Second View: Shinji Mikami's masterpiece is back and undead on arrival. Be forewarned, this is not your Daddy's Resident Evil?
Survival Horror?Prior to the release of the original Resident Evil in 1996, the term was unheard of. The horror themed PC game Alone In The Dark preceded RE by several years, but the inspiration of George Romero's groundbreaking film Night Of The Living Dead (and it's sequels) gave birth to a franchise that is now legendary in the gaming world. Placed into the role of a soldier, and member of S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics and Rescue Squad) you find yourself called to the outskirts of Raccoon City, where reports of strange creatures and vicious murders have been under investigation by a group of fellow commandos. When they break off radio contact, it's up to you and your squad mates to canvas the site and find out what happened. Forced into a nearby foreboding mansion by the evil denizens of the forest, you find yourself underpowered and on the run from nightmare beasts and flesh eating ghouls. The only way to survive is to uncover the secrets of the Umbrella Corporation, and avoid the spawn of their biological experiments?.
Back in 1996, the original RE was the reason I finally bought a Playstation. After giving up on consoles (after the Genesis and SNES era) and focusing more on PC gaming, I returned to the fold the instant I saw the first screenshots and read about the game. I've played every RE since then and I couldn't be more thrilled with Capcom's recently released remake. How does it stack up? Where shall I begin? First of all, while the overall plot and story arc begin and end the same as the original, the development team has changed roughly 70% of the game. New rooms and areas will greet you as soon as you boot up, and many of the puzzles have been revamped. Brand new mind twisters have been added, and changes in plot elements abound. You'll encounter all manner of monsters, old favorites like the flesh eating zombies and Hunters, as well as new threats that will have you jumping out of your chair. Of course, 6 years of technological advances have produced a game that can best be described as a work of art. The mansion has received a huge graphical face-lift and every room, hallway and courtyard is rendered with stunning detail and incredible realism. As you make your way through the main entrance hall, thunder and lightning explode all around you. Moving slowly down a dark corridor, you'll notice that your characters feet disturb dust and grime, which swirl up from the creaking floorboards. Moonlight shafting through a window illuminates real-time volumetric mist, and a swinging chandelier creates shadows that creep into every corner of the room. Mirrors and windows (as well as water sources) cast perfect reflections as you walk cautiously by. Capcom has taken the original RE formula, and cranked the terrifying atmosphere and presentation through the roof!! Whether you're an RE veteran or a total newcomer to the series, the game simply has to be seen to be believed. It really is that good. The character models for Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine are absolutely incredible in their attention to detail. Eyes blink, clothes are perfectly sculpted with creases and visible seams, not to mention little touches like the embroidered S.T.A.R.S patches and intricately modeled holsters and weapons. Speaking of Chris and Jill, RE vets will instantly recognize the series original couple. Each character has pros and cons. Choose to play as Chris and you can only carry six items at a time. Jill can carry eight items and has the added benefit of being ?the master of unlocking? meaning that she can pick the locks on certain doors, while Chris will need to find and utilize small keys to open up the same areas. However, Chris can absorb more damage. Also of note is the fact that each characters quest will differ slightly at key points. The game will offer the option to play in 2 difficulty modes: hiking or mountain climbing. Three different control options are offered, but the default control will map character movement to the analog stick or the d-pad. Use the C stick to do a quick 180 degree turn (quite useful for those heart stopping moments when you run into hordes of the undead) and hold down the B button to run (in conjunction with the analog stick) The Y button displays the status screen, where you can keep track of your health and item management. The Z trigger brings up the map, while holding down the R trigger will ready the currently equipped weapon. Press A to fire, as well as pick up items and open doors. Oh, and love ?em or hate ?em, the opening door animations from the?96 original are recreated faithfully here. Initially designed to mask loading times, its purpose here is strictly for suspense. Character movement is recreated here as well, and the slightly clunky control scheme remains unchanged. Truthfully, after about a half hour of play, I was navigating the claustrophobic hallways with ease. Things can get ugly once in a while, but overall the controls are appropriate.
One new feature the team has implemented for the remake is the inclusion of defense items. Jill carries a stun gun, while Chris has access to Flash Grenades. Both characters can use daggers. Once equipped, these items can be used when being accosted by an enemy (though they are useless if you're grabbed from behind) to gain valuable moments to prepare a more powerful weapon, or just get the hell out of Dodge!! The developers have also provided you with quite an arsenal, including several different types of handguns, shotguns and a rocket launcher. You'll need them, as the mansion is populated with all manner of nightmare creatures. Unlike the original, where zombies could not venture past closed doors, the remake will have you jumping out of your skin as the undead pound against doors as you run past, eventually breaking through to continue their pursuit. Also, when you finally down a zombie for good (or so you think) don't be surprised a bit later on, when they rise again, this time as a dreaded crimson head. These fearsome creatures run after you with alarming speed, screeching and moaning, while they swipe at you with their enormous claws. To insure a zombie stays dead, you must burn the body, or behead them. To this end, the game includes kerosene jugs, which you can use to fill a portable flask. Burn those corpses as often as possible, as a mansion full of crimson heads is a frightening prospect.
You'll need to collect all manner of keys, crests, sheet music and other assorted items to progress through the game. Saving is done via typewriters found scattered throughout the mansion and nearby areas (you'll need to collect ink ribbons to facilitate your saves). As in the original, item boxes can be used to store your booty, and subsequent boxes will always yield up your belongings, no matter which one you access. Once again, you'll restore your health or recover from poison using a variety of herbs, all of which can be combined to create more powerful healing potions. The sound effects in the game are top notch, from the eerie moan of a flesh-eating corpse, to the growling of the demon dogs. Every sound is perfectly placed. The music is appropriately eerie, particularly the sections that include a creepy, Exorcist like piano refrain. Overall, the sound and music create a tension filled, aural experience to go along with the horrific visuals. Blowing a zombies head off with the shotgun creates a gory explosion of flesh and bone, and insane particle effects can be found in virtually every kill. Capcom has taken the original idea of 2D pre-rendered backgrounds, and through careful use of layering, brought them convincingly to life. Once again, it has to be seen in motion to be fully appreciated.
My hat is off to Mikami and his venerable team, for they have truly created a horrific experience that manages to be everything RE fans have hoped for since the project was announced. New horrors await you once you set foot inside the mansion, and I wouldn't dream of ruining the surprises that are in store. I can't recommend this game strongly enough. If you're a fan of the series you should already have your copy. As for newbies, I promise, you will be absolutely floored when you see what's waiting for you, if you dare. Run to the store and buy this game, turn out the lights and scare yourself silly. Now, what's that scratching sound at my window?