Resident Evil: Jill sandwiches all round.
It’s always been a difficult task to make videogames truly scary. Early efforts on 8-bit consoles and computers failed to invoke a truly terrifying response, the best any of them could realistically hope for was to unsettle you with a well crafted atmosphere be it the stark checkerboard landscapes of The Sentinel or the nowhere-to-hide panic of Ant Attack 3D. The 16-bit era fared better with Amiga games like Alien Breed and Bloodnet raising hairs on the back of your neck while console owners had games like Clock Tower and Splatterhouse to unnerve them but it wasn’t until the 64-bit generation (Playstation, Saturn, Nintendo 64) dawned that gamer knew true horror in their games.
For psychological chills and thrills Silent Hill reigned supreme until it’s sequel on the PS2 but no game of its era could make you jump out of your seat like today’s exhibit from the Perfekt Past vault: Resident Evil by Capcom.
‘more violent bits’
Resident Evil was first released in Japan in March of 1996 under the title of Biohazard and proudly boasted of being the worlds first ever survival-horror game. It featured an FMV introduction filmed by none other than George A. Romero the father of modern zombie movies. It should also be noted that he also wrote the first draft of the Resident Evil movie script which was never filmed but reads a hell of a lot better than the Paul W. S. Anderson version that was finally made.
The FMV shows the cast coming under attack from a pack of Cerberus dogs (more on those later) and fleeing to a nearby mansion for shelter only to become trapped inside the seaming deserted building. Next is the roll call of the cast all dressed as the games characters right down to Barry’s orange vest and Rebecca’s over the top Red Cross uniform and J-Pop ponytail. It’s all very cheesy in a kind of eighties action movie over the top kind of way but was normal for FMVs of the time with many developers experimenting with all the extra storage space the CD format provided over the old style cartridges.
Along with setting up the game the FMV also marks the first of the many changes the game underwent during its conversion from the original Japanese Biohazard to the westernised Resident Evil. The action footage was changed from colour to black and white with some of the more violent bits cut altogether to avoid the western censors and a clip showing Chris smoking a cigarette was also excised. Later versions would be uncut but the original Playstation version was filled with these changes that also affected the inventory chests, aiming and even the amount of ink ribbons you could find. Making it far harder than the original JAP version.
‘shuffling around but because of the camera’
Once started you have a choice to play as one of two characters: Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine who are both members of S.T.A.R.S the elite special tactics and rescue squad based out of the fictional North American Racoon City. Along with having slightly different storylines Chris is able to take more damage before dying than his team mate while Jill can carry more items at once and use her lock pick (After all she is as Barry tells her â€œThe master of unlockingâ€) to open some doors where as Chris has to find special small keys that take up his precious inventory slots.
Who ever you play as you’ll quickly find that the mansion is filled with zombies and with your fellow S.T.A.R.S. either dead or missing it’s up to you to stay alive long enough to unravel the mystery of the mansion. The action is viewed in the third person with a every room having different camera angles depending on where you are standing and mices 3D sprites with statoc 2D backgrounds much like the original Alone In The Dark games meaning that you might enter a new room and hear a zombie shuffling around but because of the camera angle you can’t see it making your experience much more tense as you slowly creep towards a bend in a corridor or the edge of a wall hoping for a better view only to find the zombie is right in front of you.
When this happens and there is no chance of avoiding the zombie you can draw a weapon and attack. You start the game with either a pistol or knife depending on your choice of character but if you do have a pistol the ammunition is very scarce so if you do decide to ‘kill’ a zombie its going to take the best part of an ammo clip to do it and the mansion is swarming with them. With the odds so greatly stacked against you the best tactic is to try and run or dodge past the slow, shambling zombies (There’s no modern running zombies, or ghouls as they should be called in the original Playstation version) it’ll save you bullets and you’ll need them.
‘you’re playing the game you’ll be cautiously holding’
Along with the combat you’ll also have to use our brain as uncovering the mansions many secrets requires you to solve some different puzzles and logic problems. Often it’s as simple as taking item A to Item B and combining them but when you have a limited amount of inventory slots that also have to hold your: weapons, keys and healing items you have to be very careful about how much you carry and what you stash in the mansions interconnected storage chests for later.
Before to long as you start to explore the mansion many rooms and even read the odd diary entry or research document it becomes clear that the mansion is owned by the sinister Umbrella Corporation who where researching a new type of BOW or bio-organic weapon and have been infecting all manor of test subjects with their amazingly powerful T-virus. Along with reanimating the dead it can also mutate living subjects giving rise to not only the Cerberus attacks dogs but lethal plants, super-sized sharks, snakes and the pinnacle of Umbrellas research the dreaded Tyrant creature.
The mansion soon leads to the Umbrella research labs and then back again to the mansion’s basement before finally having to escape to the roof to rendezvous with the S.T.A.R.S. rescue helicopter. All the while you’re playing the game you’ll be cautiously holding your breath as you attempt to dodge past a zombie or outright jumping as the game throws one of its trademark scare moments at you. I won’t go into too much detail here in case I spoil it for first time players but rest assured just because the long corridor filled with windows has been empty the last three times you’ve been through it doesn’t mean it’s safe this time and that seemingly dead body on the floor might not be so dead after allâ€¦
‘with you using it to slash’
So you’ve got action, puzzles, suspense, shocks not to mention great atmospheric music and even a few unintentional laughs thanks to some dodgy scripting and voice work. For example: After nearly being crushed by one of the mansions deathtraps Barry says to Jill â€œYou were almost a Jill sandwichâ€ and the already mentioned â€œIt would be best if you Jill the master of unlocking had thisâ€ but like the censored FMV these laughs are only to be had in the original version as later versions don’t have them. So what do they have?
Well the Resident Evil: Director’s Cut (released to cash in on the then soon to be released Resident Evil 2) had some different camera angles and a few extra items and events along with dual-shock support in some versions. The Sega Saturn conversion added a battle game mode much like the Mercenaries game mode in Resident Evil 4 that has you fighting monsters and bosses against a timer and also had some miscellaneous extras like extra costumes for the characters and a new monster type or two. Resident Evil: Deadly Silence on the DS added some stylus functionality with you using it to slash your knife or move around puzzle pieces it even has a LAN co-op mode and slightly improved graphics when put next to the original Playstation version.
‘the odd unintentional by-product’
The biggest and by far best version of the original Resident Evil is by far the 2002 Gamecube version. To call it a conversion is unfair as it is less of a remake and more of a reimagining (god I hate that term but it does apply here) with the whole game rebuilt from the ground up adding new areas, plots, monsters and endings. To talk about it properly I’d have to give it its own Perfekt Past feature and I’ll happily write it if you would want to read it?
Beside being a great game in its own right it was also the starting point of a franchise that as grown and evolved over the last decade to include first person shooters, light-gun games and even online co-op play not to mention all manor of books, comics, films, spoofs, cult heroes like Barry Burton and Albert Wesker and even the odd unintentional by-product like Devil May Cry (See part six for more info)
So there we go, part one of Perfekt Past’s look at the Resident Evil series. Next week its Resident Evil 2 where Resi goes to town and makes some new friends including some bloke called Mr Kennedyâ€¦