Back sometime in 1997, with my friends (referred to as Big James and Little James, as I have no imagination when it comes to my friend selection), I began playing a game that was to be a complete revelation. Resident Evil, on the old PlayStation, was a fantastic experience — spooky, tense, filled with jump-scares, and unlike any game I’d played before.
It was also, at the time, a very good-looking game (though that screenshot might not give that fact away much–I wonder if kids of this generation will ever look back at current games and think they look half as dated?) But probably the one thing that set it aside from other games — aside from its atmosphere, which I still believe to be the best of any of the games in the Resident Evil series, including its excellent sequel — was your dependence upon consumable items in limited supply.
Combined that with the player’s inexperience, and the first play-through of the game becomes an experience unlike any other — there was little help from the internet in those days, so you could waste a bunch of your time and resources on doing the wrong thing. You’d take the wrong routes, miss items, waste ammunition you could save, get hurt when you could avoid it, and down the line, you’d find yourself sheltering in a safe-room (oh, thank god for the music), short on ammunition and healing supplies, and trying to work out how you can get from A to B without having your head knocked clean off by a Hunter. And it’s fantastic!
Then, a couple of months ago, they released the HD remake. Instead of the more recent Resident Evil games, which had lost their allure for me — plenty of action, but lacking the tension and atmosphere that made the early games great — this was a revisit to the original game, a high-def remake (itself a remake of the graphically much-improved version on the GameCube). I’d never played the GameCube version, though — only the Resident Evil Zero prequel — so I was looking forward to it.
And for me, it’s worth its money, every penny — but it does have one problem, and I think it comes from my having played the game before. Having learned from experience, and knowing my way around, while the game’s surprises and new sections threw me for a loop, I was still better at playing the game than I was that first time, back in the day. Add in things like defensive items, which let you skip past some of your mistakes to a degree, and I found myself flush with ammo by the time the game’s end came around.
Now, this isn’t to say I walked through the game. I had my run-ins with zombies, who took more killing (and who had a few other surprises for me, which I won’t spoil here, in case you’re thinking of playing it yourself). And I swear the dogs in this version are harder — I could kill the PS One dogs with the handgun no problem, but in this version, the few times I tried it, I just got killed. Well, it’s been a while since I played it, I suppose.
But for all its trials and struggles, the end-game was disappointingly comfortable. I was playing as Jill, which was always the easy path — and somehow, even easier in this version than in the original, as Jill gets a lot more direct help, to the point where Barry actually beat a whole boss for me, which had never happened to me in the past — but despite my rust, after a little while, I found my feet. I did get squashed by a rolling rock — a somewhat nostalgic experience, if I’m honest — but despite the small bits that I saw on my run-through, the original ending was markedly tougher. They changed how it plays–and maybe if I’d burned through my best ammo, that might have made it rough.
But I was flush with it. I burned through the final encounter here in something like ten to twenty seconds, expecting that it would shift to some drastic subsequent encounter (see: Resident Evil 2’s train encounter?), but there wasn’t one. The brevity of the Grand Finale meant that while I’d been killed a few times by the regular creatures and set-pieces, I’d finished without having a single challenging boss encounter. I still had loads of my big-time ammo leftover.
But that said, I still loved it. The game’s a wonderful mixture of modern engineering and nostalgia, and the only thing that could possibly have made it better would have been playing through it with one of the few groups of people I played through the predecessors with.
But I’m craving that original, nervous sensation still — so next up, I’m going to play through the game as Chris. Chris is the harder option — he can carry less, and he gets less help, so you need to think your way around better. And I’ll be turning the difficulty level up. I’m hoping, sincerely, that the game makes me suffer more the next time around — because, just like Silent Hill after it, that was what made those early Resident Evil games special.
And, having played through the game now with Chris, I can say that it IS harder that way — and a lot more fun! I found myself running out of ammo a couple of times, and his inability to carry everything makes healing on the go a tougher proposition. But the final boss remains disappointing, and honestly, barely any harder with Chris than it was with Jill. A shame, in the end, that the game ends with something of an anticlimax.