Hey guys, I’m Dave and I’m new here! Another new thing is a column I am starting up called ‘Know Your Roots,’ which takes a look back at games which inspired the games you are playing today. The first game up on the chopping block is very dear to my heart, and also probably familiar to many of you. That game, my friends, is Resident Evil.
I’ve had a long history with Resident Evil, stretching all the way back to March 1996 when the game was released. I was 12 years old at the time, and all about zombies. I had just gotten my Playstation the previous Christmas and had been anticipating the launch of Resident Evil for some time. The first I had heard of the game was from a preview column in Game Player magazine, and from that instant I was into it. After finally getting my paws on the game in March, my life was never the same.
Resident Evil, if you are unaware, is the long-running series originating with it’s inaugural release on the Playstation. It was originally launched under the name Biohazard in Japan, switching names to Resident Evil for most markets outside of Japan. The games are almost identical, aside from a few scenes of gore cut out for US audiences. Resident Evil has stood the test of time, and maintained a megalithic spot in the games industry, spawning sequels, movies, toys, comics and pretty much anything Capcom could slap it’s name on! But why?
Resident Evil coined the term ‘Survival Horror’ upon it’s release, although the genre was nothing new. In fact Alone in the Dark was arguably the first game to pioneer this 3d-horror genre, but Resident Evil did it the best. It took a bit of action, bit of suspense, a bit of zombie schlock and a great deal of B-Movie voice acting and blended it together. The result was a mind-bogglingly fun game that took the world by storm.
Since the early days of RE, the game has adhered to a fairly simple formula: find items, solve puzzles, kill zombies and fight giant monster bosses. There were a few other tropes Resident Evil championed through it’s reign, but those four key points are the basic formula for a good RE game. Take one away, and it’s just not the same. Of course since 1996 the game has changed quite a bit, evolving from one release to the other. One part that has changed considerably is the controls.
The original game has quite a bit of hate these days for it’s control scheme, a scheme I think works brilliantly. You have to realize at it’s release, 3d action games were a relatively new phenomena and the best control method hadn’t quite been worked out yet. As a matter of fact, most major 3d games of that era used a similar control scheme. It wasn’t until the superb Resident Evil 4 that the franchise got a much needed control overhaul. While the original scheme worked well for non-analog equipped controllers, modern control schemes were much easier and intuitive than the standard RE controls.
Resident Evil 4 introduced a currency system which allowed you to purchase and upgrade your weaponry. Previous titles operated on finding your weapons, as opposed to buying them. This makes exploration more important, because you need to find the items to aid in your survival. Newer titles make the action more important, basing your survival more on your skill with the sticks rather than strategising ammo conservation and item consumption. While I appreciate the new releases in the series, RE4 in particular, I really enjoy the more strategic approach in the original titles.
Resident Evil: Outbreak introduced online co-op multiplayer with a side-story series that functioned around scenarios, rather than one big long story as in the main series. Resident Evil 5 officially brought multiplayer onboard as a full-time game mechanic, making your side-kick Sheva (or Chris if you played as Sheva) part of the game instead of a Tails-esque sidekick who just flew around doing nothing. I feel like multiplayer was brought into the franchise to keep the game relevant with the ever-growing popularity of online multiplayer, and it really doesn’t add to the games narrative in any way. In fact, I find it distracting to have a friend on board when you are trying to pay attention to the story mode, but in the end it’s a blast to run around with your buddy blasting zombies in the face. We’ll all be screwed when the series ultimately reverts back to single player and you can’t rely on your friend for help.
Resident Evil has always been known for it’s B-movie-esque plotline, which has evolved into a story so convoluted and complex, that I really have no idea what is going on with all of it. Originally, Umbrella had developed a bioweapon in a secret facility and the experiments got out of hand, which turned scientists into zombies. Now there are so many different viruses and double-agents and large breasted presidents daughters, that I have no freakin’ clue what is going on. But as weird and convoluted as the story is, each game can operates independently and on their own have pretty compelling plotlines.
The series have had several consistent characters since the get-go, which lends to the extended appeal of the game. Having likable returning characters is always a good thing, in my opinion. Although in Resident Evil 6, the first time Leon sees a zombie in the game, he acts like he’s never ever heard the word ‘zombie’ in his life. If I had survived two freakin’ outbreaks on two continents, I’d probably know how to dispatch a zombie with my eyes closed.
The first game establishes the series penultimate antagonist, the Umbrella Corporation, which is personified by the mysterious Wesker (who has died more times than Professor X). Umbrella Corporation is much like Weyland Yutani in the Alien franchise, in that they are a money and power hungry corporation who doesn’t give two craps about their people. Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield are the two protagonists in the first game, both of which appear in later titles. An point of interest is that Jill Valentine represented the easy mode, where as Chris Redfield was the hard mode in the first game.
Another cool thing about Resident Evil was that it had several different endings, all of which were dependent on what choices you made earlier in the game. For instance, Barry can actually be saved and won’t die. You can actually beat the game without freeing your partner from the jail cell at the end. However, after this game, it is assumed that Jill and Chris both made it out alive, since they are pivotal characters in later games.
Resident Evil has always seemed to lead the charge with fresh visuals. Each release seemed to push the boundary of what was possible on consoles. The first release was utterly mind-boggling to a 12 year old who was only used to 3d games like Quake or the early Playstation 3d platformers. The level of detail in the game was, for the time, exceptional. Granted the game looks really dated by today’s standards, but it’s is 100% playable to this very day.
RE received a reboot for the Gamecube in 2002, whose most notable addition was updated graphics. The game switched to fully 3d environments, ala Code: Veronica. Prior to Code: Veronica, the game used pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles. The new fully 3d environments introduced in C:V were to become a staple in the franchise, alowing for more dynamic environments and camera work. Although the environments were now in 3d, it won’t be until Resident Evil 4 that you would actually be allowed to manipulate the camera directly.
A weird quirk of the original games was the loading screens…they were doors. Resident Evil took a clever approach to loading environments by making the loading screens mimic the door you are opening. Not only did it add to the tension of your exploration, by further delaying showing you what was behind the door, but it took the monotony of the loading screen and gave it a cool twist. Unfortunately these loading screens have been long dead in the franchise.
One staple of the original game which I wish would have been carried over into the more recent releases were the Full Motion Video sequences. I’ve always though FMV adds a bit of old school charm to games, but ultimately dates games. Resident Evil 2 adopted CG cutscenes throughout the game to enhance the story, abandoning the FMV sequences. Like I said previously, I wish they had stuck with them. It would have been nice to see the FMV version of Ashley.
One of my favorite things about the entire series of Resident Evil has been the voice acting. The original game employed English speaking voice actors who lived in Japan, which added to the hokey nature of the game. These actors weren’t the most talented, and the work was for a video game, so the lines suffered accordingly. Little did they know that this little franchise would swell up the 800 lb gorilla it is today.
An interesting fact to point out is that the games have always had English dialogue, even in the Japanese releases. The games are supposed to evoke a B-movie feel, more specifically American B-movies from the 70’s and 80’s. The almost laughable voice acting in the first game wasn’t intentional, but works so well it might as well should have been. Today’s releases take a different approach, as the lines are more serious and the actors are a lot better. Even still, it’s a B-movie at heart.
The soundtrack is another noteworthy portion of the Resident Evil games. I can still hear the soothing sounds of the save rooms, and the frantic stress of the boss fight themes. Music is an important part of cinema, and in turn, an important part of Resident Evil games. You can tell the situation you’re stepping into just by the music. The music also adds to the stress of an otherwise stress free corridor.
I will always regard the early releases in the series as the best, not because I’m some elitist jerk, but because I truly think they are great games. Resident Evil laid the groundwork for some amazing games, and some not so amazing games. Each new iteration in the series added something fresh and enjoyable to the already fresh and enjoyable series. Ever since RE struck gold in the hallways of that mansion, other developers have been trying to replicate it’s success.
The several spin-offs RE has spawned take bits and pieces of Resident Evil to make something new, and ultimately failed. While the games themselves are enjoyable, they never quite matched the same level Resident Evil attained. There have been countless ‘Survival Horror’ games released since 1996, and only a few of them sprouted wings and took off. One notable series is Silent Hill, a game more focused on the horror, leaving the action to other games.
There isn’t just one thing in this game that you can extract and replicate to duplicate the success of the first game. Resident Evil works because it’s the complete package, it has everything. Each successive title in the series has taken the previous entry and expounded upon it with a new twist on an old trick. The games have remained fundamentally the same, only changing it’s appearance and tinkering with the controls just slightly. The only way that is possible, is because the foundation was so great to begin with.