-Aaron "Aeecee" Clark
Ever since the day George Romero put out Night Of The Dead the concept of the dead coming back to life and attacking the living has been both an important and popular theme in media. Zombies have infested every form of media from books to shows and of course the endless amount of movies that continue to satisfy our love for watching feral humans get blown to bits. And of course video games are no exception to this if something in the theaters or on television because popular enough we gamers will expect to be role playing that experience at some point. And these days there are so many different games in many different genres that let us live out our love to pump some lead into the undead that there are too many to name just check Wikipedia.
But for many for there is one series that stands above the rest and that series is known by many for making killing zombies an enjoyable pastime for gamers all across the globe and that one series is Resident Evil. Since its original release back in the mid nineties it has become one of the most popular and best selling video game franchise to date and its success has led to numerous novels and movies and of course spin offs. It popularized and partially created the genre known as survival horror and even though it has somewhat strayed away from its roots it still contains well designed over the top action and tension based excitement that continues to impress today. This year is the twentieth anniversary of the franchise and what better way to celebrate this occasion by looking back at many of its games and seeing just how good were these games and how do they hold up now so lets start this off by looking at the original where it all began.
The games takes place in an obscure forest region located outside an idyllic Midwestern American town know as Raccoon City. An array of murders in which many of the victims were cannibalized has caused panic within in the town and an elite special forces unit known as STARS is sent in to investigate. While searching the forest for clues the STARS Bravo Team goes missing and all contact is lost and so the STARS Alpha Team is sent in to find them and continue the mission. Alpha Team finds the downed chopper of Bravo Team as well as the corpse of one their teammates. Alpha Team is then attack by zombie dogs one of their teammates is killed and the survivors take cover in an adjacent mansion.
What remains of the team decide to split up and search the house for clues it does not take them long to discover that something is defiantly wrong with this place as they find one of the missing members of Bravo Team is being eaten by some undead human monster. From here the story is split into two different playable characters Jill Valentine who teams up with fellow Alpha Team member Barry Burton and Chris Redfield works together with Rebecca Chambers from the missing Bravo Team as they try to undercover the secrets of the mansion while as at the same time trying not to get eaten by zombies. They soon discover more zombies as well as other monsters walking among the halls and hidden within the many rooms and they also begin to find more bodies of members from the Bravo Team who met their end in numerous horrible ways. And to make matters worse the captain of the Alpha Team Albert Wesker has gone missing too so it is up to these four to find some way to escape this house of horrors and blow away anything that is not human that gets in their way.
The main problem with the plot is that it does not present itself very well as it does in later squeals and also the remake and this is due to well known reasons that will get discussed later. One of the reasons is that alot of the background information that explain how this nightmare became to be is told in multiple files found throughout the mansion. Unless you are someone who likes to read alot and not to mention does not mind interrupting your game to read said files you are probably not going to like this method of storytelling. But overall the plot is good and has both interesting characters who only got more interesting over time as well as plenty of background story that is also pretty interesting providing you like to stop and read at times.
Resident Evil was notorious for having an interesting new style of gameplay that its creators decided to call survival horror. Although there were similar games with this style of gameplay that came before it Resident Evil was the very first to give this type of play an appropriate name. The core of the gameplay is very akin to that of an adventure game in which you explore the mansion room by room in order find clues and items that will help to progress through the house and make your escape. There are many different types of keys to find that unlock different types of doors and you will also discover several random objects that have various and mysterious uses as well as numerous simple puzzles to solve. All the objects can be examined thoroughly in three dimensions to discover hints on how they can be of use and even new items can be found inside. And of course wondering many of the halls and in many of the rooms are zombies and other monsters that are there to impede your progress and prevent any chance you will have of escape. With any of these encounters you can either choose to fight as many will or if you are skilled enough you can run your way through and hope you make it without getting your face bitten off. And the reason why you may want to run instead of fight is the game gives you an objectively limited number of weapons and ammo to use as well as the many types of herbs used for healing.
From every bullet you fire into an enemy and every herb you use to heal yourself the resources are partially scarce and must be used carefully. This rationing of certain elements like weapons ammo and first aid is one of the main gameplay elements that describe the survival horror genre. This new gameplay concept when it was first introduced was not only fascinating but it also creates an interesting mix of strategy and tension which in the end all comes together real nice. Of course the more carefully you search the house the more ammo and herbs you are likely to find which means the better you are at searching the more you may not have to rational as much.
Another concept of the survival horror experience is that you are limited to carrying an established number of items at once. Throughout the mansion you will find storage containers where you can stash items and weapons not to mention any extra ammo and herbs you will find. You are also limited to how many times you can save your game with the typewriter and ink ribbon system. Typewriters are used to save your game while the ink ribbons are the item you need in order to use them and like ammo and herbs they are limited too so make to save wisely. Of course this limited carrying capacity can lead to some annoying and unnecessary backtracking if you do not know which items you will need and which ones you will not which can lead to frustration at times.
The game features two characters to play as Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield both of them have slight variances form one another that determine both your gameplay experience and difficultly. Jill can carry more items and can take more damage and gets an especially useful lockpick which lets you unlock certain things without the need for the key. Chris on the other hand can carry slightly less and can take less damage and exists as the games option for more skilled players. Both characters are balanced quite well and allow you to pick how difficult you want to make your journey through the mansion to be.
Although if there is one thing many of the early Resident Evil games are known for it is the awkward controls that are fine with some and others not so much. You push left or right to turn your character and then push up or down to move forward or backward of the direction you are facing which feels like you are driving some tank which is labeled by many as tank like controls. This can make it difficult move pass and run away from enemies although when using weapons you do have an impartially handy lock on feature that works well although it is not present in the American Playstation version so good luck on it. If there is an Achilles Heel in this series it would definitely be the controls but enough playing around with them and you will adjust to it.
While the mansion is huge and has much to uncover on your quest to escape you will also go through from an eerie courtyard to an unsettling cavern and even an enigmatic lab there is lots to explore and discover. You will also have to solve numerous puzzles which are not only simple but are also quite clever and do some thought in order to figure out. And the variety of items you will find and discover and what you need to do with them also adds to the puzzle like experience.
When it comes to enemies there is more than the slowly walking zombies to deal with you will come across packs of hungry zombie dogs giant spiders that spit poison and the deadly hunters that can decapitate you with one swing of their claws. There are also some even larger monsters that act as the bosses such as an incredibly venomous snake who can sallow you in one bite an overgrown pile of weeds and vines plant like creature and an even bigger spider to put up with. While these bosses look intimidating they are really not that much more of an intent threat then the regular monsters as long you have some shotgun shells and some mixed herbs you will make it through with very little problems.
As mentioned earlier the controls are an Achilles Heel to the gameplay unfortunately there is also an Achilles Heel in the design too and that would be without any single doubt the camera. The game uses fixed camera angels from start to finish and while many of them are cleverly placed every now and then you will come to an angle that make fighting or avoiding enemies an incredible pain and can even hide important items and make them even more difficult to find. Both the tank like controls and fixed camera angels have become an infamous stable of the Resident Evil series but when you have played the games for as long as me it becomes something that is an important part of you.
When it comes to graphics the game has not aged all that well the environment is pretty fuzzy and the characters are really blocky but for an early Playstation game it is still somewhat decent. The music is both good and memorable with certain tracks such as the save room music which have become well recognized pieces in both the entire series and the gaming culture in general. Of course one of the most memorial elements of the game is not only the piss poor writing but also the terrible yet laughable voice acting that are the subject of one or two internet memes.
Resident Evil overall has not aged at that well from an angle of both gameplay and design and even the parts of the presentation have not held up all that good either. Although despite these shortcomings it is still an interesting game that some people will still get an immense kick out of. Not only did it help establish the survival horror genre but is also started one of the most important and popular video game franchises to date. It is still worth checking out but for some others you might to play the remake that came out six years later instead but that one is for later.
Review By Aaron "Aeecee" Clark