Back in 1997 the first Resident Evil on the PlayStation was brought to my attention. I can vividly remember the thoughts of wonder, amazement and outright terror (hey, I was only six). The bad acting and sketchy-at-first controls didn’t even register as I played through it with a friend; both of us fearful that opening the next door would take us further into the mansion of horror. Over a decade later, I look back on Resident Evil fondly. I still like it, yet it’s lost the same magic it had when I was young.
When I heard there was a remake in the works, I didn’t exactly jump up and down for joy. It’s my opinion that things should really be left alone after they’ve been developed, especially in videogames. When I eventually came to play the remake, about six years after it was released, I realise how wrong I was. Playing Resident Evil on the GameCube took me back to when I was six, with me and my friend sitting on the edge of our seats.
Capcom achieve the feel of immersion more successfully in this game than they have with other Resident Evil titles. The graphics are astounding, even by today’s standard. The sound and music is beautifully produced. The controls are easier to handle, making it more of a joy to play and of course the acting is better (perhaps the biggest improvement).
Of course, the greatest achievement is that the producers resisted any urge to alter the story. Plot is very important in all Resident Evil games; it’s what sets it apart from all of the other survival-horror features out there. The script is more serious than before; thanks to the better acting and language translation. All the characters are the same, if not better looking. Chris, former Airforce, is physically strong with six item blocks and fanboy favourite Jill, with her slightly weaker endurance but 8 item blocks in total to compensate, not to mention frequent support from her sandwich loving ally, Barry. New subplots have been added in the form of notes and files one can collect during their frightful stay in the mansion in order to alter the game enough to warrant a play through from old school gamers. It clears up previously sketchy aspects of the plot, which is a plus for first time gamers and veterans of the series alike.
Now we all know that plot isn’t everything. Easily the most impressive aspect of this game is the graphics; both characters and backgrounds look incredible. The first three games on the PlayStation had a noticeable difference in regards to the graphics of backgrounds and characters. The backgrounds were pre-rendered in the first three games, as they are in the remake and Zero for that matter. This little touch is time consuming, as every single camera angle has to be painstakingly drawn, however it is worth it in regards to adding that excellent “Resident Evil feel”. The downside is that the animated characters that move about looked slightly out of place in the first few games, in particular Resident Evil 3, where doors that were going to burst open, for example, looked significantly different than the rest of the background, thus taking away that element of surprise. I have to say I did not spot anything like that in the remake. Doors, characters, windows, walls… hell, even the candlestick flames look remarkable. Six years after its release, I still think the graphics are stunning, which can’t be said about the original. I really do admire the developers’ attention to detail. Candle flames flicker, shadows dance in lightning, blood splatters over the walls and floors and the water… oh, the water in this game is a clear example of the best water features I’ve seen in a game. Period. It’s difficult to accurately describe how beautifully the water flows down the rocks in later sections of the game. It provides a great sense of realism when you’re wading through the water in one of the underground caves. The lighting is moody and effective and pulled off tremendously. The character models are affected by light, too, so you no longer see a bright avatar sticking out from the background but an ominous figure standing lifelessly in the background. It really is a great feat of immersion and realism.
The improved graphics are not what impressed me the most about this game, however. I was quite pleased that they allowed players to choose the difficulty as certain sections can be annoyingly difficult. Back when my friend and I played the original, he was reluctant when the controller was passed over, as he found certain sections too difficult, as did I. We don’t have these problems with the new easier setting, although I personally think this setting does not provide much of a challenge. Likewise the harder difficulty provides TOO MUCH of a challenge in certain sections; for example the giant shark tank, where we kept getting owned by sharks… repeatedly. Aside from the difficulty, other neat game play tweaks are the defence items that are scattered around. These come in the form of a grenade, stun gun and dagger, depending on which character you selected to play. It is really handy, not to mention satisfying, when you’re pinned down by a dog with two of its little friends circling you, waiting to bounce. You stuff a grenade into its mouth; kick it off you and then shoot, blowing up the dog and its two friends. Scenes like these are very reminiscent of the giant alligator encounter of Resident Evil 2, and they’re all just as satisfying. I have to say, however, my favourite addition to the game is the “Crimson Head” zombie. I didn’t even realise this was a completely new game play feature until it was too late. Basically, you’ve gunned down a member of the undead. You leave the room and when you come back, say, 15 minutes later, the corpse is still there. I chalked this up to graphical enhancements and didn’t think anything of it (I didn’t even wonder why zombies stayed put after they ‘died’ and the dogs did not). Then, a few minutes later, I walk over the same zombie and it suddenly jumps up and starts tearing you a new one. Needless to say, my friend and I jumped out of our skin the first time this happened. I think this a brilliant new feature as it adds a whole new level of tension. Resident Evil could be potentially dull, after you’ve cleared the whole mansion and then go off to solve the puzzles in relative safety. These ‘Sleeping Beauty’ zombies, as my friend delightfully nicknamed, just lie there and you can’t predict when they’ll rise. There are of course, two ways to stop this; either by decapitating them as you kill them or by burning their twitching corpses. Since it’s hard to pull of a brain splattering headshot, burning is the next solution. You’re given a flask that can hold 2 portions of kerosene early on in the game. Using this in combination with a lighter can send those things back to hell forever. The downside is that there is a limited amount of kerosene and the tanks are scattered around the mansion, so it’s indeed difficult to get a hold of some more when you need it. Genius. Of course, this adds an element of strategy that would never have existed before you play. As Jill, the kerosene and lighter takes up two whole item blocks in your tiny inventory. As Chris, your special item is a lighter, so you only take up one block; however Chris has two less item blocks than Jill. But he’s tougher. Can he survive an onslaught? You could try pulling off satisfying headshots with grenades. Or as Jill, you could burn those pesky corpses with the grenade launcher, which Chris can’t seem to find. It just adds that extra bit of tension, which when playing the game for the first time is absolutely exhilarating.
However, what impressed me the most was, in fact, the sound. The music in the original was top notch. The eerie tune that played while walking through the vacant corridors proved that the most excruciatingly tense part of the game was when you were not fighting the zombies. Music even up to the same standard as it was previously would have sufficed, however the developers once again went above and beyond to make sure that everything felt as different as it could. The music, simply, is just exquisite. From the dramatic sounds that play when you’re ambushed to the intensely sorrowful tunes in the underground hovels, to the absence of music at all. Some of the areas outside are beautifully produced, in terms of sound. You can hear the wind, tree branches swaying, gravel crunching under your feet. You jump at the sound of whatever that is rustling in the long grass or when the crunchy gravel suddenly changed into the echo of hollow wood. The sound is so realistic, it really is beautiful. Gunshots and footsteps are realistic and when the head of your opponent explodes (although I’ve not heard a real head go pop, mind) it sounds so satisfyingly real and you could swear you heard it splatter all over the walls. The voice acting is also incomparably better than that of the original. So often the mood was lost when those darn actors started to talk that became a survival-comedy in some respects. Everything now is far more serious, which fits the setting perfectly.
There are few things to complain about in Resident Evil and just like with the original; anything that could potentially be a problem like slightly tricky at first controls or extreme difficulty spectrums are merely overlooked. This game is an achievement both in terms of technological achievement and game play. The heart of the developers really comes out in Resident Evil and you can almost feel their devotion to the title as you play. However, when you’re sat there with your friend in a dark room, alone in the middle of the night you don’t feel as though you’re playing. You feel as if you’re right there with Chris or Jill, going together through that house of hell. It’s a feeling that truly is indescribable and not been achieved by the franchise since.