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Taking a look at… Resident Evil – A Pioneer to Survival Horror

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Many a game has been labelled with redefining their respective genre, but none have defined themselves as much as the original Resident Evil.

Perhaps responsible for the birth of the survival horror genre, Resident Evil first burst onto the scene in 1996 and has since paved the way for a multitude of survival horror titles throughout the years, right up until today’s era of gaming.

Many of these have Resident Evil to thank for transcending this incredible blend of survival gameplay with horror focused environments and stories. The game’s brilliance and flair during a time where gaming was getting to know itself is matched only by its incredible influence in a still relevant and successful genre, over 20 years since its original release. The game has undoubtedly reached legendary status and the recent remaster had many fans including myself warmly reminded of how flawless it is.

Resident Evil’s success in a period of linear games can come down to its jarring and claustrophobic gameplay. Capcom made the bold decision to give players absolutely no control over the camera, instead seeing every scenario from a variety of pre-set camera angles. Combine this with the infamous tank controls and you’ve got one of the clunkiest gameplay experience imaginable.

This sounds like a great hassle for you, but it turns out to contribute further to the die hard gameplay. The aiming isn’t too off target and you’ll rarely miss a bullet; this allows things to stay well balanced to keep you from lobbing the controller across the room out of pure hatred

Other gameplay elements are similarly hardcore yet brilliantly memorable. The item management for example is something of a puzzle itself for the player, shifting around items from your storage box and managing these is part and parcel of the fun, unlike most modern survival horror titles which would have you never endingly collect ammo and weapons. The Evil Within for example starts very strongly giving the player the bare minimum resources to use against powerful and tricky opponents, but as the game moves on it loses its feel of genuine survival horror as you begin to stack up on neat gadgets and absurdly strong character skills and weapon upgrades. Resident Evil’s gameplay is consistent throughout and always provides a challenge to the player. It masters the idea of player freedom, and you’ll constantly be asking yourself questions: should I save this grenade launcher for an inevitable boss battle or do I use it now to tackle some of the tougher enemies ahead? Do I need this handgun ammo now or should I save my item slot for something else? The game forces you to take control of your own playthrough and it’s something that has never faded in all the classic Resi games of the late ’90s and early 2000s.

To truly understand the greatness of Resident Evil though, you need look further than its sophisticated and brilliantly crafted gameplay: spine chilling tracks, creaky door openings and grisly lighting all contribute to Resident Evil’s environment. The attention to detail in the mansion’s jading structure acts as the ideal backdrop to the gauntlet of tough decisions and horrifying creatures littered throughout the Spencer mansion. Each room has a unique design, with individual soundtracks creating a creepy yet fitting tone for the theme of the area; the laboratory offers more cold and raw themes while the mansion has a more occult and abnormal theme.

The lighting is perfect too with some of the more ominous areas dimly lit and the petrifying outdoors segments given life in the recent remakes. The game is also made up of several main environments that the player will have to navigate as part of individual acts, with the mood shifting constantly with changing environments so that the mansion doesn’t become too monotonous. The laboratory area, as well as some of those outdoors, offer significant changing landscapes for the player and mixes up the mood brilliantly especially as you gain a unique set of tracks as you delve deeper into the Umbrella Corporation’s secrets.

Loading screens between different rooms are appreciably masked by the inclusion of individual door opening animations – combine this with the perfect sound design and it makes undoubtedly sure the immersion isn’t broken when travelling between areas. This, interwoven with the authentic and classic gameplay, is why 1996’s Resident Evil is considered one of the timeless greats. 

Despite the large success being attributed to its environment design and gameplay, the original Resident Evil stood out in other ways too; the simple plot and memorable characters also gave way to many successful sequels and prequels.

Ask anyone what they remember most about the original Resident Evil and your answer will largely depend on who you’re asking – some remember the gameplay, others remember the soundtrack – but you’ll get those who remember its plot and characters.

You can choose to play as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, both members of S.T.A.R.S Alpha team, also known as the special tactics and rescue service. Led by the infamous Albert Wesker, you are dispatched to investigate reports of bizarre murders just outside of Raccoon City. After searching the dark and mysterious forest, you come across the destroyed helicopter of Bravo team and their deceased pilot and after a riveting cinematic encounter with a pack of rabid dogs your team quickly seek refuge in a nearby mansion. 

The plot is by no means complex, yet its simplicity is refreshing for the player as you begin to investigate the mansion and realise the murders are no ordinary homicide.

At the beginning you are given the choice to play as either Chris or Jill, and each character has a unique skillset and personality; Chris is bold, brave and the more combative of the two, whilst Jill is crafty and cunning, preferring a more covert approach to her work. Both are brilliant protagonists and although the dialogue won’t be winning any awards, the two characters feel monumental and unforgettable, even to this day.

You’ll need to chose your character wisely though, as your playthrough will be mostly influenced by who you chose. Jill comes with 8 item slots, a grenade launcher later in the game and a lock-pick as well as a different pathway through the mansion with certain characters appearing more often and different choices presented to you. Chris on the other hand comes with just 6 item slots, however he is much stronger with weaponry and can absorb a lot more punishment than Jill – oh, and he will also have a flamethrower where Jill would have the grenade launcher and a nifty lighter right from the get go.

Whoever you pick, the story is brilliant either way and the cheesy dialogue often works in its favour, contributing to the classic feel, as you discover the darker secrets behind the Spencer mansion and its history of morally questionable biological research. 

Resident Evil is undoubtedly the king of survival horror. After 22 years since its release, it still creates a pulsating survival experience and still leaves me terrified at the sight of corpses lying around, with the thought of them coming back to claw at my oesophagus as a crimson head. The old visuals still hold up today thanks to the recent HD remaster and gives the game a more modern feel as well as adding some new segments.

Even as the franchise still soldiers on to this day, developers across this genre are still trying to find an experience that will have the same much loved feel that the original Resident Evil created. Recent survival horror games with high appraisal like The Evil Within and Resident Evil 7 are brilliant games in themselves, yet lack the persistence and perfection of the 1996 survival horror gem.

Even directly after the release, and with some of the its sequels being heralded as equals to Resident Evil 1, no game past, present or future will have, or can ever match it for sheer perfection and influence in its respective genre. 

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