Book Review: Resident Evil, by Philip J Reed

Oh dang, it’s October already?

As again, I’ve been reading– but not as much as I’d like. A bit ironic, given I’m home all the time, but I guess there are just a lot of other distractions available, y’know?

Still! In at least a vague nod to the season, I figured I needed to read something horror related, which brings us to Philip J Reed’s Resident Evil, a Boss Fight Books work on, uh, Resident Evil, the first game in a sprawling video-game horror franchise, and one of the cornerstones of the “survival horror” genre.

Reed does a good job of combining his own experience with Resident Evil (including the memorable first night he played it at a friends’ house) with a history of its production and a analysis of its themes and gameplay. Probably the biggest “scoop” Reed gets in the book is tracking down some of the cast from Resident Evil’s campy live action and voice over segments. It’s kind of like reading about the production of a cheesy B-movie. Reed shows us a brief glimpse into expatriate acting/voiceover stuff in Japan in the 90’s, which honestly could make for a whole book of its own if you dug into it.

Resident Evil touches on broader themes as well, mostly about horror, and how to build it through game structure. In a nice touch, each chapter is named after a different horror movies, from Them! to It Follows to obscure stuff like Splatter University. Reed lays out some guidelines to define the survival horror genre (with the caveat that he’s hardly the end-all authority on such matters), and then details the many ways in which Resident Evil’s fixed camera angles and carefully timed jump-scares all come together for a properly thrilling experience, especially on a first playthrough.

This said, Resident Evil may come off as a little optimistic– Reed mentions some of the game’s flaws, like its clunky controls and obtuse puzzles, but he kind of glosses over them, or ties them into the difficulty (and therefore the appeal) of the survival horror genre as a whole. Which … is a take, I suppose. Then again, it can be kind of unfair to judge a game from 20+ years ago by modern standards, especially when designers were still fiddling around with just how to make 3-d games work.

Resident Evil is focused on the first game (with a brief mention of the GameCube remake as one of the best versions of it), without much mention of other games in the franchise, or even the blockbuster movie series (which has little to do with the actual games these days). Still, if Reed got into the weeds about the Resident Evil franchise as a whole, the book would be four times as long.

All and all, Resident Evil is exactly what you’d expect from Boss Fight Books. It’s a solid, entertaining little read that offers some insights into a video game that you couldn’t get anywhere else. And honestly, the only thing I’ve really got to complain about is that the book isn’t longer says something. I’d definitely recommend Resident Evil to anybody who’s stayed up way too late blundering around the Spencer Mansion.

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