16 Oct
Older PlayStation boxes were large and made of a more durable plastic. It wasn't until much later that jewel cases were put into use.

Older PlayStation boxes were large and made of a more durable plastic. It wasn't until much later that jewel cases were put into use.

A series of strange murders have been taking place in the woods surrounding Raccoon City.  In response to the rapidly increasing violent crime rate, Raccoon City dispatches its Special Tactics And Rescue Service (STARS) teams to investigate.  STARS sends in Bravo Team first into the woods. Shortly afterwards contact with Bravo Team is severed. Alpha Team moves in to remedy the situation.

Alpha Team quickly discovers the downed helicopter of Bravo Team. No survivors are found. While searching for the whereabouts of the missing helicopter passengers, Alpha Team is attacked by ravenous dogs, one of which kills team member Joseph Frost. Vickers, the pilot, gallantly leaves the rest of the team to their fates and flies away. The four remaining members of Alpha Team—Albert Wesker, Chris Redfield, Barry Burton and Jill Valentine—manage to escape to a nearby mansion.

Though the mansion is thought to be abandoned, the team hears shots being fired from within. In Scooby-Doo fashion, they decide to split up and search for clues. What they find is pure terror.

At least, it was pure terror back in 1996. By today’s standards, Resident Evil is tame. Most would consider the controls to be horrendous; the acting sub-par; the story laughable, and the loading screens a nearly game-breaking experience. They’d be right by today’s standards. But judging Resident Evil by today’s standards would be an absolute disservice to this modern day classic. In order to truly appreciate Resident Evil, you have to think of what the game accomplished in 1996.

And 1996 was a lifetime ago.

In 1996, the video game industry was a completely different entity. The Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis were breathing their final breaths, while the Nintendo 64 and the Sony Playstation had just emerged fresh on the market promising console gamers something that was almost unheard of in the living room: a third dimension.

These looked much sexier back in 1996.

These looked much sexier back in 1996.

Granted, there were a few 3-dimensional titles on earlier consoles, but they didn’t quite match up to what either the N64 or the Playstation had promised. Games of this caliber were released on platforms like the 3DO, but most gamers couldn’t fathom the $699 price tag. Yes, there were a few people who adopted the 3DO early on, but the common American household couldn’t afford something more than twice the price of the consoles that were currently on the market. Instead many gamers jumped from the NES (originally retailed at $199) to the SNES (originally retailed at $199) to the N64 (originally retailed at $199). Most were dubious of what the Playstation’s library had to offer, especially since the gray box hit the market at $299. We had been spoon fed greatness for years by Nintendo and Sega. What could Sony have had to offer? Many thought it was just another frivolous console like the 3DO and Atari Jaguar. Thank God we were wrong.

More and more games started to emerge in commercials and store shelves that held as much promise as any Mario or Zelda game. Games like Battle Arena Toshinden, Twisted Metal sported blazing three dimensional graphics. They featured a more teen and adult-focused library than the sticky sweet Nintendo library, and more importantly, they held fully cinematic sequences pre-rendered by super computers or with REAL … LIFE… ACTORS…

For most gamers, this kind of image on screen was amazing. For the most part, you had to visit the arcades to see this type of full motion video with live actors.

For most gamers, this kind of image on screen was amazing in the mid-90s. For the most part, you had to visit the arcades to see this type of full motion video with live actors.

Suddenly, television and movies had a new competitor for the attention of young consumers.

Enter Resident Evil.

Live actors. Three dimensions. Blood. Zombies. Demented puzzles. A game not meant for kids and too big to be completed in one sitting. There was only one thing gamers could do: drool.

And drool we did.

Around 1995 and 1996, the internet finally started gaining widespread acceptance among the average household. Users would jam up phone lines everywhere by dialing up their local service provider to get access to mostly text-only web pages at a whopping  14.4 or if you were incredibly lucky, 28.8 kilobytes per second. Certainly the internet was there, but it wasn’t the throbbing media source that it is today. There was no gametrailers.com to spoil footage for you. There was no “leaked information” about Resident Evil. When a player picked up the sticks with Resident Evil for the first time, that gamer was flying blind. The most common reaction to seeing the first zombie nomming on a corpse, then turn its head and shamble toward you was, “What the hell!?!” At that moment, there was no turning back. We all needed to find out what exactly was going on in that mansion.

This moment was never spoiled for gamers through the internet.

This moment was never spoiled for gamers through the internet.

PC gamers at the time, and some still do, claimed that Resident Evil’s success was only because it was standing on the shoulders of a great game before it. Many believed that Resident Evil was heavily inspired by Alone in the Dark in all of its pastelly goodness. That holds mostly true for the gameplay—limited resources and a static camera present in a three-dimensional environment. The reality is Resident Evil was a spiritual successor to Capcom’s NES title, Sweet Home. Both sported teams of people locked in a mansion in the woods while the protagonists are forced to cope with horrors beyond most men’s nightmares. Sweet Home set the tone. Alone in the Dark created the gameplay formula. Resident Evil successfully brought survival horror to the masses. Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark may have opened the doors, but Resident Evil was the one to walk through.

Left: Sweet Home (NES). Right: Alone in the Dark (PC)

Left: Sweet Home (NES). Right: Alone in the Dark (PC)

Resident Evil’s greatness cannot be measured simply by what is seen on the game screen. It can only be measured by how it has changed our world. And Resident Evil has changed our world. It is easy to look to the entire Resident Evil library, which includes several sequels, non-direct sequels, remakes, ports, and a movie franchise and say “that is success.” But stopping there wouldn’t do Resident Evil justice. Resident Evil created a One Ring-like craving in gamers for more.

Spawned by direct competition, Konami created the Silent Hill series to hopefully cash in on some of Resident Evil’s success. Not only did it cash in on its success, but many would say that Silent Hill 2 is the reigning champion of the survival horror genre. From there, the survival horror genre snowballed into other fantastic titles like Dead Space, the Fatal Frame series, and more.

What a mansion!

What a mansion!

The craving didn’t stop with videogames either. Resident Evil and Silent Hill hand-in-hand revitalized the stagnating horror film genre which at the time had been cranking out prefabricated slasher films starting with “Scream” and working its way through “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and beyond. Suddenly, zombies were “in” again, opening the doors for new zombie films like “28 Days Later,” “Fido,” and “Shawn of the Dead.” It even reanimated George Romero’s career, allowing him to create “Diary of the Dead” and remake “Dawn of the Dead.” Because of these two video games, film makers were starting to see value in Japanese Horror. Ringu, Ju-On and other J-Horror films began scaring the non-video gaming world in a whole new way. In the end, Resident Evil didn’t just change the face of horror video games, movies, television, it has changed our world. In fact, you could probably count less than five degrees of separation between anything of the current horror genre and work your way back to Resident Evil.

Whether or not you’re a fan of Resident Evil—the creepy game from 1996 with the terrible actors and the dog jumping through the window—it doesn’t just deserve your respect and admiration. It commands it. With so many beautiful ports and remakes for the game available on practically every platform including PC, there is absolutely no reason to miss out on the original Resident Evil experience. In fact, if you’ve read this far into the review only to realize now that you’ve never played the game, I honestly feel a little sorry for you.

I highly encourage you to celebrate this Halloween the proper way. Get out there and pick up a copy for your DS, your Wii, your PC, PS3 or whatever electronic device you happen to have in front of you.

Is it worth purchasing?

It’s worth every last penny.

5 thoughts on “Mini-Retrospective: Resident Evil”

  1. Awesome article Randy. I ventured the streets of Silent Hill in ’99 as my first foray into the survival horror genre before braving the halls of the original Resident Evil, so I never had the chance to enjoy RE during its prime. I enjoyed watching my friends play through Resident Evil 2 though. However my first true experience playing a Resident Evil title was the Resident Evil remake for Gamecube. Despite the fact that the scares didn’t haunt me nearly as much as other titles in the genre, this didn’t stop me from replaying it literally ten times, unlocking every ending, weapon, costume, etc. It was an absolute blast from start to finish. Its games like Resident Evil that are truly nostalgically charming. Even if the tank controls were cumbersome, we were tough little gamers back in the day. Bitching was not permitted.

    I applaud Resident Evil. While I may not consider it the cream of the crop, for what it has brought to the genre, pop culture, and consoles in general (Whereas it was Alone in the Dark for PC’s as you mentioned), I congratulate RE with my utmost gratitude.

  2. I gotta say it didn’t do it for me. Doesn’t now either. For a game to earn a spot on my shelf, it must either be extremely rare or be as good as it was originally. RE1 thru RE3 have aged *horribly*

  3. great series, always enjoyed it. but after RE1 was released a lot of other series’ really outdid it, such as silent hill and penumbra. then RE4 came out and was easily one of the best games of all time, although it was very different, but for the better i think. RE5 was okay too but should have been so much better.

    can’t wait to see what they do with it now. great read.

  4. Sweet game… and true Survival Horror (the other games in the series have sort of strayed from the survival part). Too bad I have a hard time with the genre, because I have always wanted to beat Silent Hill 2 and Fatal Frame 2

  5. Battle Arena Toshinden as much promise as Mario or Zelda? Who the hell thought that? That game was aw-ful.

    Anyway I loved Resident Evil, it was probably the first survival horror I remember playing. Though nowadays when I go back to play it I notice quite a lot of flaws that I originally missed because of my age at the time, like the awful, awful voice acting. It’s not a game breaker, but believable voice acting is always important in a game that’s trying to give you a scare.

    I still somehow imagine to enjoy it though. Really, the voices are the only big flaw I hold against it. I’ve become so used to the RE controls, and camera changes that they just don’t seem like faults any longer.

    I hope to pick up the Saturn release soon being the big Saturn fan I am, plus that exclusive double Tyrant fight sounds pretty sweet 😛

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