Resident Evil - Retrospective Review
First released back in 1996, Resident Evil is still easily the most important survival horror game ever released. While not technically the first 3D survival horror game ever made, given that Alone in the Dark pipped it to the post, Resident Evil was crucial in popularising the genre and paving the way for its "golden age" with games like Silent Hill and Project Zero, not to mention Resi's own sequels.
Resident Evil's dark, brooding mansion is a master-class in games design. Hidden traps, monsters bursting through windows, and locked doors surround the player. For all the zombies that have to be killed, the game is arguably more about successful navigation. Players learn, over the course of their playtime, how to make it from one end of the mansion to other unscathed, carefully managing their meagre supply of ammunition by only taking out zombies that directly get in their way.
It's somewhat tedious nowadays, what with those long loading screens from room to room, but the game's supply boxes, those magic teleporting storage trunks that players dumped their supplies in, were crucial to the game's focus on resource management. You were only capable of carrying a limited number of items, meaning that a lot of what you collected along the way had to be stashed in one of the game's supply boxes. It's an incredibly clever way of challenging even the most savvy player; by ensuring that nobody, regardless of play skill, could stock up too well prior to another monster encounter.
And what about those monsters? Well, in hindsight, they're perhaps one of the weaker aspects of the first game. That iconic first encounter with a zombie is a terrific way of throwing a player into the game but there's never quite the same level of "shock" from its other creatures. The hunters that turn up halfway through are something of a difficulty spike, and that roaming POV cutscene that introduces them is an earnest attempt at recreating the first zombie fight, but they've perhaps not aged all that well. A few mutated sharks and diseased gorillas round out the enemies but they're somewhat lacking when compared to the shuffling undead that mark the game's first half.
The game also included two playable characters, each with few differences, not to mention having to take different routes around the mansion. Jill was the archetypal beginner's choice, coming with additional inventory slots; eight versus Chris' six, and also sporting the handy lock pick to boot. In contrast Chris possessed greater health and a faster run speed, although this wasn't much of an advantage, considering his campaign also upped the number of zombies whilst also making them considerably tougher.
Still, it was another testament to the game's ingenious level design that both character's got their own unique route around the mansion. Despite not changing anything dramatically in terms of their actual progression, it genuinely made for a different experience depending on who you played as. Some rooms are only accessible for one character but the game would never directly tell you this; the mansion and the accompanying grounds felt more like a real, fleshed-out entity rather than simply a level that needed to be completed.
Given its release in the mid-90s its story has aged more than most, or rather, the way it chose to tell its story. A goofy FMV cutscene kicks off the game with some absolutely atrocious acting that quickly falls into the "so bad it's good" category, with Chris' "no, don't go" being one of the most awkwardly delivered lines ever placed in a video game. It's easy to knock the first Resi for its silly dialogue and awkward translations, but for every silly decision it made story-wise there was always something that stuck in your mind. The infamous "Itchy Tasty" document, a diary that charts one man's infection with the T-Virus, is still surprisingly unsettling.
Funnily enough, the game's cutscenes didn't go down well with censors either, but for entirely different reasons. The bloody severed hand discovered in the opening scene was deemed too much for the American and European localizations and was cut out, with any other gory images being covered up by having the scene play out in monochrome. A shot of Chris smoking a cigarette was also deemed unseemly (given the game's 15+ and M age ratings) and was awkwardly edited over as well. Despite supposedly being restored in some of the later re-releases they never actually were.
Perhaps because of how it aged and because of its battles with censors, it's not all that surprising that it was this title that Capcom decided to overhaul for the GameCube, almost becoming an entirely new (and very good) game in its own right. Still, when it comes to looking at where it all started the PlayStation 1 Resident Evil is a bona fide masterpiece and a crucial instalment in the survival horror genre.
Resident Evil was released in 1996 for the PlayStation. PC and Sega Saturn ports were also released.
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