Resident Evil – PlayStation
Release Date: March 22, 1996
Genre: Survival Horror
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
Reviewed by: InfiniteKnife
By now, most gamers are familiar with at least one iteration of the Resident Evil (Biohazard, in Japan) franchise and those that love horror games, like myself, will always appreciate how it all began. After growing up playing a lot of 2D platformers, sports titles, and RPGs, Resident Evil explored some new territory. This game is basically the reason that “survival horror” even became a video game genre and it brought a lot of really neat elements to gaming that most of us hadn’t seen much of until its 1996 release.
There was a lot going on with this game that made it stand out from other titles during the late 90s, first of which being the M rating. Resident Evil was one of the first games to have this rating, and with good reason. A lot of stuff was trying to kill you and as one would expect, there is blood, lots of blood.
The game also had an opening cutscene that had real-life actors playing the parts of their in-game counterparts. I would compare the intro sequence to a 90’s TV show where it goes through the list of main characters, each doing some kind of unique action while their name is voiced over. This was pretty cheesy but along with the notoriously bad dialogue throughout the game, it was part of what made it so memorable. (Jill sandwich, anyone?)
Resident Evil starts by showing news reports of a series of attacks on citizens of Raccoon City, a suburban town somewhere in the U.S. The reports claim that people were being attacked, killed, and eaten by other people, without much other information. An elite squad of the Raccoon City PD known as S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Services) sent by helicopter to investigate reports that these attackers may be coming from an old mansion on the outskirts of the city.
Bravo team (Richard Aiken, Rebecca Chambers, Edward Dewey, Enrico Marini, Forest Speyer, and Kenneth Sullivan) is dispatched first and after their helicopter goes down, Alpha team (Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Albert Wesker, Barry Burton, Joseph Frost, and Brad Vickers) fly in after them.
They find the pilot dead in the cockpit without any sign of the rest of the team and are soon attacked (*Spoiler Alert* Joseph doesn’t make it) by some bloodthirsty dogs, causing them to take refuge in the mansion. The remaining team members are split up and depending on which character you chose to play as (more on that later), you’ll start in the main hall with 3 characters (yourself and 2 others) who decide in true horror fashion that it’s a good idea to split up, leaving you alone to explore the giant creepy house by yourself.
The object of the game is to uncover the mystery of the mansion, which is achieved by reading notes and memos left in different rooms, solving puzzles, and just plain surviving. Resident Evil is deeper than just “get from Point A to Point B” and “kill all the bad guys.” You need to get through the story, sure, but to get there, you need to navigate a huge map, solve puzzles which often involve backtracking to previous areas (using the in-game map and having a good memory are invaluable), and perhaps most importantly, manage your resources well.
Resource management was one of the things that really made this game exciting and memorable, not to mention add to the anxiety/scare factor. Not only were you in a hostile environment where the undead and other kinds of mutated baddies were lurking around, ready to jump out (and there was plenty of jumping out!), but the amount of health and ammunition found throughout the game is nothing like modern games we see today where every enemy killed and crate busted drops bullets.
There are many times where you may enter a room with 3 zombies but only have 10 rounds left in your handgun, are low on health, and have to know that sometimes the best strategy is to retreat and live to fight another day. Only problem there is that you may be in for a surprise if you don’t remember which room you left enemies in and find yourself having to go back later on. The feeling of being alone in this intense environment paired with darkness and aggressive enemies really do a great job of instilling that sense of horror (hence, survival horror) you feel during play.
The controls for Resident Evil (and its next several successors) were pretty terrible and hard to get the hang of. You walk forward and backward with up and down on the D-pad (respectively) and could run by holding the Square button. Turning was done by using left and right, but the issue was, moving and turning at the same time was way easier said than done, which made for some frustration in certain tight spots that resulted in some damage being taken or in some cases, death.
Combat was not overly complicated. You equip a weapon from your inventory, hold R1 to aim (you could turn and aim at a 45 degree angle up or down) and reloaded by either trying to shoot after emptying your gun magazine (which will auto-reload in game), or by combining ammo with the gun in the menu. Weapons available include a handgun, shotgun, grenade launcher, magnum, rocket launcher, and combat knife.
I told you I’d get back to playable characters (and you thought I forgot, p’sh!) of which there are 2 to choose from. You can play as Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine and unlike later RE games, there was a significant difference in them which made for somewhat different play experiences. Chris is able to take more damage but had only 6 inventory slots, whereas Jill had lower health but had 8 slots. Each character also had an exclusive personal item that would not take up one of the main inventory slots. Chris has a lighter which, as one might expect, can be used to light things like fireplaces and the like, and Jill (being the “Master of Unlocking”) has a lockpick.
Both Chris and Jill are able to access the areas that his lighter and her lockpick open up, however Jill has to find a lighter and use a main inventory spot to hold it, and rather than a lockpick, Chris finds small keys that can be used to unlock the areas Jill accesses via her lockpick.
Another neat (and sometimes frustrating) feature of the early Resident Evil games was that all the backgrounds and play environments were pre-rendered. This means that when you reach a certain point of the screen, the viewing angle is changed from one static background to another and the moving parts (like enemies) were able to move around inside it. A benefit to this is that the environments looked pretty good for a PSX game and I would argue better than if all environments were fully 3D rendered. As one can imagine, it was scary as hell to come around a corner and have your view change to an awkward angle and have an enemy just off screen have an easy crack at you. At certain points, it was difficult to adjust to the viewing angle change on the fly which made rounding corners very nervous times.
The inventory system was an interesting way to store your found items, but realistically, it doesn’t make much sense in that a handgun and a key take up the same amount of space. To help alleviate some of that frustration (and a crap ton of backtracking), there are large boxes scattered in safe rooms around the game that carry (apparently using magic portals) your stored items between them all. Saving is done by collecting ink ribbons and using typewriters that are usually found with item boxes. There were a finite number of these ribbons, so a player would have to be mindful of how often they saved, again adding to some of the anxiety of the game.
As the Resident Evil series is one of my (if not the number 1) favorite game franchises of all time and I could go on and on about how cool and memorable they are, but rather than ruin any surprises, I’ll just leave you by saying that if you’re a fan of horror and bad dialog, you should definitely dust of the old PlayStation and check this one out.
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