“Here’s a lock pick. It might be useful if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you”
Hilarious dialogue is just one of the reasons you’ll enjoy the opening moments of Resident Evil, released at a time (1996) when there was little competition in the way of survival horror on the PlayStation. That, and the opening B-movie FMV reminiscent of something you’d associate more with GCSE Media Studies than a Japanese video game taking inspiration from Night of the Living Dead.
Introduced in this clunky original are Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine and Albert Wesker, who would go on to become staple protagonists/ antagonists of later games in the series. Their popularity with the audience of Resident Evil helped to bring in bigger budgets for future titles, allowing for slightly more advanced voice acting as the different versions went on.
What they also needed to invest in were better scriptwriters, as saying things with emotion will only get you so far. Resident Evil’s biggest problem was that it didn’t have either of these things going for it. Go back to the game now and you’ll struggle to take most of it seriously. Even the descriptive text when you examine a portrait appears slowly across the screen as if it’s being written by infants, but given that it was developed in Japan, at a time when video game translation wasn’t the most popular career choice among academics, this is understandable.
The game arrived at the right time, remaining memorable in the face of many superior examples of the survival horror genre since (should you be wondering what ‘survival horror’ really means, check out my article on it). This was in the first two years of the PlayStation’s release, and most games featuring a plot back then suffered from similar problems. Its strength lies not in story and acting, but in atmosphere, which it somehow manages to pull off to this day partly because of (rather than despite) the simple premise and clunky gameplay that would become an otherwise unwelcome staple of the series.
Try running past a zombie using the awkward D-pad control system and he’s likely to take a few bites out of you. Try shooting the zombie instead and good luck finding the ten bullets to replace the ones you’ve just pumped into an already rotting dead body. You’ll find yourself fearful of entering a new room in case you run into another threat, and the basic soundtrack works perfectly alongside the claustrophobic visuals of the mansion’s corridors.
It’s easy to see how and why many horror games that came afterwards took inspiration from what’s on offer here, including the Silent Hill series. Think of Resident Evil as the flesh-eaten skeleton to Silent Hill 2′s baby-oiled bodybuilder, and you won’t be too far off the perfect metaphorical comparison. So give it a chance; put up with the aggravating controls and infuriating camerawork, a story you could write yourself with your eyes closed, with no fingers and practically no cognitive thought whatsoever, and eventually you’ll reach that milestone of becoming the master of unlocking. No bucket list would truly be complete without it.
8 / 10