Alongside grotesque bioweapons, spurious conspiracies, and demented interior design, puzzles are an inextricable part of Resident Evil’s DNA. In fact, they’re so tightly woven into the very fabric of the series, that it feels wrong whenever they’re sidelined. It’s just not an authentic RE experience if you don’t get hopelessly stuck, trying to figure out how some antique relic is meant to get you into an underground facility.
With that in mind, let’s celebrate a few memorable highlights from the franchise’s perplexing history. Please note, we’re only going to be talking about the best examples of puzzles here, not the toughest. So don’t go expecting any RE: 3 water sample, because that is a poorly-conceived nightmare that drags its game to a crushing standstill and I will not accept any argument to the contrary. Anyway, on with the list!
Resident Evil Remake – ‘’When the Two Have Run Each Other Through’’
The wealthy elite of Raccoon City are a quirky bunch, sinking their vast fortunes into bespoke locking mechanisms, automated taxidermy, and coffins that can only be opened via bejeweled death masks.
Oswell Spencer’s accountant must have regular panic attacks whenever he reviews his client’s exorbitant spending. I mean, if the aristocrat wants to get into his own attic then he will need to go through the rigmarole of: playing Moonlight Sonata on his bar piano; fetching a golden emblem and pressing it into a groove above his fireplace; and manually adjusting the hands of a grandfather clock so that it produces a key. As opposed to hiding the fucking thing under a doormat like a normal person!
On the other hand, if Spencer wasn’t so ostentatious with his security systems, then we’d be deprived of some fiendishly clever puzzles. The aforementioned stumper involving a grandfather clock is especially devious, as you must rotate its gears to position the hour and minute hands in the appropriate direction. The catch being that you won’t know where they need to be unless you decipher an obscure reference to a painting hung on the dining room wall. And when you get to the bottom of the obvious solution, you’ll be kicking yourself, because the answer is staring you in the face the whole time.
Resident Evil – Underground Statue Room
Trickier than it first appears, conquering this late-game obstacle requires you to haul a statue over to a pressure plate. That’s all. No cryptic wordplay. No obtuse logic or trial and error bluffing. Just ‘’move the thing onto the other thing’’.
Alas, the devil is in the details and you’ll inevitably run into a bit of a snag when you realize that you cannot push the idol along a horizontal axis. You see, it’s caught against the edges of the room and – given that neither Jill nor Chris have the gumption to pull objects – you’ll have to find another way of prizing it loose. Without delving into minutiae, this entails moving the bust to a certain spot in the floor and then turning a crank to extend a wall partition outwards.
The 2002 remake then layers in a further complication, by getting you to shift the statue over to a rotating panel, so that it can be made to face the correct way. Of course, that’s a gross oversimplification (it sounds relatively straightforward when written down) and most players will spend a decent amount of time chewing on the intricacies. In other words, it’s a textbook case of something being ’easier said than done.’
Resident Evil 2 – Checkmate
The sewer is often dismissed as being Resident Evil 2’s nadir, on account of its indistinct geography, gimmicky bosses, and that bit where you have to use the bloody EMF visualizer. Yet despite generally being accepted as a step down from the rest of the title, this area does boast one saving grace: the chess puzzle.
An exercise in deductive reasoning, this head-scratcher lets you role-play as an electrician, by consulting a nearby crib sheet to determine which (inexplicably-chess themed) plug belongs in which socket. It’s reminiscent of that classic Fox-Chicken-Grain problem, in that you technically have all the information you need, yet might still have to try a few different options before you land on the proper arrangement. Sure, it’ll take a bit of mulling over, but it’s nothing too obtuse.
That is until your 2nd run when you discover that the placements have all been jumbled around and that the hints are suddenly much vaguer. It’s then that you’ll really have to start using your noodle, making educated guesses, and experimenting with different combinations to fill the gaps.
Code: Veronica – Tracing the Ashford Legacy
At their best, Resident Evil puzzles are deeper than mere distractions from all the zombie killing and are integrated into the story itself. A fine specimen of this can be found in the spin-off release Code: Veronica, when you’re charged with mapping out the ancestry of the villainous Sir Alfred.
Here, you’ll need to rely on a document, penned by the family butler, that comprehensively breaks down the Ashford lineage. It’ll give you pointers on what each generation looked like, whether they had any prized possessions, and how they’re all interrelated. Once you’ve studied this note in enough detail, you’ll then be ready to tour the family gallery and match up each description with its corresponding portrait (The gist is that you need to activate the switches beneath the paintings in chronological order).
What makes the section so enthralling is that you get to channel your inner detective, diving head-first into a real mystery and obtaining a fuller understanding of the lore in the process. Indeed, by tracing the Ashford genealogy, you’re essentially charting the downfall of this once-reputable house, rendering what would otherwise be a dry exposition dump genuinely compelling. As opposed to having it spoon-fed to you in a cutscene.
Resident Evil 0 – Mental Arithmetic 101
According to my brief research, it can take upwards of a mile for the average freight train to grind to a complete halt. With this considerable stopping distance, it is absolutely imperative that drivers can hit the brakes promptly, because they need all the time they can get.
The engineers responsible for the Ecliptic Express clearly didn’t get that memo, as they designed their emergency controls to be as inconvenient as humanly possible. After all, decelerating the train necessitates that two people (in antipode carriages) pass an impromptu math quiz, just to prove they really mean it. That’s right, if you want to stop this locomotive, then you’ll need to punch a load of digits onto a keypad, so that they add up to a randomly generated number. Oh, and did I mention that you’ve got to do so under intense pressure and in conjunction with another person?
Well, that’s not strictly true. As a player, you’ll be single-handedly responsible for both Rebecca and Billy’s calculations and – to make matters worse – one of their monitors is visibly damaged, obfuscating the running total. You’re therefore forced to do part of the sum in your head, which makes for an exhilarating puzzle, but a frankly dreadful safety protocol.
Resident Evil 0 – The Circle of Life
Opening with an utterly inscrutable clue: “Six Souls Imprisoned Within the Chains of Death. Rekindle the Flames of Life from the Spirits of the Weak!”’, this one from RE: 0 is notoriously difficult. In a nutshell, you have to ignite the bases of six different animal representations – a conclusion that takes some ruminating over in the first place. However, as you will have no doubt learned by now, it’s never that simple. Raccoon City and the fires must inevitably be lit in a specific order.
Your only assistance here are the confounding inscriptions that accompany each effigy. For example, you’ll be told that the wolf has ‘’sharp wits’’ – enabling him to ‘’bring down even the greatest horned beast’’ – that the serpent’s poison can incapacitate ‘’the mightiest of kings’’, and that the eagle is equipped with wings that let it ‘’dance freely through the air’’. I won’t spoil the connection (it’s incredibly satisfying to unearth on your own) but suffice it to say it all makes sense in the end.
What’s more, unlike a lot of other entries on this list, the enigma doesn’t mandate that you have any prior videogame expertise or inside knowledge of how these things usually work. On the contrary, it can be beaten by anyone with a knack for solving riddles and thinking outside the box. Or, more likely, those with access to a handy YouTube walkthrough.
Resident Evil 4 – Cemetery Dial
The puzzles in Resident Evil 4 are decidedly lightweight, serving as bite-sized intermissions between the action, rather than meaty challenges in their own right. Honestly, you’ll spend longer agonizing over the Tetris-esque suitcase minigame than you will on any of the trivial brain teasers here. That being said, just because they’re crude doesn’t mean that they can’t be rewarding.
A good illustration of this can be found in the church graveyard, where a valuable Cat’s Eye gem is encased behind a metal grate. To retrieve the precious stone, you’ll need to highlight a specific combination of insignias that are dotted around an altar, by revolving its needle in increments of either 3 or 4. This is with a caveat that you must land exclusively on the right symbols; otherwise the chamber will remain shut.
Nailing the pattern will require you to interpret a veiled allusion to ‘’dead ringers’’ and consult familial crests that are engraved on nearby tombstones. If you manage all that, you’ll still have to execute the precise sequence of movements on the dial, so that only the relevant hieroglyphs are selected. Again, none of this is too cognitively taxing, but it functions as a nice diversion from RE: 4’s more frenetic set-pieces.
Resident Evil 5: Lost in Nightmares – Catacomb Maze
Endlessly controversial, Resident Evil 5 took the actionized direction of its predecessor and ran with it: doubling down on the bombastic gunplay; introducing a co-op buddy to help you out in sticky situations; and jettisoning time-honored mechanics to sustain a relentless pace. Out of everything, it was undoubtedly the puzzles that bore the brunt of this streamlining, as the base game offered little more than a paltry errand wherein you had to refract light beams around a room.
Fortunately, the ‘’Lost in Nightmares’’ DLC addressed this lack by providing a considerably more subdued experience. For the first half of the add-on, you’ll find no combat whatsoever, and – even when the petrifying ‘’Guardians of Insanity’’ do turn up – your dealings with them are far more cerebral than just unloading a Gatling gun into their faces.
There’s a particularly cunning bit that strips you of your weapons and tasks you with navigating an esoteric labyrinth in order to lure enemies into booby traps. It’s hardly flummoxing (you simply have to track down colour coded tools), yet the fact that you have to coordinate with a partner, whilst simultaneously being hounded by monsters, does result in one of the more stressful quandaries on this list.
Resident Evil 7 – Happy Birthday
Escape rooms gained traction in the 2010s, evolving into a global phenomenon with new venues popping up overnight. They became a default option for celebrating special occasions, team-building exercises, and even wedding receptions!
Having undergone such a meteoric rise in popularity, horror was bound to cash-in on the trend at some point, especially with it being so well suited to the genre. Indeed, a cursory search on IMDB will produce at least 5 different results for high concept thrillers that contain the words ‘’escape room’’ somewhere in their title, and there are plenty of others that have capitalized on the voguish premise.
The videogame industry eventually cottoned onto the idea, with Capcom taking a particularly gruesome stab at it for RE: 7’s ‘’Happy Birthday’’ segment. Recalling the inventive cruelty of the Saw franchise, right down to the grimy environs, this sadistic conundrum will dare you to do all kinds of things against your will, including rummaging through a clogged toilet, deliberately bursting party balloons filled with rusty nails, and allowing a motorized dummy to carve a passcode into your skin. All so that you light birthday candles at the behest of a raving lunatic.
It’s arguably the highlight of the entire game, marrying together Resident Evil’s horror and puzzle elements in a tighter way than ever before. More importantly, you’ll have so much fun working out the individual steps that you won’t even want to escape, and will instead be yearning for it to go on even longer.
Resident Evil 7 – Bedroom
Happy Birthday was so enjoyable that it left me craving an expansion wholly devoted to Lucas Baker’s ingenious contraptions. Whilst this was never delivered, the first volume of Banned Footage DLC did offer some consolation, in the form of its ‘’Bedroom’’ level.
Building on Happy Birthday’s already stellar foundations, this Misery-esque scenario (which sees you at the mercy of the Baker’s southern hospitality) is infinitely more convoluted. The goal is less explicit, there are a dozen extra components to juggle in your mind, and every other item seems to harbor a secretive dual purpose. For instance, using a fork to pry the nails off a wooden board might seem obvious, but if you can intuit its secondary function without resorting to Google, then you’re either: A) Part of the original development team; B) clinically insane; or C) a shoo-in candidate for a Mensa application.
The big USP though is that your captor will periodically check in to ensure that you’re not up to any funny business. This means that you’ll have to hastily reset everything you’ve been meddling with, so as not to arouse further suspicion. Kind of like Paul Sheldon, when he knows Annie Wilkes could walk through the door at any moment and uncover his escape attempt. It’s a truly interesting dynamic that I’ve never seen pulled off in a videogame before and it successfully puts you on edge.