Kicking off Resident Evil week across my two blogs, we have, rather fittingly, the game that started it all in the first place. Slow tank controls, blurry / pixelated graphics and so-bad-it’s-funny voice acting, it’s safe to say this hasn’t aged well… especially when a superior remake exists! Oh well, let’s take a good look anyway…
I know, predictable pictures, but I just couldn’t NOT go with it…
Resident Evil was first released on the Playstation in Japan on March 22nd 1996 (under the title Biohazard), then released in the US a few days later on March 30th. It didn’t reach my shores until August 1st 1996, though that did lead to a good few play sessions with my friends due to no school (I was 12 and the game was a 15, don’t tell anyone!) It was re-released a year later as “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut”, with a few new bells a whistles on.
The game was ported to the Sega Saturn, PC and eventually the Nintendo DS, as well as remade from the ground up and released on the GameCube, which was then later released on various other platforms (we’ll get to that masterpiece another day!). It’s fair to say that Resident Evil pretty much invented a lot of what we call Survival Horror games now, even if it wasn’t the first to do a lot of them.
The undead, they just can’t negotiate chairs that aren’t tucked under tables… such a shame.
Tank controls! I still see a lot of people say they “weren’t that bad” and even that they “should return”… my arse! True, back then I knew no different so didn’t think anything of it, but going to back to it… it’s not good! If you’re unaware, tank controls means you walk either forwards or backwards and if you want to turn left of right you have to move your character around on the spot to point in the direction you want and then push forward. It’s awkward and clunky, so much so that it does add to the drama by causing a lot of unnecessary panic…
Anyway, beyond that you have several guns at your disposal (though limited ammo) and plenty of creatures to kill, though the actual total is quite low. There is more of an emphasis on puzzle solving and fetching one key or jewel to unlock a new route to eventually find another method to open a new path and so on (seriously, I’d hate to suddenly need the bathroom in this madhouse…) You also only have a certain amount of inventory space, meaning you have to decide what’s best to carry and leave other things in a chest.
Saving can also be a challenge. You have to save at a typewriter using ink ribbon you pick up along the way, meaning if you’ve done a big chunk of the game but get killed before you can access a typewriter, you’re screwed. It’s like checkpoints, but ones you can decide when to use if you can find one. No autosave or saving in the options menu here!
Graphics and Sound:
“Seriously, you have to play a specific tune on this piano to open a secret room that has an item that will allow me to access a locked room somewhere else… Now play!”
The graphics are blocky 3D models superimposed over pre-rendered backdrops, which was clever at the time, but certainly haven’t aged well… which is obvious when you say that the game is over two decades old, but unlike 2D games, first generation 3D games have a tendency to look pretty terrible, nostalgia aside. The game opens up with actual real life footage with… “actors”, which is still weird (and delightfully cheesy!)
The soundtrack on the other hand is still great! The background music is deliberate and tense, the sound effects and monster groans are creepy and effective, and the voice acting… oh good God it’s so bad! So very, very bad. So bad that’s it’s hilarious to listen to. It’s one of those things…
You mean the guy with slicked back hair and sunglasses who always mysteriously vanishes for long periods of time is a bad guy!? NO WAY!
You play as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, both stories have similar moments and have the same boss fights, but differ in the people you interact with (Rookie chemical expert Rebecca Chambers for Chris, and beardy veteran Barry Burton for Jill). The S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team, one of two special police forces in Raccoon City, have gone missing in the nearby forest after going to explore some grizzly murders. Chris, Jill, and the rest of the S.T.A.R.S. Alpha team go in search of them, but end up trapped in a creepy mansion instead. Their leader, the least trustworthy looking and sounding man in existence, Albert Wesker, as it turns out, lead the S.T.A.R.S. team to the mansion to conduct live tests of bio weapons created by the pharmaceutical company Umbrella.
It’s a fine story for a game that is more about the atmosphere and puzzle solving. Wesker’s betrayal and “death” are about the only interesting bit if you play as Chris. Jill at least has Barry, who is helping Wesker so his family doesn’t get killed.
Final Thoughts (Then):
Back when I first rented it out, it was amazing, and legitimately scary. I was 12 and had never really seen a horror movie, let alone anything to do with zombies. That classic FMV video of the pale-faced zombie slowly turning around was properly creepy. A pleasant memory of mine is of me and my friend Jack staying up all night playing it, taking turns and getting stuck… Doesn’t sound fun, but it was! I don’t think I ever completed it without the help of a cheat device, but ah well…
Final Thoughts (Now):
Yeesh… Sound design? Still great, properly tense atmosphere (though not being able to turn and run helps that as well…) and good zombie groans. Some of the puzzles and boss battles/designs are still good as well (with a bit of imagination…), but that’s about it. It looks dreadful and is awkward to play, and to top it all off, it’s still really difficult! With the REmake now out on the PS4, I’m far more likely to play that then break out the old PS1, that’s for sure…