Resident Evil, Capcom’s iconic and much lauded multi-million unit selling series needed to change. By 1999 the PlayStation was beginning to feel a little long in the tooth and just about every developer around had had a go at creating their own form of adventure-ish horror game, with Konami arguably putting up the best opposition with Silent Hill and even Squaresoft getting in on the act with Parasite Eve. So how do you solve a problem like Raccoon City?
The benefit of hindsight means we all know where the series ultimately went – modern Resident Evil has firmly planted its bloodstained boots in the over-the-shoulder action genre, almost entirely ditching the plethora of keys, jewels, plugs, passwords and MO disks needed to navigate apparently every building in and around the Arklay Mountains area.
But there was a stepping stone between the original trilogy and the modern era marked by Leon’s Ganado-killing adventures in Resident Evil 4, and that was Resident Evil Code: Veronica on the Dreamcast, later ported to GameCube as Resident Evil Code: Veronica X.
Code: Veronica had the unenviable task of proving that Resident Evil could survive outside the now well-worn trappings gamers expected from the series, and Capcom in collaboration with Nextech somehow managed to create a game that took the series into the 21st century without completely abandoning everything that had gone before.
Perhaps the most obvious change was the removal of the flat pre-rendered images that had always made up the locations seen in previous games, replaced in Code: Veronica with true 3D environments that somehow didn’t feel any less detailed. The team were smart enough to take full advantage of this – what could have been nothing more than a quick visual upgrade was instead used effectively to give players a much better sense of space; rather than flipping between static images the camera now moved smoothly between positions as the player explored, resulting in the same dramatic camera angles of the old games while also giving users a better “flow” and a more cohesive experience. First-person aiming also had its first mainline outing in Code: Veronica, and again the developers seized the chance to use the new graphical overhaul to enhance the gameplay to great effect in the chilling (quite literally, considering the Antarctic location) rifle battle against Nosferatu.
Some other gameplay changes were more subtle, but no less welcome. Dual wielding weapons not only allowed us to live out our John Woo fantasies but also came with the more practical application of a choice between targeting two enemies at once or concentrating fire on a single foe. Zombie-hunters weighed down with items and low on health could use herbs found lying around without having to make inventory space for them first. Checkpoints meant that unexpected deaths didn’t necessarily send players all the way back to wherever they were when they last remembered to save. These additions didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they all helped go towards refining a good game into a great one.
The story was another key factor not only in Code: Veronica’s success but in the establishment of potential plot threads and ideas that could keep the series going in the long term, and just as with the gameplay it was important to steer the series in a new direction without completely letting go of everything and everyone fans had grown to know and love. This led to some interesting and unexpected character appearances – the most notable one being the return of everyone’s favourite evil eyewear fan Albert Wesker, who appears to have spent most of the time since his apparent demise at the end of the original Resident Evil watching The Matrix on loop. The all-new Ashford twins served as both bonkers bioweapon-hoarding antagonists as well as giving the writers the chance to expand upon existing series lore, cementing Umbrella’s place as not only an international organisation but also as one containing many splintered groups, each with their own past, loyalties, and specialist virus strains to contend with.
But while Code: Veronica certainly was a useful bridge between the older Raccoon trilogy and the newer boulder-punching games, it’s also important to remember that it was an excellent game in its own right and a arguably a success at everything it set out to do – an enjoyable last hurrah to the old tank-control style of survival horror as well as proof positive that this wasn’t a series in decline, grabbing that last bit of fan goodwill before finally withering away; Resident Evil was just getting warmed up!