GAMING GREATS: Resident Evil (1996)

Rod grabs his trusty handgun and a lock-pick to revisit Spencer Mansion in Capcom’s numero uno Survival Horror. DON’T… OPEN… THAT… DOOR!

Who made it?: Capcom/Nextech (Developer), Virgin Interactive (Publisher).

Platform: PlayStation, Sega Saturn, PC, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Network.

Format: CD-ROM, Optical disc, Download. 

Released: August 1, 1996 (UK).

Resident Evil was a huge success for Capcom, originally released on the PS1, and it has been released on multiple platforms over the years. There was even a remake for the GameCube in 2002, which is getting a HD upgrade very soon.

Firstly, we are treated to a quick scene of someone walking down a darkened hallway, accompanied by sinister music. Realising he’s being followed, he turns around quickly, sees his pursuer and then tries to make a run for it, but he’s attacked by the unseen presence. The camera closes in tight on his face, then to a shot of blood as it splatters onto the screen, before an extreme close-up of the victim’s eye. And, finally, the title “RESIDENT EVIL” slams into place. This small sequence sets the tone for the game, and provides the player with a taste of what to expect. Dare you “PRESS ANY BUTTON” to begin this nightmare? You have a choice – either be brave and play, or be cowardly and walk away with your tail between your legs. But, because I have no fear, I’m going to enter the world of Survival Horror, and after pressing any button and choosing “New Game,” a voice over in a gruff, threatening voice utters the title.

At the beginning of the game, you can choose from one of two available characters – Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine. Both characters possess different attributes and your choice will dictate how the game operates. Jill presents an easier challenge, overall, because she has an inventory that allows her to carry up to eight items, a supporting character in the form of Barry who helps her more than Chris’ support, a grenade launcher that is exclusive to her campaign, and a lock-pick that enables her to access rooms not readily accessible to Chris during his portion.

Chris presents a harder challenge because he has an inventory that only allows him to carry up to six items, and he needs small keys to access doors Jill is already able to access due to her lock-pick. Although, he does have access to a flamethrower as his exclusive weapon and he also begins the game with a lighter that, while useful at a couple of points during the game, is not really as useful as Jill’s good old lock-pick. The advantages he has over Jill, though, is that he’s more resilient against enemy attacks and can move faster, so in that respect, his campaign is a bit easier but he is still recommended for those already familiar with the game, or those who welcome a good challenge on their first play-through.

After choosing your protagonist, a cutscene will begin, and depending on which version you play, the intro will either be in black and white with trims to the gore, or gore that’s been replaced with newspaper articles, or it will be in colour, with no trims to the gore, and instead of newspaper articles, you will see all the blood in its gruesome glory.The opening sequence was unique at the time because it was filmed in live-action with actors. This approach would be abandoned in the sequel, as well as the games that would follow in the years since. There’s also quite an infamously cheesy B-grade introduction to the characters with a voiceover stating their names as they appear, with the collective doing various poses.

The story centres around mysterious deaths have occurred on the outskirts of Raccoon City, more specifically, in and around the Arklay Mountain area, and in all cases the victims have been eaten. A special unit of the Raccon City Police Department (RCPD), known as S.T.A.R.S., dispatches their Bravo Team to investigate but they go missing, and so Alpha Team is sent to find out what happened, and to continue the investigation.
Upon arrival, Alpha Team discovers Bravo’s downed chopper, and is then attacked by what appears to be wild dogs. The survivors of the attack manage to escape into a nearby mansion, and depending on which character the player has chosen, it will either be Chris who goes missing or the aforementioned Barry.

The other characters present in Resident Evil are:

  • Barry Burton, a member of Alpha Team. A family man that helps Jill throughout her campaign by providing weapons, ammunition, and is your saviour in moments when Jill gets into some kind of trouble.
  • Rebecca Chambers, a member of Bravo Team. The youngest comrade of S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) who Chris will interact with at certain points, and who provides healing, in one particular instance, as she is the medic of the team.
  • Albert Wesker, the leader of S.T.A.R.S, who disappears for a large part of the game, only appearing at certain points of the story. Those familiar with this game and the rest of the series know exactly who Wesker is.
  • Brad Vickers, a member of Alpha Team. A helicopter pilot and a coward that leaves his team-mates behind in the live-action opening sequence.
  • Joseph Frost, Alpha Team, who was killed by the Cerberus in the live-action opening.
  • Richard Aiken, Bravo Team, who you find poisoned somewhere in the mansion, and must try to help cure by finding a serum.
  • Forest Speyer, Bravo Team, who is found dead on the balcony of the mansion.
  • Kenneth J. Sullivan, Bravo Team, who is found dead when you encounter your first zombie.
  • Enrico Marini, the Captain of Bravo Team, who is found in the caverns, wounded, and reveals that there may be a traitor among them (gee, I wonder who that could be).

The events that occur, and the characters that appear, are dependent on who you have chosen to play as. For example, Rebecca Chambers, a survivor from Alpha Team, is only met by Chris  during his campaign, and she will be there to help him if he is poisoned during the first encounter with the giant snake known as “Yawn,” whereas it would be Barry who saves Jill in the same situation.

Speaking of the giant snake, it is one of the larger Boss enemies you face, along with the massive plant named “Plant 42,” the giant shark named “Neptune,” a huge spider named “Black Tiger,” and last but not least, the hulking monster named “Tyrant” that you fight at the end. The other enemies you face during the game are zombies, the very fast and deadly “Hunters,” the “Chimera,” zombie dogs known as “Cerberus,” big-ass spiders, and smaller nuisance enemies such as crows, snakes, baby spiders when a large one dies, and bees.

One of the great things about this game is the areas where there’s no music but just the sound effect of a clock ticking, the sound of slight grumbling from a zombie, the shuffling noise they make as they move, and even the sound of your own footsteps. The sound design is really good, even for the standards of the era in which it was released, and while it is very basic today, it still works well. In the areas where you do hear music, it is very atmospheric and totally keeps you in the world of the game. There is also the inclusion of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” which is played by Jill on the piano (or Chambers, from Alpha Team, during Chris’s campaign), and fits in very well. Another great piece of music is played in the serum room, which has a soothing effect, with a slight hint of eeriness to it, that underlines the fact that, while respite can be found here, it doesn’t mean that the horror of the situation isn’t still present.

The voice work in this game is famously bad but funny, albeit unintentionally, with most of the voice actors placing emphasis on certain words in a way that doesn’t sound like how real people talk. However, this adds to the overall feel of the game, which is reminiscent of a B-level horror movie, and this is how Resident Evil was intended to be. What also contributes to that nature is the use of static camera angles, which help add suspense in not knowing what to expect when the player moves the character out of one camera angle and into another. It provides a visually dramatic effect.

When going through a door or ascending/descending a staircase or ladders, it is shown in the form of a small loading screen that also acts as a very short cutscene, and this adds to the suspense in the game because it keeps the player on edge, unless, of course, you’ve played through the game before and know what to expect. It wasn’t until Resident Evil 2 (1998), though, that they introduced the possibility that some door loading screens will occur where zombies will pour out.

Resident Evil‘s “tank” control set-up incorporates the following buttons:

  • The Up button moves the character forward, pushes moveable objects when lined up with them properly, and aims your equipped weapon higher.
  • The Down button moves the character backwards, and aims your equipped weapon lower.
  • The Left and Right buttons make the character rotate on the spot, and when moving forward or backwards, you can use these buttons to control the direction in which the character moves.
  • The Square button when held enables your character to run.
  • The X button allows your character to investigate an object or part of the scenery and make comment, pick up items when in close proximity, selects any items in the inventory screen in order to equip or examine or combine them, and, if near a door, staircase or ladder, pressing X will activate a short loading sequence showing the door being opened or the staircase or the ladder being ascended/descended.
  • Holding the R1 button, while a weapon is equipped, will make the character enter the aiming stance.

There are some things missing from the control set-up that would have been beneficial in this first game that were in the sequels, or other games like Silent Hill, such as a quick-turn move that allows you to spin around faster in order to run away from an enemy or face an adversary approaching you from behind, dodging incoming attacks, or walking and shooting at the same time.

One of the game mechanics of Resident Evil is collecting items that can be stored in your character’s inventory, which can be brought up manually by pressing the Start button, and on this screen you will see a few things:

  • The options for MAP and EXIT are self-explanatory, but FILE allows you to access any notes or documents (which don’t count towards item space) that you have collected, and some of these fill in extra details of the story, or contain clues and instructions.
  • The spaces availble for items you collect, such as ammunition, weapons, First-Aid sprays, herbs, keys, or puzzle items.
  • Next to the picture of your character is a life indicator displayed in the form of a pulse that changes colour, and displays a different condition state, depending on the amount of health remaining. At full health, the pulse is green with a condition state of Fine, at medium health the pulse is orange with a condition state of Caution, and at low health, the pulse is red with a condition state of Danger.

When it comes to healing your character, you can do so by using First-Aid sprays or herbs, of which there are three types:

  • Green herbs provide a small amount of healing, two green herbs combined will provide a medium amount of healing, and three green herbs combined provide the maximum amount of healing.
  • Red herbs on their own do nothing but when combined with a green herb will provide the maximum amount of healing, and when combined with a green and blue herb, it will provide a complete curing of poison.
  • Blue herbs on their own do nothing but, when combined with a green herb, it will provide a small amount of curing of poison, a medium amount poison eradication when combined with two green herbs, and as mentioned, combining blue herbs with green and red will provide a completely clean bill of health.

When you lose all your health, or you are decimated by a one-hit kill, you will be shown dying in the manner most appropriate to how you perish or by the hands of which enemy, and after you’ve expired, you will see a very encouraging message in red appear, which says… “YOU DIED!”

“Be smart! Fighting foes isn’t the only way to survive this horror.” 

The above hint appears in text form if you let the game run after the title screen stays static, and it reminds the player to try different tactics as opposed to being all guns blazing. If you let the game run itself even further, it will show you a small demo of an area, which may reveal tactics or hints. Some that can be used are waiting for a zombie to move to one side of a hallway or room and then sticking tight to the opposite side in order run past them, and when a shotgun is equipped, waiting for the zombie to get as close as possible before aiming upwards and blowing its head clean off, which is also handy when faced with two or three ghouls at the same time. Remember, too, that if you don’t kill any enemies in a room or area, they will still be there when you return. Later in the game, the zombies are replaced by the Hunters, who possess a one-hit kill move that will decapitate your head from your shoulders. But, like other enemies, they do have their own patterns and positions so you can avoid them if you know how, and because there are some instances where, if you’re good enough, you won’t need to kill them.

There are puzzles in Resident Evil that can provide some difficulty, as there are a few that require proper consideration before attempting to solve them. This is because they’re actually traps that will spawn enemies, gradually cause harm, or instantly kill you, like a ceiling that lowers if you happen to take the shotgun off its rack in a nearby room and don’t replace it with something of equal weight. There are also very creative puzzles, like working out which order of paintings to choose from, combining the right mixture of chemicals to create V-Jolt to use on Plant 42, as well as making a clear path to other areas.

There is a limited amount of ammo for your weapons, and a limited amount of green, blue and red herbs, so a lot of conservation and efficient management of items in your inventory is required. But there are also large storage chests littered throughout the game, which can be used to store items until you actually need them, as well as storing useless trinkets that do not give the player the option to discard, which is a choice only given to the gamer in the case of keys that have already been used.

Resident Evil‘s save feature incorporates the use of typewriters, which require ink ribbons, and there are five save slots available. The number of times you save actually count towards the ranking you will receive at the end of the game, and this ranking also takes into consideration how long it took you to complete the campaign, as well as whether any First-Aid Sprays were used – if you did use one, even one, it will substantially lower the ranking you will receive.

There are also no checkpoints or auto-saves. You can’t just wait in a corner for your health to regenerate before moving on. None of these were a game mechanic back in the days of the first Resident Evil. If you saved your game and then you died after having collected a lot of items you needed, and it had been a long time since you last saved, then there’s nothing more annoying than knowing you have to go all the way back to do the work again, which just adds to the challenge. Resident Evil is a product of a different era of gaming, as there are no instances of the title “holding your hand” while playing by having a pop-up message appearing at any moment when a new action is available, or if you’re in an area where it is now possible to do something that wasn’t before. You had to work things out on your own when navigating through the game.

What’s also great is that nothing feels over-the-top like it does in the later entries. The setting isn’t full of multiple sets of enemies all attacking you at once, and there’s a certain charm to the atmosphere that really makes you feel as if you’re alone in the mansion with nothing but zombies and other creatures. It’s a feeling of isolation that has been missing from latter games of the series. There’s all the little details, too, like seeing blood stains on the floor and walls, and one of the early scare moments in the game where you’re running through an L-shaped hallway when, all of a sudden, a Cerberus jumps through the window!

Survival Horror in general, like the horror film genre, has it’s ups and downs. There was a “Golden Age” of sorts, then there was a lull, and now there’s a resurgence underway. The question, of course, now is: will Capcom flow with this for their seventh numbered entry in the franchise, bringing it back to it’s Survival Horror glory, or will they resist and keep the series on the path of being more of an action adventure thrill ride? Only time will tell. But, it’s always good to see where things originated, and Capcom’s first Resident Evil began a legacy that took what came before it with Sweet Home, franchises like Alone in the Dark and Clock Tower, and made it their own blend. Perhaps without Resident Evil, there would have been no Silent Hill, and if that had been the case, then it would have been a great loss for the Survival Horror milieu.

Overall, the first Resident Evil is still an enjoyable experience. It still has that excellent creepy and suspenseful atmosphere, it still creates a great sandbox for the character to explore, and it has enough secrets to disover. There is also a challenge in playing the game in order to ration what you have for when you need it, and to have enough for all the times you will encounter the horrors that await you in the Spencer Mansion. If you haven’t played the original game in ages, maybe it’s time to give it another play-through, and perhaps you will remember how scared you were the first time.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • Originally conceived as a remake of Capcom’s earlier horror-themed game Sweet Home, development for the game was directed by Shinji Mikami, who took gameplay design cues from the 1992 game Alone in the Dark. Resident Evil establishes many conventions seen in later games of the series, such as the control scheme, the inventory system, as well as the iconic typewriter-based saving process.
  • Its success spawned a multitude of sequels and spin-offs, starting with 1998’s Resident Evil 2. A remake of the first game, simply titled Resident Evil, was released for the Nintendo GameCube in 2002, featuring new graphics, voice acting and many gameplay changes. A high definition version of the remake is currently in development for HD platforms to be released in 2015. A direct prequel, Resident Evil Zero, was also released in 2002 using the same game engine as the GameCube remake. The events of the game were also revisited in Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles.

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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