The Bad Movie Report

Resident Evil

The Bad Movie You Play

I had been killing zombies for what seemed like days, but it was only hours. Slow as they were, they Jill + Giant Spider = MAYHEMwere still capable of being sneaky, and that worried me. As bad as the human zombies were, it was the undead dogs that presented a real problem. They were fast, and mean. Still, life had gotten easier since I found the shotgun, and I had a fair number of shells left, and plenty of ammo for my Beretta. So it was with a small degree of cockiness that I entered the room.

Nobody told me about the giant spiders. They dropped on me from the ceiling. I didn't have a chance. Blood gushed and I was engulfed in a clear white light.

This is Resident Evil, one of the first big hits for the Sony Playstation (and recently released for PC). In it, you play a member of some pseudo-SWAT team that makes the mistake of looking for comrades who vanished while investigating monster sightings near the improbably-named Raccoon City. Set upon by ravenous hell-hounds, three of the survivors take refuge in an old mansion, which -surprise!- seems to be the epicenter of the weirdness. As all participants in bad movies must, the survivors split up to look for clues. ("Shaggy, you and Scooby check the dining room...") And the fun starts.

It won't take you long to meet your first zombie; he's happily munching on the corpse of one of your team members. This is a really creepy moment, and I'll confidently stack it up against any number of similar scenes in actual movies. Luckily, a couple of bullets in the right place will put the shambling undead back down for keeps. Unluckily, you don't have much ammo. And did I mention someone on your team is a traitor?

Past that, Resident Evil is a fairly standard adventure game: find keys, open doors, solve puzzles, try not to die. It's the desperate gunning down of beasties that make you feel like you're immersed in a George Romero movie, angrily cursing every missed shot, because each bullet is precious. Only a soundtrack by Goblin would have improved the overall feel.

Oh, but that's not the best part. The reason why this belongs in The Bad Movie Report. You see, Chris - whoever HE iswhen you reach certain points in the game, or pass some milestone, the game serves up a Full Motion Video sequence, and the voice acting in these segments is rancid. Part of the problem is an inexplicably slavish devotion to the too-literal Japanese translation ("You have once again entered the world of survival horror")- but the scripting can only be blamed for so much. One of the main characters, Jill, sounds like a cheerleader in full pout, and the ever-helpful Barry bellows everything. A favorite Barry line, delivered after a couple of hours battling various monsters: "Whoa! This hall is dangerous!"

You get your choice of characters to play: Jill, the aforementioned cheerleader, or Chris, the male model. Everyone I've ever spoken to prefers to play Jill (does anybody ever play anything but the babe in these games?). Not quite as tough as Chris, but she can carry eight items, whereas Chris can only carry six. With each gun and its spare ammo taking up two spaces, this becomes very important very quickly.

The game does have its downsides. Basically, the system must pause to load each room into memory as you come to it; this is covered by animations of doors opening and the like. Once you've cleared an area of beasties, solving of puzzles can become a tedious run-click-load-run-click-load affair. You can only save your games by using "ink ribbons" that you find in certain rooms that contain typewriters. I hate games with save schemes like that. A save-when-you-want scheme, as in the immortal Doom, encourages far more exploration. But not as much tension. Admittedly.

And that's what Resident Evil does; splendidly recreates the tension and atmosphere of a really good bad movie, the entertaining crap we all love so dearly.

As a postscript, a couple of things might be mentioned. One is that the publisher of Resident Evil, Resident Evil:  Ugly  Box EditionCapcom, released a version called Resident Evil: The Director's Cut, which promised an uncensored experience.... which wasn't, prompting the inevitable flurry of complaints and rants on Usenet. And what is with the box? Would you see a movie with a crappy poster like this? Do they even care? Well, no, not really. Publishers feel... and they're probably right... that Americans just don't care about the cover art. Sigh.

What The Director's Cut did include was a demo disc of RE2 (due in January) which looked simply smashing. The game opens in Raccoon City, where we are firmly embroiled in Dawn of the Dead territory. Gangs of zombies walk the street, and they're looking more Romero-esque... and hungry... than ever.

In fact, the director for the TV commercial for RE2's Japanese release is... George Romero. And we'll probably never get to see it. Crap.


Who doesn't want to blow out zombie brains?

Clock Tower

And while we're here, it's as good a time as any to talk about Clock Tower, another attempt to bring the horror movie experience to gaming. Specifically, the slasher movie.

After starting with a creepy nightmare sequence, Clock Tower Scissorman...Jason, he ain'tpurports to be about the legendary Scissorman, a serial killer who uses an enormous pair of scissors to dispatch his victims (shades of William Peter Blatty's Legion). Generally, you play a girl who survived a Scissorman attack or the research assistant who's trying to help her remember exactly what happened. After a far-too-lengthy bout of exposition (A unique thing in a videogame, to be sure), the game proper begins, as Scissorman begins stalking you in a locked-up University building. Then a locked-up house. Then a locked-up castle.

Clock Tower is great fun for about the first couple of hours. The only music occurs whenever Scissorman pops up, and he can be damned sneaky. These parts of the game can be quite pulse-pounding. Fortunately, he is also slow and rather stupid, and you can usually find a place to hide until he leaves, or even find something lying about to brain him with so you can.... yes, run away. Not stay to finish the job, no, that would ruin the bad movie.

Scissorman does get a little smarter in the latter part of the game; if you try to hide from him in the ....but he gets the job done.same place twice, he will kill you. Sadly, by that time, programmers also seem to get a bit bored, so they threw in a couple of doors and drawers that flat out kill you. No saving roll, no way out, just bam. You die. Awfully frustrating in a game that's primarily about exploration.

Clock Tower claims to have ten different endings, depending on who you wind up playing, etc, etc. , supposedly to enhance it's replayability - but the game simply isn't that good, not enough to make me replay it over and over and over, just for the endings. Running for your life is exhilarating the first ten or fifteen times, but as a steady diet...... ehhhhhhhh. Gimme a shotgun and beret anyday.



Good for a rental. Period.

- December 7, 1999