Why is Resident Evil 2’s Mr X still so scary so many years later?

Resident Evil 2 Remake Mr X Claire

Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 is widely regarded as the best Resident Evil game – and one of the best horror games – of all time by critics and fans alike. It’s easy to see why, if you’re a fan of horror games. However, what if you’re not? On the surface, the scope of Resident Evil 2 seems quite limited – and it isn’t really that long as games go. You run around the same building for most of the game – so it’s physically quite limiting – and the gameplay itself is quite slow.

However, there’s one thing that’s undeniably good – one thing that sets Resident Evil 2 apart from the rest and cements its place as one of the best – and that is Mr X.

To put it plainly, Mr X can be freaking terrifying – whether you’re talking about the original Mr X from Resident Evil 2 or the new Mr X from 2019’s Resident Evil 2 Remake. He is easily one of the most terrifying enemies in video game history and we’re here to talk about why that is. You’ll be interested to know that it’s not really because of Mr X…

What exactly makes Mr X quite so terrifying?

You might be reading this and thinking “that guy is just a boy in a fedora” – and you’re not wrong. Mr X isn’t all that scary visually, especially when you consider what else Resident Evil 2 and the Resident Evil series as a whole has thrown at us over the years. As you can see below, he really is just a tall bloke in a fedora and a trench coat. Of course, in reality, this would be quite scary… But in a game where there are zombies and strange creatures like Lickers… It doesn’t really match up.

Resident Evil 2 Remake Mr X Key Art
Credit: Capcom

This is what makes Mr X different, though – he’s not necessarily built different, but Resident Evil 2 is designed to make him the most terrifying thing you’ve ever seen and it works.

Mr X is a constant threat throughout the majority of Resident Evil 2 and it’s this unrelenting pursuit, really, that makes him one of the most terrifying video game enemies we’ve ever faced off against. We know being chased isn’t exactly a unique gameplay mechanic used by Resident Evil 2, even though it was one of the first titles to really lean into it, but here’s why it works…

Mr X plays into the an innate fear of being chased…

Mr X and the way Capcom uses him in Resident Evil 2 feeds into the most primitive urges we have as humans. (No, not those sorts of urges.) Mr X feeds into what is commonly known as the Death Instinct – a psychological theory derived from Freud’s Pleasure Principle.

This, to put it plainly, is all about the pleasure people receive from tension reduction and near-death experiences. In the case of Resident Evil 2 and Mr X, the reduction of tension comes from either: being caught by Mr X and dying, or narrowly escaping him and putting some distance between you and Mr X. He’s always chasing you in Resident Evil 2, so there’s always some underlying level of tension being built while you play – even if you don’t realise it.

When face to face with Mr X – in the heat of the moment – you act on instinct. This is what makes facing off against him as exciting as it does scary.

Resident Evil 2 Remake Mr X Claire Licker
Credit: Capcom

Although Freud doesn’t really mention this, it all boils down to science and brain chemicals. When you’re being chased, your brain creates both Cortisol and Dopamine. Cortisol is the “stress” chemical that makes you tense – this one’s created while you’re under threat. Dopamine, however, is the “happy” chemical – this is released when you successfully don’t die or the tension is reduced.

Whether this is something that happens in reality, or in a video game such as Resident Evil 2, you’re in control and your brain produces the same chemicals. You might not be too afraid of scary movies, but when you’re in the hot seat it all becomes a lot more real – at least according to your brain!

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It all boils down to controlling your emotional reaction to chaos – which some people can do better than others. When Mr X is chasing you and your brain is creating Cortisol, you get stressed. The better you are at controlling your innate emotional reaction to this, the better you’ll be at figuring out a way to escape. You’re “winning back” control of the situation and reducing the immediate tension in the situation – thus, creating Dopamine.

We know this can sound a little basic, but there’s a lot of factors that contribute to artificially creating this sensation – It’s the science of the horror genre perfected in a video game.

Resident Evil 2’s level design plays a huge part…

Resident Evil 2’s Racoon City Police Station – a location where you spend a lot of your time – is a vital part of why Mr X is such a terrifying video game enemy. As a location, it’s full of tight corridors and staircases with arguably too many locked doors – these are all things that allow Mr X to thrive.

Even the main lobby area, which you can see below, is dimly lit. It might be difficult to get yourself cornered, as you have a map of the Racoon City Police Station to hand, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Resident Evil 2 Remake RPD Main Hall
Credit: Capcom

Resident Evil 2 isn’t an “open-world” game – the Racoon City Police Station is a closed circuit. If you keep turning left, you’ll eventually find yourself back at the same spot. Of course, you can escape the Racoon City Police Station and continue the narrative beyond this location – however, you spend quite a large portion of the game in here running around a closed loop.

Why does this matter? Well, it means that even if you manage to “lose” Mr X… He’s never really gone. He’s just in a different part of the closed-loop. He is always getting closer to where you are, no matter what. The only thing you can do is run.

We call the Raccoon City Police Station a loop, but that doesn’t mean it’s a simple one-way system. There are quite a few different ways to get around inside the building and there are even three floors to explore. You can use these to your advantage – but so can Mr X. He is always getting closer and the Racoon City Police Station map makes this an immediate problem all of the time.

Why? Well, because there are only a few instances when you can actually get around him.

READ MORE: Should you play the classic Resident Evil games?

Mr X is bigger than a doorway and he doesn’t let you forget it. His footsteps are loud and he towers over you when he’s in close proximity. When he’s coming at you down a tight corridor, you can’t just run around him. You’re forced to retreat and find another way – for better or for worse.

This never-ending pursuit means that each immediate decision matters – you can’t afford to make a wrong turn and you can’t afford to slip up. He’s always behind you and you can’t run around him. If you run into a dead-end or a locked door, you’re gone. That’s it. Game over.

If you can’t see him, you have to worry about whether he’s in front of you. Every corner you turn could bring you face to face with him. He isn’t the most gruesome enemy we’ve seen in a video game – or even in the Resident Evil series – but he doesn’t need to be.

It’s about what you’re missing, not what’s in-front of you

To add to all of this, Resident Evil 2 really doesn’t give you anything to combat Mr X. For lack of a better word, he’s invincible. This is another thing that makes him terrifying. You can’t beat him and it doesn’t matter what situation you find yourself in when you’re running around the Racoon City Police Station.

There are enough dangers to deal with inside a closed-off police station littered with zombies in the middle of the night, you don’t need an unkillable behemoth coming after you all the time too.

Resident Evil 2 Remake Leon Zombies
Credit: Capcom

In true Survival Horror fashion, you don’t have enough ammo to kill every zombie and Licker in Resident Evil 2’s Racoon City Police Station. Even on the easier difficulties, there’s just too many of them. Healing items – such as Green Herbs and First Aid Sprays – are limited too. You’re in a bit of a pickle even without Mr X’s involvement.

Resident Evil 2 is a tough Survival Horror game – you need to make each shot count and avoid danger whenever you get the chance to. It isn’t easy to figure your way out of the Racoon City Police Station and you’ll find yourself retracing your steps more than once to complete the selection of puzzles laid out before you.

When you combine this with everything else discussed above, Mr X is in the right place at the right time. You’re not equipped to tackle him and the environment you’re in is designed to make his pursuit intense and constant. You know this is the case – even if it’s just a fleeting thought in the back of your mind – and that makes it worse.

When you’re on your first playthrough – cast your mind back if you’re a Resident Evil veteran – you try everything in your power to stop him. You shoot at him, throw everything you can from your inventory towards him… Anything to stop those footsteps, if even for a moment. Nothing works and all you can do is run – this is the scariest part of all. All you can do is run and hope you make it through the next puzzle or objective before he finds you again.

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If you do find this to be a little too much, there are mods for the PC version of Resident Evil 2 that remove him from the game completely. Resident Evil 2 isn’t going to be easy after that, but it gives you more time to think and less to worry about. Mr X is designed to be scary and that’s exactly what he is.

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