BY CAPCOM, 1997
25 WORDS OR LESS:
Late port of the original campy survival horror adventure, including material unavailable on the PlayStation.
Dead port walking
Released just one day after the Director’s Cut of the PlayStation original, the Saturn port of Resident Evil has the curse of bringing the best and worst of the series to the 32-bit table. Sure it’s got a couple extra enemies, costumes, and a new mode — what would a Resident Evil game be without ’em! — but a few key things were lost in the port, while other things that should’ve been added were left out.
The story’s seven years old, but recaps never hurt: gruesome murders are being reported in the midwestern American town of Raccoon City, and the city’s police chief Brian Irons sends the force’s Special Tactics and Rescue Squad to investigate a mysterious mansion in the Arclay Mountains, the region from where the attackers are originating. The game opens with one of the most horribly-acted live-action bits ever filmed as a cast of S.T.A.R.S. lookalikes mimes being chased and eaten by dogs wearing face paint. After series whipping boy Brad "Chickenheart" Vickers drops the team off and turns the copter around, three lucky members of the team make it to the mansion’s front door intact and from this point begin the search for another way out.
In an unhealthy fit of "I meant to do that!" series director Shinji Mikami insists to this day that everything the critics hate about the series was deliberately included to enhance the atmosphere and create a truly horrifying experience. Scary as it is for other reasons, the "3D" control scheme does not enhance the feeling of urgency and helplessness, nor do the door animations create suspense. Mikami even goes as far as to claim that the B-movie grade voice acting was done on purpose, but no troupe of drama school dropouts could be this bad if they wanted to. Fortunately, their amusing efforts are something to look forward to every few dozen door animations or so even if they totally kill any mood that may have been building up.
Where the Saturn port differs from the original is in the half-assed inclusion of "extra" costumes and monsters; a blue shirt exposing Jill’s bare midriff and a slightly darker uniform for Chris, as well as three palette-swapped creatures that take more hits to kill than usual. The brown Hunter and gold Tyrant appear towards the end of the main game, but the texture-swapped Wesker zombie can only be encountered in another Saturn exclusive, Battle Mode. This is the first appearance of any sort of bonus mode in the series, which can be seen in virtually all subsequent installments in one form or another as a way for players to earn extra items or costumes in the main game.
Available upon finishing the game or entering a code at the title screen, Battle Mode gives players a limited amount of ammunition and healing items with which to make it through nine stages of enemies and three bosses. While escape is the main focus in later games, Resident Evil’s Battle Mode will only advance you to the next level once every moving thing in the area has been downed, making management of your allotted items all the more crucial. It wasn’t great enough to make the Saturn version superior (especially in the face of the Arranged Mode in the recently released Director’s Cut on the PlayStation), but it gave Sega fans something extra to do while they waited for Code Veronica.
The Saturn port is hindered by three things, the most trivial of these being some downright hideous facial textures on close inspection of the characters. The next offender comes in the form of the Saturn controller’s rubbery start button. Formal RE strategy requires most players to mash the subscreen button like mad when a character becomes heavily damaged and in need of some herbs after breaking free of an enemy’s grasp, but the task is belabored by the start button’s sheer sluggishness and inability to be mashed. It only takes another second for the onscreen beast to get in that last fatal shot and drop your ass on the library floor. The X, Y, and Z buttons went unused in the port for no good reason.
Most glaring, however, is the decision to exclude the auto-aim function. Added to the Director’s Cut and included in every Resident Evil game since (excluding this one), auto-aim gives players the invaluable ability to instantly target any enemy in the room, on or offscreen. Saturn fans will find no such convenience in this release, instead being made to manually swivel their glossy-eyed S.T.A.R.S. mannequin into position and hope they’re properly lined up well enough to get the shot off. It becomes less a problem at close range, assuming you’re more or less facing the enemy’s general direction; as a result, fast monsters and bosses become considerably more difficult for players unfamiliar with the original game.
It doesn’t have as much extra hidden crap as the Director’s Cut and in fact suffers from problems that could’ve been easily corrected, but this particular version of Resident Evil can be interesting to series fans as a sort of stepping stone between PlayStation releases. The Battle Mode offers a glimpse at what would become a curiously addictive addition in more recent games; the Operation Jackal minigame seen in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis or Resident Evil Zero’s Leech Hunter both borrow heavily from it. It’s not recommended that RE fans actively seek out a copy, but if you find one at a garage sale or used game store somewhere for under $30, it’s an interesting bit of series evolution that’ll give you something to play when you wear out your Dragon Force disc. —Alex Fraioli
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