They had feelings and goals which usually didn't align with mine, and that makes killing easy, right? The TAZ and subsequent zombies merely existed. On top of that, I felt bad for the people they used to be, and was petrified by the idea that I––er––Jill could become one at any moment. Then, it would be her getting gunned down by her comrades. No mercy.
I understand that can't happen in the game. Get off my back!
It's not the same with the Molded. For starters, they are smarter than zombies. Whether they are being controlled or not, they are out to get you for reasons. Secondly, while humanoid, they are far from looking human. If I understand correctly, they aren't even reanimated corpses. With huge teeth and claws, it's easy to separate them from humans and feel no remorse for blasting their legs off with a shotgun. Fear circumvented.
Was this all I was afraid of?
Once I escaped Jack and the Main Hall, the game became much easier. Maybe I was shaking off the initial jitters. Maybe I was getting a hang of the game mechanics. Either way, I was feeling pretty empowered as Ethan found more weapons, ammo, health and permanent health upgrades. Even Jack (my most feared enemy in the game) became more of a goofy Zelda boss than the formidable chainsaw-pincer wielding foe I remembered. It wasn't until I entered the Wrecked Ship when I started to feel the spooks again, but it's hard to not feel empowered playing as Mia. Maybe it's her backstory, or the fact that I had a machine gun and remote mines at my disposal. I didn't like her, but she was a badass.
A little side note: I just realized her name is Mia, and for three years she was missing...in action. Dumb. I'm dumb.
After getting my boy, Ethan, back, I was feeling like a veritable Resident Evil badass! Like Ethan, I started the game off cowhearted, confused, and weak. Now, we were a walking arsenal of mold destroying vengeance ready to "kill that little bitch," and get the fuck home! The climb up the Salt Mines was as symbolic for him as it was for me. After dispatching my fourth of fifth Molded in a row I realized I was no longer afraid. We emerged from that hole stronger, sweatier men.
The veil had been dropped. The mystery, more or less solved. The person we came there to save was dead. That's right. I didn't save Mia. The only thing left to do was to destroy Eveline. It was great returning to the Guest House for the final fight. The location where I was most scared was now the setting for the final showdown, and I was totally ready for it. Unencumbered by fear, Eveline stood no chance.
That goes to show you that the real enemy is fear. Duh, Curt. Come on. For real, though. That's what I took from my RE7 playthrough. Once I let go of that childhood fear, I was able to beat the game no problem. I did it. I completed a Resident Evil. I'm a big strong boy. Although, I'm sure the internet would disagree since this isn't a real Resident Evil or something. I don't care.