This week’s release of the HD remaster of the GameCube remake of Resident Evil (which is still a tremendously gorgeous game, even by today’s standards) has gotten me slightly nostalgic. I briefly mistook this as excitement about actually playing the game again, until I remembered where I had finished last time I played – trapped in a safe room with an empty grenade launcher in Jill’s hand, my last ink ribbon jammed into the type writer, my ammo exhausted and several vicious ‘Crimson Head’ zombies milling outside the door. I thought ‘well, this seems like a logical end point for my story’ and never played again.
What I really loved about Resident Evil – and about Silent Hill, and Clock Tower, and all the survival horror games that flourished between the mid-to-late ’90s and the end of the PlayStation 2 era – were the walkthroughs that people wrote for them. These were weird, somewhat esoteric games, designed to prompt discussion and sleuthing at every level of play, and reading a walkthrough trying to make sense of these games was a real pleasure.
I got more of a vicarious thrill out of reading everything that was required to finish Resident Evil than I could have gotten out of actually playing it. I was fascinated at how the game was constructed, at all the hoops players were willing to jump through, and the later mastery that this all led to. Once I had wrapped my head around what the game was all about, and how to finish it regularly, I started reading guides for how to get the best endings, how to speed-run it, how to really nail Resident Evil.
I got more of a vicarious thrill out of reading everything that was required to finish Resident Evil than I could have gotten out of actually playing it.
These games bred a mentality that few games these days can foster – Dark Souls is, I suppose, doing something similar, but Resident Evil is such a delightfully kooky experience that reading through someone reasoning through how it all works was always great fun. These days, of course, we have Let’s Play videos that fulfil a similar function, but it’s not quite the same as reading through someone trying to paint out their understanding of the game for you, coming to grips with the absurdity of the puzzles but trying to lay them out in a clear and rational way regardless.
I used to get a huge kick out of reading through these things, but the idea of actually playing them, as a kid, scared me a bit. Silent Hill 1-3, also had all sorts of great walkthroughs written for them, as players would explain not only how to proceed, but also how each new scene, each development, further helped their interpretation of the plot, which actions where would lead to what outcomes later, which horrors they personally had the hardest time enduring. Walkthroughs often make games seem really difficult, and there’s a certain pleasure in reading an expert’s account of how they mastered these weird experiences.
I don’t think this is as much of a thing now as it used to be. Games aren’t designed to be as confusing or abstract as Resident Evil was back in the day, and reading combat advice for Resident Evil 6 isn’t anywhere near as fun as reading through someone’s unpacking of the Spencer Mansion. I’m more likely to bring myself to play a survival horror game these days, but I miss the days when I could bask in the musings of enthusiasts who were committed to something stranger, more difficult and demanding, than what I was willing to personally commit to.