Many were shocked when Capcom announced last year that future installments in its horror-themed Resident Evil series would be appearing exclusively on Nintendo's GameCube, but even more surprising was the company's announcement that the first game under the deal would be a remake of the 1996 original. Resident Evil 2 is often considered the pinnacle of the franchise, but even though it made a number of improvements to the series' gameplay, it never managed to be as scary as its predecessor. So this time around, Capcom has fused the best of both worlds together into one amazing game that clearly stands as the best the series has to offer.
The first thing you'll probably notice about the new Resident Evil is that the gameplay hasn't changed all that much since it debuted more than five years ago. Granted, all the improvements to the control scheme that Capcom has instituted over the years have been included, such as the quick turnaround and the ability to shoot while backing up. But many of the issues associated with the tanklike character movement have remained. It's still hard to be precise while maneuvering in close quarters when the camera is panned out, and, due to the prerendered backgrounds, lining up with doors can be a frustrating proposition at times--especially when the undead are breathing down your neck. But anyone who's played the previous games in the series will be right at home after a half hour or so, and, as most by now could probably attest to, you'll either be able to tolerate the control scheme or you'll hate it.
The gameplay isn't just the same old thing. A number of new twists have been added to Resident Evil for the GameCube, such as the defense items, which add quite a bit of strategy to the game. At the game's outset, you choose from one of two characters to play as, each of whom has his or her own set of weaponry. Jill can use a taser that will send electricity coursing through the zombies' bodies, while Chris can lodge a hand grenade into a zombie's mouth, shoot it, and watch the fireworks. While both the taser and the grenade will stop zombies dead in their tracks, both characters can also use defense knives that can be lodged into zombies' skulls to give you some breathing room if you find yourself uncomfortably close to the enemy. Knowing when to use a defense item can often mean the difference between life and death, and it adds a welcome layer of complexity to the game's combat.
Another addition to the gameplay is the super zombie. You may have been able to kill zombies and leave them to rot in past Resident Evil games, but if you just let them be this time around, you're going to pay for it later. After a set amount of time, the zombies will reanimate into acid-breathing super zombies that are faster than either character and will take you down with just a couple of swipes from their claws. You can prevent super zombies from spawning by beheading or burning the normal zombies you defeat. And if you forget, you'll find that trying to get through a door with a super zombie bearing down on you is enough to make you have to check your trousers for accidents.
When Capcom stated that 70 percent of the original game would be changed for this remake, it wasn't kidding. Right out of the gate you're confronted with a brand-new puzzle. Additionally, the enemies, items, and rooms have been switched around so that the game will seem completely changed to all but those who beat the original a number of times or have recently played it. Many of the high-stress areas from the original game have been completely reworked, which can create a real sense of suspense or relief, such as when the ghoul you're expecting to burst onto the scene doesn't actually show up.
While some of the puzzles are new and others have been slightly altered, many have not. You'll still be collecting a multitude of batteries, crests, music boxes, and all other sorts of junk while trying to make sense of where they might be used in the mansion. This amounts to a great deal of backtracking throughout the game, and there will also be many times when you'll be moving forward into new territory only to realize that you need to return to an item box to get the item you need to move forward. In traditional Resident Evil style, you'll also be pushing boxes and statues around. This sort of trial-and-error gameplay could become annoying if the game weren't so scary, atmospheric, and incredibly immersive.
By now you've likely realized that Resident Evil is one fine-looking game, but screenshots and video clips can't begin to do the game justice. Capcom has finally perfected the art of mixing prerendered scenery with ambient animations and polygonal objects, and the result is the most visually impressive video game ever released. The attention to detail is exceptional. Your character's image is reflected in the smallest bit of liquid, dust particles swirl in the light, patches of volumetric fog blow across the screen, and each blade of grass sways independently of the others. Of particular note is the gore--it is, by far, the most graphically realistic gore ever included in a game. Blood will gush from bodies and somehow realistically splatter onto the prerendered walls, and when large amounts of the red stuff hit the carpet you can still see the carpet's pattern through the stain. Taking off a zombie's head with the shotgun rewards you with an explosion of particle effects that simply has to be seen to be appreciated. The real-time lighting and shadows are equally impressive, and how Capcom managed to make them work so well with the prerendered backgrounds is anyone's guess.
Just as much care has been taken in constructing the character models. Hair flows in the wind, materials appear to have real texture, and weapons can be seen on your character's person. The zombies also look amazing, though a wider variety of them would have been nice. Despite all this, the game's graphics do have a few shortcomings, such as in the animation. The two playable characters repeat the same stilted run animation throughout, and some of the enemies, such as the dogs, move unnaturally. Another issue is the full motion video sequences that are used to move the plot forward. At the beginning and end of the game, there are slight pauses during the cinemas that can be somewhat distracting. But this is just nitpicking an otherwise unmatched visual experience.
Voice acting was a noticeably weak aspect of the original version of Resident Evil, and while many of the poorly translated lines have been removed from the script, there are still times where you'll get a chuckle from its campy dialogue. While Dolby Digital and Pro Logic II are not supported, the stock Dolby Surround works surprisingly well. Even though the rear channels have been united, the location-specific sound works quite well to tip you off to enemy locations. The variety and quality of the sound effects is impressive--for instance, if you hear a dripping sound, chances are you'll be able to find a leaky faucet somewhere nearby, with the drops of water falling perfectly in time with the sound. Out in the open, you can hear weeds brushing up against your character's pants, and there seem to be dozens of sound effects for footsteps alone. The sound of the taser as its electricity snaps, crackles, and pops up and down a zombie's body really makes weapon feel powerful. Unfortunately, there are just a few different zombie moans in the game, and a better variety in that area would have been appreciated. The droning music is more than fitting, though just a few different compositions are included.
All of Resident Evil's various elements come together to give you a good old-fashioned case of the creeps. With two playable characters, three difficulty settings, almost a dozen different endings, and branching story paths depending on whether certain objectives are met, the game also offers you plenty to do. Anyone with a penchant for the macabre will be blown away by Resident Evil, and even if you're only vaguely into this sort of game, it's still a must-buy. With the exception of the dated control scheme, Capcom has nearly perfected its craft and created the best Resident Evil ever.