Screen Critics returns to the root of Capcom’s Resident Evil series. How does the iconic game stand the test of the time?
When it comes to horror in general, I find something appealing in a good scare, be it in a movie or video game. Though in modern times, most horror-themed games rely on cheap jump scares, there was a time when this wasn’t the case. Instead of the overuse of this feature, the developers gave more attention to the atmosphere, which in of it self-scared out the gaming community. With horror a big theme at the minute in pop culture, we figured we’d look back at the original king of gaming horrors – Resident Evil.
After the rise of the fifth generation of console, the PS1 the most critically acclaimed, developers began on working with 3D graphics and animations. In the early 90’s, Capcom was known as one of the strongest companies that already developed multiple franchises. Tho they mostly worked with sprites, it was a matter of time when this company was gonna take a big step and start to work on newer projects. The project was planned to begin in 1993 and was mostly inspired by the studios own game Sweet Home from 1989. However in a year before the game began development, Infogames studio released Alone in the Dark. Capcom intrigued by the product decided to incorporate some elements into their own project and started development. The game was titled Biohazard in Japan, while in Europe and America it was dubbed Resident Evil.
The story begins with a live-action intro, in which a special police department known as S.T.A.R.S is set out to investigate a series of murders in an old mansion. The case gets more mysterious when the members of Bravo Team suddenly disappeared while conducting their investigation. This prompts the Alpha Team to dispatch and search for the missing squad, as well as uncover what is happening. Upon arrival, however, the team gets attacked by mutated dogs and one of their members is killed, while the rest run away. The players are then introduced to the main characters; Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, alongside some minor characters such as Barry Burton and Albert Wesker, leader of Alpha Team. Soon after the squad splits up to cover more ground and discover that most of the Bravo members are dead. In small cut-scene players are introduced to the most iconic enemy of the series, that both scared and shocked the community. After entering a small room the protagonist encounters its first zombie and is forced to get rid of it without hesitation. From then on the story only gets more convoluted and the players are treated later on to one of the greatest plot twists in gaming history.
Resident Evil plays out really simple since it mostly used the gaming mechanics from Alone in the Dark. After the intro cut-scenes, players can choose to play as either Chris or Jill, each unique with their own side of the story. Each character also has a different load-out and a different side character; Barry Burton being for Jill and Rebecca Chambers, a Bravo Team rookie, for Chris. While its inspiration did create it, Resident Evil paved the way for an entirely new genre in video gaming known as the survival-horror genre. The main premise was to make the player feel helpless, rather than using jump scares the gameplay is focused more on the atmosphere, which looks like it’s straight out of the Shining. The characters had limited supplies and must use their ammo wisely while trying to avoid flesh-eating corpses. Thus the developers demanded that the player survives and also uncover the plot solving puzzles, finding clues and exploring. The more frightening fact was that the game used fixed camera angles, making sure that the camera changed only when the character approaches the certain area, which made the situation tenser. Shinji Mikami, the developer behind the game, stated that he thought that the biggest scare would be given when the player believed that there was something after him and not by an actual giant monster.
When it comes to the inventory the characters start out with a standard combat knife and a Beretta gun. As the game progress, the player unlocks stronger weapons such as shotguns, flame-throwers, grenades, magnums and rocket launchers. Besides, players will also be able to find a first aid kit and multiple herbs for healing. The most interesting item in the inventory is the ink ribbon, as well as the only item with which they can be combined, the typewriter. In order for the character to save his progress, he has to use the ink ribbon which are scattered around the mansion and as all items have a limited amount. This made the game more interesting and the players saw themselves praying for a save area and for enough items so they can save their skins. Throughout the mansion, characters were also able to pick up specific items and treasures that can be used to solve different puzzles and progress to the next area.
There is no doubt about it, this retrospective can’t go on without mentioning the monsters as there are so much of them. The Zombie has become a staple of the franchise and is the most common thing you will encounter in the game. Other than that we already mentioned the mutated dogs, which are more quicker, agile and dead than that you typical crawler, and which also provided one of the tense moments in the entire game. Besides that there are the infamous “hunters” were the most challenging. Both fast and strong, these bread of a frog monster was always on the move and in hunted the player throughout the entire game. The list of terrifying beasts only grows as the game progresses and the player will encounter mutated sharks, crows, snakes, and even giant spiders, making sure that all of those who have arachnophobia get an added scare.
We mentioned the smaller creatures, but this title is also a home to its own kind of bosses. Though they aren’t as your average game boss, due to the lack of health meters and weak spots, they are unique in their own way. The game only has one monster that could truly be considered a boss since its raw power can turn your screen red in a matter of seconds. I’m talking about the final boss of the game. The Tyrant, a humongous humanoid creature with a giant claw ready to slice you open like a can of soup. This is the only boss that the players will face twice and both at the end of the game, so pack yourselves with as much ammo as you can, cause you will need it, as the Tyrant can take a lot of bullets. Besides this nightmare, the players will also encounter a lesser boss in a form of a giant snake, which puts up a good fight of its own. The key to defeating every monster is to fill it with enough hot lead, but the question is, can you with the limited amount of ammunition.
As for the visuals, Resident Evil can’t be considered the best in terms of graphics, even for a PS1 game. The developers put a lot of effort in creating the layout of the map, but that isn’t the major problem of the game. It’s biggest problem is the voice acting, which is considered to be the worst in all of video game history. While it had terrible voice acting, it sure makes up in well-directed cut-scenes that were all shoot with real live actors. The game also consisted of multiple endings, making sure that the players would replay it and discover more stuff with each new playthrough. The entire experience is accompanied by a haunting soundtrack provided by Makoto Tomozawa, it’s most notable song being “Still Dawn“. Due to its immense popularity, it garnered a huge fan-basis as well as multiple ports and even a remake in 2002 for the Gamecube. The remake added more monsters, area and one more small boss, all with better visuals, better sound and all rendered in HD. Resident Evil was a must have for the PS1 and fans quickly asked for a sequel, which only improved after the original.
Resident Evil is a terrifyingly delightful experience for all who like a bit of dread and horror in their life. Even though the dialog is terrible, the characters are likable and have come back for future installments because of their popularity. Even though it may have lost some charm by modern standards, back in the 90’s this game got a lot of attention. I advise gamers to replay the experience on their PlayStation, but if they don’t have the titular console or aren’t fans of the old graphics, they can pick up the remake now on the PC.