Friday, March 06, 2009

Games of Yore: Resident Evil

After picking up my copy of Biohazard 5 (which was released this Thursday in Japan) and seeing first hand the dramatic changes Capcom has made in this incarnation of its zombie saga, I have decided that the subject of my second Games of Yore feature will be the game that started it all.

Game: Resident Evil (Capcom; 1996)
Console: PlayStation
Genre: Action/Adventure (later categorized as "Survival Horror")

I was in my final year of high school when this landmark title came out. My friends and I, none of whom owned a PlayStation at the time of the game's release, rented a console and a copy of the game and sat down for a long night of zombie intrigue. We screamed our heads off every time a giant tarantula dropped down from the ceiling or a diseased dog crashed through the window. It was a damn good time. Unfortunately, there were two things about the game we had to learn the hard way.

Thing one: We really should have pooled our cash together for a memory card. Without one, we faced the epic challenge of playing the game without dying (since, after the player died, his only recourse was to load his last saved game from the title screen). We actually became pretty good at this after a while. In fact, one of my friends finally mustered the stamina to finish the whole game on a single life. Soon after completing this task, he lost his mind and disappeared into the uncharted wilds of Wisconsin.

Thing two: Not even Sewer Shark could have prepared us for the sober truth that, with the quantum leap forward in game audio technology provided by a CD-based console like the PlayStation, would inevitably come a quantum leap backward in the quality of voice acting. Come to think of it, Sewer Shark didn't even succeed in preparing us for the part in Resident Evil where there were actual sharks in the sewer.

My buddies and I initially found great entertainment in the goofy lines uttered by the game's protagonists. But with repeated deaths and subsequent viewings of the game's opening scenes (which, cruelly, could not be skipped), it became apparent that "WHAT IS IT?" was to Resident Evil as "SMOKIN'!" was to The Mask. Fun at first, but ultimately exasperating. I'd be lying, however, if I said that I don't still get a little laugh out of golden classics like "You were almost a Jill Sandwich!"

After getting these two hard lessons behind us, Resident Evil proved to us that the video game format was capable of delivering a sense of dread more palpable than that of most horror movies. We learned to be afraid of certain hallways based solely on the music and the color of the wallpaper. For teenagers like my friends and me, that dread value alone was enough to make the game an integral part of our lives during the spring and summer of 1996.

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