Fight your fears and survive.

CONTENTS

Enter the survival horror.

Those of you who still have the will to live…

It looks like he’s been dead for a while.

You Are Dead

He must really be afraid of Umbrella.

An emblem of armor is carved into the lock

Wonder what’s on the other side of this door…

Take a piece of the action!

We’re almost there!

    “Enter the survival horror.

2002’s GameCube remake of 1996’s identically titled PlayStation hit Resident Evil [all instances of “Resident Evil” from this point on refer to the GameCube game and its HD Remaster] was an incredible leap forwards. A huge step backwards. A last chance.

At the time of its debut Resident Evil: CODE: Veronica was the most recent and by far the most technically advanced entry in the main series. CODE: Veronica successfully brought Resident Evil into a fully 3D realm, marrying impressive and impeccably executed polygonal environments with expressive acting, new features… and plenty of old and by now very familiar people, places, and puzzles.

And that was the problem. How good CODE: Veronica was—and on the whole it really was a decent game—didn’t really matter because by that point in time the once-popular formula had worn thin. Umbrella again, really? More keys and herbs and doors and Tyrants? Please. We’d done all this several times before, and because the games we’d already done it in were really great there were no missed opportunities to leave us wanting more, no reasonable avenue left unexplored, no main games held back by a lack of budget or development time.

Resident Evil as a whole was in an unenviable position. It needed to change, because as good as it was, even ardent fans felt they already had enough survival horror at home to keep them busy, especially with so many competitors eager to offer broadly similar experiences. But it also needed to stay the same because people liked Chris, Jill, and exploring creepy mansions filled with mysterious horrors.

There was only one thing to do: to start over from scratch. From pre-rendered backgrounds and S.T.A.R.S. and that mansion. To take these foundations and use them to forge a new, darker, identity for the series.

To make horror fans afraid of zombies again.

Oh boy did it work. The sheer amount of detail found in the new 3D models—models so impressive they were only very slightly retouched for the modern “HD Remasters”—obviously helps a lot (nobody enjoys seeing glass-eyed corpses shambling towards them in the candlelit gloom or gently swaying at one end of a corridor lit mostly by lightning) but the real scares stem from more subtle changes. They can now climb stairs. They’re extremely fond of bursting through shut doors at the worst possible moment. They seem to be waiting in every thick shadow and dilapidated corridor, every place you need to be—and running away from one only seems to end with you hungrily embraced by another just around the corner.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, this time around not even killing them is a game-long guarantee you’ve escaped their putrid clutches. “Crimson Heads”—the stronger, faster, and distinctly clawed mutations of regular zombies—always seem to be on hand to swiftly restore a player’s respect for the generic undead, reigniting (and then some) the fear that had been lost over time.

Those of you who still have the will to live…

As with “vanilla” zombies some of the fear for these blood-red enemies bubbles forth from obvious, primal, sources: they’re strong, tough, and nobody wants some heavy-breathing collection of exposed bones and snarls running towards them at the best of times.

But the worst part is knowing they can be everywhere and anywhere the “boring” zombies are, ferociously tearing through the same tight corridors and cramped bathrooms their old form once slowly shambled—and it’s all your fault. Crimson Heads only rise up from the “dead” bodies of zombies you’ve killed and not disposed of properly, and that means if you’d been a little braver an hour ago and ran past that zombie instead of filling it full of holes there’d be no Crimson Head rushing down the hall at you now. If you’d dared to surrender precious inventory space to the lighter and fuel canteen you could’ve burned that corpse but no, you wanted to hold onto a life-giving first aid spray instead. If you’d worked that puzzle out a little earlier you wouldn’t have had to come back this way, and if you hadn’t come back this way you’d have never seen that changed zombie rise from the floor with a guttural growl.

Not even skilled or heavily armed players are safe from their clutches, as neither head-angled shotgun blasts or even a rocket straight to the face are enough to guarantee a precious head-popping critical hit this game around—a deliberate choice that ensures everyone has to run past corpses from time to time, wondering if they’re about to turn…

Exactly when that dreaded moment arises seems to be completely random when you’re creeping quietly through Resident Evil’s beautifully rendered environments, but under the hood the game’s using a secret adaptive ranking system to determine precisely when Crimson Heads will spring up to feast on Chris or Jill’s delicious brains.

Let’s start with the good news. No Crimson Heads will appear at all until two specific conditions have been met: the player must have obtained the dog collar from the mansion’s second floor terrace (acquired by using the dog whistle out there and then killing the dog that appears), and they must have also walked past the perpetually pre-turned Crimson Head sprawled out on the carpet of the second floor’s mirror-filled corridor (the small area with the Crimson Head leads to the armour key/fake armour key swap trap—essentially the trigger is “The player has done enough right to be on their way to grabbing the armour key“, an event that signals the player is now in the second half of the mansion’s first set of puzzles and is about to start gathering up death masks).

Once those two conditions have been satisfied Resident Evil’s secret ranking system comes into play, with the starting rank determined by the difficulty level: one (easy), three (normal), or four (hard), from a total of six, and the remainder based on the time taken by the player to obtain certain vital items, charting their progression from the start of the game up to the point they grab the shield key (used to access the attic room containing the giant snake Yawn), an event that means they have obtained every item needed to uncover all four death masks, face the Prototype Crimson Head, and finally leave the mansion for the residence area  (sometimes referred to as the “guardhouse”). The ranking system has no impact on anything else.

Events~ Time threshold (in minutes)

Game start~sword key acquired: 60

Sword key~armour key acquired: 60

Armour key~sheet music inner pages acquired: 90

Sheet music inner pages~shield key: 60

Example: a player who takes less than sixty minutes to obtain the sword key after starting the game will have their rank increased by one, while a player who takes more than sixty minutes will have their rank reduced by one. The player’s rank cannot go below one or exceed six, and there are no further rank adjustments after the shield key has been acquired. 

The rank the player’s on when they kill a zombie then determines which ‘pool’ the game randomly picks that corpse’s revival timer from, as shown below:

Rank) Time/until/revival (in minutes)

1) 60/90/100/150

2) 20/45/80/100

3) 15/35/70/80

4) 10/20/30/60

5) 5/10/20/30

6) 5/10/15

So as you can hopefully see, a standard zombie killed by a player on rank four (hard mode’s initial setting) could take anything from a mere ten minutes to a full hour to turn into a Crimson Head, and best of all there’s no way of knowing until it’s too late. Everyone has to be at least a little wary around Crimson Heads—even people regularly achieving sub-2hr/no save clear times might encounter one or two along the way. But even if they do, the aim here isn’t to just make a simple scenario—killing zombies—more difficult or spitefully turn this common and sometimes necessary event into a series of “Aha! You just ruined the game for yourself!” moments. The ranking system exists so Resident Evil can make an educated guess about the player’s ability and then adjust Crimson Head revival times to match, rather than mindlessly flooding the mansion’s corridors with an ever-increasing quantity of violent cadavers. It could take over two hours for a more cautious or methodical player’s unattended zombie corpse to get back up or a mere five minutes for a speedy player who started on the hardest difficulty setting, and both will be fair relative to each player’s initial desired challenge and ongoing performance. 

It looks like he’s been dead for a while.

Should you somehow manage to get used to those insatiable beasts, the unlockable “Once Again…” mode—essentially Resident Evil’s equivalent of “New Game+”—adds Forest Speyer, the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team sniper most famous for being pecked to death by crows and then turning into a zombie in Resident Evil: Director’s Cut, to the mix as a unique roaming hazard.

He’s even more dangerous than any Crimson Head. Than multiple Crimson Heads. Than all Crimson Heads.

He’s much faster on his feet than any standard zombie. He will definitely show up in small spaces at close quarters. But if one detail’s guaranteed to set heart rates soaring it’s that no matter how close you are to getting munched on or how low your health is, you must never, ever, fight back. Shooting Forest—or even just swiping at him with the survival knife—instantly detonates the grenades on his bandolier, killing you instantly. To be clear: this is not a “It hurts a lot when this happens” situation but a binary “You did this, therefore you are dead” action/reaction response. There is no way you can be tough enough or lucky enough or far away enough from him to survive this (thankfully the game won’t allow characters to use defensive items on him, not even if they’re set to auto-use on everything else). This is true whether he’s dashing at you from across the way or he suddenly surprises you as he lunges in a tight space—and that’s why he’s such a brilliant idea. He introduces an element of doubt to a previously cleared game, a potentially deadly little pause for thought in something players thought they had already experienced in its entirety and could now strut through with something approaching confidence. Did you definitely hear the distinctive clinking of his grenades coming from around the corner, or were you so nervous you just thought you did? And what was that other moan just now anyway? Every second spent waiting to definitely make the right decision is a second closer to being on the receiving end of an avoidable bite, either from Forest himself or the zombie you didn’t shoot because you thought it might be Forest.

In spite of the sheer panic caused by hearing the sound of his boots thudthudthudding on the mansion’s floors, there’s still enough room in this spine tingling addition to the game for another kind of horror too, something more melancholy and personal. Forest was a friend and colleague to the main characters before his body was twisted into this horrific decaying thing that’s now hellbent on doing something it’s easy to see he’d never even contemplate doing to anyone at all if he still was alive enough to realise what was going on.

But even his grim circumstances are nothing compared to what Lisa Trevor goes through.

Resident Evil’s files (especially the famous “Itchy. Tasty” Keeper’s Diary) have always drawn attention to the fact that many of the people who fall to the virus, even those working in secluded laboratories out in the woods, were just unlucky. An unexpected attack. The unfortunate soul who happened to catch a researcher’s eye. A test gone wrong. A test gone right.

Lisa marks the first time we really see a person made to suffer.

She is of course far from the only person in the series with a name and an extensive backstory to end up as an incoherent mass of festering skin and rage, but she’s the first one who definitively didn’t deserve her sorry fate. Resident Evil 2‘s William Birkin was a top Umbrella scientist who deliberately injected himself with his own virus—he knew what was going to happen. CODE: Veronica’s Lord Alexander Ashford was another Umbrella scientist, one who created his creepy twin kids—the twins who would eventually turn on him—as part of an experiment. His daughter Alexia Ashford spent years preparing for her eventual transformation and willingly embraced it. And Steve Burnside… well. 

1) It’s Steve.

2) I’ve had cups of tea last longer than Steve’s ordeal from transformation into an axe-swinging annoyance to scripted death, and I really like drinking tea. 

Lisa lingered. She was experimented on for so long (since 1967—the game takes place in 1998) and then left manacled and wandering the place where her family were killed. Her scant journal entries detail her rapid decline over the course of just a few days from scared child to violent monster, every jumbled line and disturbing reference to taking other people’s faces worse than the last. It’s no wonder she attacks everyone on sight—who wouldn’t after being put through all that?

But even after all this time, half-forgotten scraps of who she was remain. You find yourself an uninvited guest in Lisa’s little home twice during the game, her little oasis in this ongoing nightmare a fragmented mockery of a child’s idea of a safe place filled with dolls and candlelight, with one precious family photo kept in a sad shrine by her bed. She is trying very hard to be normal, to remember who she was, in spite of all she’s endured.

So she is definitely a monster, but definitely not that sort of monster, and in keeping with this train of thought in your final encounter with her she doesn’t have to be knocked over the edge of the arena with powerful ammo but can be given some small measure of peace instead. Pushing the four stone weights positioned in the corners of the room will finally release the lid on her mother’s stone coffin, Lisa’s sole comfort in this life the ability to finally clasp her mother’s skull in her twisted hands before the two of them leap into oblivion.

You Are Dead

However you decide to finish her off, that final encounter is made all the more memorable by the ever present threat of instant death: no matter how well healed you are, or how well you’ve played up to that point, or how much ammo you’re carrying, a single swipe from Lisa while you’re standing near the edge of the arena—which is pretty much everywhere considering how small the room is—can knock you into the abyss, killing you instantly. It’s another fine example of Resident Evil doing what it does best: taking imaginative steps to ensure all players, regardless of their confidence, skill level, planning, or current equipment, can’t ever fully protect themselves from the dangers within. You are not safe here, not ever, and no matter how many times you’ve run through the game before there are always going to be a few spots that could see you wiped out if you get them wrong.

If you get them wrong. As with Forest and the Crimson Heads I mentioned earlier, how much trouble these segments cause is largely down to your own behaviour, Resident Evil always taking care to offer a practical solution to every self-inflicted problem.

The new fuel supply capsule event in the final laboratory area is a prime example of the game’s idea of hair-raising, yet fair, instant-kill danger. Players need to restore power to the lab’s elevator to gain access to Wesker and the first/final Tyrant battle (previous decisions depending), and to do so they must take an empty fuel capsule from a device in the power room, refill it in another room that’s nearby but not close enough to spare anyone’s nerves, and then return the filled capsule to the device you got it from. Simple, right? Or it would be if it weren’t for the fact that the fuel within is so volatile the game stops everything the instant you pick up the empty capsule so it can print “WARNING: Fuel may explode if shaken or jarred” on the screen in BIG RED LETTERS. Do you know how many other messages in this game make you stand there and read scary red text? None. Well, none apart from the slightly later warning you get about how running with a filled fuel canister could result in a fatal explosion, anyway. 

But as always there’s more to this disconcertingly Castlevania 64-like situation than meets the eye. That may in the first piece of text, and the could in the one after it, were not included by accident. If you dare—and nobody would blame you if you didn’t—it is possible to run about three steps while holding the filled fuel capsule without exploding yourself to death. But why would Resident Evil offer such a kindness after all of those ominous unskippable warnings—weren’t they enough? Well, if you habitually run everywhere and your fingers haven’t caught up with the messages your eyes just delivered to your brain yet it’s a little life-saving leeway, a heartstopping “Oh wow I’m still alive, I’d better not do that again” moment. And by still allowing you a (very) brief burst of speed you’re not made to eat all of the potential zombie/chimera (they’re the awful spider-ish humanoids found only in the lab) related damage that may be waiting between the refuel station and the power generator. Dashing out of the way is still going to make your heart act like it’s trying to escape your chest, but the option’s there if you really need it. 

Then there’s speedruns to consider. The game is truly built for this enjoyable challenge, and knowing you can push this slow segment to the limits and get away with it is exhilarating. If you care about your final time you have to try, even though you know doing so could spectacularly end the entire run if you make a single mistake, an hour or more’s work up in grisly smoke.

He must really be afraid of Umbrella.

It’s scenarios like these that have contributed to the game’s somewhat fearsome reputation over the years, although in truth Resident Evil tries very hard to be not just fair to everyone interested in playing but actively welcoming. You can see this in the difficulty select screen, which frames the default options not as “normal” and “easy” but instead asks “How do you like your games?” with the choice split between “mountain climbing” and “hiking” (and newly for the remasters, “walking” too)—the carefully written descriptions of these concepts making it very clear the game only wants you to pick the option that suits you best. It’s found in the game’s infamous limited-use save system, the fear of not being able to put a bookmark in your progress whenever and wherever you like silently balanced by both the quantity of ribbons—”mountain climbing” mode (the toughest of the initial options) contains ten triple-use ink ribbons, enough to save three times at every typewriter in the game—and their locations too: half of the game’s ten typewriters are in the same room as a fresh roll of ink ribbons, and those that aren’t are often in the same room as an item chest—an item chest that on any difficulty setting other than Hard will have an ink ribbon inside it at the start. Even the cursor sometimes takes care of players. The default cursor position of the device used to direct the herbicide to kill either the overgrown plant in the indoor fountain room and/or the herbs off to the side starts off sitting on the correct choice, and that means you have to physically put in extra effort to make the wrong decision (and also not bother checking where the clearly coloured pipes in the small room lead).

On a similar note: Resident Evil is a master of making you think you’ll never see another recovery item or shotgun shell ever again, only to just-so-happen to leave exactly what you need just before (or after) any particularly tricky segments. It’s a game that deliberately places a zombie between you and where you need to go in the kitchen, and then (on every difficulty other than the most challenging one) places a defensive knife on the table between the two of you, allowing you to safely pass by unscathed even if you’re carrying literally nothing and a single sneeze is enough to finish you off. A game that leaves poison-curing blue herbs after an area with poison-causing monsters. A game that reduces the move list of every zombie on a staircase to just one highly telegraphed and easily avoided vomit attack—you’ll never die to a cheap ankle bite, waste ammo shooting at the floor because the angles are all a bit weird, or have to waste five minutes watching a zombie shamble up a narrow staircase only to then fail to kite it out of the way, because you can always run straight past them and escape unscathed.

Of course sometimes you could swear the game’s trying to kill you off regardless, apparently not caring whether you even have a chance of squaring up to the next slobbering mutation standing between you and where you need to be. 

At first blush the battle against the Prototype Crimson Head—the first major fight in the game you can’t run away from—feels deeply unfair. You’re locked in a room with a powerful enemy without warning (the “locked in” part, that is—they really couldn’t have made the multi-part “Something awful’s in there and you’re letting it out” bit more obvious), and you might not have enough ammo on hand to deal with it. Don’t panic: Resident Evil has thought of this. That’s why a box of shotgun shells appears on the floor by the Crimson Head’s coffin (and they only appear after the coffin has dropped to the floor, so you can’t unwittingly hoover them up earlier). Thorough players of either character will more than likely have a shotgun with them at that point, and speedy Jill-sandwich-scene Jills definitely will (Jill can actually have two shotguns and a grenade launcher by this point). And a Chris in a hurry? Don’t worry, he’s looked after too. Just one of Chris’ unique defensive flash grenades is enough to kill this Crimson Head off, you just need to be brave enough to let Chris get attacked from the front so he can shove one in its mouth. There’s not even any need to detonate it with a bullet afterwards, as the grenade will go off on its own after a short delay. It’s the fastest and safest way (although it won’t feel like it at the time) to tackle the fight short of unleashing the unlockable rocket launcher.

The other boss fights run along similar lines, putting on a brilliantly intimidating show without ever forgetting that the person running headlong into this encounter might not be at full health or even carrying a weapon at all. This is why there’s no need to fight Yawn at all the first time around—just grab the death mask sitting in the corner and leave. If you take a moment to breathe you might realise the giant spider in the caves known as “Black Tiger” is more of an obstacle than a fight—the only thing you have to do here is destroy the webby barrier blocking the opposite door and get out of there (something that can be achieved either with the spare survival knife in the room, baiting Black Tiger into spitting at the webs, or using a regular gun). There is no need to ever fire a single bullet at Lisa, Plant 42 can be chemically destroyed by applying the V-Jolt chemical to its roots, and for the vast majority of players scarred shark Neptune is safely and reliably electrocuted to death (seasoned speedrunners may wish to grab the key he guards another way).

An emblem of armor is carved into the lock

Resident Evil does a wonderful job of teaching people how to notice these environmental puzzles without making anyone sit through an immersion-breaking tutorial. The first major hurdle everyone must clear to unlock anywhere of note in the mansion involves finding an arrow, examining it to detach the arrowhead, and then using that arrowhead in a grave in the cute little cemetery out the back of the mansion (I have always wondered how Umbrella explained that area to the staff). Most of the doors you can find are locked—the descriptions shown when you examine them planting the concept of themed multi-use keys in your mind—and at this stage those that aren’t either relate directly to the puzzle at hand (the semi-hidden painted door at the top of the main hall staircase leading to the cemetery) or provide interactive not-tutorials on pushing/climbing boxes (the statue/map puzzle in the small art gallery on the east side) and using defensive items (the zombie that suddenly blocks off the entrance to the small side room with the defensive knife in it). One of those doors leads to the dining room’s upper balcony (watch the shadows—a flash of lightning might reveal a zombie on the far side that’s otherwise out of sight) and out to a corridor filled with mirrors (another lesson in using your surroundings to your advantage) and a glinting arrow sticking out of a stone cherub’s body, helpfully positioned at the forefront of the screen in a HEY LOOK AT THIS IT MIGHT BE IMPORTANT kind of way. Just past that is a door you can unlock back to the dining room’s upper balcony, just a little nudge to let you know that some doors can be unlocked without a key and doing so may reward you with helpful, safe, shortcuts back to key areas. 

So at this point you’ve got an arrow, and if you haven’t spotted where it’s supposed to go yet you will do soon because the cemetery’s pretty much the only other place you can currently go. And when you get there? Checking the grave—the only conspicuously illuminated feature in the area other than the door you just came through—shows a close-up of an arrowhead-shaped depression in the masonry. The only thing left you can do here is examine the arrow in your inventory, either because you actually read the tutorial file that automatically popped up when you picked up your first interactive object or you’ve been trained well by old adventure games, which then detaches its jade-green head from its golden shaft, allowing this “new” object to be inserted in the stoney hole and opening the secret passage ahead.

To get this far you’ve fought past zombies, probably used a defensive item in the process (or at least picked one up for later), become a little familiar with the main “hub” room of the game’s largest area, picked up important objects, unlocked doors, and learned that some objects must be examined before they can be used to solve puzzles. You’re ready for the next—and final—step in this macabre tutorial. You have nowhere else to go, so clearly you’ve got to do something with this book you just found in the creepy place underneath the graveyard. Unlike the arrow, examining the book in the default view doesn’t do anything other than give the book’s title: but if you take a closer look there’s some sort of clasp running from the front, around the side, and… ah! There’s a key embedded in the back, and taking it causes the book to open, the text within reading:

The four masks,

a mask that speaks no evil…

a mask that smells no evil…

a mask that sees no evil…

a mask that cannot speak, smell, or see evil…

When all four fall into place, evil will awaken.

You had to pass four face-shaped mask-holes to reach the book this text is contained in (the fixed camera angles making sure you got a good view of them on the way in and out), and it’s reasonable to assume that if evil’s going to awaken from anything, it’ll be from the sinister rusted coffin suspended by chains you just walked under.

With all of that out of the way the game finally begins proper, your chosen hero holding one sword key and probably not much else. As with everything else in Resident Evil, the labyrinthine unknown that seems to stretch out ahead is an illusion at odds with the reality of this new situation. There are just three multi-use mansion keys all game long, and they are found and used in a strictly linear fashion: if you’ve done enough to gain the armour key then you no longer need the sword key (“need” is of course distinct from “can still use”), if you’ve got the helmet key then you no longer need the armour key, even if you’ve not already used the previous key on every compatible lock. Further in, every key in the plant/shark infested residence area is single-use, and there’s only one mandatory key for the entire lab. 

There’s a good reason for this, and it’s something other key-based competitors (as well as a few of Resident Evil’s later entries too) failed to notice in their rush to ape the formula: the keys aren’t really there to unlock doors, they’re checkpoints. If the player has this key then they have already cleared X, now have access to Y, and their current goal must be Z. They’re breadcrumbs used to bring shape to an invisible route, a progressive string of tiny instances where every possibility has been accounted for but is presented in such a way the player always believes they’re the first to have ever ventured this far or thought to unlock this particular room. Players are always moving forwards, even if they don’t realise it.

Wonder what’s on the other side of this door…

Of course in many adventure games—and Resident Evil is an adventure game in its bones—knowing how to keep things moving forwards becomes an atmosphere skewering burden on repeat plays, the character made to look like an idiot over and over again as the player ineffectually shouts “The answer’s 8462! Just let me at the keypad instead of saying ‘I don’t know the password’!” at the screen. Not so here. Do you know the password? Then just type in the password. You can even skip the majority of the final lab area (as you always could) if you remember all the codes you need. It’s the same with keys too: if you already know which door they’re for then you don’t need to spend time twizzling them around to reveal room numbers or elaborate crests, and you’ll never encounter a scenario where either Chris or Jill stand in front of a door while holding the correct key and say “I don’t have the key for this.” just because they didn’t officially notice it beforehand.

Why? Because that’s your reward—yours, the players—for taking notes, for paying attention to small details, for caring enough to keep a vital piece of information in some corner of your mind. Resident Evil considers knowledge and critical thinking as vital as bullets and herbs.

Current knowledge, that is. Resident Evil delights in pulling the rug from under those blindly retreading the PlayStation original’s footsteps, sometimes lightly chastising them for being inattentive, sometimes introducing new scares designed explicitly to make the over-confident feel as unsafe and unsure as everyone else. The two most famous zombie dog incidents are a great example of this desire to tease old fans. Those with experience of the original may remember Wesker’s warning to not “OPen tHAT dOOR!” (for the record: Wesker’s original voice actor is a really lovely guy), as well as the result for those that did—a short first-person FMV sequence showing murderous canines trying to get into the main hall, followed by the door getting hastily shut in response. It was all for show, a reason why the cast couldn’t just turn around and leave the way they came, and however it looks in truth they are completely safe the whole time.

Not any more.

In the modern version of Resident Evil a dog bursts into the main hall if the front door’s checked, a previously forever-safe area now contaminated—and players warned early on that things will be different this time around (if you were wondering: this is also why the save typewriter was moved from the main hall to the dining room next door—because the main hall’s not safe). Less dangerous but equally terrifying is almost everyone’s first trip through the infamous “dog corridor”—you definitely know the one—as when approached from the main hall the windows crack, rather than break, leaving those who had braced themselves for one of the game’s most famous scares nervously wondering when those dogs were finally going to attack instead (the answer is: on any trip from the “crushing shotgun room corridor” side of the mansion back to the main hall). Elsewhere the tiger/gem puzzle has been altered so that anyone who thoughtlessly tries to grab a magnum via the old method has to deal with a room full of snakes, the 32-bit V-Jolt formula no longer works, and the final part of the lab computer password sequence has been altered.

The message, repeated throughout every facet of Resident Evil’s design and the core reason why the game is so very, very, unsettling for absolutely everyone, is no matter how good they were at the original, or how closely they follow an old guide’s instructions, or how much you think you already—you are not safe.

Thankfully these redesigned events aren’t always about making players feel more scared or in more danger, with many changes aiming to improve upon the original’s weak spots and sticking points.

Several previously useless rooms are now integrated into the main puzzle “flow”, and other mandatory areas have been given a drastic revamp: the all-new crushing wall/art gallery/statue/hidden exit puzzle is much better than the slightly forced piano/Yawn/sudden hole in the floor event it replaced, for example. There’s also a very good reason for both characters to bother saving Richard Aiken, doomed orange shirt from Bravo Team, this time around. In the 1996 original you’d march on over to the save room with the serum in it and then back to Richard again because you were nice and you’re supposed to save people bitten by enormous poisonous snakes even if the radio he gave you before expiring regardless of what you did was something both characters could easily acquire elsewhere later on. In Resident Evil there’s now a clear benefit to doing so no matter who you play as. Jill gets to use him as a shotgun-toting distraction in the first Yawn fight, virtually guaranteeing a safe run to the death mask in the corner of the room (even if poor Richard does get eaten afterwards—yes, you can go back and pick up his shotgun). In Chris’ game Richard will show up in the flooded Aqua Ring, dropping his excellent shotgun into the water after being eaten (you can collect it as soon as you’ve drained the area).

Then there’s the old art gallery. This often dreaded puzzle has been greatly simplified from seven individual paintings down to three double-sided stained glass windows, the puzzle now based around matching colours to an image on the back wall rather than remembering which painting you’ve already interacted with or where “Lively Boy” goes in the overly-long sequence. It’s now much easier to check and adjust the puzzle as you go without ever triggering those blasted crows along the way, and all without losing either the spirit of the original (“solve the image-based puzzle to reveal an item that helps you leave the mansion”) in the process.

Take a piece of the action!

As with so many things there’s also a secret “rhythm” to this puzzle too—the fastest path to the correct solution is to hit the button under the first stained glass window, then run around the corner and hit the buttons under the next two before carrying on, without ever changing direction, to the large portrait at the end. That’s one clean run from the entrance to the mask—and if you’re playing as Jill (or remembered to bring a generic old key as Chris) the new gate at the back of the stained glass gallery leads straight out to not only the final death mask but also the graveyard: the place where you need to use all of those masks you have probably just finished acquiring.

Flow and pace is incredibly important to the game, so much so that every character’s walk and run speeds are affected not only by their current health (Chris receives an 8%/1% run/walk speed penalty when injured, while Jill suffers a greater 12% deduction to her run, but gains a 7% boost to her walking speed) but also the weapon they currently have equipped (equipped, not in their inventory). The straightforward version goes like this: There is always a benefit to walking (ideally, running) through the mansion with distressingly empty, defenceless, hands—every character moves faster that way. Fast enough to dodge an enemy hands laden with weapons may have had to fight to get past, fast enough to reach a door before one of those screeching lizardlike Hunters catches up with them—as ever, how much danger you put yourself in is largely up to you.

If you were interested in the specifics:

Chris receives a straightforward 10% penalty to his running speed and 9% to his walking speed with any firearm equipped, while Jill’s is a little more complicated: small firearms reduce her run by 11% and her walk by 2%, whereas the shotgun and other larger weapons slow her run by 7%, and her walk by 1% (for those curious about Resident Evil’s other playable character—Rebecca’s movement stats are identical to Jill’s). There are just two weapons that operate outside of these rules—the survival knife, and the rocket launcher dropped by Brad at the end of the game—neither of these affect either character’s run or walk speed at all.

Unusually for a horror game this is really the only way Resident Evil treats its playable characters any differently from one another. As far as the story’s concerned Chris is shocked by the same things Jill is shocked at, and to the same degree. Chris gets knocked out cold by the same things that knock out Jill. Should he succumb to Yawn’s poison it’ll happen at the same time and affect him with the same severity it does Jill, and like Jill he’ll need to be rescued by someone else to survive. Chris is not tough and Jill is not weak, and by presenting the cast as equals everyone is free to play as who they want to—because they prefer a particular character’s cutscenes, inventory space, “feel”, or whatever—never made to feel bad for picking the secretly “wrong” option in the game’s stubbornly non-canonical clashing storylines.

We’re almost there!

I don’t like calling any game perfect, because nothing really is in the literal sense of the word and certain Very Internet people are always quick to queue up to remind whoever said so of that fact. But what else do you call a game that’s as scary and demanding on the hundreth go as it is the first (tested and confirmed)? A game whose scares and demands of its players changes over time, beginning at “PLEASE DON’T EAT ME” and eventually blossoming into “I really hope I don’t lose any time to the courtyard dogs this run“? A game that preempts the potential criticisms and flaws that would normally dog a remake of a popular game by weaving its entire everything around them, making everyone feel uncomfortable and unsure all the time?

A lot of incredible horror games have been, gone, and I’m sure are still yet to come since Resident Evil’s debut, but I don’t think we’ll see one this… yeah, this perfect, ever again.

NOTES: 

-All Crimson Head rank/timing numbers/mechanic details and the precise movement speed percentages were taken from the Biohazard Kaitai Shinsho: Wii Edition.

-A few trips to Evil Resource‘s Resident Evil section made counting/confirming various things much easier than it would have been otherwise.

[Ko-fi supporters read this a week ago! If you’ve enjoyed the ridiculous amount of work that’s gone into this piece, please consider joining them!]

3 thoughts on “Fight your fears and survive.

  1. I would never have normally played a horror game (zero interest in being frightened for whatever reason), but curiosity (seeing you post about it a million times) finally got the best of me and I got the PS4 version earlier this year.

    Not only did I enjoy my first struggle through Chris’s run (no guide used whatsoever!), I immediately did a Jill run right after (10 hours for the Chris run, 5:30 for the Jill run…), and then immediately bought REmake 2 (RE2make?).

    It really says something that the brilliance of the design is as obvious in 2022 as it was all those years ago. Thank you for articulating all of the finer points so well.

    Like

  2. Thanks for this thourough and fun to read writeup on this classic. It’s often hard to call the RE series “classy” but they really nailed that certain grandious feel of the mansion in this one.

    Like

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