Thursday, 4 October 2012

Classic evil in a residential area

Resident Evil (Remake)

Nothing quite represents mid-90's era gaming like the Resident Evil series. The trilogy made famous on Sony's 32-bit success story the PlayStation. The original game, released all the way back to 1996, set the bar for cinematic and horror games to follow. It was a landmark game, a typical 9/10 for its day, but looking back it's a 10/10. Simply because of its impact on the industry, the tremendous atmosphere and its un-linear layout; which in fact the series never topped by itself since.

The series has spawned many sequels, spanned many consoles and even ended as both cheap CGI and huge budget Hollywood blockbuster movies. Quality varying from excellence to rock bottom. It's a franchise with a lot of weight in the industry. A remake was kind of a guaranteed happening.

While even as early as Nintendo 64, that Mario loving company that is Nintendo, got their first RE game (ed. that's Resident Evil 2 for those interested). However on the marking of a new generation of consoles, Nintendo wanted to aim at a more mature audience. It didn't look further than Capcom's PlayStation success with the RE series. Which had already been bought out onto another console brand with Sega. It’s critically acclaimed but ultimately failure; the Dreamcast (ed. RE Code Veronica for those even more interested). 

I must admit, I never got to play the Gamecube remake when it was released. Only a brief testing and it left me, back then, kind of on a low note. It looked too grey and gritty and for a nostalgia person like myself it didn't quite convince me. Years later, many years, in fact, THIS year, I gave it a new try with a friend. To our sceptic eyes it turned out to be an excellent reunion.

Right off the bat here; I've played both the original and Dir. Cut versions of RE1, I’m no newbie to the series or a RE4 kiddie.

To our surprise though, there were quite a few nice additions to Remake clearly aimed at the veterans of the PS1 games to put them out of their comfort zone. A wonky doorknob that is near a typical save room hub, new rooms, different layout of items etc. Every now and then the game would put you out of your old RE routine. A fantastic way of making the game feel new; even for old players of the series.

One could argue that original Resident Evil really has been quite exaggerated over the years for having a great story; in fact it isn't really the storytelling itself that's very good. The voices are indeed better in this version and the sentences made less cheesy, but it's not really the dialogue that made RE's story. It was the atmosphere, what you witnessed and the small tid-bits from diaries, notes etc. that you found scattered around the mansion that built the story in your own head. The game had a so believable and well-designed environment and setting which bled atmosphere it made your imagination fill in the rest. REmake is no different, only maybe emphasizing a bit too much on its grey and gritty colour scheme for my liking. It should have had the colourful and had distinct variation of the original games rooms and halls.

All in all this remake hit the right spot, it's subtle in its changes and makes sure veterans and newbies of the series get their share of the experience. Some of the new rooms and art style of the REmake are over the top, but it doesn't ruin the game. It's about scaring you and building a great horror game, furthermore it goes to clearly illustrate how far the new RE games have moved from the classic formula into an action orientated and almost embarrassing cheesiness with ridiculous characters and no atmosphere even resembling anything creepy. If you have never played the RE games, start with preferably the original PS1 game or this one.



Resident Evil Zero

Zero was originally intended for the Nintendo 64, it was to become an exclusive RE game to compete with the games on PS1. It got delayed, however, moved and remade for the Gamecube. It is the last in the classic RE series when you think of static backdrops and camera angles. A sort of last supper for a style that Capcom since left. 

The game begins on a train, prior to the mansion incident in RE1, and revolves around the character Rebecca from that game. Here you meet a runaway convict and realise something is clearly wrong on the train as it is infested with zombies and leeches (sigh, yes leeches). From here you end up at sort of research mansion, clearly showing the developers had a wide range of imagination of locations (sigh, again). That said though, I love the mansion setting in RE1, but here it feels a little tacked on. Like, they had to do it again since RE1 worked out so well. Sadly its design is forgetful and look kind of like the art style from the REmake with the a little over the top dark and gritty style. I like how it connects into RE2 later on though, and the train level at the beginning looks fantastic.

The game lets you control two characters this time, instead of the traditional one or swapping between two within the story, first being used in Resident Evil 2. Herein lies RE:0's main problem though. The co-op feature of controlling two characters adds no fundamental improvement or entertainment value at all. It's cooperative mode, without coop.

Sounds confusing? Well it doesn't have any option to play with a friend and begs to ask the question, why was it even added in the first place? At worst it actually makes the game less tense and more annoying. I get the idea from the developers; one character has the healing and herb mixing ability, yet is more invulnerable and the other is strong and takes more damage. However what we ended up doing was playing only with Billy, simply because the fighting will always be necessity to progress and he didn't have any apparent weaknesses other than not being able to mix herbs.

It totally ruins the pace and consistency of the game; a lot of the time is spent simply moving the stale character from room to room, keeping up with the other. The feeling of not being alone too, destroys a lot of the scary element so needed for a slow-paced horror game like this. RE2 had two main characters, and did so in an excellent way of showing two sides to one incident and leaving the characters consistently alone. This however, just feels tedious.

Narratively, RE:0 is terrible. It starts off badly even at the beginning. Introducing possibly one of the worst characters in gaming I have ever witnessed. I know the Japanese games tend to have way-out characters, but this just really tops the chart: A man controlling leeches, that sings opera. Yes, you read that correctly. A man. Whom controls leeches. By singing opera to them.

Combine this with the appearance of a cocky Wesker (this is even before RE1, so why is he such a big-shot anyway?) It really sets the mood of the game to a low. The cutscenes are so bad infact, with these “I'm-sooooo-eeevvviilll” characters (opera singing leech man consistently tries to put you off with comments that would suit a spoilt 5 year old brat). It completely destroys any hope for the game picking up an interesting story. Ever. The only actual good side to the storyline is Billy's past and the relationship between him and Rebecca building through the game. But these are far too few and have long time spans in between, they never help to save the train wreck RE:0 is.

Playing through this game I realized what I maybe should have realized back in the day when Capcom changed everything in Resident Evil 4; the series needed a fresh and different start. I don't believe they got it with RE4 in my opinion, as I've always thought that game was bad (and clearly marked the downwards spiral towards the crap that is RE6). But something had to change. Resident Evil Zero and its forgettable package of gameplay and terrible storyline truly prove this. It was the last in its heritage for the series, but it sadly ended on a low.



PS: Read my "Looking back" feature of RE1 on the PS1 here!