Gamestyle Archive intro: and now for something completely different as they say. Once upon a time there were 2 gaming websites (Gamestyle & Gamehub) who decided to join forces. The teams merged and some of the Gamehub reviews also made that transition across. This is one of those reviews. Written by Alex Carroll who went on to be heavily involved in the Gamestyle Offline Magazine series.
As for the game itself the original release on the PlayStation provided one of those moments (the dogs jumping through the window) that was a revelation and prompted me to move on from the Sega Saturn to Sony’s debut console.
Published: September 2002
There are far too many games around at the moment that fail to live up to the huge amount of hype they’ve generated (you know who you are) and then there are the games that come from nowhere and end up being a complete surprise and are generally highly enjoyable. With that in mind, it’s no shock to find that Resident Evil is not the revolution that the gaming population dreamt it would be – but it’s worth noting that Capcom themselves never pushed the game as being a totally new experience. They promised a remake of the classic PlayStation original, but with massively improved graphics and approximately 30% new content, and in those areas they’ve delivered.
Graphically Resident Evil shines (in a metaphorical sense, of course, because through most of the mansion that the game is based around you’re wandering in the darkness) with the high-resolution pre-rendered backdrops providing a far more convincing and heightened sense of reality that no amount of polygons could portray. Some may scoff at the arguably last-gen background graphics from still screenshots, but experience the game in motion yourself and all pre-emptive impressions are left at the proverbial mansion door. Believe it or not, the apparently static backdrops are about as alive and busy as any game environment has ever been – not only do shadows, lights and particle effects such as smoke and dirt dance and play across both walls and floor, but the actual interaction between the polygonal characters, items and enemies with the backdrops is superbly done. Barring a few instances of clipping and a noticeable problem with getting the feet to match the steps where there’s a staircase, the superb animation, modelling, lighting, shadowing and [depth of vision] blurring creates graphics that finally define the word ‘real’.
This sense of reality extends neatly into the sound department too – the voice acting is the best it’s ever been (including the recent ‘movie’ and the various moans and groans of the zombies really do send shivers down your spine. Although there’s no actual surround-sound mode users with pro-logic equipped sound systems will hear a good deal of ambient sound (creaking, wind and so on) from the rear speakers. However, it’s here that the new features stop, because despite a good number of new rooms, corridors and puzzles the actual gameplay is exactly the same as the original, 7 years ago. First of all the controls are identical, save for a 180 rotate performed by tapping the C-stick. That means that the timeless yet incredibly clumsy rotate and move forward functions are back, and although you can walk about either with the analog stick or the d-pad neither really work well as the analog stick isn’t actually analog and the d-pad is too fiddly, meaning that when combined with the run button you’ll spend half the time running into walls and when coupled with a sudden change of camera angle you’ll no doubt end up in a little circle and back where you were. Veterans of the control scheme will be immediately at home but the other half of the population will struggle for a good half-hour or so, despite the presence of a number of different (but frustratingly similar) button configurations.
Love it or hate it everything else that was present in the original has made it through unchanged too – the extremely limited amount of items you can carry means that you’ll be backtracking constantly to the nearest item-box to swap your inventory around. The unrewarding puzzles are here too, often totally removing any sense of pacing and tension by stopping the game’s flow for an hour whilst you solve the riddles. Resident Evil can also be a little un-directing, and whilst we’re not keen on constant sign-posting and obvious clues a gentle point in the right direction would not go a miss sometimes, and in fact if you’ve never played a Resident Evil game before you’ll probably get completely stuck a good number of times, often for far longer than you’d like making the temptation to read a FAQ all that more greater. Some things just aren’t obvious and although areas that need further inspection are highlighted on the map, and items you can collect are accompanied by a little twinkle as you search the room, the game can be much too vague about what you need to do next. That said, those familiar with the original will be more than familiar with the way the game designers think and the small number of brand-new puzzles and riddles will surely bring a wry smile as they appear throughout the mansion. With that in mind it’s a shame Capcom didn’t take Konami’s tactic and let the player decide whether they want the puzzles included in the game (or indeed, just puzzles, with no fighting) as was so superbly coded into Silent Hill 2.
New users, therefore, are recommended to select the ‘easy’ option from the MGS2-style initial menu, and it’s worth pointing out that of the two playable characters Jill’s is the easiest quest. Repeated plays through the game bring about the usual Capcom treats – extra costumes, starting with tougher weapons, and even the Nemesis-like mode that makes one particular nasty (and undestroyable) zombie follow you throughout. Don’t let those seemingly negative aspects deter you too much from picking up the game, however, as in terms of sheer atmosphere Resident Evil was always the king and with this brand new Gamecube version most definitely still is.
Resident Evil is genuinely scary, downright creepy and despite some sloppy Japanese-to-English translations in the dialog is an involving and captivating experience. It’s priced a fiver too high for our liking, especially given that most players will see the end in a weekend, but for those dipping into the evil of the Umbrella corporation and the T-virus for the first time it’s a superb place to start if you’re prepared for the idiosyncrasies present in the games. For long-term hardcore fans of the series, however, despite it basically being the same game it always was, it’s absolutely essential.
Gamestyle Score: 8/10