It’s been 20 years to the day since Resident Evil launched on GameCube in Japan — can you believe it? The once-exclusive remake of the 1996 original has since achieved legendary status, with many fans declaring it as the strongest entry to the franchise. I happen to agree; yes, Resident Evil 4 is arguably more influential and truly shaped the third-person shooter genre, but in my opinion,
Resident Evil (y’know what, let’s just call it REmake from now on) REmake is survival horror in its purest form. It’s got fixed camera angles, limited inventory space, door loading screens, and zombies. So many zombies.
If you were to ask anybody who’s played REmake what the scariest scene in the game is, chances are you’ll hear the usual suspects: the first zombie encounter; Lisa Trevor’s agonising wail echoing through the night; Neptune the shark stalking you in the Aqua Ring; the dogs; the giant tarantulas.
For me though, the scariest scene came fairly early on in the game, and it’s one that generally isn’t mentioned in the wider conversation. As a 13-year-old boy playing REmake for the first time in 2002, however, it’s a scene that stuck with me for days on end.
Now, the first thing I should clarify here is that the scene I’m about to talk about will play out very differently depending on which character you play as. As such, this may drastically affect how ‘scary’ you perceive it to be. If you choose Jill ‘Sandwich’ Valentine, the cutscene plays out and then you’re simply left to be on your way. If you opt for Chris ‘Boulder-Puncher’ Redfield, however, the game thrusts you into a tense gameplay encounter that will test both your nerves and reflexes. I chose Chris for my first playthrough, so naturally I got the more difficult and ultimately scarier scenario.
The scene in question comes almost directly after you make your way through a familiar L-shaped corridor; you know the one — the corridor. It’s here that the game throws its first major curveball by refraining from introducing the aforementioned Zombie Dogs. This alone is enough to strike fear into the hearts of Resident Evil veterans; what had (through replays, of course) become a scene of comforting familiarity has been wrenched away, instilling a deep sense of unease and anxiety. After all, you know you’ll need to revisit the corridor on multiple occasions, so exactly when the dogs will eventually make their entrance is completely up in the air. It levels the playing field for both veterans and newcomers.
In the following corridor, a door leads into a small, unassuming bathroom, complete with its own tub. In the original 1996 game and its ‘Director’s Cut’, this room was completely devoid of any enemies, but housed a Small Key if you drain the bathtub of its 'muddy' water. In REmake, following the same cue will bag you a similar item, and one of the game’s more vital collectibles — an Old Key.
During Chris's campaign, collecting old keys is required to unlock certain doors, the closest of which leads to the Plant Chemical, a mandatory key item. Unfortunately, however, in order to obtain said key, you’ll need to trigger a scene that — in my opinion — is the scariest in the entire game.
Upon inspecting a bathtub full of dirty water, the game prompts you to pull the plug. "Sure", you think, "there must be an item hidden in there". You’d be right, of course, but as you watch the water drain away, your reflection staring back at you in deep contemplation, you’re interrupted by a rotting, stinking hand shooting up in the air towards your face. As your character stumbles backwards, a zombie slowly ambles out of the water, reaching out and groaning in hunger.
The walking corpse tumbles out of the tub and onto the floor. It’s here that — if you’re playing as Jill — the cutscene depicts our favourite Master of Unlocking promptly stomping down on the zombie’s head before, erm, bringing up her lunch in the toilet bowl. It’s an abrupt end to the nasty surprise and lets you grab the item (a dagger, in Jill's scenario) and make your way out of the room.
If you opted to play as Chris, the zombie will tumble out of the bathtub and stand up, ending the cutscene and bringing you face-to-face with the corpse in perhaps the smallest room of the entire mansion. After 20 years, such an encounter doesn’t offer a lot in the way of challenge, but in 2002, it brought my game to a swift end; I panicked, and while the most sensible option in this scenario is to simply turn and leg it out of the room, my first encounter with this zombie caused me to frantically push whatever buttons I could on the GameCube pad in a desperate attempt to get a few shots in. Needless to say, thanks to the cramped space, the zombie got its way and ‘You Are Dead’ faded in momentarily.
Like most encounters in REmake, there are plenty of routes you can take to easily dispatch the zombie and grab the hidden key. Hightailing it out of the room is the most viable option, and although the zombie will follow you (yeah, that’s another addition to REmake that deserves its own discussion), you’re at least afforded a lot more space to manoeuvre. Alternatively, you can bypass the room entirely for a while, perhaps until you’ve bagged the shotgun.
Finally — and this is really for experienced players only — you can manipulate the zombie into grabbing at nothing but air by carefully moving backwards and forwards, like live bait. Of course, this is an advanced technique and is significantly more challenging in such a small space, but if you pull it off, it gives you an invaluable opportunity to get a few pistol shots in.
Nevertheless, this scene is just one of the many ways that REmake played with our expectations. What was once a completely safe bathroom now plays host to one of the most nerve-wracking scenes in the entire game. It’s proof that, even after the classic trilogy and its follow-up Code Veronica, the humble common or garden zombie is still a fearsome enemy that can easily take you out if you let it.
And that's without factoring in the Crimson Heads...
So, there you have it. That, in my opinion, is the scariest scene in REmake. But what about you? Think there's a better pants-wetter of a scene in the game? Could it be Yawn the snake? The first Hunter encounter? Share yours with a comment down below and join us in wishing REmake a very happy 20th.
- Further reading: Best Resident Evil Games Of All Time