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WRITTEN REVIEW: Resident Evil: How Did This Game Succeed?

Earlier this year I saw that Resident Evil was given the HD treatment and released in markets across the globe. This really caught me off guard, not because Resident Evil doesn’t deserve the HD treatment but because this is not the first time it happened. ('02 for Gamecube & '08 for Wii were the first revision). Perhaps the most impressive implication of this fact is that somehow it is financially justifiable to remake the same REMAKE within the space of 7 years! So what is it about Resident Evil that keeps bringing us back? How does a game we have played through hundreds of times keep us entertained and on the edge of our seats? Perhaps the easiest way to begin answering this question is to cross off what Resident Evil does wrong, which to be honest, isn’t that hard to do. Below are the four major things Resident Evil gets wrong.

  • Voice Acting/Script
    Video gaming in the late 90’s was an exciting time. Games weren’t just tests of skill anymore, they were story driven experiences. Unfortunately not many games of the era got the voice acting right and Resident Evil is a great (or terrible) example of this. Whenever voice dialogue was initiated, the tense atmosphere was immediately broken, in a heartbeat we were taken away from the claustrophobic corridors of the Spencer Mansion to the auditions for basically any character for any Troma movie ever. That being said, you can’t really blame the voice actors for this. All you need to do is read the lines out loud to realize that the bad dialogue is equal parts acting and questionable script. Seriously, these lines are written by a really smart 5 year old or a really stupid pensioner. Don’t believe me? Here are two of the most egregious attacks on the English language.
    Example A. "Jill, here's a lockpick. It might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you."

    Example B. "Chris, this house is dangerous. There are terrible demons, ouch!"
  • The Puzzles /Map
    I really hate false advertising, but fortunately Resident Evil’s motto of “Face your Fears” delivered on one too many levels. The one thing I’m truly scared of is when a video game markets itself as a tense survival horror when it’s really just an elaborate game of fetch with eight billion puzzles. Dr of bat-shit craziness, Oswald “E for Crazy” Spencer sure loved his puzzles. Whether it was running around to get some well hidden crest or figuring out how to avoid getting molested by a sharks mouth in .8 seconds, there were all sorts of dumb cheap puzzles to get frustrated about. Compounding upon the terrifyingly misleading puzzle laden mansion, was the god dam map that was supposed to make navigating said mansion less complicated.

    First of all, just look at this fucking thing; the map looks like a level from Tetris. Second of all, the map has no labels for the rooms, you need to correlate some miniscule fact about a room to a bunch of rectangles and squares that are similarly shaped and the exact same colour! For example, that stupid fucking Bee puzzle is located on the second floor on a blue square right next to 4 other blue squares of the exact same shape! I sure am glad that the developers decided to indicate explored/unexplored rooms with green and red, that way if I was colorblind I’d never get out the fucking main hallway.

    If Hitler could come back as a ghost and his only ability was to create vague maps that do nothing but terrify and confuse the gamer, this would be his Mona Lisa.

  • Gameplay/Inventory
    The way Capcom developed the controls for Resident Evil makes navigating/shooting as effective as a Stormtrooper on rollerskates. Running is slow, and thanks to the fantastic camera angles that give the player a field of sight of about two square feet at any given time, detecting and dealing with the most basic enemy that was 5 meters away usually ends up with you wasting too much ammo and eating green herbs like you are on some California hippie cleanse. Another big problem is turning around, the only thing you do slower than walk backwards is turn the character the fuck around to run away. This leaves you the choice of running away, or god forbid, trying to hit a stationary target with your weapon.

    Resident Evil’s aiming system makes me feel like I’m in Stevie Wonder’s zombie hunter simulator. Until you get used to the wretched camera angles and stiff aim, you can expect to be wasting a lot of ammunition you probably won’t replace anytime soon on the most basic of adversaries that weren’t worth the fucking effort. Finally, let’s talk about inventory. Depending on who you choose you either get 6 or 8 slots for inventory in Resident Evil (sexist in the favor of female with bra space). Just so you know, the Spencer Mansion is in it’s own unique part of the space time continuum that allows an ink ribbon, a key, or a leaf from a plant take up the same inventory room as a shotgun. On top of this, you can’t drop any inventory items, so if you find precious ammo or a key component to the bee puzzle with no inventory space, be prepared to go back to the nearest safe room (usually 20 miles away) to clear 1 dam inventory space and run back. I could write a book about the gameplay mechanics of this game but I’ll stop here and summarize it with this Stormtrooper on rollerskates with the smallest backpack in the world.

    I mean, after writing all this it seems nearly impossible that this game could be anything but a highly entertaining survival horror video game. Terrible gameplay, awful acting, monotonous puzzles, this game should be as fun as a garbage taco. But it’s not, this game is a double bacon cheeseburger with a line of cocaine. This shouldn’t be possible, a game with terrible gameplay and bad dialogue usually goes the way of Superman 64 or Nickleback. Let’s take a look at what makes this game so dam good.
  • Story/Music
    Resident Evil’s saving grace is it’s story. Gameplay aside, it’s a pure adrenaline rush from initial contact with the dogs to the harrowing encounter with the Tyrant on the helipad. The first act of the game has a house on haunted hill feel where we really have no what is going on. Are the zombies a result of some supernatural force? What happened to Bravo team? As the story progresses, we learn more of Bravo team and Umbrella as we traverse spider filled caverns, creepy graveyards, shark filled basements, and horrifying bio-labs which move the plot towards a science-horror story.

    The files that are scattered throughout the mansion add intrigue and some vague facts that have our minds wander even more and create some assumptions about how the plot will unfold, these assumptions are almost always wrong. The genius of Resident Evil is that we actually feel safer in the monster filled mansion than we do when we venture into the unknown areas. The music changes and the air of suspense gets even thicker as we advance into new zones, giving us a genuine feeling of longing for the familiar corridors and even monsters of the Spencer Mansion. Let’s stop and think about that for a second, this game does such a good job of creating suspense that we literally don’t want to advance because we are scared of what is going to happen. This could not be possible if we were not engaged in the story, or immersed -- thanks to the subtle but effective music, or silence (dog corridor). The execution of the plot in Resident Evil completely nullifies the crappy gameplay, chore-like puzzles, and even offsets the dialogue... the plot is so strong that we don’t care about how characters communicate to advance the story!

  • Characters
    A lot of people talk about the genius of Game of Thrones being that any character can die at any time (RIP Jon Snow). Resident Evil was the original character killer. I can’t put a finger on it but somehow we feel a connection to everyone in bravo team which is accompanied with the feeling that anyone in bravo team could die at any fucking second. Every time we see Barry/Rebecca/Chris, or even Wesker, a sense of relief washes over us as the creepy music stops and we aren’t alone in the Spencer mansion, even if its for a brief second. Yes even though I’m pretty sure Barry is having a stroke the entire time we are in the Spencer Mansion while plotting your death, knowing that he was exploring the mansion and putting his neck out for the team really made me start loving the guy. Even when Barry betrayed me in the Umbrella lab I just sort of said his name like I say my dogs name when he farts. I was just glad Barry didn’t die. Most of the characters we meet in Resident Evil are dying/dead/jump into the abyss after finding their dead daughter in a coffin… I was just glad I could interact with something other than a corpse.Thanks to the Spencer Mansions morale crushing atmosphere of isolation and tension, we feel so attached to our fellow team members because they’re a familiar non-zombie face, and a welcome reprieve from the dark hallways and foreboding corners of the Mansion.

  • Love ya BRO

  • Vulnerability
    This is perhaps the one area where maybe.. MAYBE the person who developed Resident Evils controls kept his job. I imagine when asked why on earth he decided to have the controller functions be as effective as a potato he said “The difficult aiming and movement controls helped contribute to a consistent sense of vulnerability that kept gamers engaged and even served as a plot device”. The wonky controls really made encounters a lot more tense than they should have been. Not to mention the fact that this was the first game that introduced the concept of resource management. If you got some shotgun shells or if you were really lucky, a grenade launcher you put that thing in your bra and held on tight. The sense of invulnerability with a fully loaded gun gives way to the air of fear and suspense as your supply dwindles quickly. This was the saving grace of Resident Evils gameplay design it’s hard to be scared when you have a machine gun with a box of bullets but when you are managing a pistol with 5 bullets in the chamber, shit can get scary real fast. Let’s face it, although the controls don’t do anything for gameplay they actually contribute to the survival horror feel. I can’t quantify this, I cannot explain it and I sure as hell won’t justify it but Resident Evils gameplay mechanics...somehow keep us engaged.

    Perhaps the main contributor to the atmosphere was being alone for the majority of the game. This game doesn’t isolate you for 5 minutes until Sheva decides to waste all your ammo on a bucket, you are alone in this mansion for hours. A garden maze would start getting a bit creepy after walking around it alone in the middle of the day after a while, so walking around the Spencer Mansion for a prolonged period of time really starts getting inside your head. Paranoia, tension, fear, these feelings are ever-present and there are multiple manifestations of horror that play off of these feelings. The dogs jumping through the windows, the snake in the attic, the massive spiders, the shark in the neptune console, these are all symbols of everybody's fears, they are the monsters lurking in the dark and they are absolutely terrifying when they emerge from the dusky corners of the mansion.
So there you have it. Resident Evil is one of the worst games that fails in pretty much every aspect of gaming that’s plot and characters make it the best of it’s genre and one of the most immersive experiences you can undergo as a human being and is still relevant nearly 20 years after it’s release. None of it’s sequels had half as much of an impact on the gaming industry, and even though the latest iterations of the game have 20 years of technology and game design on the original, none of them come close to it’s success or entertainment value. In fact the latest ones should be avoided like the black plague. Seriously keep the 60 bucks and go buy a hooker.