Resident evil: An all-time classic shambles back

Almost no early 3D games have survived the ravages of time. As ambitious designers wrestled to create strange, new genres, everything from third person shooters to open-world RPGs, they also pushed the capabilities of the day’s technology to its limits. Capcom’s Resident Evil, originally released in 1996, has now been remade several times in the battle against obsolescence the curation process for one of the Japanese giant’s most important franchises. Shinji Mikami’s survival-horror classic was and still is a brilliant design, regardless of its era, but now those roots show.

This is because Resident Evil for Xbox 360 and Xbox One is not a ground-up rebuilding of the original game, but a prettier and widescreen version of the 2002 remake for Nintendo’s GameCube platform. Not necessarily a bad thing, because the GameCube remake was excellent, and this re-release genuinely builds atop it with new elements such as surround sound. But it does mean that Resident Evil’s visual technique of fixed camera angles on rendered backgrounds remains, a defining feature that gives the whole enterprise a period feel.


Capcom gets away with it, for the most part, because the visual design was so strong in the first place, and director Mikami uses the restriction so cleverly. All of Resident Evil’s camera angles are carefully chosen windows that offer a view of a small part of a larger area. The game plays with this constantly, often forcing you to walk towards the screen (and the source of some grim off-screen groaning noise), pushing the angle uncomfortably close while exploring, or hiding monsters just at the peripheries.

Resident Evil is all about atmosphere, and the way in which you see the world is everything. Certain angles are designed to resemble those of security cameras, making you feel like an observer rather than a controller, while others obscure your vision of dark corners. It feels unusual in 2015, where nearly every third-person game has a free camera, to be so unapologetically manhandled by a developer.

This is a theme that runs through Resident Evil’s design, and the one thing that has been lost by its sequels and imitators over the years. This is a game about managing scant resources in a fraught atmosphere, where the survival is every bit as important to the feel of things as the horror. A brutally limited inventory (six items for Chris and eight items for Jill, the two playable characters) means you’re always being forced to juggle the priorities of firepower and puzzle-solving, and a simple lack of ammo is the backbone for everything. Never mind carrying spare clips if you just have a loaded weapon, it feels like a minor victory.

This effect helps to mitigate some of Resident Evil’s issues, primarily that this is not a combat-focused experience. In contrast to later series high point Resident Evil 4, the shooting here is much more perfunctory and the challenge is finding the right position and time to stop, take aim and fire. The challenge is in the situations and not in lining up a headshot, which fits beautifully with the oppressive atmosphere and gives even the simplest encounter an edge misjudge how many shots a random zombie will take (the number’s always different) and they’ll be on you in a flash.

Tender Prey
Chris and Jill also die easily, and the original save system remains which spaces typewriters around the locations and demands you manually save your progress by using consumable ink ribbons. Again this technique is absolutely foreign to  2015, where we’re used to being checkpointed everywhere, and the first time you lose half an hour’s progress through your own lack of caution is infuriating. But it gives every decision you make about criss-crossing this deadly environment a consequential feel that, crude as the technique is, would be impossible to create any other way.
“Survival is every bit as important to the feel of things as the horror”
And it is the environments that, ultimately, are the game’s star. Arklay Mansion is one of gaming’s all-time great settings, an opulent labyrinth of arcane puzzles and secret rooms that gradually unlocks as you explore. Grisly surprises are packed into almost every corner and, in one of the remake’s best additions to the original design, enemies burst out of hiding places and come back to life as you move back and forth across the rooms. These moments are scripted rather than dynamic, but they make the mansion feel much less static always catching the unwary off-guard.

Resident Evil is a game of its time, but it’s also one of the best games of all time. from those first steps into the abandoned mansion to the final assault on an underground laboratory, the pace gathers and gathers to an unforgettable climax. Aspects such  as the save system can feel archaic and unfairly restrictive to a modern  sensibility, though their effect is as powerful as ever.

Playing this now is a little like watching a classic hitchcock movie the rear projection shots are obvious, but you roll with them for the overall experience. And despite Resident  Evil’s huge success and many subsequent sequels, nothing has  ever really got close to the thrill of the first time.

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