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Survivor's Guilt by FullAuto Written on 16th November 2005

Resident Evil was the game equivalent of a B-movie. It was ridden with clichés, had terrible dialogue and voice acting, some of the camera angles sucked leprous demon cock and quite frankly, the characters were such cardboard cut-out stereotypes you could have folded them up and used them as boxes.

It was perfect and it ruled the Playstation arena in 1996 with an iron fist.

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Don't come closer! It's an eggy one!
You had the grainy black-and-white film intro of the Special Tactics And Rescue Service (or STARS. Who the fuck thought that up, eh? Give the man a medal for sheer brazen cheek) Alpha team investigating the disappearance of Bravo team, who in turn were meant to be looking for the cause of a series of hideous crimes near Raccoon City (no, I’m not making these names up, but I wish I had!). They discover Bravo team’s helicopter, get ambushed by undead dogs and make a run for it. They stumble across (by sheer fucking luck, would you believe it) a mansion, at which the evil Umbrella Inc. is carrying out biowarfare research and has caused all sorts of shit, as these things usually do.

You chose a character (either Chris Redfield, manly man, or Jill Valentine, ickle girl). Chris’ game is the tougher, he starts with a knife and the enemies tend to be harder. Jill can carry more items and begins the game with a pistol. The game started as soon as you get in the front door of the mansion, and it was an immersive experience.

Your character was slow and clumsy. The controls were definitely designed that way, to heighten tension. As you can imagine, some of the fixed camera angles were absolute bastards, and you end up running into a wall or backing into the open arms of a zombie no end of times, causing you to swear and shout at bastard games designers in general. It should have been really frustrating, but it just added to the ambience. Your character couldn’t shoot as fast as you can press the button. You could only swap weapons by pausing and going to the menu. You couldn’t climb, duck or roll. Your default pace was a walk. Your turning speed was less than that of a nuclear submarine. You couldn’t move while aiming a gun. If you stayed calm you were ok, but if you panicked, even for a second, you’d get chunks taken out of you.

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Boo! Scared you!
The enemies were spot on. Zombies were the most common opponents, slow and stupid, easily killed with just the knife after a little practice. You could handle groups of them with just the 9mm pistol easily. Their only strength was their ability to hide in cupboards or play possum until you were close, before leaping out and chewing a hole in your neck. Dogs are the next step up. Much faster, harder hitting, a group of these could surround and circle you, ripping you to Chum in seconds. Killing them at range with the 9mm was the way to go, but the wise knew to save ammo in one-on-one encounters by knocking the mutt down with a well-placed bullet and then running up close and carving out doggie steaks with the knife. Flocks of crows and poisonous snakes also featured, along with sharks but the enemy to be feared were the Hunters. These humanoid frogs, with their disturbing squeal/scream and heavy footsteps, had the ability to behead you with one leaping swing of their claws and mightily did they piss me off. Able to soak up plenty of damage and quickly recovering from knockdowns, if there was more than one you were in deep shit.

The weapons. The knife was paltry, good only for killing single zombies or getting in a few opportunistic stabs on a downed enemy. The 9mm pistol was a stalwart companion, holding fifteen rounds and just powerful enough to serve throughout most of the game. Finding the shotgun felt like a benediction. Powerful at close range, with a shot spread at long, you could really give those bastards the bad news. Each of the seven shells it held meant a zombie or dog splattered across the floor. It was only bettered by the Colt Python, an enormous revolver that was really your only recourse when faced by Hunters. The grenade launcher was also a heavy hitter, but much more unwieldy to use.

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You have the right to remain dead.
Ammo placement was scarce. Even knifing every zombie and most of the dogs, you could run low easily. Every slim black 9mm magazine made you hiss “Yes!” through your teeth. Every box of shells made you grin. Every speedloader for the Python had you nodding confidently. You were loaded up now. Cocked, locked and ready to rock.

A roomful of enemies later, you were back to scrabbling in corners, hunting vainly for bullets. This is something hardly any survival horror games have got right. Even the Resi sequels give you three or four times as much ammo as you need to do the job. It all added to the tension, wondering whether to just try and dodge an enemy, or try killing him with the knife, or maybe expend some ammo and risk being low for a vital confrontation further on.

The atmosphere was nothing less than grade A. The mansion itself was a warren of rooms, twisting staircases, hidden passages, locked doors, booby traps and simple puzzles. The music was very basic, but it fit the game perfectly and worked very well, icing your nerves or making your pulse pound a little too fast, driving your fingers a little out of control. Fumbling, trying to get a grip on the pad and your character’s situation, backing away from a group of zombies, popping away at them with the 9mm until your back hit the wall and it was time to unlimber the shotgun or die, was the essence of Res Evil gameplay.

The dialogue…I’m just going to give you some examples, and let them speak for themselves. Coming from characters such as gruff hard man Barry Burton (probable alcoholic, or so I’ve always thought) or ice-cold Alpha team leader Albert Wesker (wears shades in the dark, yes he’s a bad guy) I’m sure you’ll understand. We have contenders in all the categories, from Shitty Jokes to Downright Incomprehensible.

Chris (after killing a giant mutant plant): “Looks like we got to the root of the problem.”

Wesker (walking with Chris): “I'm sorry for my lack of manners, but I'm not used to escorting men.”

Barry (Jill narrowly escapes being crushed): “You were almost a Jill sandwich!”

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My God, tomato sauce! And it's fresh!
The defence rests, m’lud. No, I have no idea what the second one means. Added to the huge and unnecessary hand gestures made by each character when they spoke, the dialogue, although quite shit and sometimes nonsensical, actually made the game better. Somehow.

The game was a masterpiece. Health was represented by a neat little ECG readout on the menu screen, the colour of the line stating your character’s condition. Green for fine, yellow for injured, orange for seriously wounded and red for nearly dead. This was quickly remedied with First Aid sprays (God knows where you sprayed them) or herbs. There were three types of herbs, green for health, blue to remedy poison and red to triple the effects of either of the other two. These could be mixed and then used (again, I don’t know how, but they were ‘herbs’ after all, so I’m saying nothing).

The graphics were excellent for the time, the FMV was of a superb standard, and the palette was dank, dark and the environments were either antiseptically pristine or disgustingly grotty. The enemies were nicely animated, shambling, loping and lunging as appropriate, most of them many times quicker than your lumbering character. Even the loading screen for each room was disguised by a slow door-opening animation, which contributed to the tension.

There were plot twists and surprises, shocks and horrors, discoveries that made you duck right back into the previous room to calm down, times when you were up against a shitkicking and only skilful shooting could save the day, ammo droughts where the only thing you could do was get out your knife, grit your teeth and go a-stabbing.

As you wound deeper into the game, into the mansion, its grounds and its subterranean labs, you only got more involved in surviving. Because that was the aim. You started out as rescuers, but ended up doing nothing more than surviving (or not, as the ‘You Died’ game over screen gleefully informed you), the bare bones of existence, as you wandered the corridors and rooms, hoarding bullets and keys and herbs.

Every other game involving violence gives you a lofty goal to justify the killing. Resident Evil just dropped you in the shit and stood on your head. Yes, you advance the plot, yes, you interact with characters (most of whom probably just smoke herbs and loiter in rooms sexing themselves up while you do the dirty work, admittedly), but it’s all secondary to surviving.

Perhaps that’s why I feel so guilty. Because I experienced such a great and terrible beauty, and survived.


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