In many ways, the GameCube remake of Resident Evil marks a return to where it all began. The original PlayStation release popularised the budding horror survival genre, and the events that took place at the mansion were, for a time, at the centre of the series' universe. The moment that gamers boot up the GameCube remake of Resident Evil, they'll wonder why there isn't more of this today.
At its core, Resident Evil is a third-person action game, but it manages to take elements from a variety of genres and make them all fit together as if that was the way it was always meant to be done. The central theme is survival, and the game is set in a scenario that wouldn't seem out of place in a horror film. The experience draws influences from the mansion-set Sweet Home, a Capcom-developed Famicom game that was never released outside of Japan. Resident Evil uses a mixture of pre-rendered static backgrounds and polygonal 3D characters, which made possible a much greater level of detail than technical capabilities would normally allow while limiting players' interactions with their surroundings. Asides from the aesthetics, Resident Evil also draws from classic horror films like George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead: the theme of bio-engineering underlies the potential apocalypse of man, and the characteristically slow movements of the zombies certainly add to the horror of being under attack. It's like a disease. Which is more horrifying: a condition that kills instantly, or one that slowly devours the victim?
Resident Evil's narrative starts off fairly straightforward: a police task force known as S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) is sent out on a search and rescue mission to locate and extract a fellow team from the force, missing since embarking on their own mission. Trouble is, they were last seen in a part of Raccoon City that's endured attacks by groups that have reportedly been eating their victims. What starts off as a relatively routine task mutates into a bizarre fight for survival.
Before the player begins, they must answer a brief psychological question that changes the difficulty level according to how adventurous they claim to be. Depending on the player's response, the game will determine how frequent enemies will appear and how plentiful ammo clips are, as well as a number of other factors. Once the game begins, players are given the choice of controlling Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, with the former offering an easier experience due to the inclusion of a lock-pick and a 9mm pistol, which are equipped by default, while Chris only starts with a knife and less spaces in his inventory.
The term "survival horror" will forever be used to describe the franchise; Resident Evil cleverly combines puzzle-solving with a narrative that contains enough twists and turns that will keep gamers interested and using their heads, though some of the puzzles might seem a bit easy. The game is a marriage of lateral thinking and the typical brawn of an action title, and the overall tempo of the experience has been selected very well, providing for the game's very enjoyable pace. One would think that veterans of the original will be able to predict when something frightening will occur and therefore feel slightly immune to the game's scary points, but the designers have used this prior knowledge to their advantage. The order of events has been modified, and the areas in which enemies appear have been changed. Capcom claims that around 70 percent of the game is new, and when the player progresses though it, that percentage actually feels too low to be true. With enough familiarity for old fans, it plays just like a new game thanks to the added content and narrative strands, though new fans without any prior knowledge will have the pleasure of enjoying it to the fullest.
Players that are well-versed in the original will notice several new elements in the play mechanics. Defence items – like the dagger, battery pack, and flash grenade – are now available for those moments when enemies get a bit too close. Should monsters manage to cling onto the character, these are a last resort to prevent them from sinking their teeth into the protagonist. The tank-style controls might feel clumsy at first, but when players adapt to this method of movement, they'll realise it's the most appropriate way to navigate through the static scenes of the game. A new 180 degree turn can now be performed as well to make evasive action more convenient, and the character's health status is not only represented by the graph on the menu screen; the way that they walk or run is also an indication of how much health is left before reaching the charming "YOU ARE DEAD" screen. Nothing like kicking someone when they're down! Another addition is the use of petrol to incinerate defeated enemies to prevent them from returning in a stronger and faster form. Decapitating them with a well-aimed shot will also prevent these crimson-headed super-zombies from having a second chance at ending a player's life, but when their marksmanship fails them, a fuel canteen and a lighter are as handy as it gets.
For a GameCube game, Resident Evil still looks gorgeous. It begins in a mysterious mansion and as you progress, new areas and buildings become accessible. The mansion is perhaps the most iconic location in the whole franchise and probably the most psychologically manipulating of them all. Flashes of lightning are projected onto the interior walls through uncovered windows and the lighting effect is nothing short of lush. The game's pre-rendered backgrounds blend beautifully with the polygonal characters and the result is an immersive visual absorption into a wonderfully-crafted game. The static camera shots add another layer of suspense as players are unable to change the view; the game creates a sense of helplessness as players are left to wonder what's round the corner – which a free-floating camera would have trouble matching. Mikami and the design team have done a wonderful job as the game has the cinematography of an award-winning Hollywood film. The skewed camera angles at times perfectly mirror the imbalance of the characters' security; one moment everything seems fine and tranquil, the next, a bipedal mutant frog with an upper body more ripped than a gym junkie is trying to slash off your head. The mixture of close-ups and long shots has been chosen nicely and further enhances the level of isolation that the protagonists experience. The cutscenes look absolutely amazing, and the high quality renderings and motion capture make the majority of the segments look like live-action set pieces.
It's not all about the visuals, though, as the sound design is as emotionally-charged as it is authentic. The military weapons utilise believable sound effects that really make the player feel like they are pulling the triggers of their firearms. The moans and groans of the zombies make them sound as creepy as they look, and the growls and howls of the more extravagant monsters emphasise the unnatural tampering of their DNA along with their urge to kill. More subtle elements of the audio design include the sound of footsteps on different types of ground: gravel has a distinct crunchy sound compared to the softer contact of boots on carpet, and the reverb of running across a marble floor in an open room plays an important part in immersing the player and suspending their disbelief. When the player realises that they are treading on broken glass, the question becomes – no matter how briefly – what caused this damage, and will it be back? The voice acting is significantly more plausible than that of the original, taking away the unintentional humour and replacing it with a polished performance from all of the characters. Additionally, the soundtrack can be as exciting as it is mysterious. Ambient tracks that utilise classical instruments can often trick players into a false sense of security, and it's this mixture of up-tempo songs with slower more melodic compositions that really makes things unpredictable.
The game offers an tremendous amount of replay value. Depending on which character the gamer plays as, different events will take place and different characters will be encountered. Certain choices lead to an array of endings, and you can unlock different play modes that make replaying both a must and a joy. Throughout the game are inventory boxes that allow players to drop off items, and are all interlinked, meaning that items can be retrieved no matter which one they are using. A special Real Survival mode takes away this ability so that items can only be picked up again from the very box that was used to store them. This, along with the removal of the auto-aim, increases the game's difficulty and further provides a more intense experience for the more advanced and fearless gamer. Another mode has a "special" enemy that relentlessly follows the player around and, if shot, the game will end. This forces the player to flee instead of kill and at times really gets the heart pumping. Other treats include costumes, invisible enemies, and new weapons, which are unlocked by completing the game in specific ways.
Resident Evil pairs up many binary themes: danger vs. safety, natural evolution vs. bio-engineering, trustworthy characters vs. suspicious comrades, and brains vs. brawn. The designers have managed to mix all these elements together to form a game that feels unique, regardless of how original the genre is. There are also numerous text files within the game that offer reading material for players to more fully understand the story. These provide a nice break from all the action and offer insight into the backgrounds of people and events. Some are in the form of diary entries, and their writing puts players into the mindset of the characters very well, offering logical reasoning behind their often insane-seeming actions.
One of the games to play alone, this Resident Evil remake lived up to and exceeded all expectations. The amount of backtracking is actually a pleasure at times, and the possibility of encountering new monsters prevents things from becoming too repetitive. The updated photorealistic visuals and extra content make it worth revisiting for old fans as well. If you are one of the few to have not played Resident Evil games before, buy this game. If you are one of the lucky many to have played Resident Evil games already, buy this game.