It was a small, niggling regret that I had not played the original Resident Evil.
I had, up until recently, only played Resident Evil 4 and 5. I’ve also played the prologue of RE6, but I didn’t play further because I could already sense I was heading for a less-than-fun time. So I’ve watched a stream of someone else playing it, as well as 7 & 8, whilst marking and lesson planning, and that’s it.
Now, I actually own the RE remake. I hadn’t played it because I’d convinced myself that horror games were not how I should spend my few weekly gaming hours. Spooks and stress before bed sounds bad. However, I’ve also recently grumbled that there’s a Dead Space-sized hole in my gaming that I want filled. As I watched Resident Evil Village, I realised that I should be playing it. Yet, another voice in my head sternly reminded me that I should play Resident Evil 1 first.
So I did…
Why did no one tell me what this game was actually like?!
I knew a few things, one or two basics:
- It’s a good game – they made a lot more, so something must be good about it.
- It’s a zombie game – the series stretches and twists what a ‘zombie’ is over time, but it’s zombies to start with.
- It’s set in a mansion but also in science labs – the Resident Evil movie made me think it might actually be mostly science labs. Silly movie.
- It’s got puzzles – resident 4 and 5 had puzzles. They weren’t great and there’s no explanation for why puzzles are there… but they’ve got ’em.
- The dialogue is bad in places – I’ve heard the line “Jill sandwich” quote more than once.
Here’s what I didn’t know, and what You should have told me:
It has the best zombies
In games, tv shows and movies, zombies come in all forms these days. Fast or slow, feeble corpse or bloated hell monster, made by infection or fungus. All different shapes, colours and levels of grossness. Without hyperbole, the zombies in Resident Evil 1 might be my favourite.
It’s a simple concept, with a couple of little features. They are your standard shamblers to start with, but it’s never clear how many stabs or shots will drop them. Which makes so much sense: in a modern horror game I can often count out the number of shots I need. This type of zombie needs two shotgun blasts. How would you know what it will take to kill each zombie?
And then they might get back up. Maybe. And if not then and there, the zombie might be right as rain when you come back through that corridor a few hours later. They’re looking worse for wear – bones are starting to show – but now they’ve gone feral, as if they are now finally mad that you shot them. You can ensure that they don’t come back by burning the body, but you only get so much fuel for each fire.
The best part is when you forget: I’m not going to burn this zombie, I’m never coming back this way...
There are spiders?!
Thanks to Resident Evil 4 and 5, I was aware that there is a level of wackiness to the series. Each game, including the most recent addition, get increasingly goofy as play continues. From regular flesh-biting goons to steadily more powerful monsters until the flesh bursts open and we’re stumbling around body-horror behemoths.
Yet I’d been led to believe the series was getting crazier the older it got. In 4, the big twisty nasties are mainly boss battles, in 5 the monsters are getting bigger and more fleshy and by 6 the wheels have fallen off the wagon.
Why didn’t you tell me the games started goofy!
I was assured that this was a zombie game. Full-stop. Maybe a hard to kill, special zombie in the later levels. A couple of rotten dogs.
That held for a while, but then I found a guy half-dead in a corridor. He’d been bitten by something poisonous and I had to go get him a serum. Apparently he tells you he’s been bitten by a big snake when you play as Jill, but in my first run as Chris there’s a vague mention of something big and nasty. So when I get to the room where it happened and I see the spider-webs on the door I think: hmm, is the next zombie going to have a nastier bite? Perhaps it’s been spliced with spider DNA.
Nope. None of that. Turns out there’s a giant snake in the room.
Not further explanation is given (well, a file somewhere says a bit more). Even worse, no one seems to react to what just happened. A giant snake lives in the zombie mansion and everyone involved takes it in their stride.
Ah well, this game is weirder than I thought. Now I am prepared for more wackiness.
I thought I was prepared.
But then this happened:
Now you can’t hear me in this little recording, but you can probably infer how I responded to opening a door to a giant tarantula in my zombie game. I’m not especially arachnophobic, I can handle that. What sent me reeling was the fact that there is zero warning or setup for this eventuality, nor is it ever explained why these guys (because of course, there’s more than one) were hanging out at the bar/games room.
Oh and they gush acid blood when they’re dead.
The fact that I wasn’t told about this is ludicrous, and I do blame you. I know that the original box art has spiders on it, but I don’t have that as reference. You let me down.
It’s an escape room
Puzzles pop up in the later games in odd ways. In 7 and 8, important doors have elaborate locking mechanisms that need you to find glass eyes or make a shape in shadows. In 4-6, there’s less puzzling, and most simply need you to put a thing in a thing. They are not good puzzles, their existence doesn’t make sense, but for some reason there they are.
It feels like the games are insisting on the existence of puzzles, without really feeling the need to do much with them. After playing the first game, I can see why they are included. The first game is one big escape room. This game is all about unlocking doors, with the occasional zombie attack. As the games go on, the zombie attack portion grows and the puzzles diminish, but remain because that’s what RE has been since the start. So even if the puzzle is bad or unnecessary, it’s going in the game.
In Resident Evil 1, the puzzles are quite simple, but there’s a whole network of key finding, back tracking, reading hints and memorizing combinations. It was quite nostalgic, remembering games of old that benefitted from a pencil and paper.
I love escape rooms, and this scratched that itch. Why didn’t you tell me? I would have played this game much sooner.
The dialogue is all bad
At time of writing, I’m playing the game a second time as Jill. So, I’ve yet to find out what nearly turns Miss Valentine into a lunchtime snack. That’s okay though, because it turns out that if I wanted to hear examples of bad dialogue I just needed to listen to any dialogue from the game.
Sometimes it’s characters stating the obvious, sometimes it makes no sense, and sometimes it feels like we skipped a few pages of script.
I knew who the villain was going to be from the outset. What I didn’t know was that he says about five lines throughout the entire game, until at the end when he gives the wimpiest of villain speeches before being gutted by the Tyrant. Which happens because he stands in front of the killing-machines pod as it is opening to admire how “magnificent” it is.
There was lots of terribly wonderful/awful conversations throughout, but I homed in on this one particular back-and-forth:
The context is that Chris hears Rebecca scream and runs up to help (the game seemed to give me the choice? I just realised I don’t know what happens if you don’t answer the call.)
Once she is saved, she apologies. Chris then, in the same ten seconds, says that ‘we’ need to find the others and asks “you with me?” before telling Rebecca that she’s on her own whilst Chris carries on exploring.
Rebecca’s response: “I can handle myself”. So not only does Chris want her to work alongside him and fend for herself, Rebecca insists she can stay alive despite the scene being very specifically about her need to be rescued. Best of all, Chris responds with a big thumbs up like he’s appeasing a small child.
I even noticed something weird with the subtitles. A lot of the words in Rebecca’s line were squished together. I think they were supposed to emphasise that she’s a fast talker, but it really just looked like human error. And the point of subtitles is to make the game more accessible, so it seems strange that you would make them intentionally harder to read.
Either way, You should have told me that the RE script is a gloriously hot mess.
Long story short, You let me down. I’d been told Resident Evil was great, but the truth is so much more. The game is a treat for puzzle solvers and anyone who enjoys an authentic zombie. It’s thoroughly bonkers in its design and monster roster. The next games try to pseudo-science the alphabetised viruses and molds but the OG RE stares you in the face and declares “there are zombies bee! No other information is needed! Also sharks and these ‘Hunter’ things that might be frog men? I don’t know and I don’t care!”
More than anything, I’d come to believe that there was a rich lore in the Resident Evil franchise. What I have learnt, more than anything, is that the series is more of a nasty, meaty pile of lore that has been slowly dumped onto the original games bony frame. It’s not a terrible thing – with the nonsense comes the campy horror that makes this series so loveable, so endearing – but it was wildly apparent that the series began with a really great game, a handful of acronyms, cools plot ideas and some time later decided what the story was going to be.
I just wished You’d told me what I was missing.