I was too scared to play Resident Evil 4. When Capcom released it in 2005, I was the perfect age – in middle school – to revel in a game that reinvented Resident Evil and practically all of action survival-horror. But I didn’t. My crippling fear of horror games precluded the memories that could have been.
Over the years, I’ve seen critic and enthusiast alike celebrate Resident Evil 4, praising its controls and key plot points that are now cemented in millennial nostalgia. Desperate to finally participate, I played the game 11 years after its release for the first time through its newfangled high-def edition on Xbox One. Even as a grown-ass adult who has actually survived life-threatening situations once or twice, I still couldn’t play Resident Evil 4. I don’t think I ever will be able.
“But!” you scream to me from your smartphone or whatever you’re reading this on, “Resident Evil 4 isn’t that scary.” You’re right. Resident Evil 4 indeed shifted Capcom’s franchise toward action-adventure/survival gameplay instead of straight horror. But Resident Evil 4 still succeeds, even now, in creating unnerving atmospheres with the dreaded sensation of finding no options of escape while a horde of zombified villagers approach you with pitchforks and chainsaws. Even with the outdated graphics, I just couldn’t do it.
There’s something potent about video games that give it power over passive activities like reading or watching films. The removal of agency you have over the work’s avatars is an immediate disconnect. It’s easy to say, “It’s only a movie,” because you’re not controlling Nancy in Nightmare on Elm Street or even Danny running from dear old dad in The Shining. You witness, not participate.
No shit, right? It’s why franchises like Resident Evil exist so well in gaming. Why are the Resident Evil films so damn boring? Besides that they’re bad, it’s because it takes something you’re used to “doing” and you sit still for two hours instead. No matter how great of a game Resident Evil 4 is, if it were a film, it’d be a boring one. You don’t see characters like Leon Kennedy in horror movies for a reason.
But Resident Evil 4 is a game, and it works well as such, even if it hasn’t aged that well. For me, a new player, Resident Evil 4 did not translate well into the current decade. While I imagine the mechanics might have worked on the GameCube, I found it frustrating to aim and move on my Xbox One. I was told the controls in Resident Evil 4 were outstanding and created a much more engaging experience than previous installments, but I found them stifling and over-thought. Am I spoiled by Gears of War and Ghost Recon? Probably. I have no doubt Resident Evil 4 controls rocked in the mid-2000’s, but the game doesn’t play well to fresh thumbs. (Or maybe I just suck, which is entirely plausible.)
The frustrating controls, however unintentional, adds to the tension. Struggling to turn a corner while a villager, chainsaw revved, approaches ten feet behind is scary as fuck even when Leon Kennedy is like, the most capable protagonist imaginable. Resident Evil 4 holds up in 2016 in its dizzying and heart-pumping surroundings — something that is both familiar and refreshing. I can’t think of too many horror movies set in Spain, even though the game looks more like an action-centric Blair Witch.
But if the game holds up, what’s my problem, then? It’s bizarre to even myself how allergic I am to horror video games; I devour scary movies like a fiend, and with Halloween around the corner, I’m already planning to hit up those big-budget haunted houses that pop up every October. Why am I more willing to actually be in scary places than play a measly video game from my sofa, in my own house?
No one is more upset I’m unwilling to finish Resident Evil 4 than I am. Every YouTube video that celebrates the now-classic game is one I can’t relate to, a collection of blurred zombie-killing action that means so much to millions but nothing to me. Even my co-workers honor every little thing in a game that has almost taken a life of its own. But it’s a phenomenon I can’t engage with. I think I’m just too scared.