Take this for what you will, but I don't believe I was ever at all aware of Resident Evil until 4. For as enthusiastic of a gamer as I've almost always been, some of the industry's most treasured and/or inspiring franchises, back in the day, either completely slipped under my radar or I simply could not get into. I distinctly remember not quite "getting" Ocarina of Time during the N64 era, but pouring adoration all over Wind Waker. Or when I chose to jump straight to The Room after having heard only vague rumbles about this thing called Silent Hill 2.
It was probably not until latter day Gen 6 that I began to really break out of my comfort zone and submit my padawan brain to things like the original Resident Evil's or anything Final Fantasy. Even then, I was relatively in the dark. I hadn't touched a lot of the classics that had made gaming part of what it was then.
These past few years, however, I have taken active steps in experiencing as many of those classic gems as I can! Final Fantasy IX was absolutely wonderful from what I played. I've come to respect Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, their underwhelming quality and/or adherence to tedium notwithstanding. And, despite my quarrels with a couple of its puzzles, its boss fights, and its somewhat abrupt length, Silent Hill 2 was an amazing time.
Most recently, I have delved into Resident Evil's "REmake" world of survival horror.
[Editor's Note: I played the Resident Evil "REmake" HD Remaster on PS4. I chose Chris as my player character, picked the hardest difficulty I could, and stuck to the original controls... I think. I'm getting conflicting information on what exactly the original controls were. I picked "Original" and used the sticks, whichever option that actually is.]
Upon booting up a new game, you are greeted with a CG cutscene that I have, somehow, actually seen before. I wasn't sure where from or when, but it was just as 'B' as I remember it 'B'eing. Dorky character models, stilted voice acting, contrasted with some thoroughly high quality technical prowess for its time (2002). Those contrasts extend throughout the whole of your playthrough, with every cutscene feeling like a 180 spin into nonsense not the least bit tense or spooky. Moreso awkward and/or hilarious. But, hey, I guess it's fun for being a means to an end. About the only worthwhile bit of narrative REmake has going for it are the moments featuring Lisa Trevors, who was just as woeful as she was interesting.
That aformentioned end was out of this haunting mansion, which segways perfectly into one of this game's best qualities!
Immediately after skipping the credits sequence of REmake (as most of us likely tend to do in games), I wanted to retry my hands at the PS1 original as well as start on practically any other Resident Evil game I have yet to fondle through a controller. That mighty need was almost solely thanks to REmake's brilliant level design and cinematic presentation. Every new camera switch was a new moment of awe and every new room brought with it a freshly-clenched ass and panicked shotgun blast. Fleshing out the world of REmake was a wholesome thrill and I wish I could do it more!
Not to undermine this game's density. For this being, strictly speaking, a single location, the Spencer Mansion sports a hefty amount of visual variety with every room steeped in detail and the camera angles even further blanketing them in their own unique flavor. The HD coat of paint doesn't do every one of the game's pre-rendered backgrounds much justice as, sometimes, rendered models can look almost superimposed onto the screen, but this is a wholly sexy-looking experience.
There aren't too many open spaces akin to what you'd find in a Silent Hill game, but I suppose that balances out our protagonists who are not regular Jane's and Joe's but professional combatants. With their sanity in check, body armor, weapons, and extensive CQC training, they don't really need any more upper hands on the shambling undead.
That doesn't mean this game is easy. It might seem as such to the many who know it frontwards and back, but to a newbie like me? I felt pretty darn helpless!
REmake is very meticulous in its design. It expects of you to prepare in specific fashions. It uses not only its enemy placement, but its camera angles and even item placement to illicit tension and subsequent relief from the player. Those aspects of this game's design are also outstanding!
The items and enemies, on their own (we'll get to the actual issues eventually) are expertly parsed out, always giving you not too much to handle but just enough to never have you feeling completely safe. It's easy to stock up on ammo, especially when compared to other survival horror titles, but you'd be surprised how quickly you can dry out your supply if you attempt to bulldoze your way through every baddie. As such, you'll need to plan your routes carefully and give bitches the shit when things get too close for comfort. When you do have to fight, there's also some lovingly punchy audio feedback and animations are typically impressive.
Appreciatable are the "defensive" items, which let you nail an enemy with things like knives, grenades, or a tazer strike. They are both satisfying maneuvers and can compensate for the mistakes you're likely to make your first time through. Though, if I may repeat myself, they aren't that generous with them. If you aren't constantly scavanging for these (and other) valuable commodities, you'll inevitably feel a tad naked.
Were these the only caveats to your survival, you could make the argument that the game allows enough of a margin for error and that making said mistakes only increases the tension that a horror game should create. However, there exist the Ink Ribbons. The game's currency (if you will) for saving your progress. They instill within the player a mindset of "only save when you absolutely have to". Yet, there are far too many random elements that make me explode with frustration in regards to that design choice.
And this is where we begin to discuss my sizable issues with REmake.
Sometimes, enemies will take a mere five or six shots of your pistol. Sometimes, they'll take an entire clip of fifteen. Sometimes, they'll go down with one shotgun shell, but sometimes it's three. Sometimes you'll get a headshot, sometimes you won't. Sometimes, enemies will stay about a consistent spawn vicinity within rooms you've explored many a time, but they can also suddenly be right around the corner and there goes about a fourth of your health.
Oh, and there are also enemies who are introduced later in the game that can potentially instantly kill you who are both way more agile than you and travel in pairs. OH! And there are enemies who will sometimes poison you, but sometimes not. Said enemies can be tricky or downright clunky to avoid.
Exacerbating this is Chris' inventory space. You only have 6 spaces and almost never know what items you'll need to solve what upcoming puzzles or what items you'll for sure need to compensate what kind of loss of health or ammo because the game is hardly predictable. Simultaneously, the game expects you to play against a rigid set of rules and restrictions.
There's putting the player at a disadvantage and then there's straight up indulgence.
So! You will have to backtrack to an item box and needlessly put yourself at risk. I had to do this a lot. Or reload your save. I also did this a lot. Reconing until I found all that I needed to do, reloading the save, and then doing it with little to no problem (sans the, at times, unavoidable insta-deaths). It was the smart path, but a very redundant path that the game seems as if it encourages you to walk down.
To give just one example, I had to trek back and forth through the laboratory probably half a dozen more times than I would have needed to with either a larger or infinite inventory space. It didn't build tension, it just filled me to the tip top with aggravation.
At the very least, puzzle solutions should be kept close to their appropriate puzzles rather than halfway across the fucking map. That way, I can more feasibly prepare what health/ammo I need. These puzzles definitely needed to be more self-contained. I admit that there is a certain satisfaction in the "Aha!" moment that has an item come full circle after so long, but this approach to puzzle-solving generally didn't seem to mesh well with this game's other design elements.
In retrospect, the game's less than incessantly brutal parsing of health and ammo was likely meant to offset the frustration that would come with this finite save system. Because, in all actuality, you do have plenty of health and ammo, so long as you scavenge for it. You even have plenty of Ink Ribbon, being able to save at least 30 times across a game that is not tremendously lengthy (again, so long as you scavenge for Ink Ribbon).
However, what I didn't enjoy at all was the mind game I was forced to put myself through every instance, up to the latter sections, I would consider saving being further compounded by the needlessly limited inventory.
"Can I save now? If do, when will I find more Ink Ribbon? I'm down to only 4. If I don't save, how will the enemies react? Will I need this ammo? But, what if I'm poisoned? I don't know for sure. I only have room for one health item and I can't reliably kill or avoid every enemy and they don't even always poison me! What if I don't need this medallion until much later? I could use that space for more health or ammo. GOD I JUST WANT A NORMAL INVENTORY FOR OUR LORD'S SAKE! MYAH!".
These finite saves saw me redoing considerably large sections of gameplay for such minute mistakes, trial and error, or through dick moves pulled by the game. Many of these things could've been easily avoided had I not backtracked for a single item I could not have predicted I would need, had I had the space to pick up that green herb because I CAN'T JUST FUCKING DROP AN ITEM TEMPORARILY HOLY SHIT, or had a Hunter not stunlocked me before his friend then presented me with an instant death.
A horror title can create tension perfectly well without an incredibly limited inventory system, inconsistent damage output/enemy behavoir, sudden instant deaths, and a finite amount of saves. Any of these elements are fine on their own, but they're a nightmare to deal with all at once. All you really need is claustrophobic level design, good camera angles, limited health/ammo, and tight enemy placement with some random elements such as Crimson Head spawn rates or when certain events will trigger. That is it. Some awesome sound design wouldn't hurt either.
"Well, then just avoid the enemies, you dolt. You can't fight everyone! That way, you'll have more room!". Right. Hah. Try telling that to yourself on your first run. You do have to fight. Even if you're rather good at the game. Whether in a fit of panic, to clear essential hallways, to take on boss fights, and so on. Especially playing for the first time and knowing that I lose precious health if I am hit trying to dance my way around enemies. So, I have to fight.
Sometimes, the game will just refuse to let you pass through an enemy you blasted onto the groud and you have to further waste ammo or risk being grabbed from behind. At which point, you've not only wasted ammo, but health and through no fault of your own. To that, the game's camera angles can, at times, be doing you no favors.
Which leads me into the other big issue I have with REmake: It can frustrate you to a point where its design begins to seep too sternly into your perspective during play. Thus, destroying much of the immersion experienced early on. By that, I mean that once you do start having to repeat sections of gameplay over and over and over again, you begin to realize how little it is you're actually doing and exactly why everything is the way it is. That once you know what to do, you can do it and that it's just a matter of time. Which can be said for a lot of games these days, but I shouldn't be feeling this with a game like Resident Evil and on one of its hardest modes.
Zombies are no longer zombies, but chess pieces. Hallways are no longer hallways, but square tiles laid out on a board. The game forces you to get really good, section by section. Not because you want to, but because you, begrudgingly, have to. So, once the game starts to feel like little more than a linear step-by-step process by just the middle of my first playthrough, it's not so much a satisfying badge of honor that I now know this game inside and out. Also, because of this, the game's atmosphere and spooks can decipate very quickly.
But, I think it speaks to the quality of the game's presentation, level design, and item/enemy placement that I still had a really good time. Even if much of that time eventually blew by like a blur.
For better or for worse, we've come a very long way in game design since REmake and especially the original Resident Evil. Unfortunately, REmake is, unsuprisingly, stuck in the past in regards to how it evokes feelings of dread and/or tension. It doesn't just severely limit the player, it throws them curveballs and mudslaps for good measure. It is needless and, frankly, shallow.
In spite of those issues, it is still a damn fine game. Which is more than can be said for many 5th Gen to early 6th Gen releases.