First posted on 02 August 2003. Last updated on 04 January 2012.
Survival horror is a phrase that Resident Evil has helped to popularize in the world of gaming. Also known as Bio Hazard in Japan, the game is originally released for Sony PlayStation by Capcom in 1996, for which it has since risen to become a huge seller. It has received numerous accolades from gamers for its stunning visuals, nonstop blood and gore, and the ability to invoke in the player the dreaded feeling of what may wait around the corner (even along with the bad voice acting) that has not been seen in games since Alone in the Dark. So read on, if you have the stomach for it!
The game takes place in July 1998, when a series of outlandish murders have occurred in the woods outside Raccoon City. In response to these events, the S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) Bravo Team goes in to investigate the matter. Unfortunately, the team has not been heard from since. Now, S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team, led by the enigmatic Albert Wesker, has been ordered to further investigate. Under his command are you and your side squad mates Barry Burton and Joseph Frost. However, things turn to the worse as a pack of savage dogs attacks the team. It ends badly for Joseph, as he is brutally devoured before his team's eyes. Taking cover in a secluded mansion, you and you team members must use both wits and brute force to find any possible survivor, uncover the horrifying secrets behind the mansion, and get out alive. Sounds like quite a trip to the woods, so pack up your ammunition!
At the time when the title is first released, the game engine is considered to be a feat of programming marvel. On the PC, a video card that supports 3D hardware acceleration is required to run the game. When played in full screen 640x480 resolution, the game looks well with very little pixelation. The pre-rendered backgrounds, although a bit blurry, are extremely well done. It is a good decision on the part of the designers, for this makes the environments look very realistic that otherwise may appear flat in comparison if rendered in 3D. Kudos must also be given to the level designers for making the mansion as if it is from a set out of a horror movie. Similar to a movie, the camera that looks at your character is positioned in strategic spots throughout the game, giving it a marquee feel. It builds up great suspense in the gameplay, making you constantly weary that there may be a couple of zombies just waiting around the corner to dive into your guts. The camera position is not perfect, as it occasionally prevents you from getting a good aim on your opponents or moving away to a certain location. The character and creature models are all highly detailed and are smoothed to look less blocky. In fact, zombies look very, very rotten in more ways than one.
There are 3 sets of Full Motion Videos (FMVs) that feature real actors—the introduction, a section with your character running away from something screaming, and the endings. There are also a number of FMVs which depict certain scenes of nightmarish creatures homing on your character or certain new developments in the story. There are cut scenes using in game models that help to fill you in on what is happening in the forsaken mansion which Alpha Team has gotten itself into unwittingly.
The audio in this game is a hit and miss. The music is excellent and creates a creepy mood wherever you go. On the other hand, the voice acting can make even the most hardened film critic cringes. Infamous lines such as "Jill sandwich" and "master of unlocking" are spawned from this game, and the awkward script sometimes works against the acting. At times, it is funny and gives this game a B movie feel. Other times, it makes you feel like stabbing pens in your ears!
You start the game by choosing among the 2 main characters—Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield. Jill has a much lower vitality than Chris, but she gets 8 item slots, more ammunition, the grenade launcher, and chats with gruff Barry. Chris, in contrast (and apparently forgetting to pack a suitcase), gets only 6 items slots, a combat knife, a flame thrower (that can be used only for a few minutes each time), and talks with cute Bravo Team medic Rebecca Chambers. For the novice gamers, there is less backtracking with Jill, since she also has a lock pick that can open the many annoying locked doors in the game. Depending on which character you choose, the game offers similar puzzle and level play but different stories. There are 3 different endings for each of the characters, ranging from the worst (you get out of the mansion alive by yourself, you little rotter) to the best ending (good boy, you rescue your entire party). Your choices affect both events that take place within the mansion and the game ending.
Veteran gamers may find the controls simple, but novice players may find a bit of trouble maneuvering the character initially. Regardless, the controls become second nature after a short time. You fight using an aiming key, which you can aim in 360°. Pressing the up or down key aims your weapon upwards and downwards. Do not think you can walk back and aim at the same time. You are a sitting duck if you have to reload while firing at an enemy that is just a few seconds close to you. There are plenty of enemies and weapons in the game. Your arsenals include the shotgun, which I enjoy using to blow off a clumsy zombie's head, and the Colt Python, which is the "hand cannon" equivalent that carries only limited ammunition but can take care of any monsters left over from rejected science fair projects! Your enemies include the famous George Romero inspired zombies that shamble about wanting a piece of you, literally. Other enemies include ruthless hunters, reptilian gorilla like creatures that want your head, disgusting crawling human/fly hybrids, the large snake known as the Yawn, and even popular giant spiders.
Some gamers have complained about the limited inventory space, but I find it instead to be a challenge—making decisions on what is important to carry and what is not. In the mansion of Raccoon City, ordinance is rarely available, so expect to be low on ammunition. As such, you are well advised to use your firepower only to knock down or kill your enemies that are in your way, otherwise run around the enemies in order to save on your precious ammunition. The save system uses ink ribbons to save your games on typewriters strewn throughout the mansion. Jill can save on any typewriter without an ink ribbon, but Chris will have to hunt for the latter. Still, I wish the developer can implement some sort of automatic save feature, even though the typewriter save system is something I have learned to cope with. The inventory screen has the visage of a console port, as you need to navigate the menu with the arrow keys.
Adventure gamers looking for deep puzzles in this game are going to be sorely disappointed. There are, however, a few interesting puzzles, such as pressing buttons at a series of paintings in a certain order and playing the piano. With few exceptions, the puzzles are pretty easy overall.
Resident Evil is among the best horror action/adventure games I have ever played. It is a game that is best played with the lights off and sounds turned up a few notches. There are some unexpected scares in the game which truly make you jump out of your seat and your heart skips a few beats. The use of the varying camera angles is clever. The voice acting, while bad, can be amusing. The PC version of the game contains an extended FMV of the introduction with Joseph being savagely mauled and a decapitated half eaten head showing itself. It also features additional materials that can be unlocked, including extra costumes for Jill and Chris, an assault rifle for Chris or an Uzi for Jill, and a rocket launcher with infinite ammunition.
Resident Evil is not a game designed for the adventure purist in mind. While the puzzles in this game are not at all challenging, the game still provides a lot of good, scary, gore filled fun. With multiple game endings to discover, and secrets to unlock, beautiful environments to explore, detailed characters and creatures to interact, this game offers a lot of play value. For any gamer who loves horror and action/adventure games and who long for a suspense filled atmosphere which can make anyone paranoid of what comes around the next corner, get Resident Evil and have a "Jill sandwich" while playing it!