Sunday, March 15, 2015
Resident Evil (2002) - Thoughts
The 2002 remake of Resident Evil (often abbreviated to REmake) captures the essence of the survival horror genre. "Survival horror" was initially defined back in 1996 when the first Resident Evil was released, but REmake takes its concept and sharpens it into a deadly point. The amount of work the designers put into reshaping the original blueprint is stellar, adding a bevy of new ideas to make the game feel entirely new. And on top of that, Resident Evil remains legitimately frightening despite its charming b-movie quality.
When I first got REmake back in 2002, I was too cowardly to properly play through it. Every time I began the game on Normal I would stop some shortly after getting the Armor Key, overly concerned for my munitions and fearful of what traps lie ahead. Eventually I wound up starting a game on Easy with Chris to "scout" ahead... and beat it on that save file. So last month with all the excitement surrounding the release on Steam, I decided to play through the Gamecube version again with Jill on Normal this time, fully ready to tackle the challenge that haunted me as a teen.
It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The beginning is the most tense section of the game, as you're low on ammo and have no way of dispatching zombies quickly (and even when you finally get the shotgun, ammo is sparse early on). I was intensely frugal during the first two hours of the game on this go-around, saving only after I had made good progress and dispatching zombies next to one another so both bodies burn with a single gasoline use. Right about the time that I got to the residence on the outside of the woods did I realize that I was pretty well stocked, and the rest of the game became a lackadaisical breeze. By the end I was sitting pretty with eight first aid sprays and around thirty shotgun shells, Tyrant being the only BOW that posed a threat. Despite all of this, I continued to feel trepidation every time I turned the Gamecube on to play.
What makes Resident Evil horrifying isn't just its eerie atmosphere or the misshapen monstrosities—the fear stirs within the gameplay. By limiting ammo, health, and the ability to save, enemies become terrifying due to the impact they can make on your munitions. Jump-scares aren't just frightening because of their unpronounced immediacy but that it also means you might be wasting precious ammo or health if you panic. Every bite you take is an herb lost, and every fleet-footed abomination with claws can send you pretty far back if you haven't saved in a while. That's not to say that games without manual saving and equipment-juggling aren't scary—Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is plenty unnerving—but REmake's terror is punctuated by how uncompromising the gameplay appears to be.
The tank controls are a point of contention that I think work really well in Resident Evil's structure. The more versatility you have in movement the less intimidating monsters become, unless you also give the enemies an increase in speed or quantity (e.g. Dead Space and Dead Rising). The tank controls aren't meant to be fluid nor lucid; it feels clumsy in order to put you on the same playing field as the shambling zombies, and emphasizes just how powerful the more nimble monsters—Cerberuses, Crimson Heads, and Hunters—can be. It's difficult to get away from enemies when you're being attacked because it's supposed to be, and whether or not you think that stunting the player with awkward controls is a good design is up to you. I don't think it's nearly as clumsy as some people make it out to be, though I admit the tight hallways can make it difficult to skirt around zombies.
While I mostly laud the mechanics, there's plenty of praise that can be heaped onto the game's presentation. I played REmake on a CRT TV so the visual clarity was a bit muddled, but the game still looks fantastic thanks to the pre-rendered backgrounds; I actually think playing it at such a low resolution helped since the character models blend in seamlessly with the backdrops. I was especially impressed with some of the camera angles in the game, giving it a "cinematic" feel without taking agency away from the player (like the tilted frame looking down towards the mask area or the uncomfortable close-ups of the player when they step through a door). One of my favorite tricks is when the camera shifts to a hallway scene where the light flickers from the windows suspiciously, filling the player with inevitable dread. The score works wonders too, becoming downright horrifying during some moments (like the first time you step into Umbrella's laboratory).
Thirteen years later and Resident Evil still remains as ingeniously spooky as it was when it first came out. It may seem contradictory how I praised the game on its survival quirk yet had absolutely no problem with it by the second act, but a large part of this was due to my previous experience conjoined with how immensely cautious I was the entire time. The beginning of the game was still tense for me despite knowing the layout and booby traps barring my path, and the Umbrella laboratory remained one of the creepiest settings in the game even though I was over-armed for it. A special shoutout to Lisa Trevor for being even worse than I remember—realizing I was trapped with her in the mines was nerve-wracking, with the camera angles working in part to obscure her location. I had a blast with REmake and it makes me curious to see if Resident Evil 2 holds up just as well.
Images obtained from: thisisxbox.com, vg247.com, gamefreaks.co, galleryhip.com