I played the original Resident Evil for the first time when “Director’s Cut” edition was released, in 1997. Up until that point, I had never played any sort of horror game before (though I did own Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi, which was a frightening ordeal). My parents were pretty lenient with M-rated games and R-rated movies while I was growing up, but Resident Evil was the first piece of entertainment that made them reconsider this position, mostly because I actually started having horrific nightmares and sleeping problems as a result of my playing the game. Still, once that passed, I hopped right back into the game and became a devoted fan of the series from there on out (though Resident Evil 5 has certainly shaken my faith a bit in the creative team’s vision).
Though Resident Evil 2 remains my favorite, I still have a very special place in my heart for the original. After all, it was the springboard from which an entire game and film franchise was launched. Warm critical reception and positive fan reaction turned this survival-horror pioneer into an instant classic. So, let’s take a look at what makes this game so memorable, shall we?
Plot/Characters - 9.0/10
At first, the story seems pretty simple: an elite group of Raccoon City Police Department officers, the S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team, head into a local forest to investigate the disappearance of their counterparts, Bravo Team. Players control either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, the fabled “master of unlocking.” During their investigation, the Alpha Team, consisting of Chris, Jill, Barry Burton, and Albert Wesker, is forced to take shelter in a mysterious mansion after the sudden death of one of their teammates, Joseph Frost.
While inside the mansion, the team is separated, and they begin to investigate the fully furnished house, which seems to be devoid of any of residents. As you progress through the game, a sinister plot is uncovered through documents and interactions with other characters. In the end, the secret of the mansion is blown wide open, and what you discover is a conspiracy that spreads to all aspects of life in Raccoon City. It’s a lot of fun to watch the secrets of the mansion unfold before your eyes. The reveal of a major conspiracy is a very satisfying resolution to all of the player’s hard work. Even though the story is linear, it’s still easy to get sucked in by the drama.
Despite some awful voice acting (more on that later), the five main characters, which includes Bravo Team survivor Rebecca Chambers, are all very memorable, dynamic people. Despite some confusion due to multiple endings, all five have become main stays of the Resident Evil franchise. Jill’s character progression has been especially interesting to watch, and she is undoubtedly one of gaming’s most revered leading ladies.
Sound – 6.0/10
Despite pioneering the modern survival-horror genre, Resident Evil also receives a lot of flak for the voice acting, and, honestly, it’s justifiable – the voice acting was atrocious. The game starts out with a positively underwhelming and rather hilarious introduction sequence, which I’ll embed here for your viewing pleasure (fair warning, this is the uncut version of the opening, which features gratuitous gore and abysmal acting):
I don’t have a copy of the credits handy, but I think the actors from the introduction actually voiced the characters in the game as well. As I said, the voice acting is just dreadful. The problem doesn’t lie in the dialogue (it’s not exactly up to the Tarantino standard, but it’s just above average for a horror game), it’s the voice acting. There are so many memorable lines, mostly delivered by Barry, that have become running in-jokes in gaming circles. The following scene has Barry delivering one of his most quoted lines (the fabled “master of unlocking” bit):
The horrible voice-acting aside, the rest of the game audio is pretty good. The action in the game is usually guided by music clues: while you’re investigating, the music is moody and subtle, but when something crazy happens, you’re usually treated to some pulse-pounding interlude. The music helps set up a great atmosphere that lets you get absorbed into the horror.
Graphics – 7.0/10
There are some CGI cutscenes throughout the game (mostly 5-10 second vignettes of various creatures attacking and puzzles being solved), which are standard fare for 1996. The same goes for the graphics – they weren’t anything mind-blowing, but they were apt for the time. The character models were about as detailed as they could be in 1996, same for the rooms. Interactive objects stick out like a sore thumb, which makes the puzzles a bit easier to solve than they were intended to be.
Gameplay – 9.5/10
For me, Resident Evil’s gameplay is its best contribution to the evolution of gaming. While some people will complain about the fixed-camera system, I would defend it. It added a lot of drama and artistic flair to the game, even if it did make aiming a bit tricky. The combat is pretty tough, especially towards the beginning of the game when bullets are scarce. The inventory system forced you to wisely consider just what items you planned on bringing with you for investigation. The game’s puzzles are also a stand-out feature. While they certainly are the most primitive puzzles in the entire series, they’re still relatively demanding and plentiful. Boss battles are difficult, lightning-fast affairs that await behind so many unexpected corners. All of these elements come together to create a very unique gameplay environment: you need to solve puzzles, kill zombies (among other creatures), and investigate every nook and cranny.
Overall – 9.0/10
This was a great first entry in one of gaming’s longest running franchises. It has since been remade for GameCube and ported to the DS. The GameCube remake improved upon the original by retuning the dialogue, hiring competent voice actors, and expanding upon the story a bit more to bring it in line with the series’ continuity. Still, the original Resident Evil remains one of the PlayStation’s greatest hits. It started a tradition of (mostly) excellent and intuitive survival-horror gaming that still rings true today.
Stick with us for the rest of October, we’re going to take a look at some more horror classics and some of the current-gen games that are carrying the horror genre forward.