Shinji Mikami’s impact on the games industry is simply immeasurable. Though he may not be the first to have used the 3D on 2D form, Resident Evil, originally Biohazard in Japan, was the title that not only put the PlayStation on the map, but also kickstarted an entire genre. Mikami is the godfather of survival horror.
Survival horror is the genre where to go in all guns blazing would result in you running out of ammo and quickly becoming the undead’s next meal. As its name implies, survival horror is not just about dispatching monsters, it’s more about management of resources. Knowing when to fight and when to flee. Adding another aspect of anxiety when you’ve already got a horde of monsters wanting to chew on your fibula.
Here are 13 of the most effective moments throughout Mikami’s career that really stick in the mind, brought to you with a ‘Fear level’ rating that will properly convey the horror of what we’re dealing with…
13. God Hand: The Demons
Ok, God Hand isn’t strictly a horror game, but anyone who’s had the pleasure of Clover studios’ amazing punch ’em up would tell you that each and every enemy is a formidable opponent. Take your eyes off the screen for even a second and you’ll end up on your back in no time. The better you do, the harder it becomes. No matter your skill level, every fight presents a challenge. At any point in the game, you could fell one villain only to come face to face with an almighty demon who is capable of kicking then dicing your buttocks before serving them back to you on a silver tray. It’s a way of ensuring you’re forever kept on your toes in a game that’s already hard going.
Fear level: mildly panicked.
12 Resident Evil: The Japanese introduction
Back in 1996, gaming was coming out of the SNES era. Freed from the constraints of cartridges, a CD-ROM was capable of holding far more data, which led to an explosion of full motion video to pad out the disc. Capcom’s tribute to George Romero’s genre-defining films was a massive change of direction for the company that had previously struck gold with Street Fighter II.
Following in the execrable Night Trap’s footsteps, Resident Evil’s intro is a cheap and cheerful mini horror movie, and follows the members of S.T.A.R.S Alpha team as they have their first brush with the monsters that await them. The moment when unfortunate Joseph discovers what’s left of one of his comrades was unfortunately neutered in the west – unusual, considering the advertising campaign in the UK was a literal blood bath. The full Japanese intro, however, had a liberal amount of blood spray and a grimy corpse, all topped off with soft rock music. All joking aside, it’s far removed from Capcom’s big bright arcade history, and though in retrospect rather tame, it helped pave the way for later horror games that would push boundaries further.
Fear level: Like watching your first 18-rated film on VHS, only to find out it’s a bit rubbish.
11 Dino Crisis: A T-Rex crashes your party
After having had massive success following in the footsteps of a certain George Romero film series, Mikami took influence from a Spielberg franchise for his next game franchise. Unfortunately, despite being more action orientated, Dino Crisis never really clicked with the PlayStation audience. However, it still packs one of the most effective scares of the era. After Regina collects a key card in the chief’s office, the window frame is shattered by the giant head of an actual T-rex that fills the room. Chomping down on a tasty scientist before letting out a deafening roar, the dino forces you to head to the far end of the room while it blocks the exit.
Fear level: Jurassic Park lied to me…
10 Resident Evil: Double canine ambush
By this point in the game it’s already established what a threat the dogs are, having already brought down one member of Alpha team. But as you begin to explore the mansion further, you head into what at first is another unassuming corridor until you’re midway into it then – crash! – one of the mutant dogs from outside breaks through the window and runs towards you.
You turn to run then – crash! – another dog crashes through and gives chase. It’s a double whammy of jump scares that gets the blood pumping and the adrenaline flowing until you get through the door at the end and breathe a well earned sigh of relief…
Fear level: Pedigree chump
9 Resident Evil 3: Meet your Nemesis
Master of unlocking Jill Valentine has made it to Raccoon City Police HQ and manages to run into her old partner, helicopter pilot Brad ‘Chickenheart’ Vickers. But their reunion is quickly cut short by the sudden appearance of the trenchcoat-clad Nemesis. Poor Brad, who’s already in a bad shape, tries to flee but is backed into a corner by the Nemesis’ formidable frame. Scooping Brad up in one large mutant hand, the Nemesis attempts some quick DIY dentistry with his hand tentacle on Brad’s rotten molars, but ends up redecorating the walls with a cocktail of blood and mind-juice.
But the real pant-wetting moment occurs when a multiple choice pops up on screen offering you a chance to either a) fight the Nemesis armed only with a toothpick and enthusiasm or b) get the bloody hell out of there and live another day.
Facing what is essentially the final boss so early on when you don’t even have a half-decent weapon sets the tone for the rest of the game, as the Nemesis relentlessly pursues you, much like the T-103 from RE2 did in the B scenario. The Nemesis wins out here purely for his retractable hand tentacle, adding an ick factor to an already imposing figure.
Fear level: Fetch the mop.
8 Resident Evil: The creepiest two words in the Keeper’s Diary
Time has not been kind to Resident Evil’s graphics. What was once considered top of the range in 1996 just looks like animated cardboard in 2014. But there’s one moment in the original Resident Evil that never fails to bring a chill to the spine. After one quick encounter with a zombie in the closet, you chance upon the keeper’s diary. It starts with some rather gruesome details about caring for the various creatures, referring to a hunter as a “skinned gorilla”. It slowly transpires that this is the slow degeneration of someone infected with the T-Virus – as each day progresses, another symptom shows up. First, the burning of the skin, then the loss of mental faculties, until only two words are left: itchy, tasty. It’s a genuinely unnerving moment of quiet creeping horror in a title that’s ridiculed for its cheesy cut-scenes.
Fear level: Skin crawling.
7 Resident Evil 2: Gun shop ambush
Running through an undead-infested Raccoon City, you slip down an alleyway into a quiet gun shop. All is calm when BAM, a herd of zombies crash through the shop window and overpower the owner, turning him into a grim buffet table. While they feast on his entrails, you have no choice but to make a run for it out the back door into the infested streets once more. What works well here is how much it wrong-foots you. Of all the places you’d think would be safest in Racoon City, you’d expect the gun shop to be an ideal resting place. But the sanctity is soon broken and you’re left scrabbling for a few extra bullets before making a break for it…
Fear level: Eurgh! You can see his guts and everything.
6 Resident Evil: The voice acting
Nowadays, AAA games are huge tentpole productions with Hollywood-level production values using some top talent. Nolan North is a household name, as long as that household has a PS3 in it, thanks to his work as Nathan ‘not Fillion’ Drake in the Uncharted series. But this wasn’t always the case. The emergence of the CD-ROM in the 90s meant that developers felt compelled to fill them up with FMV and voiceovers, irrespective of quality.
The original Biohazard/Resident Evil set a benchmark for vocal performance in videogames on a par with an amateur dramatics group reading out their shopping lists after downing cough syrup. They were stilted, awkward and emotionless – adjectives that could be used to describe the talents behind Jill, Chris and Barry, and my last date. Thankfully, the days of terrible acting in games are behind us and a top tier title like Destiny can attract the likes of Peter Dinklage. Oh, wait…
Fear level: Make it stop! Oh please make it stop!
5 Resident Evil 4: The Chainsaw Man/Sisters
One of horror’s most powerful (literal) weapons is the humble chainsaw. The drone of the engine, the row of jagged metal teeth suggesting the instant violent destruction it can wreak. In Resident Evil 4, they’re wielded by three of the most volatile plague victims, who’ll run straight for you as soon as they appear. There’s an immediate sense of urgency when you hear their oncoming metallic grind while surrounded by Los Ganados. Knowing that you’ve only a few seconds to clear some space between you and their spinning steel of instant death. Any hesitation or panic results in your gruesome decapitation and you quickly hitting “continue” to exact revenge. In a game where adaptation is crucial, they’re veritable fireworks thrown in to mix things up even further.
Fear level: OH GOD THEY’RE COMING RIGHT FOR ME
4 The Evil Within’s cover art
The power of the image cannot be underestimated, and The Evil Within’s arresting cover certainly packs a fair punch. Protagonist Sebastian Castallenos’ face wrapped in barbed wire is very much in keeping with the modern horror aesthetic of weathered Photoshop filters. His mouth contorted into a silent scream suggests that he’s not entirely comfortable with the situation. But there’s a wonderful little detail that may well go unnoticed on first glance. The bold red logo, already standing out against its monochrome backdrop, already reminds us of blood. But what really raises this cover over so many bland generic horror posters is the first ‘T’. Forming a long nail that not only runs through the rest of the title, it also threatens to skewer his eye, wide open in horror. It taps into such a primal fear elegantly, making this at once both immediate and visceral yet subtle, and able to get under our skin – even though we may not even notice it at first.
Fear level: I can’t look!
3 Los Ganados village in Resident Evil 4
In the early stages of series highpoint Resident Evil 4, Leon Kennedy knows something bad is up. He’s already seen his colleagues fall into the ravine and seen one fall victim of mob violence. However, none of this prepares you for your first major encounter as you approach the once peaceful village of Los Ganados, and face a swarm of angry villagers. It’s the culmination of the slow build-up of menace, where you only had to deal with lone stragglers. Suddenly, you’re faced with an entire swarm. Around this point, modern games would be full of helpful tutorials and hints on how to deal with this, but Mikami and his crew are all “lol, you’re on your own mate.” It’s an adrenaline-charged, frantic rush as you use your wits and the environment around you to stay alive.
Fear level: Attending a Manchester United match wearing a Liverpool strip.
2 The first time you approach a zombie in Resident Evil
Playing as either Jill or Chris, you step out of the dining hall to what first appears to be just another mundane corridor, until you turn a corner. You’re then treated to the sight of an emaciated figure, hunched over, facing away from you as grisly munching noises fill the room. Something snaps and a pool of crimson spills out. The head of your comrade Kenneth fills the screen, before rolling to reveal half the flesh is missing. The emaciated figure’s head turns around and its dead eyes lock on to you as he growls hungrily. Another great moment of creeping dread that comes so soon in the game yet resonates throughout. Once you’ve seen what even the lowliest of zombies is capable of, you’re always alert to the sound of their shuffling.
Fear level: Gulp!
1 Resident Evil: ver 2.002
Soon to make a long awaited reappearance in HD, the 2002 remake of the first title still stands as one of the most genuinely creepy titles that has ever been released. Ironically coming to a Nintendo console first – a complete reversal of their notoriously family friendly policy that saw Mortal Kombat’s blood turn into sweat – Resident Evil 2002 was a thorough overhaul of the first game that saw everything upgraded.
Gone were the blocky automatons and B-movie acting, and in came superbly detailed character models and an atmosphere of pure dread. Though sticking with the template of the original, whole new areas were added along with new creatures and a deeper storyline that delved into the history of the doomed mansion. Even those familiar with the original and its lore were treated to new scares.
One moment that rewards such familiarity is the corridor where the aforementioned canine ambush took place – this time, the glass just cracks. A neat little reference to the past and a sign that Capcom doesn’t want to make you jump, it wants to disturb you to your core. Though over a decade old now, it still holds up visually, and hopefully its re-release will see a whole new generation finding out what horrors lurk in that abandoned mansion.
Fear level: A long warm steady stream of effluence running down your leg.
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