The Master Of Unlocking: Reassessing The Original Resident Evil

Joel Harvey

There are few games that can lay claim to having created an entire genre.

Pong can state it gave birth to the sports game and Tetris is the daddy of the quickly-place-geometric-blocks-with-Russian-music-playing-in-the-background genre. But when it comes to survival horror games, there can be only one: Alone in the Dark… sorry, Resident Evil.

Released in 1996, Resident Evil changed the face of gaming from happy and smiling, to scared and screaming. It was a highly influential game that would become one of the cornerstones of the Sony PlayStation-era. Like Wipeout and Tekken before it, Resident Evil was a significant early entry in a canon of original titles that made the PlayStation so ridiculously popular in the nineties.

But 21 years on – yes, 21 years – how should we look back at Capcom’s original iteration of Resident Evil? Through nostalgic, rose-tinted glasses? Or with our critical hat on? Because yes, Resident Evil is without doubt a classic. But by the beard of Barry Burton, it had some serious issues too.

Killed By A Crow Or Something

Right, let’s get the first problem out of the way: the controls. In any normal game, where basic human logic applies, if you push up on the controller, your character moves up. If you push down, they move down. And if you push left or right, then guess what? The character does the same! It’s an incredibly intuitive system – one that you’d think every game designer would adhere to. Well, not all of them.

In Resident Evil, pushing in any one direction doesn’t move your character forwards in that direction, it just turns them around. You then have to push up in order to move them. This is the infamously pointless ‘tank control’ system, which was adopted by many nineties action games such as Tomb Raider and Silent Hill. But we still have no idea why.

Sure, it’s a system we all got used to, but these days the process is weird and unwieldy to modern hands and analog controllers. And in a game that requires quick-timing to maneuver around enemies, it acted like a genuine hindrance.

If you thought the character movements were clunky though, wait until you hear them talk. Now we’re getting to the ROOT of the problem.

Almost A Jill Sandwich

One of the biggest statements made about Resident Evil, was how it ushered in a new “mature” audience to gaming. Please then, digest the opening introduction of this game and pinpoint the exact moment you find anything remotely mature. We think it’s when Chris lights up a smoke:

It’s lunacy now to consider that this was a game that supposedly appealed to a grown-up audience. Just because there’s blood splattered everywhere and scary things happening, does not make it any more mature; if anything, it makes it less mature.

But in fairness, this wasn’t the fault of the developers. Resident Evil probably wasn’t ever intended to be a more adult gaming experience, it was just some misguided praise to lay at its door.

However, character dialogue and voice-acting was something that you could blame Capcom for. Yes, we know a video game doesn’t need to have a great script to make it a great game; just look at Super Mario Bros. But there’s nothing more disconcerting in a game that’s intended to be an atmospheric horror, than hearing an actor woodenly say the line: “Don’t be a hard dog to keep under the porch, Barry”.

Of course, the game’s translation from Japanese is probably part of the reason why these lines are so… odd. And what’s great about them now is that we can look back at them and laugh at the awfulness of them. But if a horror game came out today with dialogue that Tommy Wiseau would’ve thought twice about writing, it would quite rightly deserve to be dragged.

Really Powerful, Especially Against Living Things

These are the only minor criticisms that we can throw at the original Resident Evil though; truth be told, it’s still an utterly fantastic game. A genuinely challenging piece of work, which shook up the very constructs of gaming in both style and inventory management.

Because in Resident Evil, you had weapons, as you do in most games. But your ammo was very limited. You had to be smart and conserve your gun-fire, choosing when best to unload on a creature from hell. It’s a trope that we’re all familiar with today in survival horror games – as well as other action games too – but in 1996, it felt fresh and new.

And the set-pieces of Resident Evil were a true joy to behold. That first big jump-scare, with the dogs jumping through the windows, was a memory that’s impossible to be removed from your childhood scare-cupboard. Capcom nailed such moments all the way through the game, right to the final boss, legitimately creating the first real interactive horror film.

Despite the visible flaws today, and the creakiness of the controls and the story, Resident Evil still holds up as a veritable classic. The series may have spawned endless sequels, films and even restaurants (no, we’re not joking), but the original remains the quality, sturdy foundation for which the whole franchise could be built upon.

Now, if you excuse us we need to go back to examining this blood we’ve just found. We just hope it wasn’t Chris’s blood!