With the recent release of Resident Evil 6, I just had to know what about the series has made it so well-loved. There is no better place to start than at the beginning… right?
As our industry gets older, the collective consciousness starts to become less dense. A decade ago, most writers could recount their first Atari experiences, discuss which side of the 8-bit war they fought on and speak first-hand about seeing a Mortal Kombat fatality in the arcade for the first time. I was right there along side them, keeping up with all things gaming thanks to recess conversations and my subscription to Nintendo Power. Now, there are almost as many gamers that have had their first 8-bit experiences in games made this century as there are those of us that remember blowing on a cartridge.
When I arrived on campus at the University of Richmond, I had left my Super Nintendo behind and began a three-year period of console celibacy. Until I was a senior, my gaming was limited to the PC titles I could eek out of my budget (without my parents wondering just where all the money was going). When I finally picked up a PS1, the library was so vast that I missed a lot of what was on offer. As someone who prefers to play series from the beginning and in order, the prospect of doubling back to three Resident Evil titles was daunting.
Now, with the release of the sixth main entry in the series, I’ve decided it’s time to fill this enormous gap in my gaming portfolio. I’ll be playing through the six numbered entries along with Code Veronica HD, providing the perspective of someone coming aboard 15 years late.
Before I left for a week of travel, I loaded up my Vita with the PS1 versions of Resident Evil 1 – 3. I’m aware that the Gamecube REmake of the first game is far superior to the original, but I couldn’t beat the convenience (or the authenticity) of starting where most others did.
The first thing that struck me was the full motion video opening. I had forgotten how in love developers were with filmed footage in the late 90s. The practice nearly always results in camp, but the B-movie quality here is over the top. It’s much easier to swallow if you believe the humor is intentional. It’s hard to imagine that when people first played the game that it was taken seriously, especially when you get to the “opening credits.”
Speaking of the cast roll call, I firmly believe that the director told the actress playing Rebecca Chambers that she would be appearing in a sitcom. The look she gives after tightening her headband just screams, “Oh, you!” Having only played Jill’s side of the game, I can only imagine that there is an epilogue to Chris’ journey in which Rebecca Chambers and a zombie named George settle down and have a family. I wonder if she took his name. Rebecca Bitington has a nice ring to it.
Once the game switches over to the rough polygons generated by the antiquated engine, things just get silly. It’s hard to tell if the voice actors (and I use the term loosely) were simply poorly coached, or if they are just plain bad. As I was playing, I tried to imagine what life would be like if things hadn’t improved in the industry. The voice behind Barry might have ended up playing Nathan Drake. Take a moment and just think about that. I can only hope Nolan North forgives me for ever suggesting something so horrible.
Thankfully, developers got wise quickly. It only took 2 years to get from RE1 to Metal Gear Solid. Whew. I’m very much looking forward to seeing if the voicing improves in the second entry (and if the actors will actually have their last names included in the credits).
After getting through the opening in-engine scene (“Chris is our old partner, you know!”), the next thing that struck me were the controls. I have no problem with having to toggle on the aiming/firing mode. The movement controls, though? Yikes. I tried it both with the d-pad and the analog stick. While I ended up sticking with the latter, it was clear that the game was designed for the former. The movement lacks precision (or Jill needs to seek treatment for an inner ear infection affecting her ability to walk), which can make dodging zombies in narrow halls to conserve ammunition far more challenging than it should be.
I’ve ragged on the game quite a lot so far, so let me take the opportunity to share that I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I didn’t like it in spite of the campiness. I kept coming back because of it. I survived the movement controls, fell into the game’s traps (zombie on zombie action should have been a dead giveaway… pun intended) and even got a jump scare or two. A lot of what’s on offer holds up quite well.
The inventory management is one of my biggest gripes, though. I understand the intent of limiting carrying capacity. It adds to the tension knowing that you can’t lug around every weapon and healing item you’ve picked up. Some items simply should have been exempt, though. For instance, typewriter ribbons that enable saves are a brilliant idea that make storing your progress a strategic decision, but they should have simply been slotted in a separate menu. With the exception of (I believe) two instances, typewriters and storage crates were in the same safe rooms.
Having to run to the crate, withdraw my ribbons, save, then go back and deposit the unneeded item was tedious. Additionally, ammunition of the same type should have been automatically combined in the teleporting crate of holding. It’s a magic box that gives you access to all of your items no matter the location you are in when you open it, but it can’t figure out that I want both sets of shotgun shells in one stack.
The plus side of the inventory system is the ability (and need) to manually examine some items. Why do I have three Mansion Keys? Oh! They have different symbols on them. Additionally, letting you know when it’s safe to toss one you’ve used in every door it applies to is enormously convenient, especially when it’s jamming up one of the limited spots in your pockets. Furthermore, strategically combining different types of curative herbs is a great design decision. It streamlines the item types while offering different levels of benefit.
One of my favorite things about Resident Evil is the level design. No matter how old a game is, this is one aspect that shines through. As I found staircases around the mansion, I knew that a safe room had to be close by. The puzzles were clever, pulling in just enough of what I love about point-and-click adventures to remain engaging. Each enemy encounter felt like an event, especially since Capcom didn’t take the cheap way out and repopulate areas with enemies until it really mattered. Returning to the mansion, previously cleared of walking dead, only to find fast-moving hunters worked quite well. Once those were gone, I was safe again.
Resident Evil was an amusement ride at a traveling fair. That Tilt-a-Whirl might be a little rickety, and the guy running it might look and talk a little funny, but I was still glad to hand over my tickets and let it spin me around.
I think I would have been sorely disappointed if I had played this during the last generation. For some reason, taking such a huge step back in the evolutionary process is far less jarring than picking up something half its age. It is far easier to take the game at face value after so long.
I see the seeds of greatness in the inaugural entry in this storied series. I know that the industry evolved, embracing better writing and voice acting. It’s only a matter of time until I see it applied here. Whether the level design continues to be as engaging and I remain as forgiving of the movement controls as I was this time out remains to be seen.
Stay tuned for the next entry in this little travel log. Apparently, I’m visiting scenic Raccoon City next. I’m sure the people there are quite lovely.