Resident Evil 0 wreaks havoc on our minds

Resident Evil 0 gets into your head. It isn’t about the threat of zombies, diabolical dogs, and flesh-eating leeches. (Though, to be fair, all of those elements are horrifying on their own.) It’s about the cheap tricks Capcom had to use when making a thriller for a console incapable of delivering the most horrifying experiences. Years ago, games had to be creative to be scary. Silent Hill needed to resort to fog tricks to mask loading issues, while adding ambiance. Corpse Party uses sound to terrify folks. By playing through this HD remaster, we’re able to see the lengths Capcom went to in order to get us. Resident Evil 0’s design makes our own minds, with their anxieties and insecurities, our worst enemies.

You can see one of the tricks in action the moment the game begins. Resident Evil 0 is a master of forced perspective. Camera angles are inflicted on the player, with no other options available. While these were used because Capcom had to use such a technique at the time, it remains as a reminder of what had to be done to not only make a game work, but build suspense. With these viewpoints, you hear enemies approaching before seeing them. Rounding a corner could leave you trapped in a hallway with an unknown foe. The thought of unseen horrors was a simple and cheap trick.

Masked loading is another visual trick that preys on our own concerns. Movement between rooms and areas is always preceded by a stairway into the abyss or a door that very gradually opens. It’s a means of preparing someone for an introduction into the unknown. Why lies ahead? It’s unclear, and made more excruciating by delaying the inevitable. There was nothing disturbing on the other side this time, but what about next time? Capcom let our own imaginations be our worst enemies again.

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The fear of the unknown constantly hangs overhead due to another Resident Evil 0 mechanic. The partner system means someone is keeping two people alive. Rebecca and Billy both depend on you. When they’re split up, you can only be with one of them. Is the other safe? You don’t know, unless you go back and check. In so doing, the other character is left unattended. The concern for their safety only increases as the situation grows more dire.

Especially since there isn’t the security blanket that is rolling back to a previous save. Limited save opportunities were another cheap means of building a sense of urgency and terror. By offering a limited number of typewriter ribbons, people are left wondering if and when they should save. Is now the time? Or is there a seriously diabolical boss waiting in the wings. When will you find more ribbons? The system is completely impractical in this day and age, but it’s inclusion acts as a reminder of what we had to go though back in 2002. Anxiety is forced upon us, as we wonder what if. What if this was the perfect moment to save? What if we don’t, and fail? What if we do, but then find we really needed that ribbon an hour later?

It’s also a reminder of the deliberately scarce resources implemented as a design choice. By purposely holding back on ammunition and healing items, Capcom exploited people’s anxiety to encourage horrific situations. Rare typewriter ribbons were only the beginning. While the Easy and Wesker modes eliminate this issue in Resident Evil 0, playing the original game on the Normal or Hard difficulty levels shows how playing on insecurities make an unsettling situation scary. The gut instinct varies between immediately wiping out all foes of hoarding bullets for a real problem.

Remove these elements and Resident Evil 0 isn’t a thriller. It’s more of an adventure game with shooting elements. These cheap tricks and mind games elevated a game that wasn’t capable of unnerving or scaring players without them. It’s only by cultivating an atmosphere of free floating anxiety that Resident Evil 0 became something more. Now that it’s been rereleased, we can appreciate everything Capcom did to get us.

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