Last year, Capcom managed to entirely reinvent the Resident Evil series--and also create one of the best games ever made--with the series' incredible fourth iteration. It might seem a little odd, then, that the company has gone back to Resident Evil's most archaic installment for its first appearance on the Nintendo DS, but that's exactly what's happened. We just grabbed a copy of Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, the handheld remake of the first Resident Evil, to see how the seminal game has held up in its transition to portable format, nearly 10 years on from its original release.
The single-player component of Deadly Silence comes in two flavors: rebirth and classic. As you can probably gather, the former is a somewhat renewed version of the original game--with some new monster placement, puzzles, and so on--while classic is a more or less pixel-accurate re-creation of Resident Evil as you remember it. Whether or not that's a good thing is up to your own tastes, but since most of the new meat is in rebirth, and it uses all the same graphics and controls as classic, we jumped into the new mode to see exactly what's been added.
If you don't remember much about Resident Evil (or you never played it), you'll play the role of either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, two members of the STARS special police unit. Your group has been dispatched to discover the whereabouts of another team that disappeared while investigating the mysterious goings-on at a sprawling mansion up in the hills. Everybody knows mansions up in the hills usually spell bad news, but away the STARS go anyway. Soon you'll be separated from your comrades and pitted against the walking undead and all manner of other nasties. Chris is a little stronger, while Jill can hold more items and pick some locks, but the game isn't much different otherwise, regardless of which character you choose. It's worth noting that the controls have been updated to bring Deadly Silence in line with more recent installments: You can hit down and the B button simultaneously to do a 180, for instance, and holding the left shoulder button will automatically arm and ready your knife for action.
The DS version of Resident Evil seems to be an excellent port of the original, so far. There are no noticeable differences in the graphics, which are composed of the series' old standard of 3D characters set against 2D, prerendered backgrounds. The sound design is also true to the original--to our ears at least--and even the horrendous, B-movie voice acting is fully intact. So is the occasional burst of full-motion video, for that matter, and we've even noticed some particularly gory bits that were censored from the North American PlayStation release. Whether or not these will make it to our shores on the DS is debatable, but overall, it's quite impressive just how much of the originally CD-based Resident Evil Capcom has crammed into this DS cart.
So what exactly is new about the rebirth mode? Aside from the aforementioned remixing of enemies and such, you'll immediately notice that the inventory screen can now be navigated with the stylus, which isn't exceptionally more useful than the standard controls, but it still presents a nice alternative. More importantly, we've come across a couple of entirely new first-person scenarios that have occurred as soon as we've entered a new room. At this point, we were armed only with a knife, and we were required to use the stylus to slash at incoming zombies, crows, and other threats. These little action sequences haven't been very long or involved, but they do come at you unexpectedly and thus liven up the action a little bit. According to the manual, you'll be tackling some puzzles later in the game, which also involve the touch screen, though we haven't gotten far enough yet to see how those will play out.
Finally, as you'd expect, Deadly Silence has some multiplayer options for you to mess around with. We fired up a two-player game to find out how the heck Capcom has managed to shoehorn old-style Resident Evil gameplay into a multiplayer scenario. When you a new wireless game, you'll get to choose from three levels--mansion, guardhouse, and laboratory--and then you and up to three other players essentially race through the same level simultaneously to see who can finish first. The other characters' positions are represented in the same space you occupy, so you have a good idea of how well your opponents are doing relative to your own performance. We found ammo to be liberally scattered around these levels, and you're awarded points based on enemies killed, so this section feels a bit more like a straightforward action game (not unlike Resident Evil 4, incidentally).
Whether or not the old-school Resident Evil gameplay has stood the test of time is open to debate, but if our memories of 1996 are accurate, Deadly Silence is looking like a very faithful port of the survival horror game that started the whole craze way back when. The extra touch screen gameplay elements and wireless multiplayer should help add variety to the package, and frankly, it's impressive that the entire game has been crammed into one tiny DS cart. We'll find out whether or not the game will hold up for its entire duration when Deadly Silence ships on this side of the pond in the first week of February. Stay tuned for a full review then.