This past week marked the release of the hugely anticipated Resident Evil 6. The title garnered mixed reviews but still managed to sell 4.5 million copies during its initial release window. Unless we're all infected with the T-Virus, there must be something luring us all back to Spencer Mansion for one more thrill kill.
While many a die-hard fan have complained about the series’ recent outings being more Schwarzenegger than scary, the titles continue to be overwhelmingly popular. I for one have spent the past week catching up with old friends Leon and Chris - and have scared myself half to death in the process!
So join me as we take a look at the games’ origins, and re-live one of our all-time favourite series.
Resident Evil - 1996 (PS1)
However you want to look at it - the original Resident Evil was a real landmark of the games industry. In an era dominated by plat formers and driving games, it was refreshing to see something relatively new from one of the heavy-weight studios. Ultimately, that was a move that worked well - as the game shifted just shy of 3 million copies (the 1997 updated Director’s Cut edition sold another 2.3 million). Just about every gamer I knew had Resident Evil in their collection. And it wasn’t hard to see why, as the game was brilliant.
Although perhaps not quite in the way that Capcom had intended.
You see - visually it was stunning. All the backgrounds in every scene were all pre-rendered, and this granted us with an amazingly clear, almost photo-realistic setting. The story was great, and had all the twists and turns you could want from a Hollywood movie.
But the real reason we loved it so much was because of the dialogue. Now I don’t know who is responsible (or to blame, depending on how you look at it) but i will say this - they are a goddamn genius. The scripting in this game is so utterly terrible that it actually makes you laugh out loud. We’re talking seriously ridiculous here (and if you’ve played this game, I’ll bet you’re reciting your favourite lines right now), to the point of almost complete incoherence at times. I’m not saying that it detracts in any way from the gameplay itself (as it’s still something I play through pretty regularly) but I actually don’t think Resident Evil would have been as successful without it (perhaps discounting the REmake, because that is an amazing game in its own right).
Still - with two separate campaigns of puzzle-based surviving to attend to, this will take quite some time to beat even today.
Resident Evil 2 - 1998 (PS1)
The sequel to Resident Evil takes place alongside the events of the first game (well, almost - 2 months later) - as Jill and Chris explored the mansion and underground laboratory our new heroes Leon and Claire have the entire city to deal with.
What we have here is essentially an update on the original format. We have more of the same exploration and puzzle solving, but now we have money spent on actual voice actors. The game used the same engine as its predecessor and as such looked just as good, if not better. Your characters control pretty much the same, and your inventory is almost identical. Neither of these are particularly bad points, as they worked so well first time around.
Leon and Claire, however, seem to have more of a story-driven experience than their counterparts. There are more cut scenes more often (even though some of them were used to cover some extended loading times), and the whole thing seems much more together. What this means is that it has a more serious tone - and this time around the game is much more effective in the scare department. We have the same zombies we saw all over the mansion - but there are a lot more of them. Like a city full. And you are given nowhere near enough ammo too kill all of them! Plus the new Tyrants and other new enemies are quite a bit scarier than RE‘s stock zombies and dogs.
All in all the second game in the series is a lot of fun - and we have a potential four scenarios this time, too. Each character has an A scenario and a B scenario, and each A affects the other character’s B. So if you play through as Leon and find a machine gun somewhere - and snatch it up with widened eyes - then when Claire reaches the same point in the game the weapon will be gone. What this does is forces you to think ahead - an entire game ahead. You might be scraping the bottom for ammunition, but you also have to leave some for your partner character. You don’t have to play like this, of course (as you can choose either character’s A scenario from the start) - but obviously this is how the developer intended the game to be played.
And it shows.
Playing in this manner requires not just inventory management and ammunition conservation, but also forces the player to think about their second playthrough - adding yet more horrible decisions for them to make. Taking that shotgun may mean you are able to make it through that room you were stuck on, but it may also render your second playthrough nigh on impossible.
A difficult decision indeed.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis - 1999 (PS1)
The events of Nemesis take place more or less alongside that of Resident Evil 2’s plot line. We find ourselves back in control of Jill Valentine as she desperately tries to escape the city via the Raccoon City Police Department in the midst of the T-Virus outbreak.
In terms of graphics and gameplay the title remains a neatly polished continuation of the same engine we saw with the previous two games. What this means is that the game plays very similarly (as in you will feel immediately at home with the control setup) and has the same visual aesthetic that we’re used to by now. There is one major addition, however - the implementation of an almost instant 180 degree turn. As the series’ difficulty has needed to progress to keep fans of the titles challenged, the player also needs to feel suitably powered to meet their needs. There were a few places in Resident Evil 2 that had players raging at their screens, as some areas felt like no-go zones due to enemy population. The addition of the 180 turn means that now when you become cornered - you can act more swiftly and make your escape. In some cases making even a little more room is invaluable.
The Resident Evil series has always been innovative, and has seemingly added new ways to play in each canonical instalment. And Nemesis is no different.
The biggest change here is the Nemesis creature. He is a sort of Tyrant mutation created by the virus and he deployed by Umbrella to clean up any remaining STARS members. As you play as a STARS member (well, ex-STARS member) THIS MEANS YOU.
The Nemesis creature can essentially appear at pretty much any point in the game, and can do so multiple times depending on decisions made by the player. Some of these appearances are mandatory, while some can be avoided altogether. At each instance you can choose to engage the creature (if you’re brave - I’m not) or to run, however choosing the latter doesn’t necessarily mean sanctuary as Nemesis can actually follow you into another area. If you are skilled enough to defeat him you will be granted part of a powerful weapon, however actually doing so is no mean feat (the new dodge skill will prove invaluable here).
What this does is to take the sense of unease and fear usually associated with a quick scare, and submerge the player in it for the entirety of the game. You begin to feel though you’re being stalked - and at any given moment you could well be - and the Nemesis could attack at any time. This creates a constant sense of desperation rarely felt as you scrape your way from save point to save point, praying that he isn’t in that next room…
Resident Evil: Code Veronica - 2000 (Sega Dreamcast)
Capcom has been consistently adding new, innovative ways to play in each canonical entry into the series - and Code: Veronica is no different. The title borrows a plethora of series tweaks and mechanics and combines them into one wonderfully competent package. The game controls almost identically to the previous instalments, albeit with the dodge mechanic implemented in Nemesis oddly absent (perhaps the developers found the move to be too effective?). Inventory management is brought over from the second game (relatively few slots to begin with, with the option to upgrade to a bigger side pack later), as is the ability to upgrade certain weapons. The 180-turn is all present and correct - a now staple addition to the series - and the puzzle and exploration of the original returns with a punch. Claire Redfield returns, embarking on a hunt for her brother Chris (who mysteriously disappeared after the events of the “Mansion Incident”). You actually get to play as both siblings in this instalment (and as another minor character, for a very brief time) so essentially the game is once again split into two campaigns. However, there is some overlapping between the two - so you have to think about your partner character, just as you did in RE2.
Visually (and taking into account when it was released) the game is stunning. The biggest, most noticeable addition to Code: Veronica is the visual style. Gone are the pre-rendered backgrounds - in their stead we now bask in the glory of fully 3D rendered backdrops. This means that the game looks much more fluid in relation to the characters on screen than previous entries (in other Resident Evil titles there were certain areas that looked completely out of sync with the player, as they were almost too realistic - some almost photo-like). Items that the player can interact with (such as collectibles, files, ammo, etc.) are now much more prominent and easily located, and there is no more running up and down shelves clicking the ‘interact button’ in the hope of finding something useful.
The story is the usual Capcom stuff, with enough twists and turns to throw Horatio Cane off the scent, and nods to characters and events from games gone by are plentiful. The game is huge, too. The first part sees Claire trying to fight her way off of an overrun prison island, while the second takes place in a massive underground laboratory (deja-vu, anyone?). While both characters use both areas in the game, they are given only so much free-reign at a time - with the prospect of opening entirely new areas being very rewarding.
And that is where this title excels - in its pacing. You are continuously drip-fed parts of the story, items and areas so effectively that you never really get chance to be bored. Sure there’s back-tracking (it wouldn’t be Resident Evil without it) but usually the story has developed and in some way changed the layout of the map (explosions seal areas off and create new short-cuts, stuff like that). All this combines to create a master class on survival horror - something of which the developers were already very proficient.
Do you have fond memories of the Resident Evil series? Or maybe you had a different favourite in the genre? Let us know!
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