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Book Review: Philip J. Reed Unlocks Resident Evil with this Survival Horror Deep Dive

If there’s one thing you should take away from Philip J. Reed’s book, Resident Evil, it’s that Jill Valentine is the best thing since sliced bread.

Reed observes that it’s easier to play as Resident Evil’s female protagonist not because it lowers the difficulty but because she’s simply more competent than Chris Redfield. You’ll get a lot more from this literary deep dive, but this retrospective revelation (supported by evidence from the game) typifies the level of detail the author goes into.

Focusing entirely on the first game in the franchise, the book is clearly a labour of love, despite Reed’s early reluctance to engage with the game. Resident Evil, published by Boss Fight Books, features a wealth of information; factual interviews are sandwiched between more reflective chapters which, accessibly written, examine the psychological tricks Resident Evil used to keep players on edge. I’ve played the original Resident Evil more times than I can remember and yet, reading Reed’s book, I feel like an idiot for not spotting how the game was messing with me. But then again, a magic show wouldn’t be half as much fun if the tricks were explained to you as you went along.

A smattering of the book’s material comes from existing sources, but Reed’s done an impressive amount of legwork, digital and otherwise. He’s spoken to the actors and voice-over artists who were involved in Resident Evil’s production, uncovering some surprising truths that have remained hidden for 20+ years. I won’t spoil the surprise, but Reed discovers just why Resi‘s western voice-actors delivered such odd, stilted performances.

There’s a healthy dose of humour thrown into the mix; despite Reed’s appreciation of Resident Evil, he doesn’t turn a blind eye to the game’s eccentricities, which include one of its protagonists poking at a pool of blood, as if he expects it to vomit forth the Holy Grail. Nor does he skip over the similarities between Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark which, if acknowledged at the time, might have got Capcom into a bit of legal trouble.

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→ Read more: Unlocking Resident Evil: An Interview With Writer Philip J Reed

None of the author’s assertions fall flat, but he takes things a step further and consults a psychologist who delves deeper into Resident Evil’s fear factor and the way our minds react. There is one area I would have liked to have seen explored further, which is the western censorship of the game. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an uncensored pre-release PC copy of Resident Evil but I threw it out, thinking I could just pick up the final, big-boxed release. I sat, seething silently, as I got home and discovered the release version’s infamous FMV sequences had been re-rendered in black and white and the now iconic zombie sequence was heavily cut. I’d love to have known whose call this was and why it came about.

That aside, it’s hard to find fault with with Reed’s book. By focusing on a single title, rather than the franchise as a whole, he’s really done the business. Even if you’ve spent so much time in Spencer Mansion you know every misdelivered line by heart, this is a rewarding read that will leave you’ll with a greater understanding and appreciation of this shlocky survival horror classic.

If you want to get your hands on Philip J Reed’s Resident Evil, and didn’t back Boss Fight Books’s Season 5 Kickstarter, you can subscribe digitally, or in print, here.

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