It's tough to judge the classics, especially one like the original Resident Evil. Ground-breaking when it first hit the PlayStation in 1996, many of the game's mechanics are downright antiquated by now and can be off-putting to gamers who missed out on the series until Leon Kennedy shot up half the population in an unnamed European village. As a new game, Resident Evil: Deadly Silence isn't that great, but as an adaptation it works out very well.
This here is the original '96 mansion adventure, complete with hokey dialogue, obtuse puzzles and trademark typewriter save system. If you've never played it before then it's worth experiencing, and if you've mansioned yourself to death then there are a few twists to keep it somewhat interesting.
There's been a rash of bizarre, cannibalistic deaths on the outskirts of Raccoon City, and the police department sends in Bravo Team of the Special Tactics And Rescue Squad, or S.T.A.R.S., to investigate. Contact with Bravo Team is lost and Alpha Team, a squad that notably includes Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Rebecca Chambers and Albert Wesker, is sent in to find out what the hell is going on. Alpha Team is attacked and is forced to flee into a nearby spooky mansion, and that's where you step into the shoes of Valentine or Redfield.
Of all the hardware currently out there, the DS is probably the one to make the original Resident Evil feel least dated. Oh, it certainly shows its age quite spectacularly in the dialogue and live-action cutscenes (still present and cheesy as ever), but graphically the original is on a par with most 3D DS games and the lack of an analogue stick justifies the obsolete tank controls. However, the game design is very much handheld hostile – saving your game can only be done at one of the typewriters littered about the mansion and only if you have an ink ribbon. If you play primarily while commuting, for example, you'll wind up wasting a lot of ink ribbons due to short trips and, especially if this is your first time through the game, there's the risk of running out of ribbons. It was a slightly annoying system on consoles but even more so when portable; playing without the time constraints of a bus ride alleviates this problem, but beware otherwise.
Equally annoying can be the pre-determined camera angles; while this enabled Capcom to render some truly impressive (at the time) environments, they get in the way of combat and can be a huge pain in the zombie to navigate. Yeah, sure, they help set up frights and allow monsters an element of surprise, but it's still frustrating to enter a room and not have any idea of how many goons are there until you run forward to change the angle and then get jumped by a mob of flesh nibblers. It felt cheap in '96 and it feels even cheaper now.
While you can still plug away at the vanilla classic all you’d like, the remixed Rebirth mode is the main draw. Typewriter ribbons and ammo seem a little more abundant and there are new sequences that take advantage of the new hardware functionality. Every so often and without warning you'll enter a new room in a first-person view, and the only weapon available is your knife. Slashing and stabbing works well enough, and we suppose they break the action up somewhat, but these sequences don't really amount to much more than a DS gimmick. The new puzzles are as arbitrary as you'd expect from the first Resident Evil, and the microphone is used for things like blowing away incoming poison. As with the first-person sequences, these new additions aren't radical game-changers but nice to have regardless.
Also improved are the character models, which are a wee bit more detailed and sharp than on the PlayStation. The pre-rendered backgrounds also benefit from a smaller screen; while the resolution may not be too different they appear less pixelated. Not improved is the voice work, dialogue and live action FMV, and we wouldn't want it any other way. To call these things "cheesy" would be doing a great disservice in describing just how terribly tacky and campy they are; the Master of Unlocking, the opening cut scene, it's all here and will make you cringe (in a good way). Nothing has been cut on the presentation side, although the FMV is noticeably compressed, but kudos regardless to Capcom for cramming in everything on the double-disc set into a tiny DS cartridge
Capcom also saw fit to include a multiplayer option for up to four people, which feels kind of shoehorned in. The game wasn't built for more than one player, and you won't actually see other player models running around on your screen; they're relegated to a map icon. Competitive play pits you in a race to the exit; the cooperative mode also has you exit-bound but now, obviously, working together. It's a nice bonus if you've got a friend or three with copies of the game, but it's no big loss otherwise.
Resident Evil is an essential part of gaming history and as such deserves to be experienced at least once by anyone with a penchant for horror, but it's tough to simply ignore all of its faults that have only gotten worse with age. It's fun to revisit the game that kicked off the entire series, but there's a reason it evolved.