Plot: A STARS tactical assault team are sent to a mansion to investigate the disappearance of one of their squads. However, upon arrival, things go wrong fast…
Resident Evil is one of those games that has gone a little out of control. The series always had more ambition than being just another zombie game, so as the games began mounting up, the story got a little too much, conspiracy after conspiracy, not to mention the zombies picked up the ability to use AK-47s. However, returning to the original game, although it still definitely is more than just another zombie game, is a great feeling, as you revisit where this monumental gaming series began.
I love the pacing of this game. Seeing as I am used to the dizzying set-pieces of Resident Evil 5 and 6 (the sixth game fracturing the gameplay into several smaller stories), I appreciated that the entire game is fixed into one location. While you are allowed to break out of the mansion for short periods of time (venturing into the underground lab and the terrifying shack out in the woods), most of the game is set in the same building. No matter where you are in the game, it is always possible to retrace your footsteps and end up in that main hall, where you first started. In many ways, it is pretty much an open world game, only the world is very confined and minimalist (perhaps inspiring Arkham Asylum to a point). It helps make Resident Evil feel more grounded as well as making some of the set-pieces feel like cult-worthy locations. It creates this claustrophobic atmosphere as well, making the player wonder whether they can actually escape this nightmare at the end of the story. Every room is used to its full potential, highlighted by a plot twist, where all the zombies you killed reanimate into the faster and stronger Crimson Heads, suddenly making every cleared point in the game another deadly shootout. The game also has tailored endings. It is nothing like Walking Dead, where the season can end in any number of ways, but you might leave the game with all the supporting cast killed off. It works as incentive to replay the game once you’re done with it. Sure, you might have made it out of Resident Evil, but aren’t you tempted to go back and make sure that Barry Burton survives this time around. Talking of replaying, Resident Evil is actually split into two modes, one where you play as Chris Redfield, the other where you’re taking on the game as Jill Valentine. The games don’t offer much difference, but just another originality to make it worth restarting your saving. It is interesting finishing as Redfield and then going back to see what Jill was doing, while all of this was going on. Essentially, you get two games for the price of one.
Resident Evil gets a bit of stick from critics, whenever it is reflected upon. The combat system is a struggle. Whenever you want to shoot something, you have to physically stop running and aim your gun. You also better hope that the lumbering zombie doesn’t strafe, as readjusting your aim is a frustrating process. The inventory spaces are also limited, meaning that progress often grinds to a halt, when you realise that you cannot pick up the key you need, because you made the decision to bring additional ammo or a second key you thought you might end up needing. Then there are the camera angles, which often throw you into a fight, with no clear view of what you are meant to be shooting at. However, for me, these flaws are what make Resident Evil such a great experience. The dodgy combat makes the fear factor excellent. Sure, the zombies are slow, but because of the poor aiming system, you’re slow as well. It becomes a terrifying race for time, as you have to get out your gun, aim and then finally take off a shot. Besides, horror games are no fun when your protagonist is too good at what he does (the weaknesses behind Dead Space, The Evil Within, the later Resident Evils…). The restricted fighting makes you feel like the victim and the nightmare intensifies. The same goes for the crazy camera angles. There is nothing scarier about hearing the growl of ‘something’ in the room with you and having to quickly figure out where it is coming from. It also makes some frames of Resident Evil glorious. One moment sees your character wander into a room, see a zombie jump out of you, but it turns out you are being tricked into shooting the zombie’s reflection in the mirror. As the glass shatters, you feel cold, dead hands wrap around the back of your neck. Genius direction. Then there is the hardest flaw to defend: the inventory system. Sure, it has caused me to growl at the screen quite a few times, but it does make the gaming experience feel more tactical. You’re in a safe room and you’ve got to make the conscious decision of what you need to take with you to the next segment of the game. Do you leave a free space in your inventory, or fill it with some potentially life-saving First Aid? Do you take that key you might end up needing or are you more inclined to scope out the next corridor with some extra shotgun ammo? Yes, it is annoying, but it is also strangely charming, totally nailing that Resident Evil feel that has taken it to cult status.
There are some flaws that I cannot overlook. The obvious one is the poor voice acting and clumsy story-telling. Some might add this to the nostalgic column (so bad, it’s good kind of thing), but seeing as the actual story behind this game is intriguing, it feels wasted on clipped cut-scenes and under-cooked twists. It is funny for that opening scene, but when you’re in the lab, taking on the final boss, you want the cut-scenes to act as a reward, rather than a painful thing to sit through. Worst of all is the lack of hints throughout the game. The limited inventory space I can live with, but it is the lack of objective markers that stop Resident Evil from being the perfect game we want it to be. There are several moments in the game, where you complete a section and just sit there, confused: what now? There aren’t enough hints at what needs to be done, often leading to wandering around the labyrinth-like mansion, hoping to stumble across a trigger for the next objective. One moment needs you to race to a marker to save a supporting character, but the game fails to tell you that it is a timed mission. I failed to save a character, because of poor game design, which is a teeth-grinding moment. I felt adrift, making the game unnecessarily bloated and slower. Perhaps other players will forgive it in light of other moments of brilliance. Some of the jump scares are terrific (those dogs jumping through the window!), certain boss fights are expertly designed and the saving system is pretty impressive. You are given a limited number of times to save the game: do you risk making it to the next save spot without dying or do you waste an ink ribbon? Nerve-racking.
Final Verdict: It might have aged badly, but Resident Evil is still surprisingly efficient at bringing the scares. The best survival horror? Very possibly…