Game Description: Resident Evil, the game that is often credited with starting the survival-horror genre, is being reinvented for the GameCube. For those unfamiliar with the series, a mysterious corporation has secretly been performing ungodly biotech experiments in the sleepy little town of Raccoon City. When reports of gory attacks come in from nearby areas, two crack military squads are sent to investigate. Players take the role of either sharpshooter Chris Redfield or demolitions expert Jill Valentine to track down the source of the town's problems—specifically, something in a decaying mansion that's mutating animals into grotesque killers and turning humans into bloodthirsty zombies. Supplies and ammunition are scarce, so players have to know when to fight, when to run, and how to keep their wits about them. Players can't afford to waste their shots and expect their characters to survive.
Resident Evil for GameCube is a perfect example of creative impotence masked behind an engaging sense of style. Its not a bad game. Or, I should say, the cumulative experience it offers isnt bad. As a slick remake of a popular classic, it has its virtues. Gameplay, however, isn't one of them.
Resident Evil, of course, is the game that reinvented the horror genre some years ago. It coined the term "survival horror" for its then unique combination of gothic atmosphere and relentless violence. Inspired loosely by Infogrames Lovecraftian PC game Alone In The Dark, Resident Evil (PSX, 1996) combined the classic haunted house premise with the gory Darwinism of zombie films. The result was a blockbuster, a genre exploitation game thats thin gameplay was overshadowed by a powerful sense of danger and fear. Several sequels followed, all of which improved marginally on the gameplay but played down the gothic roots of the original in favor of Hollywood-style sci-fi.
Now, on the GameCube, Capcom has made a decisive effort to put the series back on track by, literally, going back to square one: a flat-out remake of the original Resident Evil baring the same name, the same premise, mostly the same plot, and all the same problemsonly now amplified by six years of gaming innovation and a current console market where the continued financial success of recycled concepts threatens to throw the industry into a tale-spin of creative deprivation.
Fans know the set-up well. Members of the S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Squad) of Racoon City are called in to investigate a series of deaths on the woodland outskirts of town. After one of their helicopters goes down, the remaining S.T.A.R.S. members delve into the woods in search of their lost comrades, eventually leading them to a remote mansion where they find themselves trapped by hordes of walking corpses and other abominations. From there the goal becomes simple: escape with your life. Like the original, Resident Evil for GameCube allows you to choose between two S.T.A.R.S. members at the outset: Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, both of whom have their own advantages that will help the player survive the horror.
Fans and newcomers alike will notice right off that Resident Evil has some serious visual panache. No game before has looked like this. Like the original PSX version, the GameCube remake uses pre-rendered, 2D backgrounds in which the player controls 3D characters from a variety of fixed, cinematic perspectives (a much maligned technique because the characters and environment never quite seem like part of the same world). For the first time, though, the illusion is perfect. The mansion interiors and exteriors are indeed 2D, but they are detailed and animated to include everything from candles flickering in shadowed hallways to grass blowing gently in the wind. The 3D characters, however, are the real show-stoppers. They look, for lack of a better word, real. The level of detail on Chris and Jill (and the other human and non-human inhabitance of the game) represent a new standard for realistic-looking graphics. Shadows cast by them and on them co-exist with the 2D seamlessly, and if they stand unmoving there is nothing to suggest that they are not a part of the background: a breakthrough visual achievement.
Unfortunately, thats where the innovation stops. Unlike the graphics, there have been virtually no enhancements made to the gameplay, and, yes, this is a problem. Not that I expect perfection, but the conventions Resident Evil chooses to indulge in are so outdated that they distance the player from the experience. On the PSX (and even the Dreamcast) things like the control scheme, the door animations, and the inability to shoot while moving seemed more acceptable, but on the GameCube they are without logic or excuse. I thought videogames were supposed to put you in situations that somehow "simulated" human ability, i.e. gave you options that encouraged you to use your innate problem-solving skills to accomplish something. What the hell am I supposed to think about a game where, when a zombie is lurching at me, I have to turn, run, turn again, and shoot because my character is so stupid he cant tell his legs to move and his hands to pull the trigger at the same time? If the point is survival, why cant they make a game where having to get through a door is *part* of the experience rather than cutting to an abstract animation that exists as part of some other reality? How am I supposed to act as I would in the real situation if my game character controls like a fork-lift and is magically transported from one room to the next even if the proximity of a conflict makes escape clearly impossible? Did the designers somehow think these things made sense? Did they think at all?
It may seem unfair to apply all these criticisms to a game that is, after all, a remake. It would be easy to argue that this isnt supposed to be new, and that if I want to accuse a game of this series of blowing its chance to be original it would be more appropriate to wait for a genuine sequel, such as the impending Resident Evil 4. I disagree with that line of reasoning, though. Ironically, I found it more acceptable to let convention slide in Resident Evil: Code Veronica (both on Dreamcast and PlayStation 2) than here. I felt that game promised less and I knew to expect less. Considering, though, that the GameCube version promised a "rebirth" for the entire series on a new platform I feel that it puts itself against a different standard. On the GameCube (and in the shadow of gameplay innovations made to Resident Evil derivatives like Onimusha and Devil May Cry) the lack of improvements to the gameplay seems less like an oversight and more like a stubborn refusal. This "fresh start" for the series is nothing of the kind. It is not a re-envisioning. It is not a re-imagining. It is a face-lift.
That said, there is no doubt a thrill in seeing the badly acted plot of the PSX original reconstructed into a decent horror story. The voice acting is improved beyond belief. One of the pleasures of the game is just to hear the familiar dialogue said well, and I think anyone would agree that, while the original voices had a kind of stupid charm, the ones in the remake serve the story better by not distracting you from it. The only real element of camp in the game is Wesker, the S.T.A.R.S. team leader who wears sunglasses at night and speaks in silly idioms. After hamming it up something awful in Code Veronica, I was happy to see that the more "serious" tone of this remake retained Weskers campiness without breaking the mood. This was a fine line Code Veronica wasnt able to walk. In fact, Resident Evil for GameCube succeeds in a lot of ways that Code Veronica failed, most notably in terms of general storytelling and straight-out scariness. Unlike the last few Resident Evil games, the GameCube remake has the good sense to imply whats going on rather than blubber it straight to the player (this is mostly because they left a lot of it unchanged from the original which, unlike the sequels, was fairly understated.) The writing is decently spooky, and there is a new plot threadone involving the fate of a certain familythat is more inspired and chilling than anything weve seen in this series in a while.
Are the design weaknesses made up for by the graphics, nostalgia factor, and basic gameplay? The answer is: sometimes. Even though the play mechanics are at most times a slap in the face of common sense the game does manage to realize the basic premise of survival and generate some tension. This makes for some survival situations that require thought as well as reflexes, but only on the higher difficulty settings. Otherwise, theres nothing to distract the player from the absurdity of the puzzles Resident Evil employs to break up the action. When youre pinned down by zombies in a dead-end hallway on your last clip it is pretty easy to forget that no one would build a mansion so absurd (even if they are "weird and evil".) But when you find yourself with a decent stockpile of defenses theres not much left to do besides push blocks, find goofy objects, and a host of other things that only a game designer could think of and only a fan would love.
Its a pity that Capcom didnt take the opportunity to truly reinvent this series, especially considering the strength of its inspiration. One of its creators has been quoted as saying the game was partially inspired by the films of George A. Romero, most notible for his "Dead" trilogy that began with Night Of The Living Dead in 1968. The difference, though, between his films and a cookie-cutter franchise like Resident Evil is that he showed passion and creativity for the ideas he was working with. He didnt exploit his concepts for atmosphere or cheap scares, but seemed truly fascinated by the resourcefulness human beings in the most horrid situations imaginable and challenged his audience to ask themselves what theyd do in similar circumstances. The creators of Resident Evil, though, dont seem interested in challenging the player with anything besides arbitrary actions in a paper-thin scenario that, while entertaining to a limited degree, has no real curiosity about its potent themes.
I think Matt and I expected different things when we popped Resident Evil into our GameCubes. Whereas Matt was hoping for something "new," I was merely expecting a remake of the old survival horror classic that I loved so much back in the day. I was prepared for the clumsy movement, odd puzzles and the nonsensical level design that earmarked the original (and pretty much define the survival horror genre as a whole). With my set of expectations, Resident Evil is a resounding success.
In this day and age of survival horror overload, it's hard to imagine that this was the game that brought the genre to the mainstream. Gamers who haven't played the original Resident Evil, but have played games like Silent Hill, Dino Crisis or Onimusha, will pick up the Gamecube's Resident Evil and wonder what all the commotion is about. After all, they nearly all play the same and feature similar themes of suspense and horror. But I believe Capcom has done a great service to the gaming community, and survival horror fans especially, by remaking Resident Evil and showing us some historical perspective on this genre. Like it or lump it, survival horror is extremely popular, and had this little strange and gory game called Resident Evil not come out in 1996, survival horror as we know it would not exist.
Resident Evil isn't just a remake of the original, though. New areas, sub-plots and some new gameplay elements are thrown into the mix to try and help the experience feel somewhat fresh. Defensive items allow you to fend off zombie attacks without taking damage. The zombies also become reanimated after a short time if their bodies are not properly disposed of (burned or beheaded). They don't just come back as their former selves, either. They come back as "Crimson Heads", which stands for twice as fast and twice as deadly. Although the few elements that were added to Resident Evil are a far cry from making the entire game "new", it does do a good job of giving us players who have played the original some new sights and scares.
What really stands out in Resident Evil, though, is something Matt has already talked about: its visual presentation. It is unparalleled in the video game industry and sets the bar extremely high for future games. Without going into it too much (since Matt already did a great job of that), it is safe to say that Resident Evil is a piece of art. Every pre-rendered scene is like walking through, and interacting with, an elaborate animated painting. The backgrounds are also further complimented by the great use of lighting and camera angles and the stress-inducing ambient music and noises. Resident Evil is simply stunning.
Even though I'm still kind of wary of all the classic video game remakes that are expected to come out in the years to come, Resident Evil showed me that some games are worth revisiting. Matt was right when he observed the financial success of these remakes as a sign of creative impotence, but if Resident Evil is any indication of the remakes to come, then I am very excited. After all, these are the classic games that brought videogames into the spotlight. Shouldn't they be revisited?
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Violence
Parents will most likely want to steer their young children clear of Resident Evil for the GameCube. It is extremely graphic and bloody.
Most fans of the original Resident Evil or it sequels will probably find this game a dream come true for its expanded story and groundbreaking updated graphics.
However, those who were hoping the series would finally evolve in any significant way will be somewhat disappointed. People who arent familiar with this series might have mixed reactions.
Those coming to the style of the series for the first time may find it well worth the gameplay, but others may find it needlessly clunky regardless.
People looking for a good horror game will probably like Resident Evil since it does deliver some nice atmospherics, scares, and a creepy plot, but those looking for something that challenges the imagination like Silent Hill should probably stay away.