Back in the 90s, I took Resident Evil very seriously. I loved the claustrophobic environments, the puzzle and exploration aspects, and, of course, the zombies. With Halloween rapidly approaching, and the release of Operation Raccoon City just a few months away, it seemed like as good time as any to head back to Raccoon City and revisit the title that kicked off one of gaming's longest-running horror franchises. So I downloaded Resident Evil: Director's Cut from PlayStation Network and reintroduced myself to an old friend.
Well, I very quickly realized I had probably taken the series far too seriously back in 1996. Resident Evil has what is probably the worst intro in all of video game history. It's a live-action scene that introduces players to the 90s clichés that make up the cast of this game. I'm assuming it was also supposed to introduce the fact that this game was going to be scary, but it fails pretty hard at that. If the acting wasn't already bad enough, the voices don't match the lip movements, and the characters—who, I remind you, are real people—run like cartoon characters. It's more like Scooby Doo and the gang running from some guy dressed as a monster than a team of police specially trained for rescue missions.
The poor acting—if you could even call it acting—persists through the rest of the game. In fact, to this day, Resident Evil's voice acting is seen as some of the worst in the history of gaming. In an era when video game voice acting is finally starting to come around, the infamous "Jill sandwich" and "master of unlocking" lines are more hilarious than ever.
But at least the gameplay was good, right? Sorry, but no. The controls are simply awful, and made even worse by the inclusion of analog stick support in the final version of the game (the Dual Shock version). Left and right on the D-pad steer your character left and right, respectively, and up moves your character forward. This is horribly awkward, and will inevitably lead to countless zombie-inflicted, swear word-inducing deaths.
Now, one thing I had always loved about Resident Evil was that it kept your ammo in such short supply. It made the zombies a lot more intimidating, and forced you into situations where you had to seriously consider running away rather than shooting your way through a room full of zombies. Maybe I just don't have the amount of patience I had back in the 90s, but this got very frustrating very fast. In the entire first few hours of the game, your ammo is ridiculously limited, often forcing you into excruciatingly difficult situations with absolutely no ammo.
To make all this about a hundred times worse is the fact that Resident Evil has one of the worst save systems in all of gaming. You can only save at typewriters scattered around the mansion environment, yet saving will cost you a typewriter ribbon. Just like ammo, these ribbons are in short supply. You can never be sure whether spending a ribbon is the wise thing to do, and those who take a conservative approach to ribbon hoarding will most likely find themselves losing hours of progress to a completely unfair death at the hands of an awful control scheme. In fact, I now attribute my tendency to be a hoarder in the games I play to the scars Resident Evil left on my fragile mind back in the 90s.
If the save system wasn't bad enough on its own, it's coupled with a terrible inventory system. Your character has eight inventory slots total, and your typewriter ribbons will take one of these. On top of that, your knife will take one (which you always want to have on you since you're guaranteed to run out of ammo), and each gun you want to carry will take one slot for the weapon itself, and a second slot for ammo. Now, when you have a ribbon, a handgun, a shotgun, a knife, ammo, and one healing item, you'll have one slot left for puzzle items. You can store things in chests, yet you're going to do an absurd amount of backtracking in order to solve any of the puzzles in the game.
And that's if you play as Jill. Chris, on the other hand, only has six inventory slots. Playing as Christ requires patience, repetition, and incredible amount of foresight. Or a strategy guide.
But even with the awfully cheesiness of the whole thing and the abysmal gameplay flaws, Resident Evil still manages to do some things that are still worth noting fifteen years later. The main thing here is the atmosphere. Skewed camera angles and mazelike configurations of hallways and doors make the mansion environment constantly feel like a place where things aren't quite right. And sure, the camera angles keep your visibility low, but that makes it even more frightening when all of a sudden a zombie latches onto you and starts biting.
To this day, probably my favorite feature of Resident Evil is the option to select between two playable characters, each with a mostly different storyline. Playing as Chris isn't just a retread of Jill's story, and vice versa. Both characters have their own plot threads.
And it's not just the cutscenes and dialogue that have been changed. Each character has a drastically different skill set, meaning you will solve puzzles, explore rooms, and pick up items in a different order depending on which character you play. For example, Jill can pick some locks that Chris needs to hunt down a key for (she is the "master of unlocking," after all.)
In both cases, the environment is exactly the same, yet playing as each character is almost an entirely different game. In fact, there's a chance that this was, on some level, inspiration for the recent Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, a "what if" retelling of Dead Rising 2 with Frank West as the protagonist instead of Chuck Greene. The fact that Capcom is still exploiting the "alternative story" formula proves that it has at least some staying power.
Resident Evil broke a lot of new ground back when it first came out in 1996. However, since then, the gaming industry has evolved and left relics like this one behind. The game still has some entertainment value, but at the expense of gameplay mechanics that make it damn near unplayable. While I enjoyed this look back to a simpler time in gaming, I'm glad we've come so far since then. I don't know how many more times I could see my character run awkwardly into a wall while a pack of zombies shambles closer.
By Josh Wirtanen
CCC Editor / Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*