|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
When Resident Evil was first unloosed, gamers encountered the unexpected. Until then, the survival horror genre was nonexistent, and with every giant spider and fleshless dog Resident Evil unleashed, Capcom laid the floor plan for countless clones and sequels.
Both the genre and video game technology have progressed since that defining release of 1996. Capcom has applied both advances to a remake of the original Resident Evil, exclusively for the Nintendo GameCube.
The basic story remains the same: strange murders lead a rescue team to explore the outskirts of Raccoon City. When they become stranded in a mysterious mansion, their investigation reveals a mutating, out-of-control virus that's created a nest of grotesque creatures that thrive on human flesh. Players must find a plethora of esoteric items to decipher the mansion's riddles and advance to its deepest depths, where solutions and salvation may be found. Choose to be either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, each with unique strengths and storylines, in this third-person action-adventure game.
This video game has been done before, but never like this — and the familiarity is part of what makes it so exciting. Doors where there were once walls lead to new wings in the mansion. Veteran gamers will be both comfortable and disturbed in what they thought was a mansion they've already explored.
At the same time, it's still Resident Evil. Being six years old, nobody will remember where each key is; even if they did, the game's changed enough to make each endeavor new. But when bloodthirsty hounds come crashing through the windows, few people will be surprised.
Zombies abound, all willing to introduce the player to the "You Are Dead" game-over screen. These monstrosities absorb gunfire, knives, and immolation before finally succumbing to death. New weapons and defensive maneuvers are just barely enough to stave off these threats. Add the puzzles players are trying to solve while dodging undead assaults, and Resident Evil becomes an enjoyable yet malicious experience.
The game still uses a taxing save method that requires players to deplete a limited supply of ink ribbons, recording their progress with inconveniently-placed typewriters. Intentionally or not, this method encourages players to preserve ribbons by saving as infrequently as possible — making the inevitable, fatal error all the more damaging, as there will be that many more steps to retrace. The limited inventory increases such tedious backtracking to storage boxes. Eventually, learning to manage your on-hand items wisely will leave you better prepared for the situations you're likely to encounter.
Despite the GameCube's unusual controller design, Resident Evil's control scheme is surprisingly simple. As always, movement is from the character's perspective, not the player's. Since the camera is static and does not pan or zoom to follow the player's movement, this method of control works well; no matter how abruptly the camera angle changes, "Up" will always move the hero forward, and "Left" will always turn to his left. Two buttons are necessary to attack — one to draw a weapon, the second to fire — but again, this method has its benefits, such as preventing random strikes and thus preserving valuable ammunition.
Gamers have had years to experience the realistic worlds of the PlayStation 2's games, but Resident Evil is Nintendo GameCube's first demonstration of similar capability. The still camera angles showcase a magnificent manor, lit by the dynamic lighting of a swinging chandelier or sudden strike of lightning, casting shadows and reflections. Luigi's mansion is a pale shadow of this nightmare.
When nightmares become reality and hell breaks loose, the soundtrack will accompany the player in those tense moments. During less harried but equally dramatic moments, you'll notice the voice acting has gone from the original's laughably terrible quality to fairly decent.
The game's "Mature" rating is based primarily on graphic violence and intense situations. Younger gamers are less likely to imitate their in-game actions than they are to receive a good fright and maybe have trouble sleeping. Even the heroine, Jill Valentine, proves herself to not have an iron stomach, so Capcom expects mature gamers to be made of sterner stuff.
Resident Evil is a mix of old and new, making one of the best games of a generation ago into one of the best games of today. For those who have yet to experience survival, here's your first and best reason to buy a Nintendo GameCube and get in on the ground floor.
This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 13-May-02