Resident Evil 2 & The Door Transition Scare That Created Paranoia
Resident Evil 2 has the greatest scare in the entire franchise. Yes, it’s terrifying when the dogs jump through the window in the first game. It’s also scary when Nemesis pops up out of nowhere in the third game. However, there is nothing that has left more of an imprint on me than the time the zombies busted out during the door opening animation. It changed the way I viewed the door opening screens for the rest of the series. It also taught me to never, ever feel safe playing horror games. It’s when you feel safe that you’re the most vulnerable.
The door animation plays as the player transitions from room to room. If you interact with a door to go someplace else, you get an animation of that door opening. It’s a nice touch as a loading screen (and adds a lot to the game’s atmosphere). Watching the door slowly open lets you soak in the fear of what’s to come afterwards. If you narrowly escaped death in the last room, you have a few seconds to collect yourself. Not that you calm down, much. Your mind is probably still racing at the thought of the undead in the room you just left. And likely will have to return to, later. There’s a lot of backtracking in these games.
What’s important is that, the vast majority of the time, these animations are safe. It’s a loading screen, after all. Nothing will attack you while the game loads a different area into the game, right? It’s a moment when you take advantage of the fact that you’re playing a horror video game. You’re not running through real halls dodging zombies. You’re just someone playing a game. And games let you pause. They let you walk away to calm down. They give you loading screens where you can’t be in danger. So, whether you mean to or not, a part of your mind takes advantage of that. Which is what Resident Evil 2 uses to mess with you.
If you just play this game, you’ll still spend hours walking through doors without incident. Again, it’s a loading screen. If you played the first game, you’ve spent even more time safely going through doors. Well, except for the main door of the Spencer Mansion in the first game. Dogs will attack you if you open that door. Except that plays out in a video cutscene, so you can tell it’s different from your regular door opening animation. That’s a vital piece of why this scare works. While the doors change every time, and the animation is slightly different, the door opening animation is largely the same.
So, after opening hundreds of doors without incident, Resident Evil 2 suddenly hurls two zombies at you as the door swings open. They’re lumbering toward you in the black space behind the door – a black space that has always been empty before that. A stinging, urgent track blasts from your speakers after you hear the typical sound of the doorknob turning over. Open those doors is usually such a quiet moment. All you usually hear is that doorknob turning and the door creaking open. Not now, though. Now, it’s a shock through visuals and audio, and most of all, because the game has been teaching you that these transitions are safe.
Like I said, you’ve likely spent hours going through doors. Possibly even a whole game’s worth of them before this point. The developers have made it clear that door transitions are safe. You’ve been lulled into a sense of security when you move between rooms. Even if you were wound tight exploring these games, you had never been attacked during a door transition before. I never noticed it before when I played the games until that terrifying moment, but I sure realized it afterwards. Door animations had been safe. Now, they weren’t.
That single moment made me scared to open doors in Resident Evil 2. It made me afraid to open doors throughout the entirety of the franchise, if I’m being honest. I was even nervous to go back to the original game in case I just missed such a scare. This thing that I had taken for granted – going through doors is safe – had been taken from me. I couldn’t trust to just enter a door and escape danger. There could be an attack during door loading animations, which took away one of the few safe havens the games had.
That also bled into some of the other places I had previously felt safe. Safe Rooms are typically free of the undead. Just calm spaces where you can save and grab items. However, if door loading screens could hold danger, would Safe Rooms always be safe? The developers would already load new enemies into areas that used to be empty as you progressed through the games. The dogs jumped through the window in what seemed to be a vacant hallway in the first game. The creators love to make you think you’re safe so they can blindside you. So, what would the next surprise be?
What’s funny is that I think Resident Evil 2 was the only time this happened. At least, during the loading screen. And it’s the only time I can recall it happening. But it’s burned into my memories as something that eroded any feeling of safety I ever had with the series. It made me worry even more during those times I felt safe. If I figured I was out of danger, wouldn’t that be the best time to strike? The most effective moment to scare me? I became almost paranoid during the quiet moments, always asking when the undead would arrive. It almost made me long for times when the zombies were around. At least then I’d know what danger I was facing. I wouldn’t have to wait and wonder.
This single jump scare took away the few moments I felt safe in this series. I had felt that door animations were free of danger. That I could always gather myself in those precious seconds. In a single zombie attack, the developers took that away. They left me terrified of the silence and calm as much as I feared the undead when they were right in front of me. And I was never the same again, afterwards. I question every ‘safe’ moment in every horror game, now. I’m always wondering if this seemingly peaceful moment is when I’ll receive one of the biggest scares of my life. And it makes me wonder how many future horror developers saw this and wondered how they could erode those feelings of safety as well.