There’s no shortage of idiocy in horror, from researchers reading out dusty, skin-bound tomes to college students splitting up to investigate a noise. However, the joy of the 2019 Resident Evil 2 remake is that not only does it let you sidestep some of that genre guff, but it gives you the satisfaction of throwing it back in the zombies’ stupid, flesh-eating faces.
Sure, this survival horror’s opening section offers few surprises, but once you pass the “I’m half the cop I used to be” scene, you start being able to claw back some degree of control. Brainless as zombies technically are, they’re inhumanly patient and have an eerie sense of dramatic timing. They’ll happily wait for a character to deliver their grand speech before springing to life and sinking their teeth into a juicy ankle.
But in Resident Evil 2, while they’re more than happy to wait for you, you sure as hell don’t have to wait for them. This revelation hit me as I ascended the police station stairs and saw a gray-skinned police officer slumped against the wall. I was of two minds as to what to do. On the one hand, I’d seen enough horror movies to suspect that ignoring her was going to cost me later, that she’d rise from her slumber at the most inconvenient moment possible.
On the other hand, survival horror titles tend to only introduce enemies when they’re about to tear your throat out or you have the means to defeat them. On the rare occasion monsters are on the field “early,” they’re infuriatingly invulnerable, carved out of marble until the exact moment the game decides to animate them. If I started blasting, I reasoned, I’d either waste a bullet or take my own head off with a ricochet.
However, faced with being the kind of idiot whom I’d mocked for not stamping on their fallen stalker’s face, I fired. Five seconds later, having watched the dead officer spring to life before collapsing under a hail of bullets, I was gazing at their twice-dead form — you could have cut the smugness with a knife.
What makes dispatching dormant zombies so satisfying is it feels like you’re beating the system. You’re getting vengeance for every horror movie moron that stepped over a body, all the while proving you’re smarter than they ever were.
“What’s that, Officer Zombie? You’re just sitting there, chilling out by the gun range? Just watching me go past, thinking about how you’re going to get me the third time I pass through this room. I guess I’ll just walk right by you and… sorry, was that my knife in your decaying guts? Looks like you’re struggling to get up. Here, let me help you. Oh, whoops, I just keep slipping.”
Granted, to an observer it looks extremely suspect, especially when you dole out a few extra slashes to make sure your shambling foe isn’t rising a third time. Plus, it raises potential legal questions about the desecration of the dead — I doubt Sherry Birkin would have been so eager to come with Claire if she’d seen her flailing away at a corpse like a vodka-soaked abattoir worker.
But puncturing corpses isn’t the only method of foiling the undead; boarding up windows isn’t quite as unprecedented, but it nevertheless gives you a warm fuzzy glow. So whenever you come across a courtyard-facing corridor, you know exactly what Resident Evil 2’s shamblers have in their rotting minds and you’re not falling for it.
Half an hour later, as you head back through the corridor, you’re patting yourself on the back so hard you’re in danger of ejecting your kidneys. You stand, gazing at your handiwork, smiling as the undead pound fruitlessly at the barriers; behold, this is your kingdom, your sanctuary.
“Try and fool me with your scripted zombie attacks, will you, Resident Evil 2? I don’t think so,” you exclaim to no one in particular, the self-satisfaction radiating off you like a small sun. But unbeknownst to you, you’re heading for a fall.
Resident Evil 2 capitalizes on your awareness of horror tropes and of the series as a whole. Capcom knows what you know, and halfway through your first Resident Evil 2 run, you realize you know it knows you know — and it’s more than prepared to use that knowledge against you.
Take Resident Evil 2’s window-blocking boards; the game counts on you slapping them over the first unsecured pane you come across. Why? Because there are never enough to go around. So when you stumble into another equally unprotected room, your complacency is replaced by a gnawing regret that you didn’t hang onto at least a few of them. You’ve cheated some of the dead, but (with a strictly limited number of boards) there’s no way you’re going to pull the same trick with the rest. And they’re just dying to meet you.
Then Mr. X is dropped into the mix and you absolutely know that Resident Evil 2 is onto you. It doesn’t matter if this is your first playthrough, or your fourth, or if you’ve watched enough “How Mr. X Works” videos to make your eyes bleed — sheer terror erases all logic. You become convinced that every action will bring gray vengeance down upon you. Fire your gun? Mr X. Open a door? Mr X. Scratch your left bumcheek? Mr X.
So instead of slashing or blasting “unaware” zombies and striding away thinking you’ve made Raccoon City PD a safer place, dealing with the “sleeping” dead becomes a life-threatening gamble. Instead of self-assuredly dispatching any corpse that looks like it might be faking a nap, you’re weighing up the risks.
You could be mocking some now inanimate corpse when Mr. X bursts through a door and introduces you to his huge, ham-sized fists. But then again, what if you don’t? What if, the next time you’re passing through, the zombie has risen to its feet and, with Mr. X on your tail, is blocking your escape? You’ll be turned into a red smear, all because you stopped being thorough.
It’s as I was standing there, pondering just such a dilemma that Mr. X showed up and smashed me into a wall like the raisin-faced murder golem he is. Resident Evil 2 knew what I was doing, let me get away with it, and then played me right back. I might have been cheating the undead, but the House of Horror always wins. Still, proving I was smarter than a handful of shambling corpses was wonderful while it lasted. Now, all I need is an undead apocalypse so I can prove I’m no zombie’s fool.