Resident Evil is more then just a game these days, it’s a franchise. With the main series up to its 6th instalment not including side games, a movie series that is 5 movies in with a 6th on the way & books, toys etc. all available you don’t have to look far to see its popularity.
For many the series has lost its way, drifting far from its original survival horror roots. Even though the level of anger directed at the series now may not be fair it is clearly heading in a more action orientated direction. This isn’t the place to discuss what’s wrong with the series now. Instead I want to talk about what made the original game so good.
Resident Evil….even the name inspired dread. Push start at the main menu & hear it spoken by an evil voice. This is where we enter the world of survival horror. Hold on tight…
Spates of grisly murders have taken place on the outskirts of Racoon City. Newspapers report that bodies showed signs of cannibalism. The Racoon city police department sends in its special unit known as S.T.A.R.S to investigate the murders. Team Bravo is sent first & disappears so Team Alpha is sent in to find them.
If there is one memory most fans have of Resident Evil it is the badly acted, badly voiced live action introduction. Filmed in black & white it shows the STARS Team Alpha looking for Bravo when they see their downed helicopter. They land & begin investigating on foot, walking through a dark forest. One of the team members comes across a dismembered hand before they are attacked by wild dogs. Before they can escape back to the helicopter the pilot panics & takes off forcing them to make a run for it on foot.
The few survivors manage to make it to a mansion…this is where control is handed over to the player.
Players can chose between playing as Chris Redfield (less inventory space, less ammo but able to take more damage) or Jill Valentine (bigger inventory, more ammo, a lock pick but is a lot weaker). Whoever you chose the story will pan out in mostly the same way except for interactions. For example Chris will deal with Rebecca Chambers while Jill deals with Barry Burton mostly. Chris also has a harder time with puzzles; he is definitely the choice for players looking for a tougher game play run.
The aim at this point is to explore the mansion trying to find your missing colleagues while also searching for a way out. The mansion is huge & filled with many dangers, the main one being zombies. Later on dogs, spiders & mutants known as hunters will also be trying to kill you. Ammo is scarce, health is scarce & death lurks around every corner. Every room should be considered carefully & a plan made for dealing with whatever lies beyond. Saving is only possible with an ink ribbon & a type writer which are not readily available. The mansion & eventual surrounding areas all require puzzles & keys to access so there will be plenty of back-tracking & exploring to do.
One of the aspects that heighten the fear factor is the games static camera angles. In each room or area a set number of cameras will show you what you need. Sometimes you can hear things shuffling out of sight…do you move forward & risk walking into whatever is making the noise or do you wait it out, gun raised ready to shoot? This is made all the worse when your health is low & a save room is just beyond.
The game can be completed within a few hours…this doesn’t sound very long but the game has several endings that can be unlocked depending on who is saved as the game progresses. While none of them are wildly different they are worth seeing.
The music of Resident Evil deserves a special mention as the variation & unique sounds that accompany the different areas will both delight & chill. The early dining room that you go into has nothing but the sound of a ticking clock but its repetition will steadily make you uncomfortable.
During the game there are few cut-scenes that break up the game play. They tend to be short but do offer up some exciting moments such as the first time you meet a zombie, the slow turning of the head, the bloody mouth & the blank staring eyes. Amazing!
One of Resident Evil’s biggest criticisms is the poor quality of the voice acting. Seen as a source of comedy now the poorly delivered lines & embarrassing dialogue are difficult to look past. Barry referring to Jill as the master of lock picking is one that always stands out or Jill announcing that she can go down using the rope when it was super-obvious.
To be honest it all just adds to the charm & while the game hasn’t aged well & has a remake that is far superior on the GameCube it is considered a classic for all the right reasons. If you haven’t played this game then go out & find a copy. In fact find the Directors Cut which will add a few new things to enhance your enjoyment.
The remade version
The game that started it all. Survival horror at its best & only surpassed by the sequel & remake. Hammy voice acting & a short story lower the overall experience but it offers scares & balanced difficulty. Play this game.