A Flawed But Frightening Masterpiece On The DS.
Story: Upon starting a new game, you will be treated to a full-motion video (FMV) with live actors. (Well, they're live people, but acting?) As stated, I'd never played the original, but I was well aware, before playing REDS, just how bad the acting was supposed to be for this game. True to its reputation, the acting is horrendous. However, it actually lends a lot of character to the overall feel of the game.
The story takes place in Raccoon City, a mountainous region of Anywhere, U.S.A. A special unit of the local police force, known as S.T.A.R.S., is sent out to an area of the town's nearby woodlands to investigate bizarre murders that have recently taken place, but the investigation team, Bravo, eventually goes missing themselves. Now the Alpha team must be sent in to find their fellow S.T.A.R.S. teammates and try to piece together just what the heck is going on at the outskirts of town…
Gameplay: REDS is an adventure game, not a shooter, really. Regardless of what some folks might tell you, Phoenix Wright is not a true adventure game, in my opinion – it's more of an interactive novel. That's not to take anything away from it as a quality DS title, but REDS is more what I think of when I think adventure. Yes, there's definitely going to be some shooting; you acquire weapons such as a shotgun, bazooka and .357 Magnum, but shooting isn't the main focus of the game. The main focus is getting out alive. Doing so will require lots of exploration, puzzle solving, thinking on your feet and, of course, keeping zombies and other creepy creatures from devouring you alive.
Before going any further, I want to talk about the game's controls; they will likely be an issue for anyone who plays this game. You move your character is a most awkward fashion, but, in order to describe this awkwardness, let me first offer some perspective…
Everything takes place on the touch-screen and your character is played from a third-person perspective. If you think of the top of the touch screen as north, the bottom south, the left west, and the right east, you'll probably be better able to understand how the controls for the character work. You'll move the character using the control pad (D-pad) and, in order to move forward, you press up on the D-pad; to move backward, press down; to turn left, press left, and so on and so forth. Now, even if the character is facing south and you want to move her/him forward, you'll have to push up on the D-pad; if the character is facing west and you want to turn her/him to face south, you'll have to press left on the D-pad (not down, as might seem natural). It's weird – plain and simple.
The game's producer has stated that this type of control scheme was necessary in order to keep the player oriented as they make their way through the environments, which are made up of static scenes (Nintendo Power, v200). By "static," I mean the camera never moves. This actually works wonders for the mood of the game, as well as allowing for some really scary moments where things jump out at you. Of course, it also makes controlling your character extremely difficult.
That said, REDS is still quite an amazing game. In spite of this counter-intuitive control scheme, the game offers a lot of great scares and a lot of excitement. The controls might actually lend something to that excitement, as well. The game never allows you to become so familiar with the controls that you eventually feel in total control of the situation. You're always left to feel like you're fighting for your life, that at any moment something more powerful than yourself could quickly and easily jump out and bring you, suddenly, to some gruesome end.
When the Alpha team – you and a handful of comrades – goes in to look for the Bravo team, they get cut off from their transport (helicopter). While being pursued by some unknown, deadly creatures, the team makes a desperate dash for a nearby mansion. It's here where you'll make your final stand, trying to piece together clues, as you discover the resources that will allow you and the rest of your team to make it out alive. Some kind of abomination has occurred out in these woods and now terrible monsters are roaming about.
The game has a great pace to it, lots of clever puzzles and enough action to keep your heart pumping pretty much throughout the entire romp. There's loads of excitement – just when you thought a hall was clear of enemies, something lurches forward to take a bite of your neck. The scarcity of healing items and ammo also add yet another level of urgency to this already spooky adventure.
There are two modes you can play through and two characters to choose from. There's the Original Mode, which, from what I understand, is pretty much the exact same game as that of the original PSx version, and there's the Rebirth mode, which offers DS-specifics gameplay elements. I opted for the Rebirth mode and played as Jill Valentine (you can also play as a character named Chris Redfield). Jill is suggested for an "easier" game experience. The game's not hard to understand, by any means, but the difficulty of the game, overall, is pretty high. As far as I can tell, this is due, mostly, to three main factors:
1. The controls. You'll never feel like you're in total control, and that was probably the exact intention of the developers. The awkwardness with which the character moves definitely adds to the excitement and difficulty of the game.
2. Scarcity of healing items and ammo. By the end of the game, you'll be sweating whether or not you have enough of each to make your way to the end. You won't want to use your best ammo on lesser ghouls, and hanging onto shotgun ammo can be quite difficult. You're also only human, so when a zombie takes a nibble on your flesh it hurts. You'll be healing quite often, and healing herbs are in limited supply.
3. Ribbons. The game allows you to save your progress whenever you're at a typewriter, but in order to use the typewriter you need typewriter ribbons. These, too, are in short supply. So, you'll have to be strategic on when to save and be extra careful not to waste ammo and herbs so as to have enough of each to get you through based on the limited number of saves you can perform.
As mentioned, there are some DS-specific game elements (in Rebirth mode). One being seemingly random first-person encounters, upon entering a room. When this happens, your character cannot move about the room and must use only a knife – by slashing with your finger or stylus across the touch screen – to defeat a certain number of enemies. It's usually a very brief encounter, but the game's later battles can be quite dangerous. Other DS-specific elements include touch screen puzzles and use of the microphone in order to perform certain actions.
Overall, the game is a masterpiece horror-adventure title with extremely "wonky" controls. Some have said that you'll learn to love the controls, and to some extent that's probably true. But part of you may, simultaneously, always be wishing for something different. However, better control for this particular game, with its static-camera environments, would probably take away a lot of the scare factor. Accept the controls for what they are and you'll likely be amazed and thrilled by this spooky rollercoaster ride.
Presentation: Resident Evil: Deadly Silence is a wonderful gaming package and, unlike many other adventure games, there's a lot to come back to. The graphics and sound are, for the most part, really top-shelf and everything comes together extremely nicely to make a very spooky experience on the DS.
On the graphics front, it can perhaps be said that REDS is one of the nicest-looking games on the platform. Character models from afar can be a bit unsightly, but close up have a lot of detail and their textures are very smooth. The same goes for the backgrounds – some of the best I've seen on the system. The pseudo-lighting is intensely atmospheric and the use of color is masterful in setting the mood for this creepy horror-fest. The only thing that appears blocky, really, is the blood, which can appear red or green depending on your preference. But, overall, the look of the game is really wonderful, and you'll be exploring a lot of area with little or no repetition from location to location.
The aural aspects of Deadly Silence are, with respect to the DS, amazing. The music is totally creepy, totally scary. The only respite you'll ever get from being creeped out by the sound is when you enter a safe-room. These areas are sparsely placed throughout the entire realm of the game, and only there does the music change to a cadence of resolve, cuing the player to the fact that they're now in a safe haven of sorts. There are several themes – most, recurring motifs – and they play no small role in setting the stage for the horror that is Resident Evil. Creature sounds, too, lend a lot to the excitement, and other ambient sounds and noises add much to the overall atmosphere of the game. And, if you're not already aware, the game comes complete with extensive voice acting. Many fans contend that the terrible acting wasn't done on purpose, but I suspect otherwise. The game seems to be an obvious homage to the infamous Night of the Living Dead movie, and what ode to that masterpiece would be complete without true B-movie melodrama? Either way, it's nice to hear people talking in a game, and the voices are presented in fairly high fidelity. Lastly, the game's silence.... They don't call it Deadly Silence for nothing, and the game uses silence wonderfully at just the right moments, often leaving nothing but the sound of your own footsteps and the pounding of your heart in your ears.
REDS offers the two aforementioned variants of the story mode, as well as a multiplayer mode, which I haven't and likely will never have the opportunity to report on; I just can't imagine finding someone else nearby who also owns the game. Yup, it's another one of those useless local-only, multi-card multiplayer offerings. When will developers realize how utterly impractical that type of gameplay is for DS owners? That option aside, there's still a lot that REDS' presentation has to offer.
The manual included with the game is quite beautiful, with a clever introduction to the game's story by way of a front-page article from a newspaper. The entire manual is in color and offers pretty much all the basics for gameplay, including background info for all of the various characters involved in the story. It's the finest DS-game manual from a third-party publisher that I've yet seen included with a game. Kudos, Capcom!
More importantly, however, Deadly Silence offers a lot of replay value. Regardless of the fact that the multiplayer option will likely be useless to most players, there's plenty of meat to be scoured (ew, poor choice of words when talking about this game) from the single-player experience. Selecting from the two different characters offers the option of two somewhat different perspectives of the game, with slightly different story elements for each. But it's in the excitement of the gameplay where you'll find the desire to play through REDS multiple times. Unlike many other "adventure" games – Phoenix Wright, Trace Memory, Hotel Dusk – in which the story's end leaves little or nothing to come back to, REDS will likely remain fun no matter how many times you frolic through this house of frights.
In the end, Resident Evil: Deadly Silence (DS, if you haven't yet caught the publishers' play on words) offers a really entertaining gaming package. It's not perfect and the character controls will likely be a source of contention throughout most of the game. However, it still manages to do what it sets out to do and does it quite well, at that. It's scary – perhaps not for veterans – but being scary on the DS seems no small feat to me, and this game delivers in spades. If you're into this sort of thing – which, for myself, I have to be in just the right mood – chances are you'll really dig this title. I got it new for $20 and it will be staying in my DS library permanently.
Thanks for reading, and happy hunting…
Presentation / 8.5
A wonderful gaming package, manual and all. I'm knocking off a full point, however, because of the fact that the multiplayer isn't available for either single-card or online play and is just an impracticality in its current state. The multiplayer was obviously a huge selling point for vets of the original game, and it seems an unappreciative response from the publishers to entreat their loyal fans thusly.
Graphics / 8.5
Not everything looks stellar, but overall the game's look fits to mood perfectly. Additionally, the textures for the backgrounds are not in the least noticeable and there's a ton of variation to the environments throughout the game – great stuff.
Sound / 9.5
Love it or hate it, there's voice acting and it's recorded with clarity. It also fits the game's motif very well, as do all the creature sounds and music; the music alone creeps the heck out of me and this is a game where you want that.
Gameplay / 9.5
It's completely scary (for a first-timer), it's adventurous and it's a lot of fun. It's not the kind of game I probably want to play everyday, but when it comes to some truly frightful gaming on a handheld, I can't imagine finding better.
I'm not going to rate them, because I'm not exactly sure what to make of them. They're a bit annoying, and yet there's something about the controls that works for this game. Be warned, though, the controls for Resident Evil: Deadly Silence are not your typical fare. I guess you'll just have to fill in the blank on this one and rate the game's controls yourself.
Overall / 8.5
This is, admittedly, going to be one game that I take a more subjective view on. The pacing, set-up and cleverness of the gameplay are all topnotch. But those controls…they've come up a lot in this review. I just think it's going to be the main consideration for anyone contemplating getting this game. It's not hard to get over the controls -- they're not Metroid Prime: Hunters by any means -- but you should probably ask yourself if you're in the mood to go down that road right now. For myself, I say yay.