Resident Evil is a game I said I’d never play. It’s an old classic, a first of it’s kind that layed the foundation for a huge franchise yet it never appealed to me. I don’t like the horror genre, I don’t like fixed camera angles and I like being able to save wherever and however often I like. Recently though, a reviewer who creates the brilliant video series Huber Hype, Michael Huber, recently dedicated two entire episodes to talking about this franchise, detailing every main entry with a few smaller ones and why it’s his favourite game series of all time before instructing his audience to play it on Halloween. They were great videos as usual and it sparked off one of my friends once again demanding I play this series but I remaned resolute and refused.
The game stuck in my mind though, particularly after watching part of a video where Huber played through one of the games in it’s entirety and by the time the Halloween game sales started, I got curious. I had no plans to buy it but I was curious if Resident Evil HD was on sale and by the end of the night, I decided “screw it, I’ll try it” and purchased the game. The decision was made, I’d start my first playthrough of this game on Halloween evening.
I decided I may as well do this right so I purchased the game on PC for some additional visual settings to turn up and I installed a mod that replaced all of the dialogue with the original, awful voice acting before turning subtitles off since they now conflict with what I’m hearing.
On the night of Halloween, I selected Jill on normal difficulty and off I went on my first time playing a Resident Evil game. What I ended up with was one of the most surprising experiences I’ve ever had with a game. The voice acting immediately charmed me with something so uniquely bad, I don’t think it could be replicated to the same effect. Oddly enough the lift in tone it provides really makes the sudden drop back into the darker atmosphere this game provides all the more intense. That atmosphere by the way, turned out to be something special.
Immediately, the game provides a feeling of unease, something the game only continues to build on as you progress. It’s quiet, open and you can hear the loud echo of your footsteps in this completely unfamiliar place. The first time you meet a zombie, it feels dangerous, something you want to avoid fighting and the game makes it clear that’s how you should be feeling as you discover your handgun is very ineffective. It takes several shots to knock a zombie down with a few more needed to kill them and you have very little ammo. Straight away the game teaches you that the basic enemy in this game is dangerous and that ammo is scarce enough that fighting is a last resort.
That’s something I came to really appreciate in this game, every enemy has a presence and ammo conservation played a key part in how I played. Do I absolutely need to kill this enemy or can I get around it? Can I afford to take the health risk of getting grabbed? Could I be passing through this area frequently enough that taking this enemy out is a wise option? Can I afford to spend the ammo on this? It’s something you don’t usually have to think about in games but here, just the act of making that decision is used as a game mechanic.
Decision making is something this game places on the player to masterful degree and it comes down to several different components from inventory management to choosing what items to pick up to keeping your health in check. One thing that has to be mentioned in particular is the save mechanic. I may not like having to hunt for save points but I can’t deny how much the save system in Resident Evil adds to the entire experience of playing this game.
Save points come in the form of type writers in this game and they require the use of ink ribbons hidden throughout the game in sets of three. This means there’s a limited number of times you can save throughout the entire game and that you have to find them. This sounds incredibly annoying at first but it brings a dual risk dynamic to the game that adds a huge amount of tension. It made me reluctant to save and every time I’d consider it, I’d have to reason with myself if I’d actually go ahead with it. If I save, I have less ribbons and may be out of saves later on but if I don’t save and die then I have to repeat a bunch of things I’ve just done.
I had to decide how long I was willing to go without saving and make tactical decisions about when to use them, taking into consideration the pacing and what tasks I’ve accomplished. Earlier on I found myself saving more frequently after every few tasks but as I went on, I started taking bigger and bigger gaps between saves as I became more comfortable with the mechanics, making sure to conserve these precious ribbons. Ribbons also impacted my time playing because I’d have to decide whether to stop playing earlier than I wanted to at an optimal time to save or play longer than I should to progress to the next point it makes sense in game to save.
It’s a consideration you don’t tend to have with games and I came to appreciate it. It added tension because it made me feel unsafe for my character since death carries such a huge weight. I found it really interesting how large an impact it had on my way of playing and it’s what gave me huge feelings of dread when coming up against newer and more aggressive enemies.
The enemies are really interesting in this game as well. Every enemy has presence, you will take note of them every single time you encounter them and working out ways to avoid confronting them. The basic zombie AI of particular is really interesting to me because of one detail that on first glance would appear to be poor pathfinding until you realise it’s exclusive to this enemy. Other enemies will make precise, direct paths towards the player but zombies walk into railings arms outstretched , trying to get to the player until they work out the right path. They felt more threatening, like they were making an effort to get to me.
Other enemies ended up being quite interesting and varied too. Zombie dogs will nip at your heels and jump for your throat. If you don’t dispose of a zombie after killing it, it’ll come back in a faster, more deformed state that made me go “what the hell is that?” the first time I saw one. There are fast, powerful and tanky monsters in the form of hunters, zombie sharks and giant spiders. Nearer the end of the game you encounter one of the more intimidating enemies featuring multiple arms, crawling out of vents, taking insanely long swipes and leaping at the player. I found their AI in particular interesting as they were aggressive but backed off when in danger, they didn’t want to die.
Finally, an enemy (and character if you read some of the excellent files found througout the game) I absolutely have to mention is Lisa Trevor. You first encounter her after being knocked out and her appearance is quite horrifying. She’s huge, hunched with a severely decayed face and wearing someone else’s face on top. Her hands are bound at the front and she lumbers after you while blocking your only exit and being impossible to kill. She left an impression to say the least and it gives her a presense like no other the next couple of times you encounter her.
If you explore and read her files then you’ll discover a horrifying story surrounding her and her parents (both of which also have diaries to read) with the inhuman conditions and horrific experiments she was subjected to. They show her mental deteroration and that she still retains limited intelligence with her close relationship with her mum turning into a twisted obsession. I won’t spoil it entirely but although the game has many stories to read into, this was the most interesting and impactful one for me.
Finally, the thing I haven’t mentioned yet is probably the most important thing and that is the puzzles. Resident Evil is a puzzle game at heart and it wasn’t too far into it that I realised it’s a point and click adventure game with the action stuff just being there for the challenge and to set the tone. The entire game is about them and it’s how it handles progression.
I was surprised about just how enjoyable I found these puzzles. This game contains some of the best puzzles I’ve ever encountred in a game and they’re the reason why I loved my time with this one so much. I didn’t find any puzzle hard, nor did I get caught out by or activate a single trap but I thoroughly enjoyed solving them. I was cautious and suspicious of the game constantly which allowed me to identify traps and the solutions for them straight away. Every puzzle made sense to the point where often enough I’d know the item I needed or the solution just on seeing them.
Others required and rewarded mentally noting things down from previous rooms and coming up with potential solutions on your own, rewarding the player for actually thinking without making things frustrating. There’s two puzzles I love in particular with one of them being an entirely optional sequence of puzzles that allow you to circumvent a boss fight in a brilliant way.
This sequence takes place in the Residence and involves multiple clues from different rooms that then involves separate notes that form a complete set of information. I actually got a pen and paper for this to work things out and then the puzzle spans across a separate area with the final part effectively being a hidden puzzle the player has to think of entirely on their own. It was incredibly satisfying to do and I still can’t get over how fun this whole sequence was. It repeats this to a lesser degree in the final stage of the game with a puzzle that’s just fun to work out and places faith in the player that they know what they’re doing by this point.
The puzzles in this game are just briliant and I love them. They show just how much care was put into developing this game and it’s amazing they still hold up after all these years.
Resident Evil really surprised me, I avoided it for years and stubbornly so because it didn’t even remotely seem like my kind of game and yet it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and memorable gaming experiences I’ve had. It’s not a perfect game by any means, it had a few flaws, but the rest of it is so good I’m willing to look past them. That much of it still holds up after all this time since the original release is astounding and I’m glad I played it.
I’m not sure I’ll play any more classic style Resident Evil games because it took me a lot of dedication and focus to get through this one and I probably won’t even replay this game but I’m glad I played it at least once and at the very least, I think I did my playthrough right. I played as Jill, I entered every room and collected 100% of items in the game and I rescued both Barry and Chris. At around 14 hours of play, I don’t think I did bad for my first time.