I am wholeheartedly certain that Resident Evil 2 is not a good videogame and yet it is one of my favourites.
Game-makers like Jenova Chen can often be heard espousing a vague design principle called “flow” – a watery word, describing a minor sense of ease and relaxation that is intended to befall players as they interact with complementary game systems, more than anything tangible or worthwhile, it encapsulates the limpness and inanity of a game like Journey, which wins awards because it looks pretty. Resident Evil 2 does not flow. For its myriad shortcomings, it’s still a game that makes players stuck, scared and confused, and for that I admire it. To flow through a game is to feel consistently pleasant and upheld; Resident Evil 2 is a zombie horror game, with boring puzzles, a weak story and indefensibly thin main characters, but it’s unafraid to assail its audience. Opaque and occasionally unfair, I praise it for all of the ways it is dissimilar to a game like Flower.
One’s relationship to Resident Evil 2 grows more complex, however, the more times the game is completed. It is short and once the solutions to the puzzles have been learned, the enemy positions hard-wired and the scares witnessed three or four times it becomes eminently possible to flow through Resident Evil 2 as one would a game expressly made with that design principle in mind. In reality, I am a fiend for challenge. I do not like to be beat. I do not like to be second. To paraphrase Terence Fletcher in Whiplash, I think the most damaging words to hear during any great, personal endeavour are “good job.” And although “challenge” in videogames is typically insulting – artificial and unintelligent, games like Braid use high difficulty as shorthand for implying their sophistication and gravitas – having played Resident Evil 2 time and time over since 1998, I feel it is enough a part of my life to be approached with the same tenacity as I would a new diet or an attempt to stop smoking. It is a game which initially belies flow, but which on repeat and increasingly aggressive play throughs gradually submits to expertise. The difference between Resident Evil 2 and a game such as Dark Souls is that Resident Evil 2 does not openly expostulate the player. To become truly, unquestionably good at it is not transparently the goal. Only those of a certain taste will identify and accept its challenge.
The concept of “flow” is aggravating not only because it is used to embolden gentle and insouciant games, but because it suggests there is something valuable, magical even, in prostrating oneself to the audience. On the contrary, “challenge” is still an open invitation. Dark Souls, which displays its difficulty at every chance, down to the name of its “Prepare to Die” re-released edition, is the equivalent of a person who at every opportunity boasts about how happy they are to be single – really, they’re both just looking for attention. Much more involving is Resident Evil 2. It does not pander to nor goad players, but should they recognise something within it and dedicate the time to fully appreciating the game’s actual, hidden character, they will find themselves well accommodated.