Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Resident Evil: 15 Years Of T-Virus Slaying...

RESIDENT EVIL. It's hard to imagine that one of the franchises I've held so dear to my gaming heart has come this far, and this article posted in Kotaku and the video embedded below narrated by series baddy Albert Wesker reminded me how much I've missed it... with a new wave of Survival Horror goodness just in the tethers of the next wave of video game goodness to hit us in the coming months ahead.

It's been 15 years since Bio Hazard, more commonly known as "Resident Evil" stateside, made an impression on the gaming community, and I was one of the few to be humbled by my experience with Capcom's foray into the world of Survival Horror. Inspired by the games "Alone In The Dark" and "Sweet Home", the game was created by Shinji Mikami, who worked on the latter NES game and was originally commissioned by Capcom to remake it, only to venture out and develop a product that would not only prove sensational to gamers worldwide, but as a template to the market that would ultimately open doors for the world of Survival Horror in general.

The original game, released for the Sony Playstation, was set in July 1998, in the outskirts of a fictional midwestern town called Raccoon City, where bizarre murders linked to cannibalism terrified the populace and left many questions in need of answering. In response, the Raccoon Police Department sent out their Special Tactics And Rescue Squad, or S.T.A.R.S, to personally investigate the affair. Bravo Team was first deployed, but after mysteriously disappearing for hours without a trace, the second unit, Alpha Team, went in to continue the mission and check on the whereabouts of their teammates. Led by Captain Albert Wesker, the team of Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Barry Burton, Joseph Frost, and helicopter pilot Brad Vickers ventured forth into the mountains to continue the mission and find their comrades. Unfortunately, only the crashed remains of Bravo Team's helicopter were waiting for them. An unexpected turn of events however soon gave them a clear idea of the grim fate that befell their compatriots. Monstrous dogs attacked and maimed Joseph to death, and the rest of the team was abandoned by a fearful Brad, who took the chopper with him as well. Forced to take shelter in a seemingly isolated mansion, the remaining members of S.T.A.R.S Alpha Team walk into uncertain territory... and a nightmare that will change their lives forever.

One of the reasons I got into Resident Evil right away was the fact that it reminded me of one of my favorite pictures - George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". That film practically inspired every inch of the game's basic premise - a group of survivors fight off hordes of undead monstrosities in a secluded household area. For a 12 year old kid like me back in the day, that setup was enough to make you scared shitless, but at the same time excited at the prospect of facing the horror head on and coming out somewhat unscathed. At first, it may have seemed impossible a task to accomplish given how "difficult" it was to navigate through certain puzzles and shy away from blasting zombies down and conserve ammo, but gradually I came to understand and familiarize myself with the game's mechanics enough to work through and finally finish it. Granted, the B-movie inspired sci-fi horror plot was enough to get me grimacing at certain moments, but I found myself cherishing the most "memorable" dialogue and sequences the game had to offer (Barry Burton's "Jill Sandwich" and "Master of Unlocking", I'm looking at you). No doubt I was looking forward to a sequel after finishing the darn game the year we finally had a Playstation in our household, but once Mikami-San scrapped it (Resident Evil 1.5) and eventually released it in 1998 after another year of developmental work (Resident Evil 2), I knew bigger and better things were coming for the series' legacy.

On the interim space of development, a "director's cut" of the first game was released in 1997, aptly titled "Resident Evil: Director's Cut". In addition to having the same game, the enhanced re-release had certain additions, most prominent being the new "Arranged Mode" that mixed things up by offering new locations for items and enemies, as well as new camera angles and costumes for the main and supporting characters of the game. The censored intro and first zombie encounter cutscenes were supposed to be restored to their original formats, but a "miscommunication" between the west and east caused that to be sadly omitted from the Western release, retaining the cuts and disappointing fans like myself. Fortunately, the cream of the crop of this package was Capcom including a playable demo of RE2, which gave gamers a first glimpse of the sequel set 2 months later in a zombie infested Raccoon City itself.

For all its worth, the original Resident Evil served as the precursor to bigger and badder things in the world of survival horror. The series eventually went through numerous installments to continue the tale of its surviving protagonists, but the first game by far has the most releases in several platforms and media, including an actual remake (aptly titled "REmake") that first made its way to the Nintendo Gamecube and saw a reimagining of the first game with new enhancements, better plot structure, and most of all, cutting the cheesy B-movie antics and instilling it with better dialogue and voice acting. It also went portable for the first time (besides a PSone classic download) in another reimagining for the Nintendo DS called "Resident Evil: Deadly Silence".  Besides being a somewhat enhanced version of the original PSone game, it had several new modes and features, including a mini-game feature within the game that would allow players to use their DS stylus and swing the combat knife in first person view mode! I could get down to reminiscing about the entire RE series as a whole, but that would be going to far down the line. For now, I'd like to quietly sit back and remember the first game, which still remains my favorite in terms of nostalgia and intrigue factor. Thank you Capcom and Shinji Mikami for creating and presenting such a wonderful game. This helped define survival horror for a generation, and it continues to evolve into something that gives fans like me a reason to keep playing.

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