How Resident Evil 4 Made Horror Games Fun

The general belief in video games is that to create good horror the player must feel weak. They must feel like one enemy encounter could kill them, making every blind corner and winding corridor a nerve-wracking experience. Resident Evil 4 managed to turn that belief on it's head in a way striking a balance between making the player character feel badass, but still creating an oppressive and genuinely scary game. As we prepare for the release of the new title in the series, let's look at how Resident Evil 4 achieved this.

With the original titles in the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises, the defining titles in the survival-horror genre, the emphasis was on avoiding fights wherever possible or even running away as enemies all took a number of bullets to kill and resources were scarce. Even saving the game was limited by in-game items. The controls were also incredibly clunky, even for PS1 standards, meaning that the camera was as much of a threat to player as the zombies themselves. The 'tank' controls in these games never make you feel in full control of the character. They leave a disconnect between the player's physical input and what the character does on screen. These elements combined are an effective way of scaring or panicking the player. Having finite resources means the player is more attentive of the game-world as every stray herb could be the difference between life and death, and every room could hold a secret item that is used to progress later in the game. The controls mean you cannot rely on quick reactions alone to get you out of trouble.

But is this actually fun...

It isn't necessary for games to just be fun per se, but I would certainly argue it is fairly important trait on a personal level if I am going revisit the game and not just give up. Because of the scarce rations and tools and your disposal, the natural instinct when you see an enemy is not kill it but to run away. "Running away" is simply not engaging gameplay mechanic and it is one which has plagued horror games in recent years. Amnesia, Outlast and Alien: Isolation all centre-around you running away and not being able to fight the monsters that terrorise you. These games do make you feel scared, walking around their interlocking worlds with trepidation knowing at any moment you could be ambush and not be able fight back. But despite playing all of these games I haven't completed any of them. I find it hard to look forward to jumping into a game just to run around trying to find an item while being chased by invincible monsters. As a horror film fan, where survival-horror games are lacking, is that they forget that they can be fun as well as scary.

 It must be a nightmare putting out those candles.

It must be a nightmare putting out those candles.

So that brings me back to Resident Evil 4. RE4 managed to strike the balance of making you feel afraid and powerful at the same time. The core to this idea is the stop-and-shoot mechanic. While seeming clunky at first, the fact that you stand still while shooting is a masterstroke in making the player feel in control but one mistake away from death. The guns and ammo Leon Kennedy has in his arsenal should mean that, unless you're very wasteful with bullets, you should have enough to dispatch the enemies thrown at you. The question is more how you use what you are given and how you navigate your surroundings. You need to have confidence whenever you go in for a shot, finding the right vantage point and being quick and accurate with your with trigger finger. The real threat to the player is being overwhelmed. If they pick the wrong place or time to start spreading lead, the villagers can be inescapable meaning you might have to frantically leg-it as the hordes approach surround you. This gives players both the panic-inducing “running-away” mechanic and the satisfying shooting mechanic in one go, rather than the two being disparate.

Two early set-pieces establish this to the player. First, is the ambush in the village. Not only is this an amazing setting with great environmental storytelling, with the church and sacrificial burning body, but it also throws the player in at the deep end and forces them to use their surroundings to survive. Despite it being outdoors, the maze of structures and the smog-stricken sky create an incredibly claustrophobic atmosphere. Your job is simply to survive and dispatch as many foes as possible. The shooting is fun on mechanical and visceral level with weight being afforded to your shots, with the staggering animation on the monsters being obvious to signify your shots are being effective. The way the area is laid out means you never feel safe as there are so many directions that they can come from. They are slightly brighter than zombies of the previous games and will work as a team to trap you in. Plus you don't have the luxury of looking 360 degrees when in shooting-mode to fully assess all your angles. This opening is where the game really begins and establishes how you shoot, how you need to navigate the space and the mob-mentality of the Los Illuminados all at once.

 If you were wondering what happened to the backing dancers from the musical 'Oliver!'

If you were wondering what happened to the backing dancers from the musical 'Oliver!'

This is mentality is solidified in the player's mind during a later section where the player must retrieve parts of a 'Hexagonal Emblem' scattered throughout a complex with a myriad of stairs, ladders and bridges to unlock a door and to progress. Due to the tight and narrow paths that you can walk on not only is it essential to keep moving, but it's also vital to use the different heights of the area to your advantage. There is no clear space for you to simply pitch up and shoot all the enemies away. You have to keep moving around utilising the little space you have around you. They swarm on you from all around as before but with the added excitement of exploding bombs and even less space to get your shot away. If you don't take them out with a couple of shots they will be on top of you and you will be history. 

RE4 also mixed up the gameplay with specific set-pieces which conveyed slightly different emotions in the player to prevent it from become a slog. The boss fights provided injections of pure action. None more notable than the battle with the sea monster Del Lago while on board a speedboat. This is counter-balanced by the section where you take control of Ashley with the game completely striping you of your weapons. This allows for the tension experienced in the original RE titles to shine through with its heavy emphasis on puzzles and avoiding fights. The Regenerators that appear late in game also leave quite the impression. With their horrible panting noises and bullet-sapping bodies also feel like throwbacks as it probably makes more sense to just run away. It uses these creatures spareingly which makes the impact more meaningful when they do appear. These changes spice up the variety of the game and offer range of horror tropes without ever having to resort to lazy jump-scares. The game slowly drops new challenges and different types of horror throughout its run-though whilst still remaining a cohesive whole. This is very different to spiritual-successor of sorts The Evil Within, which felt like it was trying to cover too many bases and resulted in a rather unfocused second-half. Pacing is absolutely essential in horror, both in games and film. RE4 nails it. 

 RE4 warns of the dangers of acupuncture.

RE4 warns of the dangers of acupuncture.

Resident Evil 4 manages to navigate the tricky divide between action and horror, being a game which manages to scare and oppress while still remaining fun. The series went off tracks in the following instalments when they switched out the stop-and-shoot mechanic for a more standard system which took away the tension. I hope more games both AAA and indie learn from how RE4 managed to straddle the divide and create horror that is fun to play as well a psychological torment using simple gameplay tricks.


BioShock Infinite And The Perils Of Following A Masterpiece

BioShock Infinite is a rare example of game that has seen its stock drop in appraisal since its release. After critical infatuation over the weeks of it's launch, slowly the love people felt for it has somewhat soured. The problem with being the true successor to a masterpiece is that the game is already fighting a losing battle. There is an extra level of scrutiny and hyper-analysation that would be absent if it was an entirely new creation, and it's only in the months and years since it first releases that it fully can be torn apart. It's hard not to compare Infinite and the original BioShock when they share the same name, but doing so does a disservice to Infinite, which is best experienced completely as it's own beast.

Infinite cannot be faulted for its ambition. After all it literally aims for the sky with its scope. It tries to address and weave together complex ideas around religious extremism, the oppressed becoming the oppressors, the issue of longing for an idealised notion of a nation that never existed in the first place. These points appear even more prescient now as we prepare for a Trump presidency. The 'Make America Great Again' slogan could easily have been coined by Comstock. These are issues that games rarely have the gaul to address, or if they do it's rarely more nuanced than saying “discrimination is bad”. Games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided or The Witcher 3 have these themes in their story, but never cutting deep to the underlying humanity or ideological driving force. The twist ending reveal that Booker and Comstock are parallel versions of each other is not simply there just to surprise the player, but to show how the darkside in all of us can be accessed and manipulated by powerful ideas. 

Central to this theme is the plight of Daisy Fitzroy who appears at first to on the 'good side', fighting the fascist regime of Comstock's Columbia and aiming to set the black communities free from slavery. This is a noble cause which the player naturally sides with. The violence that Fitzroy shows seems justified. But this turned on its head as Fitzroy's army turn excessively violent and oppressive themselves. This is a core philosophy of the game, that violence breeds violence and that there is no obvious end to the cycle. Wars do not get won, they merely bleed into each other. There are no 'good guys' and 'bad guys'. Those who are persecuted by violence are changed and can have their humanity and empathy stripped away. Once a soldier, always a soldier.

This is a more realistic and complex view of war and discrimination that has distinct real-world parallels. The seemingly never ending wars that occur in the Middle-East and Africa atest to this. How often over the last decade have we seen rebel-factions overthrowing their tyrannical leaders but becoming equally as monstrous when they are in power? This flies in the face of the logic of most games, where there is a clear goal and a clear evil that the player must defeat and after that everything will be OK. The original BioShock touched on this theme, Andrew Ryan himself is Jewish and the oppression he felt led him to establishing his own repressive regime, despite claiming Rapture would be a place of complete freedom. But BioShock Infinite confronts this in a more obvious way and makes the player feel as though their actions actively making things worse. It is rare that a huge AAA game makes the player question their own motivation and perspective. Infinite must be given huge credit for the guts and conviction in its writing.

The actual presentation of Infinite is lavish and over-the-top. With it's bright visuals and skyhook-focused combat, the whole game feels like a rollercoaster ride. The combat is nothing particularly remarkable, but it's perfectly serviceable. A large complaint with the game is that the combat feels completely separate from the rest of the game and that these two aspects don't link together to create a cohesive whole game. This point is broadly true, but is also true of most AAA titles. Take Uncharted 4. It sees you dodging millions of bullets, climbing up cliff edges with your bare-hands and jumping impossible distances. It then tries to tell an an emotional story during the cutscenes about how Nathan Drake should quit this lifestyle because he might get himself killed. This is despite the fact that he is clearly immortal if the gameplay is to be taken literally. Or the Grand Theft Auto series, which again tries to tell stories about morality and crime despite the fact that between each mission the player will go around murdering pedestrians, flying helicopters into buildings and ploughing through beach-goers in their car. There is a distinct disconnect between the gameplay and the story.

BioShock was a rare example where the story, the world and the gameplay all married together perfectly. Once you get past the initially eyebrow-raising premise (man builds underwater city in the 1940's where everybody goes around shooting bees out of their hands) the internal logic is consistent. But even with BioShock there is still a level of disconnect. As the player you kill an entire city of people single-handedly, just like in Uncharted, you are immortal. As long as a game features death it can never really make sense. Infinite does have silly combat, and the use of vigours doesn't really make sense with a place that prides itself in purity. But as suspension of disbelief goes it by know means one of the worst culprits in videogames. If Infinite was not the follow-up to BioShock it is doubtful that this aspect would be scrutinised in much the same way.

BioShock Infinite is best treated as unrelated to the original. A successor in name only. It tells a different story in a different world, with different ambitions and different themes. The story at the core of Infinite, it's main focus and selling point, is incredibly well done, turning the emotional screw to heart-wrenching levels at the end. Both Booker and Elizabeth are impeccably written which is sadly still a rarity in blockbuster game releases. The story drip feeds its information slowly but without frustrating the player, never trying to deliberately confuse you or appear more clever than it is, never descending into Stephen Moffat-levels of frustration. The driving force behind Infinite is this story at the centre, just as the driving force behind BioShock was the world it put you in. It's about the characters as much as Columbia, where BioShock was entirely about Rapture. Different games, different ambitions.

It is for that reason Infinite's Burial At Sea DLC was not success. Burial At Sea's focus was trying to tie to together both games, with Elizabeth using her powers of parallel world travel to sew the seeds that set the original games plot in motion. At this point the chronology becomes too messy, the logic of one world doesn't make sense with the logic of the other. The two games work best when they are viewed as completely separate worlds. The attempts to tie them together does neither one a favour and adds an extra layer plot that makes the whole thing overly convoluted. 


Both the original BioShock and BioShock Infinite and remarkable feats in gaming for very different reasons. Using modest technology, BioShock created a world that explored ideas never seen in games creating the allegorical setting of Rapture to explore these ideas. While Infinite didn't have the same logic in it's world building with Columbia, it used the stories themselves to explore different ideas, confronting them more up-front rather than just through audio logs and environmental storytelling. If BioShock is an interactive museum, Infinite is a rollercoaster. Both games have their merits and strive to affect the player in unique and original ways. BioShock Infinite shouldn't not be written-off simply for pursuing a different path to its predecessor. Both should be heralded as the shot to the arm that AAA games that they were.

2017 Political Predictions

It's been a hectic year in the political arena. 2016 confirmed that racism is indeed the new black as the whole globe seemed to simultaneously swing to the far-right. Nobody would have predicted what has happened over the past 12 months, and nobody can predict what the ramifications will be. Even so here are my predictions for politics in 2017:

2017 General Election

 "What do we want? BREXIT! What does it mean? BREXIT?"

"What do we want? BREXIT! What does it mean? BREXIT?"

In a bid to speed up the process of Brexit meaning Brexit, Theresa May starts the new year by announcing a general election for March, stating that if the Conservatives maintain a majority they will instantly trigger Article 50. This proves to be a successful move as she does indeed maintain her majority. But it's a hollow victory. Due to widespread dissatisfaction with leaders of all of the major parties and the general voter fatigue left over from the 2015 election and EU referendum, only 200 people bother to vote. Out of the those 200 votes, May won 185, Labour gained 5, Lib Dems 4, Ukip 4 and there was one vote for independent candidate Noel Edmonds who goes incredibly right-wing during early 2017.

The day after the vote May comes out to the front of Downing Street and announces that in fact Article 50 won't be triggered as they have lost it. She says she had put it in her 'special things' draw at home with a big post-it stuck on top saying “DO NOT TRIGGER”. She claims somebody must have stolen it. CCTV reveals that Tony Blair, who had been resurrected by Peter Madelson and Jack Straw in a sadistic ritual after he's killed falling into a vat of nuclear waste in January, had been seen scaling the wall of number 10 the night of the election. Since his accident he had taken to wearing a Jamie Vardy mask to conceal his mutated face, as well as sporting a cape and insisting that everybody called him by “The Euro Man”. He is never seen again.

May had no choice but to further delay the process of beginning Brexit. Everybody in the country audibly sighs at the exact same and all agree to not bother as it seems like too much hassle. Upon hearing this Theresa May short-circuits as Brexit didn't mean Brexit after all. A solitary tear trickles down her eye as sparks emit from her temple. She lets out one final scream off “BREXIT MEANS BREXIT” before exploding and killing everybody in a 7 mile radius.

The Labour Party

 "Corbyn's new album combines sounds from 80's electro wave and ambient music..."

"Corbyn's new album combines sounds from 80's electro wave and ambient music..."

Despite the untimely explosion of the Prime Minister, the Labour party is still in turmoil. After the election defeat there is once again a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. This time coming from Dan Jarvis. Corbyn is so fed up by this point he doesn't even to try to put up a fight, just gives withering looks to anyone who asks him a question. Amazingly, this is a great success, people love the new sassy Corbyn who increases his mandate to 85% of the vote.

Nigel Farage

 Magic bean salesman Nigel Farage.

Magic bean salesman Nigel Farage.

Elsewhere in the world Nigel Farage continues his one man crusade to ruin the world by touring the globe, telling the natives of every country that immigrants are to blame. However he comes to sticky end when trying to access a remote tribe in the Brazilian jungle. After successfully convincing them that unelected Argentinian tribesmen were to blame for their failed crops as they disrespect the Sun God Rah, the Brazillian tribe decide to use Farage as a human sacrifice. Interestingly, the tribe were completely non-violent before Farage arrived, being fully vegan and ardant knitters. I guess Big Nige brought out the inner bloodlust in them.

The French Elections

 François Fillon's eyebrows are officially named a principality after his win.

François Fillon's eyebrows are officially named a principality after his win.

In France there is much relief when massive racist Marine Le Pen doesn't win the general election. But the relief is short-lived as they instead elect conservative candidate François Fillon, who is basically just as bad. Slightly less racist, but maybe more homophobic. Oh well, you win some you lose some. The EU hangs on by it's finger tips.

Donald Trump

 Like an awkward Christmas dinner where you have pretend to be friends with your racist relatives.

Like an awkward Christmas dinner where you have pretend to be friends with your racist relatives.

Time to address the elephant in the room, H From Steps. There is much flirting throughout the year between him and Putin. As Trump doesn't actually understand what is happening in Syria, Israel or Ukraine he decides against doing anything, which Putin is very pleased with. Trump spends most the year slagging off every world leader except action man Vlad, so much so that he forgets to push through any domestic reforms. Nothing happens in America all year. Until November.

In the run-up to Christmas, World War 3 begins. But it's not between the Russia and the USA. It's not between the West and the Middle East. In an surprise move on November the 25th 2017, Amazon declares war on America. Using the data collected on each individual in America they know exactly how to hurt the citizens of the US. Their drones, which were previously used to bring presents of fun and mirth to the houses of America now bring gifts of death and destruction. Bombs basically. Their years of tax-avoiding have allowed them to build new devastating weapons such as Giant Robotic Crabs. The war lasts 3 days before Trump gives in, due to every other country in the world siding with Amazon due to him slagging them all off on social media. Putin remains silent. During a tearful surrender speech, Trump sobs that Putin had let him down. “Where were you when I need you?” he whimpers between snorts of misery. In the background of the livestream of his surrender an Amazon drone hits itself repeatedly against the White House window before breaking through. One yelp from Trump and the camera cuts out. The war is over. Amazon are the new superpower of the world.

Celebrity Deaths

Finally, although this isn't strictly politics related I feel it would be remiss if I didn't predict some celebrity deaths that will happen in 2017. The following people will die: John Cleese, Delia Smith, Roger Moore, one of the Chuckle Brothers, Garth Crooks, the bassist of Snow Patrol, the other Chuckle Brother, David Attenbrough and The Queen.




Trump vs Smash Bros.

I, for one, am sick of the US elections. I'm sick elections and referendums in general. I think there should be a referendum to ban any sort of vote in any country for at least 4 years. But this US election has dragged on for far too with the hyperbole and personal attacks getting to ridiculous levels. In this post-fact world we live in the talk needs to stop, we need action. And so using Super Smash Bros. for Wii U I have simulated who would win in a fight between the two candidates and thus decide who occupies the White House.

Why Sam Allardyce Is The Sports Personality Of The Year

Sam Allardyce's departure from the England job has got to be one of the most tragic falls from grace in English football history. A man who cleared his name after bunging allegations in the 00's managed to secure his dream job as England manager, only to throw it all away. But I believe Big Sam has actually pulled a masterstroke of noble self-sacrifice to drag England fans kicking and screaming into reality. For this heroic act he should receive the most fittingly old-school prize in British sport, the Sports Personality Of The Year. He may not be the hero England deserves, but he is the hero England needs.

 "She's turned the weans against us!"

"She's turned the weans against us!"

Firstly, I think Allardyce should be praised for his great entrepreneurial spirit in trying to negotiate an extra few hundred thousands pounds on top of the three million he gets from his England salary. This is the sort of can-do attitude that this country encourages under a Conservative government and he should not be punished for it. Sure it's immoral and greedy and corrupt, but in the murky world of football as long as he isn't convicted of sexual assault he can pretty much be considered a saint by comparison. The FA can't hire someone with the nickname 'Big Sam' and act surprised when it turns out he has dodgy financial records. Do your research lads.

Unlike a lot of managers Big Sam knew when to call it quits. It only took one game for him to look at our incredibly mediocre team and realise he needed to cut his losses. He's managed a lot of rubbish teams, but while Bolton, Blackburn and Sunderland knew they were crap and were just happy to stay in the league, for some reason the England national team has illusions of grandeur despite their inept record. This has also happened for Sam at Newcastle and West Ham where entitled fans moaned at him for not playing the “right-way”. He knew he could never win. Expectations always rise and rise as we get further towards tournaments with little or no substance to back up them up. It will always end-up with Ian Wright claiming after a pre-tournament friendly win over Paraguay that he firmly believes England can win it, only to be irate when it all goes wrong. Sam only needed one look at the team to realise that is was an impossible job and sought to manufacture a way out.

 Who would have thought this man would turn out to be a dodgy wheeler-dealer?

Who would have thought this man would turn out to be a dodgy wheeler-dealer?

But simply quitting would make him look like...well...a quitter. It also might have reflected badly on the already mentally-scarred players, with the media potentially spinning it as they forced him out. He did the noble thing, deliberately sabotaging himself by making a corrupt deal in order to get him the sack. This way he could leave with his 100% winning record in tact, crush any fragments of expectations in the team prematurely so we don't feel the pain during the tournament and give the FA the moral high ground. Handing over to Gareth Southgate is the most sure fire way of entrenching this underachievement, a man with all the passion and charisma of a teenager working a late-shift at a train station cafe. Allardyce's decision to fall on the sword he had placed directly beneath him was a covert attempt to re-adjust England's expectations and make the fans realise how truly average we are.

Now when it comes to sports personality of the year, I think it's fairly obvious that Allardyce should take the award. Every year tedious people who think they are being original have a go at Andy Murray when he is nominated for the award. “How can Andy Murray be sports personality of the year? He doesn't have a personality.” First of all he does have a personality. The trouble is that you only ever hear him speak after he has played a massive game of tennis and is justifiably too tired to answer a load of bland questions from journalists with Robert Downey Jr-esque showmanship. There aren't that many interesting ways to answer, "Are you happy you won?" Secondly, he is a tennis player, what do you expect? No tennis players are particularly interesting, they spend most of their time on the their own repeatedly whacking a ball over a net. They are hardly going to be the life of the party. It's not just Murray who is boring, when was the last time Novak Djokovic came out with a witty quip? I've never heard of any crazy off-field antics coming from Stanislas Wawrinka.

If people want a personality, Sam is your man. He has done more for English football than you can ever imagine. After the humiliation of the Iceland defeat, England fans were frothing at the mouth with rage. People would have happily seen Hodgson hanging in the streets like Mussolini. But since then we've had the Olympics where Great British athletes put in an incredible shift and finished second in the medal table (although if Wiggins has been cheating then about half of those will have to be given back). It proves one thing, that Britain is amazing at every sport, except the one we actually care about. That in itself is the most British thing imaginable. Thanks Sam for protecting the English way. Gone but never forgotten.