Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Resident Evil

 

Hey! Guess what! I totally just got this new console!

No way!

Yeah! It’s from Sony!

…wait…what?

Sony Playstation.

The TV guys?

Yep.

…so does it play Mario or Sonic?

Nope. But we got zombies!

Whaaaaaaaa!?

 


With Halloween this week (October 2014, just in case you’re reading this years down the road…or you’re from the future) I figured why not talk about the very first “horror” game I ever played. Now I played games with some scary moments in the past, but with the Sony Playstation they proudly staked a claim in my gaming history. I think they probably did for a lot of people because Resident Evil was unlike anything ever seen before.

Well, actually it kind of was, but I, like many of this time, weren’t really big “PC Gamers” or import gamers, so the likes of Alone in the Dark or Sweet Home were rare.

Resident Evil, though. Well…

Let me first begin with this fact: up until Resident Evil I never knew much about zombies. In fact, I don’t think I even saw a zombie movie. Not a “Jason is a zombie” horror slasher like Friday the 13th VI, but legit Night of the Living Dead or Return of the Living Dead type. So my zombie knowledge was pretty limited, much as anything would be for someone just starting high school and discovering his love for movies.

But then I saw the screenshots. Oh, those screenshots. There was nothing that looked like Resident Evil. The term “Prerendered backgrounds” wasn’t a “thing” yet, we just knew they were very photo realistic and impressive for the time. In those early previews in magazines like EGM or Computer and Videogames, Resident Evil was the game that was defining a very young Playstation and getting people to take notice. Realistic. Violent and bloody. A genre that was pretty untapped by that point. It was as mysterious as it was unique and it got a lot of people to say “Hey, that Sony Playstation….they got zombies.”

 

 

 Of course I could take this whole article into another direction about “zombies” of consumerism and marketing towards people looking for something that wasn’t Nintendo or Sega, but that’s not the point of this. Let’s stay dumb. Pixelated blood everywhere!

 

The first time I saw Resident Evil actually in action, I think, was at a demo kiosk in a store. Truth is I don’t recall, just like I don’t quite recall when I bought the game. I know I did buy it, however, because I had the very old Playstation longbox version that went obsolete after the first year or less of the console’s release.

Dang, now I’m thinking. That’s kind of the point of this series. It’s like a diary written in retrospect or a memoir where I can’t recall the exact details. I think I might have bought it alongside Beyond the Beyond when I first bought the Playstation, but I’m pretty sure that was Tomb Raider and I bought Resident Evil later…you know it doesn’t matter. Sure, it’s frustrating to not remember things like that but the point is I plugged in that Playstation and was blown away, at some point, by some awful acting, amazing graphics, cumbersome controls and a whole lot of blood and guts.

And I loved it. Boy did I love it. It was a game that really hit all the points I liked. Hell, it hit a lot of the points I wasn’t even aware I liked. Things I liked: the atmosphere, the fact it wasn’t “just” about shooting stuff and you had to think a bit, the whole mansion setting. Things I didn’t realize I liked: horror.

Yeah, horror itself. I didn’t realize how much I loved horror and horror movies until I played Resident Evil. I always liked “scary” stuff, things like Halloween or reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but only until i sat down and saw what Resident Evil was doing, itself a love letter to the genre of horror, did I actually start hunting down and watching all sorts of horror movies. Starting, obviously, with a lot of George A. Romero.

 

 

 Resident Evil was really the catalyst. The seeds were there, but it was the water. The gross zombie-tainted water. Jump scares, like these dogs or a rattling closet door.

 

As mentioned, Resident Evil was unlike anything else at the time, especially to console-only owners like myself. Nothing looked or sounded like it, there really weren’t other games that intentionally set out to “scare” you and, as far as I know, there weren’t games that really handled zombies like they were handled in Resident Evil. You would enter a room, there might be one or two zombies that you may or may not even see yet, and you “feel” the intensity of having to confront them. They weren’t just quick kills, you had to set up, aim, fire and hope they fell before they got to you.

For me, that’s what really defines Resident Evil. Sure there’s the ludacris plot and awful voice acting, but for me it was the fact that every room entered as an adventure. You knew something was going to happen. You could hear a zombie but you weren’t sure where it was. You hoped you had enough ammo to take him down or that there’s room to run by it. The claustrophobic labyrinth-nature of the mansion you and your STARS team are trapped in, full of traps and dead ends, just made you tense and uncomfortable from beginning to end.

I think that, thanks to that design, it’s why I still consider the first Resident Evil (or the Directors Cut which came later that I also bought) still the best. It was entirely the setting, something that the sequels couldn’t recapture because they needed to escalate the story and setting. I liked the simplicity and straightforward nature of the first game, and as enjoyable as the second and third games on the Playstation were, they just didn’t have it.

 

 

 Sure, I liked more zombies and cool bosses in the sequels, but the “intense” and “claustrophobic” feel of the first still sets it apart to me. Like here on the right...where am I? I dunno, but I hear someone eating. Maybe some BBQ?

 

I didn’t think any Resident Evil game would be able to outdo the first, even though I enjoyed the sequels as well. I was, technically, right because a few years later along comes Capcom and a “new” version of the game: Resident Evil on the Gamecube.

As nostalgic as I am about the first Resident Evil on the Playstation, the Gamecube version is the defining experience. It’s all about the atmosphere, and though some elements are lost (the cheesy intro, the bad voice acting, the awful but very fun dialogue is gone) everything else is just done better thanks to better graphics, lighting and effects. The menacing mansion was even more menacing and more claustrophobic thanks to the darker corners, smaller points of light, the feeling you’re in the middle of some Gothic horror flick that George A. Romero was never able to make.

It wasn’t a perfect game, of course. While I liked some of the ambiguities and lack of hand-holding…some of it was really hard to figure out without logging on to the internet of 1996 and going to some awful-looking Geocities website for a tip, or at least finding a magazine with a walkthrough. In fact, now that I think about it, I think that was the first time I even heard of the word “walkthrough.” I had some guides on games thanks to Nintendo Power, but for some reason once games like Resident Evil or Final Fantasy VII or Metal Gear Solid or Ocarina of Time really hit, suddenly those walkthrough guides were big deals and websites like GameFAQs just blew up as a result. Perfect time perfect place I suppose.

Aside from that, the controls were rough. Really rough. So much of the game is incredible well-designed that it make you wonder why those clunky controls were “ok’d” at all. Eventually you got used to them. These "tank controls" as they came to be called, though, were distinctly Resident Evil and, after a while, I couldn't imagine playing the game without them.

 

 

  Hell, I still play the Gamecube version to this day. I never get old, and now there’s yet another “upgraded” version and guess what…I’m getting that one too. Tank controls and all, please.


Capcom made a brilliant game. They even used the limitations of prerendered background to their benefit, playing with the audience so they're surrounded by a limited view, lots of corners and scary noises you can't quite tell where they're coming from. It was clever, never cheap, and best of all challenging. When you achieved something, whether getting by an evil plant, killing a giant snake or just running by fast dogs, or even smartly hording your ink ribbons so you can save at the designated save spots you barely managed to get to, you get the sense that  you earned it.  That's because you did, and few games have that sense of satisfaction, especially these days with infinite respawns and continues.

Why do people love nostalgia? I’ll tell you. It’s the “feeling” of that first experience of something and earning those moments rather than just fleetingly passing through them. The “feeling” of popping in Resident Evil, not knowing what it was or what to expect at every turn and still making it through, was a once-in-a-lifetime moment like so many of the moments I try to retrace with this video game memories series. Fuzzy memories and all, it’s a good way to recapture that the best I can. As I’ve discovered, specifics are hard but the “sensation” is very much there. In this case, the sensation is the dawn of loving the dead and things that creep in the shadows and ending it all with a satisfying shotgun blast to the head.

 

And that writing...well we'll just leave this hear...

 

 

For past Not/Quite Remembering Videogame articles, click here


 

  

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