Games

She Who Controls the Flashlight, Controls the Horror

In Resident Evil: Revelations 2, the flashlight is a source and symbol of control.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 looks a lot like an action game similar to its predecessors, but these looks are deceptive. The game goes beyond the typical ammo rationing of action-horror (giving you bullets when things are calm so that you can use them all at once in a big fight) to reach for something more subtle and interesting than that. This is a game that evokes fear through contrast.

The game tells two stories simultaneously, jumping between an abduction story in which Claire and Moira find themselves trapped on a dangerous island and a rescue story in which Barry and Natalia come to the island six month later to find Claire and Moira. The Resident Evil games have often had dual protagonists—Chris and Jill (RE), Leon and Claire (RE 2), Rebecca and Billy (RE 0), Chris and Sheva (RE 5), Leon and Helena and Chris and Piers and Sherry and Jake (RE 6 -- but unlike those past games Revelations 2 understands the differences between its protagonists and changes itself to better suit each of their fears.

Claire is an attractive young woman, which is not to say that she can't kick ass but that she doesn't possess the build of a fighter. The same goes for her sidekick Moira, a gangly teenager. Both of them are shorter than most of the men in the game, and they're certainly thinner. The game wants us to see them as damsels in distress, even as it portrays Claire as a gunfighter and hand-to-hand specialist. Physical stature matters, and these characters are, comparatively, small.

When we play as Claire and Moira, we're meant to feel vulnerable. They're established as underdogs, partly due to their circumstances (Claire don't start with a gun, she has to find one) and partly due to their character (Moira hates guns and refuses to carry one, opting for a crowbar instead). When they fight, we're supposed to feel overwhelmed, which is why the game keeps forcing them into fights against physically intimidating enemies.

Episode one introduces us to a 6-foot guy with a 6-foot sledgehammer, episode two brings in an even bigger and quite obese monster that carries a mortar under its arm, and episode three ends with a boss fight against a wannabe Hulk. These creatures aren't just bigger than our heroines. They dwarf them. Their physical size emphasizes their raw strength, which is the one quality our heroines lack in comparison.

The flashlight situation emphasizes this focus on combat and vulnerability. The player can switch between either character, but since Claire has all the guns, you're likely going to be playing as her most of the time. Yet Moira controls the only flashlight. Her AI is good about pointing the light wherever Claire is looking, but only when Moira is nearby. When you're separated, you're left in total darkness. More importantly, you can't tell Moira to turn the damn thing off. When you enter a new area, enemies will usually charge or ambush you right away, since the game wants you to fight. However, sometimes you'll have a chance to sneak, and when you do sneak, the enemies will still charge or ambush you right away because they'll see Moira's flashlight. By taking away our control of this important signal, the game forces us to fight more than run, which is scary because we're often fighting huge, intimidating creatures.

By contrast, Barry comes to the island prepared. We immediately start with a pistol, assault rifle, a powerful magnum -- and a flashlight. Barry is also a professional soldier, big and bulky, made even more so due to his body armor. He's a powerhouse, a man ready to fight, which is why the game keeps encouraging him to sneak around.

Barry is teamed with Natalia, a little girl with the power to sense enemies through walls. The levels are then designed in such a way so that we appear behind many enemies, most of which are standing still, allowing us to easily sneak up and kill them stealthily. And, of course, we have control of the flashlight. In other words, we have control of the situation, so the tension stems from how well we maintain that control. How purely efficient can we be? It’s a different sort of tension than what the game evokes with Claire, but it’s still tension.

It’s appropriate then that the enemies we fight as Barry are more monstrous then the ones that we fight as Claire. While her opponents were mainly defined by their size, Barry’s are defined by their deformities. Our most common foe is a human-spider thing with multiple arms, allowing it to walk and crawl alike. Then, there are the invisible hovering bugs, the things with tentacle shields, and a final boss with an exposed spine that moves like a jungle cat. Most of these enemies (save the final boss) aren’t bigger than Barry, so they can’t intimidate us with pure size. They must scare us in other ways.

Interestingly enough, the stealth kill mechanic is available to Claire as well, but her combat encounters are rarely designed to allow her to use it. In this way, the game treats her as physically capable (she has all the same abilities that Barry does), yet the game still places her in a position of vulnerability by not giving her the opportunity to use the full range of her abilities.

Revelations 2 is the first game in the series to change its approach to horror/tension/suspense based on which character we're playing. As represented by the flashlight, Claire is frightened by her lack of control, while Barry is frightened of losing control. One is fighting to gain, the other is fighting to maintain.

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