Something Truly Scary
I wanted to quit. With my heart always beating out of my chest, it felt like there really was no light at the end of the tunnel. That last drop of hope I had? Gone. “When will this end? Is this my life now?” Desperation quickly took hold of me like the hungry undead, and soon the loneliness began to kick in, too. I started blaming myself as time progressed, as if there was anything in this world that I could have done to keep myself out of this situation. I wanted to be rid of this hell I found myself in. As I look back on the first time I met Mr. X, these are the thoughts that occupy my mind.
OK, maybe I’m being dramatic, but, as someone who always finishes the games they start, the fact that I almost quit the Resident Evil 2 remake halfway into its campaign is something I didn’t expect. When I started the game in the frigid early days of December, life was getting the best of me. A lot of those same thoughts I mentioned earlier were actually what paraded around my brain at this time—I really was lost. I had dealt with sadness before, when I was younger, but the damn monster that many know as ‘depression’ had rematerialized in my brain, stronger than ever. As you age, there is more to lose; there are stakes to maintaining a happy, healthy life. In high school, I thought my world was in flames any time I failed a history test, but now, with a significant other and bills to pay, suddenly my well-being affected those around me. At the least, one is more likely to become aware of life’s daily roadblocks as age barrels toward us. What sent me into the second real major downward spiral of my life is not important; just know that I spent most of the lead up to this time either working or in my own, obsessive head. Tackling these problems was an equation that I had not yet solved, and I surely did not have the time to learn.
Lost in Raccoon City
Making the time for any video game was a lost cause at this point, much less a game in a genre that I typically steer away from. I had only ever dipped my toes into horror, with my catalogue of spooky games having only consisted of the Dead Space franchise and Resident Evil 7 before this point. Something about the feeling of helplessness that so many horror games have adopted this near-passed generation rubs me the wrong way; I would like to have some power to fight back. My presumptions aside, I’m not one to pass up a killer deal. A title many praised as one of 2019’s best games for only USD$15 on Black Friday? Honestly, who could pass that up? I wouldn’t shuffle into my second-ever Resident Evil game until a few weeks later, and I would be lying if I said I was not scared to do so. So, with no prior knowledge of the original and mountains of stress, I persevered into the crumbling walls of Raccoon City as Leon S. Kennedy.
Resident Evil 2 is not afraid to bring your worst fears to the forefront of your mind. You are always given the chance to hold your own when faced against the fallout of the Umbrella Corporation, but Resident Evil 2 never once misses an opportunity to pull the rug out from underneath your feet. Find a few spare bullets sitting on that bench? That’s nice, you can keep them if you’d rather sacrifice a chunk of your health to the two zombies guarding the nearest save station. Even the early moments of the game are relentless, especially for someone who is not used to the design intricacies of this genre. Every time I felt like I was getting a grip on the world I had been carelessly plopped into, some twist would shift my perspective. Clearing a hallway of enemies is satisfying but expect previously cleared locations to replenish themselves full of zombies later in the story and, because, why not, you will probably get to see some lickers there, too. Navigating the RCPD’s suffocatingly dark corridors is never impossible, but it sure as hell feels like it at times.
Solving the Puzzle
Three hours in is when the first shotgun blast of desperation kicks in. Things had been rough up until this point, but I could always push forward if I needed to. Resident Evil veterans know how to manage their inventory, but the average horror-averse gamer will probably be too scared to lower the iron sights. This method quickly exhausted all of my avenues for ammunition and left me stranded in the middle of the police station with nothing but half of a combat knife and a few bullets. “What am I doing wrong?” I started blaming myself as time progressed. I paused (literally) and searched for a solution when it hit me: I don’t have to always be on the attack. This is a survival horror game after all, so what tutorial said that I would get an achievement for dispatching every zombie that roamed the halls? I sunk back into the police station, weaving around the undead as they approached me. Did I take a few hits? Sure, but I was moving on.
Soon I found more ammunition, learning more about the world around me as I moved forward. If I didn’t have to kill zombies, then I could certainly stagger them. I began taking out the kneecaps of every dead-eyed walker that blocked my path. Besides showing off the beauty of Resident Evil 2’s RE Engine, targeting limbs also provided quite a bit of utility. Zombies are only half as dangerous when they are crawling and taking out their legs uses a quarter of the bullets necessary to kill. Suddenly the game’s puzzle elements started to really shine. Every zombie was placed with real thought, and every encounter served as its own puzzle. The realization of this deliberate design is where the game really scratched an itch, as Resident Evil 2 is as much of a strategy game as it is a third-person shooter. Once these fundamentals clicked, it was smooth sailing.
I Lied, it Wasn’t Smooth Sailing
I continued until I fell from a broken ladder some hours later. This was only the latest middle finger in a pile of other middle fingers that Resident Evil 2 had given me, so I didn’t think much of it as I tried to piece together how to return to the police station’s main hall. Leon had found himself outdoors on this claustrophobia-inducing journey, and the torrential downpour only made things more depressing. I extinguished a fire blocking the path ahead, feeling accomplished in doing so. This particular puzzle was not all that gratifying to complete, but the satisfaction I gained was just as potent as with any of the game’s other riddles. Just like that, I had already been set back on the correct path by my own doing. It felt good. What I had felt into the game thus far is a sense of accomplishment only common in Dark Souls titles, so Resident Evil 2 was becoming something truly special for me. I entered the next hallway and turned the corner, greeted by the following face:
He lifted the wreckage of a crashed helicopter like it was a paper weight, casting it aside. As he charged toward me, Leon yelled “Jesus Christ!” Jesus Christ indeed, Leon. My bullets did nothing. Attempting to dodge his attacks led to a grapple that threw me on my back. Mr. X, or The Tyrant, is also fast (why is he so fast?), making him the closest thing to an in-game Terminator I had ever seen. This could have been the breaking point, but I chose to be better. I gathered myself, gave the walking statue the slip, and hid out in the station’s main hall. I was safe—until I wasn’t. As Mr. X entered the main hall, thus proving to be capable of passing barriers previous enemies could not, I started to question if playing this game was worth it anymore. Out of my element, genuinely afraid, and confused by the situation at hand, I decided that I wanted to quit. My heart was beating out of my chest at the idea that he could be around any corner—I wasn’t having fun anymore. I paused and gathered myself for around a half hour.
In its own poetic way, Resident Evil 2’s endless hallways of nightmares grabbed me. As I paused the game, I reflected. I realized that I had not once thought about any of the things that plagued my mind for the past few months. Degrading conversations with myself that once had me at my limits—that I thought would never go away—had not been with me in the days that I spent playing Resident Evil 2. Call it obsession if you want, but I call it a much needed break. Like the zombies that came before, I needed to take a step back. A bull-headed approach to my life that saw me blindly unloading mental energy only put me in the same mindset every night. Removing oneself from any given situation may not always seem like the right thing to do when confronted by monumental stress, but often times it is the only way to solve the puzzle of life. I know it sounds ridiculous, but this epiphany that I had been without a single depressive thought for days was a huge milestone, especially as someone who has battled similar feelings in the past. The best part that this was only the first lesson Resident Evil 2 taught me.
What I loved about playing games rushed back to me in an instant: their ability to provide an escape, their often-thoughtful design, and the passion that seeped out of every texture. Resident Evil 2 brought such gripping design that it begged the entirety of my attention. Maybe the game is not the most flawless experience I have ever played—some pretty horrible character moments come to mind—but my time with it even halfway into the first campaign resonated with me on such a deep level that I could never forget how it helped me. How it saved me. As dramatic as it sounds, this random decision I made to buy a game from a genre that I rarely explored ended up setting off the internal bomb that got me to finally wake up and take control of the sickness I had dealt with. Resident Evil 2 was my escape rope in a cave of depression, and I owe this last progressive, cheerful month to my time with it. Now, it was time to return to that tall son of a bitch.
Like Mr. X, life can throw you curveballs. Rolling with the punches (those horrifying, endless punches) that make you feel like the rug is seconds away from being pulled out from under you can feel like trying to win the lottery at times, but it is not that complicated. Mr. X is a variable and, when he creeps up on you unexpectedly, there is not much you can do to stop him. However, with a clear mind, learning to deal with Mr. X is relatively simple. You cannot kill the inevitable monster that is Mr. X, but you sure as hell can outsmart him.
Cripple Your Fears
I eventually overcame my fear of Mr. X to the point where he was an afterthought. The pride that came with returning to seek victory provided more than enough fuel to power through its final half. I was not only proud that I mustered up the strength to continue, I was proud that I rediscovered my forgotten ability to cope by way of getting lost in a damn good game. Now I can sift through the police station’s intricacies with ease, and I’m even excited to dive into Resident Evil 3 when it launches in April.
Ironically, being lost and afraid in Raccoon City led me to the answers I sought in the real world. Like many of the monsters that grab hold of us in life, Resident Evil 2’s zombies can be systematically dealt with. You always have the tools at your disposal to cripple your fears. Maybe it takes pausing a few times to collect yourself, but the ability is deep inside whether you are aware of it or not. Go get lost in your favorite game, book, or movie. Do not be afraid to take time for yourself, and do not fear stepping outside your comfort zone. And when Mr. X shows up, just remember that you don’t need an army to get the better of him.