Resident Evil: Code Veronica X isn't what I'd call a great game. But it's hard to criticize it for what it is. In my opinion it's really hard to judge the RE franchise at this point for conventions that it obviously has no intentions of significantly altering, for better or worse. Like any Capcom franchise, it is a tried and true moneymaking machine that is dedicated to the safety of its core conventions. There was a time when I thought Resident Evil could become a great horror series, a high water mark in creative and intelligent explorations of true terror in videogames. Resident Evil: Code Veronica X is the game that proves it will never be that. However, with Konamis Silent Hill now filling that void quite nicely, I find it easier to appreciate Resident Evil for what it has become: an uneven yet consistently entertaining combination of comic book absurdity, B-horror camp, and slick Hollywood-style production values with a minimal amount of gameplay to hold it all together.
For the uninitiated (i.e. those of you who didnt play the Dreamcast version), Code Veronica X follows the further adventures of Claire Redfield, fearless biker chick last seen roughin it up in Resident Evil 2 where she foiled the plans of the Evil pharmaceutical corporation, Umbrella, and saved the life of a little girl named Sherry. This time shes been captured while searching for her brother Chris (of Resident Evil 1 fame) by the no-gooding curmudgeons at Umbrella Inc. and taken to a small island where, naturally, all hell breaks loose in yet another bio weapon outbreak. The gameplay is fairly simple: navigate Claire around the island collecting weapons and items that will aid in her survival against the zombie-infected hoards while you search for a means of escape.
In true Resident Evil style, the basic control scheme remains unchanged from Resident Evil 1. You use "up" on the D-pad to move forward while "steering" left or right, and the only significant interaction you have with the environment consists of shooting stuff while aiming with R1. Typically, this control scheme has been criticized as being clunky, and I suppose it is. However, since its first appearance in the original Alone In The Dark, Ive never seen a truly effective alternative. Awkward as it is, the "steering" method just seems to make the most sense for the fixed, dramatic camera style that these games typically employ, since any change in gameplay would require a serious rethinking of the visual style. And in a series where style is an obvious first and gameplay second, Capcom does a commendable job of making sure living with this handicap isnt too terrible by crafting events and obstacles that even the moderately skilled player should be more than capable of tackling. Code Veronica X certainly wont win any awards for gameplay, but it gets the job done... more or less.
Graphics, on the other hand, fair better in setting Code Veronica X apart from its predecessors. Originally the first game of the series on a next generation platform, it boasts the best graphics of the series, and even offers a noticeable improvement over the Dreamcast version. Graphics are crisper and has richer colors. Players expecting developed-for-PlayStation 2 graphics might feel disappointed, but the game is still visually appealing by any standard, making nice uses of shadow, fogging, and motion-capture. The only weak link is the lip-syncing, which, while decent in the CG cinemas, could have been much improved for the in-game sequences.
So, the graphics are good, and the gameplay is okay. What kind of experience does this add up to? Well, thats kind of complicated. On the surface Code Veronica X seems so glossy and ambitious and so unlike the previous games of the series that it takes some real getting into to realize that its basically a greatest-hits game, meticulously constructed from the best and/or most original elements of the previous installments. The most significant element is the focus on backtracking and methodical exploration that was absent from the more fast-paced styles of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3. In true Resident Evil style, Code Veronica X makes a distinct effort to put the strategy of survival back into survival horror with some nice results. Locations are well designed and you get a much better idea of where places are in relation to other places than you did in Resident Evil 2/Resident Evil 3. Likewise, ammo and other resources are more scarce, making their importance for survival more meaningful, a tension I much more preferred than the admittedly fun but not very strategic massacre tactics of Resident Evil 2/Resident Evil 3. Also, the duel scenario that everybody loved so much in Resident Evil 2 is back... kind of. Explaining too much would give it away. All Ill say is that the game has two parts and you control different characters in each as one follows the aftermath of the other. Although it isnt a free duel scenario like Resident Evil 2 (you can only play it one way and in a fixed order) it does manage to achieve a similar feeling. It doesnt quite achieve the narrative intrigue it did in Resident Evil 2, but it still gives the experience a little more life than it would have had otherwise.
The last and perhaps most obvious way in which Code Veronica X tries to bring the rest of the series together is in the story, by connecting Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 and setting the stage for what will apparently be the final showdown whenever the PlayStation 2 Resident Evil comes out. The game features not only Claire and Chris Redfield, but the ever popular Albert Wesker (MIA since Resident Evil 1), and nothing short of a complete history of the Umbrella corporation as well as the origins of the T-Virus. This is really the first time any game of the Resident Evil series has tried to be this conclusive or climactic, and the results are mixed. Its true that Resident Evil has never been the hallmark of serious drama, and has, in fact, been synonymous with quite the opposite. However, this was made more bearable by the fact that they never really aspired to anything that was really wishy-washy. Resident Evil 2 was even able to have a pretty engaging plot and characters thanks to the fact that they never let the camp get too out of hand. Unfortunately, the same cant be said for Code Veronica X which has an unusually overwrought story that can be grating at times. A lot of this has to do with the voice performances that, while not technically worse than Resident Evil 2/Resident Evil 3, seem a lot more exaggerated at just the wrong times. Also, the journals, which were supposed to be frightening (and kinda were in Resident Evil 1/Resident Evil 2) are easily the worst written of the series here, making plot points that are supposed to be scary seem rather silly instead. Truthfully, though, it isnt what Id call terrible. It certainly has its moments, and there are more than a few of them, most of which belong to Wesker. As the only real enhancement from the DC version, Wesker has quite a bit more screentime on the PlayStation 2, promoting him from what was an extended cameo to a full-blown villain. Although he has been transformed into a creature of such scalding verbosity you will most likely roll your eyes whenever he is on the screen, you will most likely do so with a silly grin on your face as he is easily the most entertaining character in the game. Claire, on the other hand, doesnt fair nearly as well. Although she is still the closest thing the Resident Evil series has to a smart, charismatic, and interesting character, her role here seems a bit of a step down from when we last saw her in Resident Evil 2. Her relationship with Steve, the horny adolescent they saddle her with for most of the game, isnt nearly as interesting or engaging as her relationship with Sherry in Resident Evil 2. And although she looks and acts a lot tougher this time around, in the end she is much more dependant on the other characters to have to save her. Nothing too terrible really, but still a disappointment after how uncompromising she was the first time around.
Its strange. Code Veronica X doesn't do anything any other game in the series or even outside the series doesn't do better. Resident Evil 2 still has the best characters and story. Resident Evil 3 has the best gameplay and best acting. Resident Evil 1 is still the scariest. But then again, Silent Hill 2 is scarier than any of them, and Fear Effect made more improvements to the gameplay than Capcom ever thought about doing. So what then makes Code Veronica X worth playing? That's a good question. I played it, and I enjoyed it and I guess I did because I got from it the one thing that only Resident Evil can offer: that special blend of good and bad that keeps you coming back for more even though you know you probably shouldn't.