Scathing Post-Juletide Reviews, Pt. 4: GameCube’s Resident Evil

I consider myself a fan of the Resident Evil franchise. (Not including the atrocious live-action Hollywood films.) My favourite has always been the first game in the series, released for the PlayStation back in 1996. It was unlike anything I’d ever played before. I had an intriguing story (I had no idea what was behind the zombies) and it had gore (or at least blood), neither elements I’d encountered much before in the medium of video games. Not to mention the great graphics and sound. For an eleven-year old, it was pretty impressive.

In 2002, a remade version of the original game was released for the GameCube. This is not just a graphically enhanced version of the first game; many of the rooms and the layout of the mansion are different, there are different puzzles and diary entries, more types of enemies, and new cutscenes with new dubs. It’s a newly imagined version of the same game, which will both seem familiar and new to those who played the original. I’ve had this version laying around for a few years now, still sealed in plastic, and I’ve been meaning to play through it. I decided to treat myself by finally doing so this Christmas.

My feelings about the game are mixed. Here’s some scathing criticism.

The graphics are very dark. So dark, in fact, that it can be hard to make out what’s on the screen. By contrast, the original game was rather bright. Having dark, subdued visuals has been a trend in video games for some years now, which critics often ridicule, giving everything a dark tone to make it seem gritty and mature. No baby blue or pinks here, only all the manliest shades of brown and grey. But making things darker don’t always equal making them scarier; sometimes it just makes things hard to see and properly navigate, giving the player some un-needed frustration.

In the game, you need to use ink ribbons on typewriters in order to save your progress. It’s a novel concept, and it’s supposed to increase your sense of horror when playing it, not being able to save your progress willy nilly, but many just find it frustrating. I’ve normally not had a big problem with the system, but I guess I maybe saved a bit too vigorously when playing this as I eventually suffered a bit of a shortage, having to ration my ink ribbons and playing through some larger chunks without saving (and without dying). A few times I had to play through the same parts several times due to a shortage of ink ribbons, during which I’d occasionally mute the sound and listen to various podcasts to entertain myself, which arguably detracted from the whole horror thing.

And at times it felt more like some kind of resource management and route planning game. I needed to figure out how I could get from point A to B without encountering enemies, as enemy encounters would cause me to waste ammunition and health items, or possibly dying and having to waste time playing my way to where I was. I’d also need to plan what items I needed to bring along or which I might need to pick up in what rooms, not wanting to waste time backtracking, and then when and where I should use one of the ink ribbons (and I’d occasionally “spoil” the game a bit by looking in a walkthrough to when I’d find the next few ink ribbons, so I could plan better).

In the original games most of the rooms were lit by lamps, but in the remake several rooms are illuminated by living candles. Arguably a bit more atmospheric, but definitely not very practical or realistic, as keeping the lights lit would require a lot of work from the mansion’s residents. And given that by the time you arrive at the mansion all the humans have either been killed, zombified, or escaped, why are the candle lights still lit? You would’ve thought the candles would’ve burnt out by then, or maybe even some zombie knocking them them over and starting a fire.

A common joke regarding the game is how much a pain in the ass it must be to live or work in the mansion, since getting access to areas requires keys, emblems, and gems, all of which are difficult to find. One of the silliest “puzzles” in the game involved getting the armor key. To get the armor key, you must first find the dog whistle. It comes with a note, telling how something has been hidden in a wild dog’s collar, and telling you you need to use the dog whistle at a particular place to summon the dog. So you use the dog whistle to summon the dog, you kill the dog, and you get the item which looks like a coin. When examining the coin, a mechanism turns it into a key. This key isn’t a proper key and you must replace with the key which is on a pedastel in another room, because if you take the key without putting down a replacement you’ll be killed by a statue. So you go do that, and tada, you have the armor key. Must’ve been a bitch going through this process whenever you wanted to open whatever door this key lead to, not to mention the risk of the wild dog not showing up, and the possibly impossible mechanics involved in getting a coin to turn into a fake key.

It also has a number of silly cutscenes and character decisions. Even though you’ve been spending the last couple of hours killing various unholy creatures hellbent on your destruction, characters may suddenly comment in a cutscene that “Something doesn’t feel rightabout this house”. Gee, you think? And of course, the response would be “Yes, you’re right. Let’s split up and investigate.”

What else would you do if you found yourself surrounded by monsters?

Several of these points of criticism may have been carried over from the original version though, and aren’t really anything that makes the remake worse than the original. But I did find that it lacked the innovation, atmosphere, and (althought very corny) storytelling of the original, and sometimes added a few elements without sufficiently utilizing or explaining them. (Like, I would argue, Lisa Trevor.) My feelings may have something to do with the fact that I’m older now than I was when I played the original for the first time, and this definitely isn’t a bad game – it just wasn’t as good or interesting as I’d expected it to be.

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