Umbrella Corp officially denies that a second incident has taken place in the Arklay Mountains near Raccoon City, the sight where, in 1996, they were accused of unleashing a deadly contaminant that disfigured and killed hundreds of company employees and private citizens within the area. Reports lately filed by local citizens mirror those of 1996, except that this time they contain such exceptional detail and horrifying scenarios that the Justice Department is considering investigating these claims, pending a report from Raccoon City’s elite team of investigators known as STARS. We’ll have more on this story as information is made available…
When Capcom announced that Resident Evil was being remade for the GameCube, most assumed it was going to be a simple graphical enhancement of the original title. Nintendo’s systems have always been short changed when it came to the RE titles, (with the exception of RE2 appearing on the N64) due to many factors such as Nintendo sticking to a cartridge format and their systems being geared toward a younger audience, so it was assumed that the GameCube version of the original would just be a pretty way to settle that score. Even this reviewer (who was working at Acclaim Entertainment at the time of the original’s release, and can attest to the entire staff talking about little else for a solid three weeks) had low expectations for the new version’s content… the original had been beaten “nine ways to Sunday” and “from hell to breakfast,” so what could a remake possibly have to offer? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot indeed.
First off, the graphical presentation is beyond stunning. This is what you would picture this mansion looking like in your head. Although it might be thought of as a step back in terms of technology (Code Veronica, released for the Dreamcast in 2000 used fully rendered-on-the-fly environments), the static backgrounds used up until CV are back, but tweaked to such a state of high-resolution perfection that you probably wouldn’t notice them if you were not told that they were there. Capcom has perfected a way to animate objects within the pre-rendered environments and use light-sourcing to such an extent that everything appears so realistic that by walking through the shadow-infested hallways, dank chambers, and long-abandoned rooms infested with various abominations, you actually begin to feel like you are inside this mansion… and about to die.
This is hands down the most visually impressive title available for the GameCube to date (even though the content is both horrifying and disgusting in its beauty). You’ll notice the place come to life with swinging chandeliers, reflections in mirrors, and bugs that scatter when you enter the room. The character models are so detailed that they look like actual human beings, complete with subtleties such as eyelashes, hair thickness, and shape… especially Jill’s shape… wow. The animation of everything will convince you that Capcom used actual specimens for motion capture. With the exception of the two main characters (more on that in a moment), everything moves exactly the way it should. Zombies lumber along like the hollow shells of humanity that they are, sharks swim, bees fly, and (eeuushh) spiders crawl exactly the way you think they should… if they were mutated into giant sized versions of themselves with a lot of pent-up aggression. There are, of course, many creatures (and many completely new ones) that bear no resmblance to anything in the land of reality, and yet they advance, swipe, and bite at you with a completely fluid, naturalistic look. It’s truly awe-inspiring.
The main characters have had an animation “face lift” as well, with several new frames added to their rotation and walking. The camera is still at a fixed angle, and moves only when its supposed to, so yes, players will still find themselves shooting at enemies they can’t see, as veterans of the series are used to doing. The whole graphical package is designed to convey a single emotion… fear. The latter titles in the series have strayed quite a bit from what is actually frightening, and gone for a more action-oriented approach, but here, on the GameCube, we’re back to the land of George Romero, zombies, dogs, hunters, spiders, snakes, and a mansion that serves as the title’s most frightening character of all. Prepare to lose sleep.
The sound mix delivers some of the best stuff that the GameCube is capable of. While not quite Dolby Pro-Logic II, and nowhere near the 5.1 discrete joy of Dolby Digital/DTS, it is a considerable offering with tense, atmospheric music, disgustingly appropriate sound effects (there are dozens just for walking over different types of ground alone, and I challenge anyone not to wince at the melon-busting noise of a zombie’s head being blown off), and, of course, the trademark so-bad-it’s-good dialogue. Has the dialogue been improved in this version? Yes. Is it Shakespeare? Hell no. At least the “master of unlocking” is no more.
As for the title’s actual gameplay, well, here is where all the real surprises come in. There is approximately 40% more content added from the original. There are all new locales inside the mansion to explore, and those a gamer may be familiar with have been altered from slightly to completely. In short, this is practically a brand new title. All of the surprises you would expect at certain locations at certain times have been moved to either another place or time or both. A previously subdued, restful location may now be teaming with instant death, and vice versa. There are several new types of enemies to encounter as well, including the “crimson head” zombies, which are fierce, fast running zombies with claws that come to life after you put down a zombie for the first time. The only way to be sure the zombie you just blew away will not get up as a crimson is to either blow its head clean off, or (a brand new gameplay element) burn it. Yes, in this version of Resident Evil, if a character carries a lighter and a kerosene flask (which can be refilled at certain checkpoints, mostly near save rooms), they can torch the corpse of a zombie to make sure it doesn’t get up again… marshmallows, anyone?
Another welcome addition to the gameplay is the defense item. These items can be set for automatic or manual (left trigger use). What they accomplish is a last ditch defense when attacked by an enemy. Both Chris and Jill have knives, but Jill can also use a tazer to electrocute (snap, crackle, pop), and Chris uses a grenade that he shoves inside a zombies mouth, and then steps back and shoots for a disgusting but oh, so satisfying defense. Zombies have also gotten a bit smarter and tougher to beat, and some of them even follow you from room to room. There is also an entire new subplot revolving around a brand new repugnancy that will leave you captivated. No spoilers here, though.
The control scheme, however, remains the same as it always has. The characters still turn like tanks and take a bit of getting used to in terms of controller manipulation, and even with the new frames of animation in their stepping, it’s still the same. It’ll take the average gamer a bit of time to learn the intimacies of the controls (which are notorious, and notoriously un-changed here), and avoid running into solid objects like walls, tables, advancing behemoths, etc.
All of the Resident Evil arsenal staples are present, including the pistols, shotguns, magnums, grenade launchers, flame throwers, etc. Players can dish out serious damage to the hordes of undead if they can locate the weaponry. Yes, most of the guns are not going to be in the same spot they were found in the original, so get used to it. As a matter of fact, one of the most gruesome surprises in the game centers on the “ex” team-member that supplies Jill with the grenade launcher… eww. Typically, there are plenty of those head-scratching puzzles to be found (and even a letter from the man who designed the deathtrap mansion… basically taunting himself for his own blind creativity) some of which you’ll remember (but they’ll have a different solution) and some of which take old items into new puzzles, but they’re only moderately difficult (at worst) to solve. There still is the annoying facet of having to run clear across the mansion to go back to a save bin because your inventory is too full to pick up a vital piece, and the item boxes are still “Houdini” style (magically interconnected); nitpicky, I know, but there you have it.
There is one flaw in the design that appears to be a mystery… and that’s the bizarre pauses that occur during cutscenes. It’s as if the cutscene files are broken into 10-15 second increments, and they don’t seamlessly run together. It’s not a deal-breaker of a problem, but you will notice it.
Just when you think Capcom has exhausted another franchise, they turn around and produce a masterpiece of survival horror gaming, and one that’s a remake of the original to boot. This is no easy task. Anyone on the fence about purchasing it because they could finish the original in under two hours and without using a singe health item should think again, and run out and buy it immediately. All one needs to do is think of the experience they had the first time they went through it, multiply it by ten, and crank up the fear factor, and that is what Capcom’s remake delivers. Turn out the lights, lock the doors, put on a diaper and get yourself immersed... it’s one hell of a ride.