Resident Evil, also known as Biohazard in Japan, is one of the most well known survival horror game for the PlayStation One. In fact, it defined the genre. The game started out as a remake of an earlier Capcom title: Sweet Home, an adaptation of the 1989 Japanese horror film of the same name, and was originally conceived as a first-person shooter. However, during the game's development, designer Shinji Mikami, who would eventually go on to head the entire franchise, was not happy with the FPS style of the game and instead decided to take some cues from the 1992 PC adventure game "Alone In The Dark." The result was a hybrid of adventure, combat, and horror that would later become known as "survival horror." Resident Evil may not have "technically" been the first survival horror game out there, but it certainly set the standard for every other game to follow.
The game takes place in the summer of 1998, on the outskirts of a typical American town called Raccoon City. A string of "bizarre murders" involving cannibalism have been taking place in the woods outside town, prompting the police to send the Special Tactics And Rescue Squad, or S.T.A.R.S., to investigate the situation. When communication with Bravo Team suddenly goes dark, Alpha Team is sent out to find out what happened to their comrades. And as you might guess, things quickly go downhill from there. After witnessing one of their teammates being viciously murdered by a pack of zombified dogs, the remaining team members: Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Barry Burton and Albert Wesker, flee into a nearby abandoned mansion. But it doesn't take long for the team to realize that this mansion is anything but abandoned, especially when they stumble upon a member of Bravo Team being eaten by a zombie. Now it's up to Chris and Jill to investigate this mad house, and discover the truth behind S.T.A.R.S' fate, and the horrific experiments and secrets that lurk within the mansion's walls.
While the game is considered a classic today, it wasn't so universally well-received back in the day. Stiff tank-like controls, rigid camera angle, awkward combat and struggling with limited inventory space made this game very "hit or miss" for early gamers. Unlike today's survival horror FPS-style games, Resident Evil's main focus was purely on survival. Sometimes it's a lot smarter, and a lot safer, to try and dodge enemies instead of gunning down everything you see, especially when you take into account the limited ammunition the game gives you and the awkward aiming mechanics. You can't just run and gun, auto-aim your way through this one kids, and you can't afford to get trigger happy. You have to actually stop and physically turn your character in the direction of the monster you want to shoot, which can be downright panic-inducing when you get surrounded by zombies who want to chew on your neck. So, the bottom line is this: make every shot count. In the early areas, you'll mainly be fighting against zombies, which are slow and easy to dodge. But as the game progresses, you'll be facing off against zombie dogs, lizardmen, giant spiders and other such monstrosities. And if those aren't enough, you'll also contend with several very memorable boss fights, such as Yawn, the giant poisonous snake, and the massive Plant 42.
When you get hit, you can patch yourself up with the various green herbs that are spread sparingly throughout the mansion. There are also First Aid Sprays that will completely restore your health, but will also lower your overall ranking. Another unique feature of the game is the save rooms. I like to call these "safe rooms," because enemies will never show up in these rooms. (although they can show up right outside the door, so watch out.) These rooms contain typewriters that will save your game, provided you have an Ink Ribbon, and items box to store your surplus items. The good thing about these item boxes is that they are connected throughout the mansion and surrounding areas. Anything you put in one box can be found in another, which is quite useful when you find a item you need for a puzzle that's clear on the other side of the mansion. And speaking of puzzles, the mansion contains lots of them. There are plenty of riddles and death traps for you to solve. Some puzzles are as easy as just flipping a switch, but some require a bit more thought, and a LOT more items.
As I mentioned before, you can play as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine. Both characters control exactly the same way, but there are some slight differences between the two. Chris is more durable and can take more damage from enemies, while Jill can carry more items and starts out with a lockpick, saving her the trouble of hunting for a specific key early in the game to open the numerous locked doors in the mansion. In addition to these two, you'll also encounter other S.T.A.R.S members who will assist you throughout your mission. If you play at Jill, Barry will come to your aid at various times and can even save your life in certain scenarios. If you play as Chris, you'll meet up with Bravo Team's nurse Rebecca Chambers, whom you must protect from enemies, but will also heal you completely in certain areas of the game.
Resident Evil was a real innovator for the survival horror genre not just in gameplay, but in style as well. The game has many unique quirks and features that were never seen before in the genre, and have now become staples of the franchise, such as the aforementioned green herbs and typewriters, as well as the opening door animations, which were originally just used to fill space while the rest of the game loaded. Another unique aspect of the game is the fixed camera angles. Instead of the camera following the character around, the character instead moves from one shot to the next. At times, this can be irritating, as the controls will sometime invert depending on where the camera is located. But it also adds to the creepiness factor, as you'll never know what's lurking around the corner until the camera shifts around abruptly and shows you. Music is pretty sparse, which in a way also helps the tense and unsettling atmosphere of the game. Much of the time you'll be roaming the mansion in complete silence, save for the moaning and groaning of zombies just around the corner. But when the music does kick in, it's appropriately creepy and adds perfectly to the situation, whether it's a sharp, sudden rise in music accompanying a jump scare, or the relieving, familiar tune of the save rooms.
There is one other thing the original is known for: God-awful acting. The original Resident Evil is universally panned for having the absolute worst voice acting in ANY game. How bad it is? Let's put it this way: it makes "Sharknado" look Oscar-worthy. The FMV opening of this game alone is one of the corniest in video game history. But it doesn't end there. The in-game cutscenes are legendarily bad, so bad in fact that they have become famous amongst fans and gamers alike, such as the infamous "Jill sandwich" scene. And believe it or not, this was the better of two takes. The game originally had Japanese voices performing these lines, but Shinji Mikami did away with them because, in his own words, they were "really lame." Hard to believe there was a version even worse than this...
Resident Evil is notable for being the only entry in the series with multiple endings. There are 4 endings you can get with each character, the best ending being you, your helper and the other player character escaping the mansion together, and the worst being only you escape the mansion. Once you finish one character's story, you can then go back and play the other side of the story. But when you do, you may find some new items in your inventory depending on how well you played in the first playthrough. If you complete the game with either character's best ending, you will receive a special key that will open the only remaining locked room in the mansion, which contains additional costumes for Chris and Jill. But if you manage to complete the game in under three hours, you get a much better reward: a rocket launcher with unlimited rounds.
The Test Of Time
One of the things I admire about this game is that it still manages to be sufficiently scary, despite how badly it's aged. The graphics and finicky gameplay may have been passable in the PS1 era, but time has definetely not been kind to this game, and it shows. But in spite of that, I love that this game can still make gamers jump and yelp in terror even after all these years, and that deserves some props. Nowadays, the series as a whole has moved away from true "survival horror" and has, for better or for worse, gone for the more mainstream FPS style of play which, ironically, is what Shinji Mikami was so disappointed with in the first game. But there is no denying the impact that Resident Evil has had on the horror franchise. If you haven't yet experienced the original terror of the Spencer mansion, I strongly recommend you do. You can find the Director's Cut version of Resident Evil, which includes additional costumes, new modes of difficulty and some new enemies, can be found on Playstation Network.
And one final note: if you have a Gamecube or Wii, you NEED to check out the 2002 remake of Resident Evil. Capcom re-built the game from the ground up, giving the game a dramatic graphical overhaul, doing away with the cheesy acting, and upping the scare factor exponentially. It is without a doubt of one the best remakes of any video game ever, and if you enjoyed the original version, you would be doing yourself a disservice to not play this version as well.