Games

An Undead Sense of Place in 'Resident Evil'

In this mansion, even when you're fine, you still feel like you’re dying.

Returning to Resident Evil has been an eye-opening experience. I’ve come away with a better appreciation for the game's design and pacing, but also, unexpectedly, its writing. Resident Evil is a better written game than people remember or give it credit for. That might be an odd compliment to give a game that's mostly remembered as a cheesy B-movie at best, what with its classic lines like, "You were almost a Jill Sandwich" and "Here’s a lockpick, it might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you." I'll admit that dialogue has never been its strong suit, but I'm not talking about the dialogue. What impresses me is the text descriptions that pop up when you examine things in the game's environments.

“A portrait hangs on the wall. It almost seems like it’s watching you…”

“An open journal. The pages are blank.”

“The water tank smells like something once lived in there. Perhaps someone was using it to raise some kind of creature.”

“The wall is lined with portraits. All of the faces have been painted out.”

Those are just a few of the things that you'll examine early on while exploring the mansion, and they bring the setting to life -- a shambling, rickety, dusty, depressing life. These blurbs paint the house as just another undead thing. Everything in it is old and breaking, and what's worse is that it all seems to have broken down in its prime. Baths are drawn, but the water is still. Tables are set for dinner, but no food has been served. Generators still pump water to untended gardens. Journals remain open and filled with half sentences. It's a truly haunted house. The past weighs heavy in every room, each one hints at better days cut short. The mansion was alive one moment and dead the next, except that it's not quite truly dead.

The mansion is still alive, it still contains life, enough create a façade of normalcy when viewed from outside, but inside it’s being eaten away by death. The more that we play the more surreal the mansion becomes. Things seem out of order. Candles and fireplaces still burn in some rooms, yet others rooms feel like ancient tombs. This place is anachronistic but modern, an elaborate palace filled with typewriters and key locks, but also pressure plate traps and keypads. It's as if the mansion has gone senile in its dying breaths, losing track of time of place.

The text blurbs do a good job evoking this decay because they’re so brief, and for the most part lack any flowery language or imagery. They’re straight forward and to the point, just the facts, but vague enough about those facts that they still set our imagination running. Was there a creature, other than fish, being raised in the fish tank? Are the eyes of the paintings really following me? Am I being watched? Am I being hunted? The plain language feels like it's hiding something, turning these inconsequential objects into foreboding omens.

There are countless other details that add to this sense of gloom, but my favorite is a stylistic touch on your inventory screen. In the original game, your health was represented by a fake heartbeat monitor. Long beeps indicated that you were fine, while fast beeps indicated that you had taken damage. Now, your health is represented by some cross between a lie detector and a heart monitor. This indicator functions the same, but now there's a little stylus that draws the valleys and peaks of your heartbeat -- and it is constantly going nuts. Even when you're doing fine, it bounces up and down frantically, and if you didn't know better, you'd think something horrible was happening. Yet you're fine. Supposedly.

This mansion is dying. Everything in it is dying. Including you. You're not okay. You can feel this as you play. Even when the halls are empty and you have a stack of ammo and a first aid spray, you're still nervous. The camera angles, sound design, the silence, and the surrealism of the place all tease your imagination and make you anticipate horrors around every corner. You know you’re not okay. The empty halls can fill at any second, your stack of ammo can only take out two zombies, and the first aid spray is the only health item that you've seen in hours.

Even when you're fine, you still feel like you’re dying.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.