Replaying my Childhood: Resident Evil 1
Zombies and my formative years go hand in hand; before the craze that swept the nation around 2009, I had already been knee deep in the dead since I could remember. Doom gave me a taste of what it was like to go against the undead and demonic hordes with an arsenal on my back, and Resident Evil taught me what it was like when the zombies outnumbered my bullets. Both of these games, of course, gave me nightmares at the time, but it never stopped me from coming back. Even in my 30s, I’m still regularly playing and creating levels for Doom and Doom II, with no end in sight.
After testing out the RE2 Seamless HD Project, I got the survival horror itch again, and decided to make my way through the mainline games in the series in release order.
Before I get into it, I played through this using ePSXe, an emulation program on the PC. If I still owned my old PSX and a CRT, I’d play it there. That being said, the best version of RE 1 currently exists on the Nintendo DS, titled Resident Evil: Deadly Silence. The DS version retains the original game, plus a remix, optional touch screen puzzles/combat, as well as nearly retaining the visual fidelity of the original release. If you’re dying (oh god I’m so sorry) to play RE1 , grab a copy for DS. With that out of the way, lets dive in.
Enter the Campy Horror
First timers to the series tend to react unfavorably towards the introduction video to Resident Evil. In it, the player is given a rough outline of the events leading up to your mansion situation: strange attacks have been happening in the mountains outside of Racoon City, so the police send in their specialist team, STARS, to investigate. The Bravo team’s communications go silent, so the Alpha team is sent in to search for them. Upon discovering Bravo’s helicopter wreckage, Alpha team is attacked by some gnarly looking dogs, prompting their retreat to a nearby mansion. Then, one of the best (see: cheesiest) cast introductions ever to grace video games plays, showcasing the main players in this story.
People seem to hate this intro for two reasons: the acting and the presentation. The acting is less than subpar; hell, even the voice over is delivered with such exhaustion, it would fit in well at a funeral. Each of the characters is played by a person only credited by their first name. Upon further research, I found out that all these actors were (most likely) just friends of the developers looking to help out for a low amount of pay. It’s a situation I’ve seen in one other game I love, Max Payne, where Max, Mona and every other character in the comics are all friends and coworkers at the game’s parent studio. The presentation is something a little more neuanced; people these days aren’t used to live-action being used as a cinematic storytelling device in video games. When I was younger, it was all the rage (Command & Conquer being a famous one, having the likes of Tim Curry and Michael Ironside playing roles) and it was cost effective. Now, with how far visual presentation has come with video games, the bar for fidelity has been set so high, that including live action becomes a stylistic choice rather than a necessary evil (again, Remedy studios released Quantum Break alongside a TV miniseries for exposition and storytelling, and they continue to use live-action in their newest game, Control).
These two things, however, lay Resident Evil’s cards out on the table for all of us to see. The game isn’t trying to appear deep, or raise thought provoking questions like the Silent Hill games. Rather, it shows the audience its in for a cheesy, haunted house experience. I would actually say it sets up a false security blanket. Seeing something goofy like that might give people the impression that the game isn’t difficult, or that it doesn’t require a certain amount of skill. Those people are proven wrong pretty quickly.
Getting the Evil Under Control
I’ve talked at length previously about my love for survival horror, and one of the defining things that makes a good survival horror game is limiting the player, but not in so many ways that playing becomes a burden; Dark Souls this is not. Rather, the game is about ramping things up just as you’re able to rise to the challenge. When you start the game, you’re given plenty of ammo (if you can find it) appropriate for the enemies presented. These enemies mostly consist of zombies and Cerberus aka zombie dogs. The occasional crow pops in to say hi, but fighting them is entirely optional. By the end of the first act, you end up with your handgun, a shotgun and a “bazooka” (which is actually a rotary grenade launcher; the actual rocket launcher is at the end of the game). At this point in the game, a new enemy is introduced by way of the Hunters. These bipedal reptilians are fast, dangerous and contrast the slow and numerous zombies. In act three, the game introduces the unsettling Chimeras; enemies that infest the labs under the mansion, they run on ceilings and attack you in swarms. This steady tier system keeps things challenging but fair for most players, especially given the controls of the game.
Additionally, I can harp on and on about tank controls and about how I think they are the best thing invented since sliced bread, but I’ll just get straight to the point; tank controls were a beautiful mistake. Originally, I too believed the rumor that tank controls were created to “heighten the tension,” and while they accomplish just that, that isn’t why they were originally made. It all actually comes down to a processing limitation. The Sony PlayStation was only capable of handling so many 3D objects on screen at one time, so the developers used a proven method of creating the game world.
Back in the long forgotten year of 1992, Infogrames released Alone in the Dark, a title that is recognized as the granddaddy of all survival-horror games. Using a fixed camera system, the game contained pre-rendered backgrounds with 3D character models moving around on top of them, mimicking a 3D space. Resident Evil took this concept (and setting, some would say) and ran with it, creating a game that could render an entire 2D world with few 3D models.
So, moving on from covering the boring stuff, you’re thrust into this mansion full of monsters, mazes, and above all puzzles. The puzzles in Resident Evil are not the biggest head scratchers in the genre (that honor goes to Silent Hill, in which some of the games have a puzzle difficulty selector, for crying out loud), but they are still fun to figure out and provide a break from the zombie infested halls of the Spencer Estate. Admittedly, most of the puzzles in Resident Evil are key hunts, switch hunts, or involve moving statues and other objects. This gets solved in its remake (more on that in another piece).
Getting Down To It
As I said earlier, as the game goes on, the stakes are raised; not just regarding enemies but in terms of story as well. While I don’t want to get too far into spoilers (the game is already 24 years old, but I’m a purist that way), there’s obviously more than meets the eye at the Spencer Estate. Relationships are tested, betrayals and revelations abound, plus monsters. This was one of the first games to get me addicted to the horror genre. Sure, Doom and Quake had me killing demons and eldritch horrors respectively, but Resident Evil was one of the first games to strip away my tried and true way of dealing with monsters (apply shotgun; if problem persists, apply more shotgun), forcing my young to make constant decisions, screw up, and realized I forgot to save and have an hours worth of progress to make up. This time around, after playing it for so many years, I almost know every nook and cranny of the mansion. I know where to find almost every ammo pickup, herb and extra item in the game. Does this make the experience any less fun? Absolutely not.
Even after all these years, the game still holds up. The mansion, the monsters, the laughable yet charming dialog, the gameplay; it all comes together in a package that’s really hard to beat.
Until you play the HD remaster, that is, but that will be left up for another time. Next week, I’ll tackle Resident Evil 2 and say more boring things about tank controls, the zapping system, and Hunk.