Game Review

Resident Evil: Director's Cut Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Jamie O'Neill

Jill sandwich, please, petrified with mixed herbs

Republished on Friday, 5th December 2014: We're bringing this review back from the archives to celebrate the PSone's big 20th Anniversary this week. The original text follows.

Originally published on Thursday, 31st October 2013: Spencer Mansion, set deep in Raccoon Forest, looming loftily in the Arklay Mountains, is the true star of Resident Evil. The colossal and creepy house setting of the game was inherited from Capcom’s 1989 Famicom title Sweet Home, but it was Resident Evil on PSone that popularised the survival horror genre. This 1996 third-person action adventure game created a survival blueprint, which became an archetypical structure for horror gaming’s future architectural plans.

Yet, the more that you play Resident Evil, the deeper that you understand that it’s a game about empowerment, as much as survival. The terrifying part is that when you begin the single-player only adventure, all of the power is clutched in the claws of the mansion’s monstrosities, and not in the trembling trigger fingers of Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine. The heroes of the Special Tactics and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S) are essentially trapped, they’re confused, poorly equipped, and stumble blindly through this demonically dark dwelling.

Capcom’s Production Studio 4 assembled every brick in Resident Evil to create a sinister undead world of unrelenting tension. Issue 7 of the sadly short-lived MAXIMUM magazine described it best in May/June 1996 with a five star full-mark review, stating that it had “the greatest atmosphere of any other game in existence”. As a player, you inhabit and learn the layout of the house and its surrounding grounds, as if it was a building that you had actually visited.

Part of grasping the balance of power back from the hellish beasts comes from exploring every nook and cranny. It feels old-school to the point that you may even decide to have a pen and note paper beside you as you scrutinise each room, to map out important item locations, and return to areas of interest. Ask a gamer who completed this PSone classic, and it’s likely that they could give you directions from the mansion to the gardens. They will remember the route from the guardhouse to the kitchen and library, plus they could guide you to the courtyard, through to the laboratory.

This is an achievement in visual design that extends beyond the ageing process of 32-bit graphics, or the confines of fixed camera angles, which frame oppressive pre-rendered backdrops. In any case, every camera position is deliberately placed to startle, or create distress, even when they obscure the view of two fierce Hunters in a narrow hallway. This creative construction work is evident through a more modern redesign, in the form of the GameCube’s Resident Evil remake, which can shed a clearer light on the marvellously meticulous composition of the layout of Spencer Mansion.

Everything combines to build the tension, but special credit must be given to the unease created by the sound effects and musical score. The cawing of crows and the Cerberus howls, as well as the shuffling and groans of zombies, are an audio warning preparing the player for an attacker, moments before you glimpse it. The footsteps of Jill and Chris echo around the halls, with each tread altering from wooden or tiled floors, to softer carpet strides.

If the Pixies are associated with the quiet-loud sound dynamic in alternative rock, then the talent of Masami Ueda, Makoto Tomozawa, and Akari Kaida incorporated a similar technique in Resident Evil. Their compositions and arrangements reinforce the contrast of emotions experienced throughout the adventure, from the nail-biting screeching and scraping sounds in the basement, to the reassuring calm when you reach the sanctuary of a save room. The intensely creepy guardhouse music is a stark reminder that soothing moments, such as Jill playing Moonlight Sonata on a grand piano, are intervals to be cherished.

Perhaps it’s the perception of perplexing puzzles, characters with wooden Thunderbirds puppet cut-scene movement, or stodgy controls, but it’s Resident Evil 4 that’s remembered as the true innovator, not the original game. It’s right to revere and celebrate the gameplay triumphs of the 2005 title, yet this shouldn’t be to the detriment of the first game. Returning to a glowing 9/10 review in the June 1996 edition of EDGE magazine reminds us of a climate where Resident Evil managed to impress, even after a build-up of fervid anticipation and expectation. Shinji Mikami, in regard to his role as director on Resident Evil, has credited the sales success of the original title as helping Capcom to survive a time of financial turbulence.

The game coerces you to acclimatise to its controls, although you’ll possibly curse the tank-like mobility and clunky feel at first. The Director’s Cut release on the European PlayStation Network from late in 1997 is notable, because it’s not the DualShock version of the game. However, it’s beneficial to retain the original soundtrack in this version, despite the loss of vibration and analogue controls. The d-pad movement is based upon the direction that Jill or Chris is facing. Pressing up on the d-pad always means forward and this doesn’t alter in relation to your position on the screen. Therefore, you push up as a forwards command, even if your character is travelling down the screen, or sideways across it. Subsequently, a down press on the d-pad retreats your hero, as a slow walk backwards. Perhaps Capcom confused escaping zombies using a moonwalk with the Thriller video.

Having to press the X action button to climb up and down steps doesn’t feel natural, and the series’ bugbear of becoming fixed to the spot while shooting, rather than running-and-gunning, was implemented to forge tension here. Regardless of initial complaints, the adjustment period is short, and the controls gel quickly. This is exemplified by the technique of constantly holding the run button to dodge and avoid enemies, which is vital for conserving ammo. A skilled player will only target creatures that obstruct their progress, and will weave past viscously fast monsters like the Chimera for a speed run. The Director’s Cut version also includes an improved lock-on system for whenever you draw your weapon using R1. Learning enemy attack movements to aim low-down at the huge slithering Yawn snake or upwards at zombie skulls doesn’t involve the swiftest response times.

However, you won’t blame the game’s controls for dying in the same way as in MediEvil. The puzzles in Capcom’s game can be just as cryptic as in Sir Dan’s adventure, though, and Resident Evil is heavily focussed upon practical thinking. The ordering of paintings based upon the developmental growth stages of life, and using a crank to rotate stone walls requires common sense, but some tasks are unnecessarily baffling. The main objective is often to open a locked door, but later sections involving Umbrella’s computer passwords are frustrating. Even if you find a new item, like a book, be sure to examine it, as checking its pages may be just as important.

As you memorise the location of each safe room, including storage chests, and collect ink ribbons to save on typewriters, the balance of power begins to shift. Your collection of herbs, weapons, and ammunition, including puzzle items, builds in the 48 trunk spaces, and your confidence increases as your position strengthens. Weapons are drip-fed throughout the adventure, so there is a significant increase from the puny knife and Beretta, to the stout shotgun and powerful Colt Python. Planning ahead, forward thinking, and loot management is still crucial, as at best Jill only has eight slots of carry items, and you can’t ditch unnecessary junk without a chest. Mixing combinations of green, red, and blue herbs creates more potent health rejuvenation, cures, and poison antidotes, which are essential for preparing against difficulty spikes.

Even more testing are the long and intrusive load times, which pop-up whenever you open a door, enter an elevator, and climb steps or a ladder. Mikami has recognised that there is a context for humour within a game’s spooky theme, and there’ve been titles like Zombies Ate My Neighbors that capitalise on this. However, the cheesy amateur voice acting and corny full motion video footage in Resident Evil tarnishes its sombre mood, and it’s a shame that the PSone version is often associated with gobbledegook quotes.

Game length is largely dependent upon each player’s aptitude towards illogical puzzle solving, but an approximate time of eight to ten hours towards first completion is realistic. The replay value is considerable, with numerous variables to consider for repeated play attempts. The Director’s Cut rectifies a higher PSone £7.99/$9.99 PlayStation Network price point, by including the standard original game, an easier training mode with twice as many ink ribbons and double ammunition, plus a harder advanced mode with arranged item locations. Secrets, such as speed running under three hours to earn unlimited fire for a rocket launcher, exploit the player’s quest to reverse their disparity in power.

Playing as Jill is an easier route, despite being weaker than Chris, as she has two extra item slots, and a lockpick for doors. Jill also finds a more effective character specific bazooka, as opposed to Chris’ flame-thrower. Her journey involves the assistance of Barry Burton, while Chris is supported by Rebecca Chambers. Also, information files dotted throughout the environments add interesting plot exposition, covering a story period from May to July 1998. Like the Voxophones in BioShock Infinite and artifacts in The Last of Us they provide a context to the horror, from a Keeper’s Diary chronicling supervising a monster, to a researcher’s letters and excerpts from the Raccoon Times newspaper. Adaptable story events, like reaching Bravo Team’s Richard Aiken with a serum, can result in a variety of different game endings.

Shinji Mikami found the Western title of Resident Evil to be misleading, and noted that the dread surrounding the game’s theme of Bio-Organic Weapons (B.O.W.) is more accurately captured in the Japanese name of Biohazard. The concept of humanity as the greatest villain, and the constant recognition of mistrust towards your team mates relates well to the portrayal of mankind’s response to a Zombie apocalypse in George A. Romero’s films, or modern interpretations, like The Walking Dead. Yet, Spencer Mansion is still monstrously magnificent, with its influence extending as a link to the Spencer’s European family estate in Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition. It serves as a reminder of environmental design that helps indicate the potential of Mikami’s forthcoming The Evil Within.

Conclusion

Capcom’s Production Studio 4 built Spencer Mansion to remain as haunting as the monsters that inhabit it. This 1996 PSone game has minor skeletons in its closet, including a stingy save system, sluggish load times, and bewildering puzzles as terrifying as the creepy Chimeras. The GameCube renovation stole some of its thunder, but riding this ghoul train’s balance of power between vulnerability, survival, and Colt Python carnage is gruesomely gratifying. The lumbering Lurch-like controls become reanimated as you adjust to speed run through its halls, and the tense atmosphere is more memorable than any dusty antiques on its shelf. There’s a stack of content hidden in the basement of the 1997 Director’s Cut, with extra difficulty levels and secrets adding replay value beneath the creaky pre-rendered floorboards. Panic-building level structure and a spine-chilling audio arrangement establish Resident Evil as a horror-ific humdinger of a PSone game for Hallowe’en.

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User Comments (13)

Beaston61

#1

Beaston61 said:

Oh man!The love I hold for the old school RESI games, great years of gaming! It was a fantastic read and the screenshots were just icing on the cake, thanks Jamie ! :D
I have a hankering to play it now.... although experience tells me that;
"some games are better left in your memory"

eliotgballade

#2

eliotgballade said:

topical review for all hallows' eve ! personally , i think the cheesey voice acting and FMV are part of the games charm . however , I remember disliking res evil 2 (kept walking into doorways!).
best survival horror game ever ? blue stinger !

Squiggle55

#3

Squiggle55 said:

I started playing this on my Vita and I never considered not killing a zombie and just running by... maybe that's why I kept running out of ammo and dying.

JamieOStaff

#4

JamieO said:

@eliotgballade I hear what you're saying, I've heard other gamers mention that they enjoy the cheesiness and silly quotes from PSone Resident Evil. For this review I completed this game again as Jill, and I played most of Chris' route, and it stood out to me that Capcom’s Production Studio 4 had carefully crafted such a choked atmosphere throughout the entire journey, so the cut-scenes began to spoil the tense mood for me.

Even if Resident Evil has the visual trappings of a 17 year old game, I think it’s worth remembering that Capcom added lots of detail to this early PSone title. For example, despite being shot to the ground, an enemy can still rise again to nibble at your ankles, so recognising distinctive death groans and pools of blood that indicate a definite fatality is important.

Resident Evil is also remembered for classic set-pieces that startle the player, the early Cerberus attack through the hall windows is a notable shock moment. Capcom’s level designers continued to play on this with repeated jump scares in the game, and by mixing them up with altered puzzles and new mansion locations in the GameCube version.

If this is anyone's first attempt at PSone Resident Evil, I’d be interested in hearing how challenging Push Square's readers find the puzzles, obviously without consulting the guidance of a walkthrough. There are difficulty spikes and sections where the pacing of the game feels more testing, predominantly when save rooms are spread thinly apart. For example, after a boss battle with the humongous snake, Yawn, there’s a basement section leading to the kitchen, library and Hunter infested halls, where the progression tried my patience this time around.

charlesnarles

#5

charlesnarles said:

@JamieO if I haven't said it enough here, I love Silent Hill, but have never wanted to play a RE, dispite getting 5 Gold and the two reimaginings for free from Plus. I think I'll proverbially pop this evil ****er in (buy online and DL) tonight and have $9.99 worth of 32 bit polygons for my celebration of the occult. (The entire game is inside the mansion? You get status ailments? It doesn't take itself that seriously? You have to use an item to save?)

JamieOStaff

#6

JamieO said:

@charlesnarles Resident Evil is a special offer Horror Sale price of £3.99 here in the UK, so I hope it's on special offer for you in the US, too (although it sounds as though you got a few Resi games for free on PS Plus).

The entire game is set in the mansion grounds, if that makes sense. You spend time between the mansion, gardens and the guardhouse, but the map becomes larger through underground areas. Umbrella has been up to their experimental tricks at Spencer Mansion, you see.

Your health status is shown as a green heart and pulse monitor, I think it's called an electrocardiogram. Jill is especially weak, so she can only take a few bites from a zombie. Chris is stronger, but his route is noticeably more challenging and he's missing two vital carrying slots, which makes item management more frustrating.

You can boost a low health meter with green herbs, but experimenting with green, red and blue herbs is most advisable, especially if you are hit by poison.

The game doesn't really take itself too seriously at all, perhaps I was being a bit too stony-faced by expecting it to remain scary and tense all of the time.

You have to use ink ribbons at a typewriter, or in a save room, to save your game. These become more scarce if you play on the advanced difficulty setting, but if you get a feel for this game on the training mode, there are lots of spare ink ribbons to save with.

Note. My understanding is that the US release of Resident Evil on PSN is the DualShock version, so you'll have the option of analogue controls and rumble effects, too. Sadly, I personally think that the new soundtrack in the DualShock version is not as effective as the original arrangements. It still sounds creepy enough, though.

Beaston61

#7

Beaston61 said:

@eliotgballade BLUE STINGER! I played that on Dreamcast years ago! What a game!!! I just noticed your avatar is from the game aswell.
I legit was playing it like 3 months ago, as I recently got my Dreamcast out of storage and did a paint job on it! (Sprayed it matte RED & BLACK)

eliotgballade

#8

eliotgballade said:

@JamieO not meaning to take over your excellent review but... @Beaston61
nice one ! thought I was the only one who rated this game . remember the zombies in the shopping mall ? that swimming bit ? PEN-PEN !!? so good !
(worryingly , i think it was set 20 years in the future [2019] so only just a few years to go until THAT ending -LOL)

JamieOStaff

#9

JamieO said:

@eliotgballade No worries at all, I'm happy to hear your thoughts about your favourite retro games in the survival horror genre, plus there's always time to talk about the Dreamcast.

Unfortunately, I can't contribute much to your Blue Stinger discussion with @Beaston61, although I remember reading about it in the Dreamcast magazines during Halloween time in 1999.

I think that the first time I heard about that title was a 'Coming Soon' feature in the awesome SEGA Saturn Magazine. This was late in 1998 just as the Saturn, and consequently the UK's quality official Saturn magazine, were both coming to the end of their life.

Those magazines also covered a 1998 Saturn game that was published by SEGA, called Deep Fear. This title was directly comparable to Resident Evil, but it didn't have fixed camera angles, plus it had an interesting setting where the survival horror took place deep below the ocean.

eliotgballade

#10

eliotgballade said:

@JamieO :
you should put blue stinger on your "to play" list .
i often wonder had things been different we'd be on dreamcast 3 by now ,dreamcast was a really innovative console in its day . I mean , would we ever see a game such as "typing of the dead" today ?
same thoughts (if not more so) goes to the 3DO , always thought it was great idea to have an industry standard for games (like VHS was for video players) surely this would have been easier for developers .
still , big corporate business eh ?

italodance

#11

italodance said:

Yeah old review but someone has been tried that on Vita? I have RE 2 and 3 on my vita and both of them are good and playable but what about the first one? I mean how is the image quality on Vita screen?

-CraZed-

#12

-CraZed- said:

I remember playing a demo of RE1 at the mall and falling in love. I went to Sears with a couple of my friends from high school who wanted me to get NFL Game Day (which I eventually did get too) but after the demo I only had my eyes on RE. I bought despite their protests and telling how much it was gonna suck etc. etc. and then we got back to my house popped in the disc, darkened the room, closed all the shades and proceeded to scream like scared little b!(#e$! Wait what did I just describe there?

One of my most fond memories of the PSone days!

3Above

#13

3Above said:

I was a bit too young for this one when it first came out but im looking forward to the remaster on Jan 20th.

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