A Trip Down Horror Lane: zombie rebirths in Resident Evil

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If we’re going to look at the horror genre, of course we have to start with the one that started it all: Resident Evil. Old school purists might call me out over that, citing Alone in the Dark as the first survival horror game. Even older school purists might cite Sweet Home for the NES. Regardless, just as Capcom changed the action genre with Devil May Cry, the same is true for survival horror with Resident Evil.

After the jump, got a light?

When Resident Evil was released in 1996, it blew everyone’s mind with what a video game could achieve. Even though the graphics weren’t exactly picturesque, they managed to instill a feeling of dread and solitude. Resident Evil was the first time gamers could effectively play a horror movie, with cheesy dialogue included.

The amazing part about Resident Evil was that not only did it give designers a blueprint for survival horror for years to come, but that it managed to provide unique hooks. Both Resident Evil 1 and 2 featured a dual story for each of its protagonists, but each game took this concept in a different direction. In the first one, each character had a different story and path through the game, along with character specific puzzles. While in # 2, the first play-through each person has the same path with slight deviations, and then the player could replay the game with the other character in a completely different path.

Out of all the Resident Evil games, Resident Evil 1 played closest to Alone in the Dark in its non linearity. Both games were technically linear in the fact that players had to solve specific events to beat the game. But they were also free to explore the environment. They could do several sections out of order.

Resident Evil is an unusual franchise in the way that it has changed dramatically over the course of the series with new mechanics and design. From Nemesis in Resident Evil 3 to the first person shooter spin offs and the online multiplayer games. Of course Resident Evil 4 dramatically changed the franchise. We can basically split it between the pre Resident Evil 4 era, and the post era.

My personal favorite Resident Evil would have to be the Gamecube remake of Resident Evil 1. Resident Evil Remake took the original game and updated it. A new graphics engine makes it one of the best looking games for that console generation. But it’s the changes and additions to the gameplay that make it stand out for me. The basic premise of the original remained: you have two characters each with their own path and puzzles. Now, the mansion has been expanded with more rooms, and new enemies and situations. The most jarring would have to be crimson head zombies. Previously, you killed a zombie and they were dead. Now, to actually finish them, you have to light them on fire to dispose of the body. Any zombies that weren’t finished this way would return a few minutes later as crimson heads. Crimson heads were faster, stronger, and took more punishment before dropping for a final time.

Flammable weapons and items were few and far between, like the ink ribbons used to save the game. This added a small Rogue-like element to the game. Challenging players to decide what zombies they should completely take out of the picture and which ones they’ll have to fight again.

I really enjoyed this new mechanic and it helped elevate the Resident Evil remake as much more than just a new coat of paint. I’m actually surprised that it wasn’t used in later Resident Evil games or anywhere else in the genre. There were plans at some point to remake Resident 2 and 3 either in this vein or from Resident Evil 4’s design, but nothing ever came from it sadly. Even though Resident Evil 4 has spoiled me over the old way of playing the series, the remake of Resident Evil one still stands as a great survival horror game.

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Josh Bycer has had nightmares that make less sense then the Silent Hill series. As he continues to search for his place in the industry, you can find him over at Gamasutra, on his blog, or posting in the forums as Jab.