Capcom’s Resident Evil came on the scene in 1996 on the new console PlayStation and the Saturn, like a lot of games from that era it was a newly explored genre due to the emergence of better 3D engines. Resident Evil even created its own genre – “Survival Horror” where the character was in a terrifying situation with little resources or help. At the time, it was terrifying, the technology at the time didn’t allow for games to be truly scary as they were mostly 2D and using MIDI for sound but with the power of the PlayStation it could now be possible. Resident Evil may not have been the first as it’s argued OverBlood did it first, but it was certainly the best.
The setting for Resident Evil was simple – suspicious going on the outskirts of a small, Midwestern American town and a team called S.T.A.R.S. from the Raccoon city Police Department are sent to investigate and stumbles upon a seemingly empty mansion in the centre of the incidents. Nothing complicated in the setting but that’s where the plot comes in with its twists and turns and you have a classic game on your hands.
There were a few main characters: Jill Valentine, the heroin of the game who was also the “master of unlocking” and served as the easy mode of the game with extra inventory space, more weapons and her partner, Barry Burton, would literally get you out of a bind more than once. The other main character, Chris Redfield was a marksman and the hard mode: less inventory, less weapons and a partner, Rebecca Chambers, who isn’t much help (more of a burden really) and then you have the team leader and overall cool customer Albert Wesker and you have your playable cast, or at least the one’s that are alive.
The supporting cast were zombies, giant snake, dogs, sharks, hunters, spiders, giant plant, strange chimaeras and a Tyrant. All of them adding to the tension, survival and atmosphere as they all had their traits from slow to fast and poison to instant kill if you weren’t full health. Because of the way the game was designed, more often that not you could hear the enemy but not see them unless you moved, adding a lot of anxiety and made enemy a major threat in the game.
Considering it involved zombies, the plot was not that farfetched really. To me, it represented what would probably happen if a virus broke out in a lab somewhere in the mountains. The Walking Dead series from AMC is the same, if there was a zombie outbreak then that is probably how people would react and that’s what would happen, obviously the extra things like the hunters and the giant plant are a little bit bonkers, but on the whole the plot is a believable fantasy or unrealistic realism.
A negative of the plot (but still necessary) is the fact that you are alone and there really isn’t much interaction for large parts of the game, you could wander for hours solving puzzles then have a short conversation with the partner and then that would be that. It makes sense that it works out that way because you are alone, but it does feel like nothing is really happening a lot, further to this is that most of the plot happens at the end and you won’t know what’s happening for most of the game and then bam! You get the twist, then its game over. Again, it makes sense why it’s like that but it does feel lonelier than it needs to be.
The characters of the game had some personality but the ones with the most were the partners, Barry and Rebecca, they showed a lot more of their personalities than Jill and Chris did plus they offered some comic relief. Albert Wesker also was a bit more likeable and he had hardly any lines, so in terms of characters in the plot Chris and Jill were quite empty, not giving many opinions and rather serves as a conduit for the character to put them in, as were many games at that time.
However, the most noticeable part of the whole plot is the voice acting, it is shocking. It was as if they hired people of the street and gave them a poorly translated script, it really was that bad. However, it wasn’t too bad at the time, but if you played it now it’s funny, not many games had dabbled with proper voice overs so you’ve got to give them some slack, not much, but some. One of those things that you always mention when talking about Resident Evil and its voice overs. It did take away from the story a tiny bit, because it was a great story just read poorly, however going back to what I said earlier about how there wasn’t much talking, this is probably why.
Gameplay wise it was in a league of its own. The inventory system and how the game made you have to scavenge for bullets and healing items made the game incredibly tense. First time playing you didn’t know where anything was and more likely than not you were struggling, no bullets, low health and no healing items. It was intense. You needed to look everywhere for anything you can find (like you would have to if this event really did happen) and avoid enemies or use ammo sparingly, it was a challenge because generally there isn’t enough to kill everything even if you did know where everything was. This is what particularly made Chris difficult.
The inventory system used slots, Jill had 8 and Chris had 6 and every item took one space. A shotgun, a key, a healing item, puzzle related all used 1 space so item management was yet another force against you as you try to make your way out, you can’t carry everything in the game and had to use item boxes to store extras which were linked across the mansion complex. First time playing was hard, as you didn’t know what item went where, how much ammo to carry and so on. A real simple, genius idea.
The game was pre rendered and had fixed camera angles so in any given room you couldn’t see what was ahead and could only go by noise if an enemy was nearby, adding to the tension as you didn’t know where they were, if they were close to you if you moved angles or if you should take aim and shoot risking bullets if you missed. This was the scenario in every room in the game for a first play, it was nerve wracking and tense and it definitely added to the overall terror of the situation.
Puzzles were as much a part of the game as zombies, and ranged from moving objects to solving a riddle in a gallery, they were testing and needed to be completed to progress as doors were always locked, most of them just needed a 10 minute think, some could take hours and some just needed a closer inspection but it paved the way for games that needed some logic and to think further than a shotgun. The puzzles seemed out place but in Resident Evil remake they attempted to make some sense as to why they were there, but there was no real reason other than “it’s a game”.
There were a few game play elements Capcom tested out that really worked in this game; they were clearly throwing the game in the air not knowing it was going to take off. Even down to small details like door-opening cinematic to mask loading screens and definitely the massive amount of literature you can read to get some background information about the people, places and events of the mansion incident. Those journals were a real class act and sadly don’t get done in games as often anymore, made you feel really gripped and almost as if you were there.
The graphics at the time were a mixed bag. The 3D models were fine but the rest was a pre rendered background that was quite realistic at the time, so a lot of the room and so on really looked good. However, when you plonk a 3D model in the middle there is a mismatch. When there is an item in the room you are meant to interact with as part of a puzzle, it kind of ruins it for itself. If it stands out, do something with it.
The models for the character and enemies were all fine, realistic and scaled properly so there was no complaints there, they looked the part and had good effects for being shot, bitten, slashed and crushed and the zombies in particular had decent detail to them, maggots from chimaera’s a particularly good detail.
The entrance move has been done with real life actors and it was brilliant, it was like a film that should have been made. Actors looked the part, it was done in a good location, but again, the acting left a lot to be desired.
There are some CGI, usually when a puzzle has been solved or the environment changes which looked good at the time and there are no problems with them, the game could possibly have benefited more from having a few more CGI scenes showing a bit more of how the mansion looks, but again the CGI department didn’t let the game down.
By far the most impressive area of Resident Evil was the sound, very choice and minimalist, there was only music if there needed to be and sounds usually kept you alive and caused the biggest feeling of horror and dread. The dining room had an eerie grandfather clocked that ticked and ticked, while the corridors would have classic creepy music playing while others had no music at all.
The sounds were key, when you could not see your enemy you needed to see them, but it also terrified the shit out of you as you knew it was there but couldn’t see them, a bit like Jaws where it was less is more. Zombies moaning and hunters roaring was also realistic and instilled some terror into the character. Other sounds were realistic gun noises and the satisfying squelch of a zombies head coming off with a shotgun.
Overall, 10/10 for sounds, never out of place and never over done, just fit the environment and the situation perfectly.
The impact of Resident Evil was worldwide, it was a massive hit and terrorised teenagers and adults alike, it received rave reviews and most criticisms were of the dreadful voice over it scored mostly high 80’s praising a good storyline and great sound. It also put Capcom on the map for something other than Street Fighter and they were major players in action/adventure or rather, survival horror, which thanks to Resident Evil was now a proper genre.
Resident Evil has a legacy that is still around now, although sadly not with Resident Evil itself which lost its way lately with Code: Veronica being the last to use the same “style”. With Resident Evil 4 being the first of the current breed of third person action shooter Resident Evil games.
Characters from the game have also shown up in other games such as Marvel vs. Capcom and the series has also been novelised by American writer S.D. Perry. It has also been adapted on the big screen by direct Paul W.S. Anderson, although disastrously bad it has still got the name Resident Evil out there a little bit more, and the latest did feature Barry Burton and Albert Wesker.
However, there are some still using the fundamentals such as Dead Space and Silent Hill who still use atmosphere, sounds and survival horrors in their games, Resident Evil is still parodied as well in modern gaming websites which shows it has had a lasting effect and achieved a bit of a cult status among fans and gamers alike.