[Halloween 2016] Why/If You Should Play The Original Resident Evil

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For Halloween I’d been meaning to finally grab the HD remaster of the 2002 remake of the original Resident Evil, install it on my laptop, and play it while waiting by my front door to give out candy. The PC version is half-off on the Humble Store as of this writing (still Steam DRM though). I played the 2002 Gamecube version extensively, but spent a little bit with it before Halloween to remind myself just what it was about this game. By many modern standards it might be considered an awful game, but depending on your mindset and expectations it might still be a great game.

The biggest issue that’s always faced the RE series is its identity crisis between being an action game or an adventure game. The biggest criticisms of the games prior to Resident Evil 4 — which basically launched the modern third person shooter, was that they had awkward controls and aiming. I always felt it was better to think of those games as adventure games where you occasionally have to shoot things. If you’re checking out this remaster or any pre-4 RE game for the first time, at least go in with that mindset. It’s mostly about exploring and solving puzzles. Combat is often a last resort.

At its core, I think the 2002 Resident Evil is mostly the result of good level design and probably good puzzles too. The first time you play through it the game is about exploring and eventually learning the layout of the mansion. First-time players not used to games of that era might be taken aback by how little information it gives them. You have to find the maps for each floor yourself, you have to actually read documents and item descriptions in order to know what to do, and you never see a waypoint marker. I wonder how first-time players reacted to the ink ribbon system — the actual ability to save the game being tied to a consumable item.

Update: After spending a few more hours with Resident Evil during Halloween, I understand again that the entire game is pretty much one giant puzzle. Its most compelling aspect is simply unraveling the whole thing through exploration and actually thinking about where you need to go next, each new secret unlocking new areas you saw were inaccessible before.

I remember subsequent runs through this RE however essentially turning this adventure game into a sort of arcade game since you get ratings based on completion time and other aspects. I used to have this whole game dialed into my head so much I could beat it and get the best ending in just under three hours. That muscle memory is kind of messing up my current run because what I remember is getting mixed up with what I’ve forgotten.

Back in the day, what initially brought me into this rendition of Resident Evil was its production value. For starters, I didn’t own a PlayStation and thus didn’t get the chance to play anything like an RE game. On top of that this game had some of the most impressive graphics on the Gamecube with impeccable art direction. It just looked like a game that was worth $50 in a way that was very rare for the platform it was on. Even now that aspect of the remaster hasn’t really aged badly despite most of the graphics being pre-rendered assets originally made for a 480p resolution. It’s still a very slick-looking product.

If you’ve played the demo for Resident Evil 7 or at least watched the short trailer clips it’s pretty easy to see why a fan of the original RE might be optimistic about it. RE7 looks like the game I’ve wanted for a while — an old-style RE focused on exploration and puzzles but with modern controls. The current generation of survival horror games has been doing this since Frictional Games popularized indie horror with Amnesia — they come from the same adventure game roots as RE, but I’m glad Capcom decided to keep guns after examining all those games. I just wonder how Capcom plans to convey RE7’s locations to players. The way the old games don’t give you any direct instructions on where to go is inconceivable in a modern big-budget game.

If you’re going in for the first time, just know firstly that it’s very much a game from before a lot of developers figured out third person 3D controls, and secondly that it’s not a shooter but rather an adventure game with shooting.

BULLETS:

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