Resident Evil – Code Veronica
With Racoon City left far behind and the few living survivors going their separate ways, the next entry in the Resident Evil series took a new direction after the ‘more of the same’ sequel Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. It become the true follow on to Resident Evil 2 all this despite not having a number in the title, those crazy Capcom writers ehâ€¦ That’s not to say that it was a complete reinvention if the series like Resident Evil 4 but was more of a refinement.
By improving the ‘classic’ Resident Evil elements already in place rather than changing them for their own sake (Yes Resident Evil Zero, I’m looking at you) it is for me the best entry in the series before Resident Evil 4 and stands head and shoulders above the other entries in the series, even above Resident Evil Remake which for anyone who has played the GameCube reimagining knows is very high praise indeed.
Unlike the first two Resident Evil games Veronica has a single plotline to follow with no alternate scenarios or extra content to be had through additional replays instead Capcom crafted a plot arc that has a definite beginning, middle and end that takes in multiple locations and has you playing as three different characters whose paths stories intertwine to form a complex and layered narrative.
Long time fans of the series will feel right at home as the opening FMV sets the scene with Resident Evil 2 heroine Claire Redfield being captured by Umbrella while searching for her brother Chris and is imprisoned in one of their research facilities located on a remote island. Before she can even begin to find her bearings the island comes under air attack by an unidentified force which triggers a T-Virus outbreak just like during the original Umbrella Mansion incident. Sure enough within no time at the entire whole island is swarming with infected zombies and mutated creatures. So with her brothers lucky Zippo lighter in hand (which does a great job of showing of the engines 3D lighting, but more on that later) she escapes from her cell with the help of a dying guard and begins looking for a way to escape of the island and call for help.
Before long Claire befriends a fellow escapee, a young and brash man called Steve Burnside and with his help finds that the whole island was under the command of Alfred Ashford whose ancestor was one of the founding members of Umbrella. With the help of his twin sister Alexia, the twins have been using the island’s research facilities to create a new strain of the T-virus using another rare virus dubbed ‘Veronica’ after the Ashford family’s matriarch. Needles to say Alfred just like most high level Umbrella members he’s bat shit insane and quickly blames Claire for the attack on his island and further endangers her by releasing his own unique T-virus creatures to hunt her down and kill her.
By far the most dangerous and surprising is the Bandersnatch mutant whose thick, rubbery skin not only makes them extremely tough but also lets them attack you over long distances with their super pliable limbs that they can also us to stretch across rooms and access higher and lower areas with ease. Add to this the ever present Cerberus dogs, carnivorous crows and assorted zombies and you’ll quickly realise just how careful you’ll have to be if Claire is to come out of this new outbreak alive.
That’s not to say Claire can’t defend herself as there’s a whole new range of weapons at her disposal to keep the zombies and assorted freaks at bay. First there’s a range of improved weapons with the a new semi-automatic pistol that you can upgrade to burst fire when you find the right parts, there’s also new explosive tipped arrows for the bow-gun and even anti-B.O.W rounds for the grenade launcher.
Next up is the all new twin machine pistols that have a limited ammunition magazine just like the machine-guns of previous games but have the added bonus of being able to target and shoot two enemies at a time which can be very handy when fending off a large horde of zombies. The other new weapon of note (not including the *spoiler* you get in the game’s climax) is the sniper rifle that you can be used for a 1st view, the first time in a Resident Evil game making it essential when fighting one particular boss monster who’s exposed heart is his one and only vulnerability.
This new 1st person view is possible thanks to the software engine that powers the game which renders ever room and environment in the game in full 3D rather than the static pre-drawn backgrounds of previous Resident Evil games. Before if you came to a corner of bend the view point would change instantly to give you a better view (but often be angled in such a way that you wouldn’t be able to see everything and as such keeping you alert for near-by zombies and monsters) but now the camera view would swoop, pan and swing around in real-time making everything fell much more connected rather than a location made up of badly taken side shots.
The backgrounds rendered where far less flat than the static backgrounds of the past and made judging depth and distances easy (very important when firing grenades) but there was a trade off with the 3D backdrops lacking the fine detail compared the pre-drawn environments. Then again finding ammo and objects was far easier now as you could see the red 3D ammo boxes rather than just a few pixels jumbled in with all the miscellaneous junk that littered old locations.
Another advantage of the new 3D environments was it made the lighting much more effective with individual light sources being able to provide light and case shadows where appropriate. The best example being the Zippo lighter item that not only keeps the hungry bats away but also lights up the surrounding vicinity making it idea when searching a particularly dark area like the Ashford mansion or rain lashed island exteriors. As always every location is filled with ‘jump’ moments like hidden monsters waiting to pounce and with the atmospheric lighting and even fog and rain effects added to this each location you visit will linger in your memory be it the charnel horror of the islands surgical hut, the gothic malaise of the Ashford mansion or even the desolate arctic wastes on the final act.
The storyline has a far greater scope than previous entries in the series and isn’t limited to just one location. Early parts will have you playing as Claire on the island then later ‘escaping’ to Alfred’s secret facility in the Antarctic after which you then take control of long time Resident Evil protagonist Chris Redfield who appears again for the first time since the original Resident Evil. Tracing Claire’s disappearance he arrives at the island just as she leaves only to find it even more perilous thanks to the arrival of long time Nemesis (sic) Albert Wesker who we discover was behind the attack on the island and subsequent T-virus outbreak.
Now free from Umbrella’s control and hungry for power Wesker has joined forces with a new mysterious organisation seeking to harness the power of the T-virus for its own ends. He quickly sets about making his presence on the island felt by unleashing a batch of improved Hunters, the gargantuan humanoid-reptiles last seen at the Spencer mansion along with robot drones equipped with motion sensors and cameras that’ll alert the Hunters to your presence if you stumble upon their patrols around the island.
To say anymore about Wesker’s motives would ruin the plot anymore for first time players but be assured he proves to be even more dangerous than before as his experiences at the Spencer mansion have left him not quite humanâ€¦ If you want the full Wesker experience track down a copy of Resident Evil: Code Veronica X the updated version of the Dreamcast original ported to the PS2 and Gamecube as it has better cut scenes many of which are additional material featuring Wesker including a rewritten showdown between Wesker andâ€¦ well that would be spoiling it for you.
The Dreamcast version plays the same as the ‘X’ edition but with both versions be aware of an almost-but-not-quite-bug in the game: after you use the fire extinguisher be sure to stash it in one of your item chests NOT the metal detector bin as you’ll need it again later in the game. Now I could spend loads of time on a rant about how this game is always underrated but if you take anything away from this series of Resident Evil retrospectives is to at least play or replay ‘Veronica. Sure the original trilogy are good, as is Zero (in its own annoying way) and the Gamecube remake is sublime but ‘Veronica was and is the pinnacle of the survival horror genre. Is Resident Evil 4 a better game? Yes but Capcom took the series so far away from its roots you can’t really class it in the survival horror genre but more akin to hybrid horror games like the immensely underrated ‘Extermination’ or hugely plagiaristic ‘Cold Fear’
Next time I’m going back to the Gamecube to take a look at Resident Evil Zero which out of all of the Resident Evil games had possibly the most fraught development of all the Resi games so far and served as the series survival horror swansong.