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Resident Evils Compared
Written By: Siou Choy

OK, children, gather round the campfire, and we'll talk about survival horror games. Now, everybody knows, regardless of the quality of the many contenders to the throne, there really is only one name out there that comes to everyone's mind when you say those words, "survival horror". I see a lot of raised hands out there, so I'll choose one of you at random. What was that? Riiiight. Resident Evil it is. Now whether this is due more to the innate quality of the series itself or simply clever (and persistent) marketing is a moot point, and not an issue we're going to be addressing here. No, we're here to discuss the Resident Evil series itself, as it stands and with all its flaws and qualities. And since the essential differences between all 3 of the Playstation releases are so slight you need a magnifying glass to sort them out, we are going to discuss the 3 of them together, and play the compare and contrast game. Are you ready? Here we go.

Now, we all know that Capcom, creator of the Resident Evil series, if not the first company to put out a non-PC based "survival horror" game per se, WAS the first company to popularize the genre; and more, in comparison with similarly themed games available at that time, to perfect it. The original Resident Evil stands as a milestone in console-based gaming, and this is an unassailable fact. Unfortunately, it is also apparent that, discounting for the moment its slightly altered offshoot, the Dino Crisis series, Capcom has done little if anything to build upon that original milestone in the years since, despite a plethora of "variations" (Directors Cuts, Dual Shock versions, etc.) designed for no purpose (and to no appreciable difference) but to milk the pockets of the consumer in a "resale" campaign unrivaled outside of the twin terrors of the home video industry (rent it on VHS! Now buy it on VHS! Now buy it on Laserdisc, it looks better! Dump those outmoded Laserdiscs, it's time for DVD!) and the music industry (buy it on 8-track! Throw that out, buy it on cassette! Throw EVERYTHING out, buy them on CD! And wait, here comes DVD audio.).

Always an amalgam of science fiction and horror, the series has begun to lean further and further towards the former than the latter in subsequent releases, moving from the traditional "old dark house" motif of the better part of the original, to the Parasite Eve-like RE2, to its more simplistic (but slightly beefed up and nicer looking) clone, Nemesis; and consequently, has suffered somewhat as a result. While Nemesis was well-publicized as being an "interim" game "for the fans", RE2 really has no excuse. It's 2 discs (and 4 "different" gaming experiences) are hardly worth playing through to the end, as some trappings may change here and there (the initial "B" game's "Mr. X", for example), but to quote Led Zeppelin, "the song remains the same". Worse, despite it's coming out before Square's RPG/survival horror crossover masterpiece Parasite Eve, it somehow manages to come off as a cheap knockoff of that game, particularly in respect to its setting/s (the worst offender being the police station, which absurdly doubles not only for PE's police station and museum, but worse, the original RE's mansion !!!). More, RE2's settings are far more limited in comparison to PE, and consequently, begin to bore the gamer only a short way through the "4 game experience", which serves to make RE2 somewhat less of a game by contrast (unless you're referring to PE's "EX" game, which is right about on par monotony-wise). And that's not to mention the bludgeoning bone headedness of RE2 in comparison to PE (simplistic, nonsensical puzzles, the aforementioned all-in-one police station, the ugh-zombie-kill pointlessness that comprises the bulk of gameplay; the limited variety of setting and nemeses). Having said all that, there really isn't much point in mentioning how RE2's "sister" game Dino Crisis went into development AFTER the release of Parasite Eve (with its whole mid-game dinosaur-attack subplot).

Therefore, as hinted at previously, despite the quirks inherent to being the first of the series (if not its kind), RE1 stands head and shoulders above its over hyped sci-fi sequel. But one thing stands out in flashing, bolded letters about RE1, calling attention to its imperfection: the "broken" cinema issue. I found, despite having played two different copies of RE1 Director's Cut, that cinemas (particularly late in the game) would inevitably suffer from sound breakup (thus leaving you watching some rather slow gesturing back and forth, but hearing mere snatches of the dialogue one assumes is occurring (if indeed, one hears any dialogue at all!), and worse, freezing. There doesn't seem to be any other justification for 3-5 minutes per cinema, particularly when one notices that the gesturing figures will suddenly appear still and motionless for extended periods, unexpectedly "returning" to movement here and there and then freezing up again! Finding that I was running up against this problem with increasing frequency midway through the game, I returned that copy, and got myself another one (from a different retailer), operating under the assumption that my original copy was broken, and perhaps that dealer had received a bad shipment. Much to my chagrin, I found that same bug present in the new copy, occurring with equal and increasing frequency towards the grand finale of the game! Therefore, logic dictates that this is a problem inherent to RE1 <b>per se</b>, as opposed to the alternative, which assumes that there has been some weird statewide sabotage of RE1 games (ha ha).

RE3 presents a bit of an easy target, as it was intended essentially as a stopgap measure, to retain interest in the series as the game developers worked on RE: Code Veronica for the Dreamcast. As such, it boasts a more simplistic plot, a shorter game playing time, and a whole hell of a lot of cutting corners, showing every bit of its status as a "rush job". Worse, Capcom made much of how this game was created "for the fans", incorporating feedback from hardcore gamers into its basic design - i.e., it's just too damn hard for the novice RE gamer. With far too little health, a literally unstoppable enemy (the "nemesis" of the game's subtitle) who is fully capable of killing off your character within seconds of encountering him (did I mention he moves rather swiftly, as well?), and a computer that adjusts itself to insure that the random obstacles you encounter are always beyond your ability to deal with them, RE3 remains solely the province of the hardcore RE geek (the type who invariably "beats the game" in 2 hours or less with an "A" rating). As an experienced RE player (who nonetheless falls far short of such exalted RE geekdom status), I can say that the game was enjoyable, in its own way more so than the over hyped RE2, but hardly essential. On the plus side, the Jill Valentine of RE3 is a far more fetching piece of eye candy than the dykey Guardian Angel-style hard-ass she was in the original RE, and other perks of the game such as its comparatively sprawling city setting and improved controls (discussed below under "highs") help to elevate it to "worthy purchase" status, even despite the aforesaid.

There are some issues common to all 3 of the Resident Evil games for the PS. One of the most glaring of these is inherent to the basic game design; namely, that for a supposed "mystery" game (with a plot that unravels itself gradually across the various releases of the series) there is precious little need for actual deduction or brainpower. Unlike some other, significantly more difficult mystery/puzzle oriented games (Silent Hill, for example), the "puzzles" in the Resident Evil series are somewhat brainless, and tend to broadcast themselves from a mile away (here's a very obvious square mark on the floor. There's a box/statue, that looks to be about the same size and shape. Duh, what am I supposed to do here?). Nonetheless, you will be subjecting yourself to a lot of unnecessary running back and forth without some assistance from a strategy guide, and as such, they are sparingly recommended (at least for casual reference when you get "stuck" now and again as to where you're supposed to go next).

A second problem involves the plot, or lack thereof. While most survival horror games or RPGs are designed to pack the action and storyline into a single release, providing a beginning, middle, and generally (though not inevitably) satisfying ending, Resident Evil was quite obviously designed as an ongoing series right from the start, with its unfinished, "the end, for now" conclusion (the whole final section of RE1 involving Tyrant, which seemed tacked on and rather arbitrary). While this sort of thing is not intrinsically negative, the problem here lies in the fact that Resident Evil doesn't have enough PLOT to extend beyond one, possibly two games (and even at that, it's a stretch). Nonetheless, at last count, they're up to no less than FIVE games, and are currently in development on another. What has come out of this as a result? Instead of the mystery-horror tale the first installment would seem to have promised (discounting the aforementioned and rather disappointing ending), what Capcom has created is nothing more than a dandied-up cops n' robbers shoot 'em up. "Them thar bad guys in Umbrella, they jus' keep on makin' trouble with those fancy bio-weapons, and we-all (the Stars team, Raccoon City Police Department, and assorted relatives and hanger-ons) are a-fixin' ta whup 'em but good". While this may have its own sort of lowbrow populist entertainment appeal (westerns and cop shows have been around for years, and have remained quite popular throughout), it is hardly the sort of thing one expects from a game marketed towards the more hallucinatory and cerebral appeal of the (traditional, non-slasher based) horror and mystery audience it would appear, at first glance, to be aimed at.

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