With the newest video game sequel released and yet another film in theaters, it’s time to take a look back at one of my favorite horror games. Resident Evil was the console game that brought horror gaming into the limelight and for many players it was their first exposure to a game meant to scare as well as entertain. Sure, there were others before it, but RE was the one that popularized the genre.
As time has gone on and sequels and spin-off titles have been made, the focus of the games has slipped away from horror and into fast-paced action. The latest games, Resident Evil 6 and Operation Raccoon City have been compared to Michael Bay films; placing an emphasis on over-the-top bombast and explosions instead of the horror elements that were the roots of the series. I think that’s a shame because I still have a lot of love for the old frights from Resident Evil, especially the REmake.
In the early 2000’s, Capcom was one of the most earnest developers for Nintendo’s Gamecube console. Considered by many to be the “loser” of that generation, when compared alongside the PlayStation 2 and the XBOX, the Gamecube was underpowered and boasted the most awkwardly designed controller of the set. Still, Capcom showed an unflagging support for the system and even some of their popular PS2 games began their lives as Gamecube titles that were “ported” into versions for the console. Resident Evil, originally a title for the PlayStation made the switch to the Gamecube but with some impressive updates.
The remake of Resident Evil stuck to the story of the original but with all new art, redesigned environments, some control and system updates, new undead enemies to face and even new rooms and outbuildings added on to the map. It was an impressive overhaul of the original that pushed the graphical processing power of the Gamecube and kept the horror of the mansion the central feature of the game.
In the story of the original Resident Evil, a group of specially trained police are trapped in an abandoned mansion while investigating reports of cannibal attacks. The mansion is the secret testing ground of the bizarre bio-weapons of the evil Umbrella Corporation, a combination pharmaceuticals and weapons company with endless money that is soon responsible for everything evil everywhere. Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, the playable characters, must make their way through the mansion, running from or killing zombified researchers and test subjects and escaping all manner of mutant weapons including reptilian gorillas, giant snakes and spiders, a giant venus flytrap, a trained killer shark, and a hulking prototype super soldier.
Our heroes were almost constantly outgunned and outnumbered but the real tension and the real fear came from exploration rather than combat. The mansion itself was an expertly crafted environment of gloom and dread with every kind of wicked and spooky environment you could hope to find in a ghost house movie. Richly appointed dining and sitting rooms, claustrophobic bed chambers, drafty attics, and then, inexplicably, underground laboratory facilities and abandoned mine shafts. It was a wide-reaching environment and the desire to discover the next room was balanced against the fear of what manner of creature would be waiting on the other side of the door.
For the REmake, Capcom added in new features such as the Crimson Heads. Normally putting down a zombie in a video game means a corpse that vanishes once off-screen to save on rendering power. In the REmake, if you left a zombie corpse in place it would mutate further and leap back to life, no longer a shambling husk but now as a running, clawed Crimson Head zombie. To stop the mutation, the bodies of foes had to be burned with kerosene. Another resource that was in short supply, adding to the tension. Is it safe to back track through a room if you killed the monster but didn’t burn the corpse? New defensive weapons were added as well. Now if a creature got into a grapple with Jill or Chris, they could pull out a knife and stab it into the monster’s head or zap it with a taser to force it to release it’s intended meal. These features didn’t necessarily make the game easier though. Carrying these items meant there was less room in Chris or Jill’s pack for other weapons or additional ammunition.
The crowning touch however, was the inclusion of new sections of the mansion grounds, like the gardener’s house. An entire subplot was developed around Lisa Trevor, daughter of a researcher who was subjected to lab rat experiments by the unscrupulous scientists of Umbrella. Lisa is a perfectly tragic horror monster. Twisted by experiments, she removes the skin from her victims and binds it to her own body. She lurks the mansion grounds seeking her mother so that she can “return her face.” And if the tragedy wasn’t enough, she’s also completely unkillable. After soaking up entire clips of bullets, Lisa will collapse for a few minutes before rising again, just as dangerous and terrifying as before!
If the recent direction of games in the survival horror genre swerving away from scares and into spook house shooting galleries has let you down, then being able to return to this high quality game will be a welcome change of pace. Gamecube games will still play beautifully on the Nintendo Wii, so if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend checking out this gem from the past console generation. It’s one of the rare occurrences when a remake far surpasses the original.