If there’s one thing I love about being a gaming consumer, it’s the idea of the bundle sale. I’ve always held websites like Humble Bundle in high regard for allowing its customers to purchase handfuls of high-quality games for pocket-change prices, should that be the price they choose to pay. As a console plebeian, it’s pretty unfortunate that a system like this doesn’t exist for platforms I can actually play games on without it exploding into millions of expensive pieces. But thanks to a Resident Evil super bundle I found during a recent “Games Japan Loves” sale on the PSN, I’m now in possession of just about every main-stream Resident Evil game available for the low price of $25AUD. This excludes Resident Evil: Revelations 2, but from what I’ve seen of it, I won’t be playing any miniature violins any time soon over that.
As much as I’d like to say I bought this bundle because I love the franchise, this sadly isn’t the case. To be honest, beyond Resident Evil 4, I’ve never actually played any of the Resident Evil games. Despite that, however, I’ve always been interested in the series and just how it’s grown to be so popular over its almost two decade life-span. I’ve always wondered how a PS1 horror game with some of the cheesiest dialogue and horrible voice acting imaginable turned into a well-known series that has spawned, including spin-offs, over twenty entries.
And so, with this bundle of ten games, I’ve decided to finally look beyond the hilarious “Jill sandwich” videos and find out what made these games resonate so well with its audiences. Who knows, maybe documenting what I discover for you guys might be interesting as you read me going from game to game. While I’m not looking forward to the fifth and sixth main series entries, I get the feeling you all will at least get to enjoy some schadenfreude from those articles. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s begin our journey through the Resident Evil franchise where it all began: Resident Evil for the PS1. Well, more specifically, Resident Evil: Directors Cut. I did get all of these from a bundle after all.
So Much Cheese
To start off, while I know I said I wanted to look past the cheesy dialogue and bad voice acting that the first game has basically become infamous for, fuck me if it isn’t incredibly hard not to look past it. As a massive fan of cheesy crap, I find it incredibly unfair not to bring attention to the first minutes of the game that are in my favourite kind of 90s game introduction style: An FMV cut scene. Not even five minutes into this game and I’ve seen acting that I can only describe as “Super Scowl 3”, horrible lip syncing, quick action cuts and finally, the cheesy la crème of the whole piece, a casting call of the game’s characters which has their actors perform action poses for the camera. My personal favourite of the bunch being Wesker’s “give no shits, but gotta look pretty” hair-combing pose.
“Okay…” I thought as I stared at my television in stunned, yet gleeful silence. “Well surely the voice acting can’t be as bad as everyone says. I only ever see those ‘master of unlocking’ and ‘Jill sandwich’ scenes whenever someone wanted to make fun of the game”
Lack of Control
But seriously, cheese aside, there were a lot of design decisions I found myself being impressed by as the game went on. But before I get to those, I do want to mention my one issue with the game that shows the wrinkles of its age just a little too much: the lack of overall control, both of the character and the camera. From a modern perspective, the tank controls are just horrendous to work with most of the time and controller-snappingly frustrating when you need to react to something quickly, like a boss’ attack for example. I completely understand this was likely due to the technological limitations at the time, but would a quick-turn feature have been so hard to have while I’m trying to Indiana Jones from a boulder rolling towards me?
I also get the idea that the lack of camera control is meant to assist in the game’s horror and can even set up some really good angles for the scares. While it may not be scary today, the famous “dog jumping through window” moment early on in the game is still framed in such a way that I totally get how that made kids of the 90s shit themselves. But unfortunately, the game’s static fixed camera was more of a hindrance than anything during gameplay, especially when in combination with the stilted camera controls. It was far too easy to end up running into the loving arms of a zombie or hunter around a corner I couldn’t see behind. Not because I was playing recklessly, mind you. But rather because an enemy I couldn’t see was a centimetre outside of the current camera angle, ending up with me taking a surprise hit when the next camera angle showed that enemy a second too late.
Lack of camera control can lead to some awesome scares in these sorts of games, yes. It can make you feel like you’re being watched by something that isn’t the game’s “camera” and cause you unease. But the way it’s implemented in Resident Evil feels more like the enemies bribed it twenty bucks to help them out in getting a free taste of Jill sandwich.
Modern gamer whining aside, let’s talk about the stuff I found interesting during my playthrough. For starters, I really like just how differently the main characters Chris and Jill play, to the point that both let you play a completely different game from the other despite exploring the exact same locations.
Take for example how both characters acquire the shotgun. In Jill’s campaign, she can get access to the shotgun within about ten minutes into starting the game through use of her lockpick, as well as avoid the crushing ceiling trap in the next room thanks to having her partner character, Barry, with her. Chris’ campaign on the other hand involves a whole hassle of finding not only the right keys to access the room that the shotgun is found in, but also finding a broken shotgun first in order to do an Indiana Jones style sandbag trick to avoid the previously mentioned ceiling trap. Both campaigns follow different paths of progression and are overall paced very differently as a result.
Oddly enough, I’ve noticed a strange assumption amongst a lot of gamers that Jill’s campaign is actually the easier of the two. While I will admit that this assumption did lead me to playing and finishing the game as Jill, the short time I spent playing Chris’ campaign leads me to think otherwise on that idea. In my mind, one campaign really just balances the other out. Jill’s gameplay focuses primarily on exploration due to her slow movement and combat speed, her lock pick that lets her open locked doors earlier on than Chris, and a larger inventory space than Chris’. Meanwhile Chris focuses a lot more on combat, having more health, being able to move much faster, and being more proficient at using weapons than Jill is, allowing enemies to go down much faster without using as much ammo as Jill would.
That being said, considering how much of the game involves exploration, I’d probably recommend Jill to a first-time player as her abilities allow for newcomers to deal with the game’s rather strict mechanics, which are strangely enough my favourite thing about Resident Evil.
Stress Replacing Horror
While I can definitely see what would have scared its audience back in the 90s, I think it’s safe to say that Resident Evil’s blocky graphics, bad voice acting and cheesy FMV opening sequence make it incredibly hard for a modern audience to find scary. I will give it one thing, however, I really like how most of the game’s enemies have no ceremony to them. While in a lot of modern horror games, a new enemy requires a cutscene to show off how much of a threat they are to the player, the exact opposite can be said for Resident Evil.
Basically, when it’s time for a new enemy to appear, they’ll simply be there. Rather than relying on a cutscene to show off how much of a threat the enemy is, the game leaves the player’s imagination to run wild against what they don’t know. When the player sees a zombie dog crash through a window behind them, they immidately panic and ask themselves things like “How will this thing attack me?”, “How will it move around?”, and “How can it be killed quickly so as to not waste any ammo?”
Hell, the one time the game uses a cutscene to introduce its Hunter enemy, you don’t even see the thing until the gameplay resumes, further cementing that worry over the unknown.
If the Resident Evil 7 trailer is any indication, we may see this use of the unknown return to the series once more.
But even if the game won’t be able to scare a modern audience, it sure as hell knows how to stress you the fuck out thanks to some of those strict gameplay mechanics. Because the characters have such a limited amount of inventory spaces, Jill with eight and Chris with six, Resident Evil forces the player to carefully consider what they’ll need to take with them as they travel between each save room’s universal chest. The player needs to manage everything from their healing items, weapons, ammo for those weapons, door keys and even puzzle pieces.
While this may be alright to deal with when backtracking through familiar territory, it’s when the player enters new areas that this limitation starts to pile on the stress. It adds a new level of tension that always makes sure that you’re never completely comfortable with your situation, making you second guess your decisions as you leave the safety of the save rooms and making you wonder if you’re really equipped to handle what will be in the next unexplored room. And then there’s the matter of saving the game.
In Resident Evil, saving is done through the use of Ink Ribbons, consumable items that can be found as you explore the game’s various locales. Whenever you find a typewriter, usually found in the game’s few-and-far-between save rooms, you can use one of these ribbons to save your progress. It’s a deceptively simple mechanic that very quickly turns into another area of tension and stress for the player due to the simple matter that they, much like ammo and health items, are a very limited resource.
Suddenly you have a countdown as to how many more times you can save unless you start becoming more daring with your exploration so that you can find more ink ribbons to push that counter up just a little more. And it’s because of this resource management that saving in itself becomes an additional area of tension.
As a result of this, the player needs to start thinking about when they save the game, making sure that they aren’t wasting a valuable resource in the process. Do they save when they’ve made some new progress from finding new important item to open a new door or finish a puzzle? Do they save when they have a good amount of health and ammo and can explore an unexplored area? Or do they save while they’re close to death with low ammo and health purely because they haven’t saved within the last hour? I really want to see mechanics like this in more games that tie its core gameplay elements into how players save their progress.
Despite my issues with the game’s clunky controls and bad camera, I have to say that my experience with Resident Evil was a good one. Like I mentioned earlier, I feel like the game has lost its overall horror factor on a modern audience, but that’s not to say that the game doesn’t hold up today. From a modern perspective, because I hadn’t really experienced the mechanics I praised a moment ago in other games, if ever before, I actually found them to be incredibly refreshing. Even though I’m only one game into the series, I’m beginning to see how it became such an adored franchise. Honestly, as I move onto Resident Evil 2, I just hope sequels cut back a little on the distracting cheesiness. But that will have to wait until next time.
Are you ready, players?