The year was 1996 and gamers were foaming at the mouth by the graphical leap the CD based Sony PlayStation (these days known as the PS1) was able to achieve. Games were now in 3D and although many now laugh at the funky blocky graphics today, back then gamers were blow away by the difference compared to the 16 Bit systems that came before it.
Among the many releases in the early days of the PS1 was the very adult themed Resident Evil a game very unknown to gamers at the time. What began as one of the first games to coin the phrase ‘survival horror,’ turned to a grand legacy of a series which is still enjoyed today. This review is going to honour the original Resident Evil (or Biohazard for the Japanese release).
Resident Evil's story is focused around the characters of Chris Redfield a muscle bound macho who despite his physique can't carry more than six items and Jill Valentine the character most gamers played with because her story was a lot easier and is the ‘master of unlocking.’ You are a member of S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics And Rescue Squad), the guy who thought of this group probably just really wanted their initials to spell STARS. You are part of alpha team and have been sent up the mountains to investigate what happened to bravo team who you lost contact with. Soon you find all is not well in dem hills as you are chased into a suspicious mansion by some dogs. The intro movie is played out by real actors and if playing the PAL release this introduction is in black and white and heavily censored. I highly recommend watching the unedited video on YouTube for a comparison which is from the Japanese game which is in full colour and has no censorship so you can see it in all its gory B-Movie style glory.
Once in the mansion you quickly realise all is not well and the place is full of various monsters including Zombies, Spiders, Snakes, Sharks and even killer bees. It’s up to the player to get to the bottom of this mystery and most importantly survive in the process. You can pick either Chris or Jill as your character and the story will play out slightly differently, though you can make a couple of decisions in the game throughout the story which will affect the outcomes. Each character has four different endings that are in slight ways created through your choices.
The most notable gameplay mechanic is the restriction of ammo and health items. You really can’t just waste ammo and use health kits constantly as you quickly realise every bullet counts and if you conserve items you will have a better chance of tackling some of the games compulsory bosses which must be defeated to progress. Fortunately most enemies and even a few boss fights can be avoided with some clever manoeuvring of your chosen character. However, this skill takes time to master as most new to this genre will struggle with the games tank like controls and tricky aiming system. When using a weapon you need to aim towards the enemy and aim high, low or straight on. The closer you are to the Zombie etc the more damage you do though that comes at the risk of being hit.
Your character is also limited to how much they can carry. Chris can only carry six items, whereas Jill can only carry eight. Why a key takes up the same amount of space as a rocket launcher is still puzzling today however, it adds to the tension and survival horror aspects of the game. Anything you can’t carry can be stored in handy item boxes found throughout the mansion or you’ll just have to leave it behind.
You have a couple of weapons which will vary depending on which character you choose in the campaign both can obtain the basic pistol and powerful shotgun however, Chris will find a slick magnum and flame-thrower in his campaign whereas Jill will find a bad ass Bazooka (though it’s really a grenade launcher) which can be equipped with different ammo types.
Each character also has a support character. Jill has Mr Barry Burton a man’s man equipped with a magnum and a beard who protects Jill at times of great danger and has many one liners you I’ll never forget. Then Chris has poor old feeble Rebecca Chambers a girl just eighteen years old who somehow has made the rank of medic and really acts like more of a nuisance in Chris’ campaign then a assistance. Either way their fates are in your hands and both will pop up at various points throughout each story.
Graphics, well lets be flat out honest the models are starting to look a bit blocky and dated by today’s standards. Those nostalgic about the series will still love the game for what it is however, it is hard not to ignore that weapons like the shotgun look like a plank of wood when equipped by your character. What has easily stood the test of time is the games pre rendered backgrounds which are fixed environments in a fixed camera prospective. This is one of the games many clever ways to make use of its hardware restrictions, With the camera being fixed you generally dread what might be round the next corner on your first playthrough, you may hear the footsteps of a Zombie or the sound of steaming pipes all adding to the games impressive use of horror. On that note when you enter a door the game cleverly hides the loading screen by showing you a first person perspective of the door being opened.
Resident Evil has an impressive soundtrack which plays occasionally in certain rooms of the mansion, always un-nerving and ominous and well suited to the horror nature. Sound effects from the enemies and characters are also handled well but the most memorable is the absolutely horrible voice acting. I say it’s horrible but it is by far the most memorable part of your experience playing this game. You’ll hear classic lines like ‘Jill Sandwich,’ and many more completely taking you out of the horror experience and leaving you rolling on the floor laughing. Most gamers will love it for what it is but some may feel it detracts them from the horror experience.
Capcom's hit is not a long game which makes it perfect for gamers with busy lives. Each campaign should take no more than six hours which will shorten significantly the more you play it as it’s fairly easy to memorise the quickest route through the game. The play session can be saved on a typewriter, which are in fixed locations and require an ink ribbon to use. Both campaigns have some variations even though you will travel through the same environments but it gives you enough reason to experience both campaigns. For your efforts you can unlock extra costumes and weapons provided you obtain a high enough rank at the end, a rank which is based upon the amount of time to complete it, how many times you died and how many times you saved during the playthrough.
Verdict:- Resident Evil really hasn’t aged well in terms of graphics but still holds up very well today when discussing gameplay. It will make you jump from the various scares the game has to offer and it will make you laugh with it’s hilarious and bad voice acting.
This is one experience any fan of horror must try and essential for collectors of the PS1 system. If you’re on the fence and have never experienced a survival horror game before you may find this quite a tough ride the first time through. Once you get used to the mechanics and figure out the best way to save ammo and health though you should have one hell of an enjoyable ride.
Second Opinion:- Transbot struggles with the first Resident Evil as when he first saw it run on a Japanese PS1 he was blown away however over time games that employ these rubbish Tomb Raider style controls feel clunky and quite frankly annoying at times to play.
Sure the other games also had the same controls however they had larger areas to manouver in and vastly better stories and voice acting and graphics that had more than 5 colours in them, Resident Evil is still good but no longer great.
Transbot Scores:- 6 out of 10