Hey there folks and welcome to another instalment of An Hour With..., my new blog feature wherein I choose a random game from my enormous backlog and spend sixty minutes with it to determine whether I should PLAY it to completion, or PASS on the experience. The overarching aim of this feature is to help me whittle down my immense Pile of Shame by giving me some formative time with each title rather than simply casting games aside at random. If you're a newcomer to the series then you can get a flavour for what I'm trying to achieve my reading this introduction to the concept, or you can peruse the list of previous entries by means of the table below:
|Previously on An Hour With...|
|#001 - WipEout (PS1C)||#002 - Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3)|
Today's game chosen at random by the Backloggery's awesome Fortune Cookie feature is the expanded edition of an early PlayStation title that many consider to be the founding father of the 'survival horror' genre. What is it, and how will it fare through its opening hour? Read on to find out more...
Resident Evil: Director's Cut is a third-person survival horror game released for the original PlayStation in September 1997. Set in the summer of 1998, it follows a team of S.T.A.R.S. operatives investigating a mysterious mansion tied to a series of grisly murders in nearby Raccoon City. It is a re-release of the original Resident Evil from the previous year, with a number of additional features befitting its subtitle. Among these are two new difficulties - Training mode, which reduces combat difficulty and increases ammo availability, and Advanced mode, which rearranges the placements of items, enemies and even camera angles to create a whole new experience for players already familiar with the original game. I've been unable to find any substantial critical opinion of the Director's Cut, but the vanilla version of Resident Evil was very highly regarded as a pioneer in cinematic storytelling and 3D visuals back in 1996 (although even back then, the infamous cutscenes and voice acting weren't fooling anyone).
Resident Evil is a franchise that I've long wanted to dig deeply into, although I fear that I might be a bit too late to the party. My previous experiences with the series amount to playthroughs of three games - Resident Evil 4 on PS2 in 2008, Resident Evil 5 on Xbox 360 in 2010, and perhaps most pertinently for this instalment, the Resident Evil remake on GameCube in the same year. Since then I've amassed a digital collection on my PS3's hard drive that comprises pretty much the entire core franchise - the PSOne Classics releases of RE: Director's Cut, RE2 and RE3: Nemesis, the HD remasters of RE: Code Veronica X, RE4 and RE Zero, RE5 Gold Edition, RE6, and RE: Revelations 1 and 2. That's a lot of zombie-smashing action to get through, and I'm going to have to start somewhere. As the oldest release of the bunch, RE: Director's Cut is the obvious choice.
I deliberately glossed over my time with REmake so I could go over it in more detail here. I played through the campaign as Jill - as a newcomer to this style of Resident Evil game, I'd heard that Jill was the easier option, boasting access to a Pistol right off the bat and a couple of extra inventory slots to make item management less of a chore. Most of my playthrough took place in a darkened room on Hallowe'en, to maximise the scare factor. I was slightly put out by the tedious backtracking and frustrating inventory system, especially when the two combined to make puzzle solving take far longer than it had any right to be. I definitely enjoyed my time with the game though, drinking in the atmosphere and approaching every new room and corridor with almost palpable trepidation. I'm not sure how much of REmake will have stuck with me seven years on, but I'm hoping that my rudimentary memories of the its mechanics will work in my favour in some way as I tackle its progenitor.
This is the part of the blog where the real magic happens - a real-time account of my first sixty minutes with the game in question, serving as a train-of-thought-style assessment of in-game actions and events, incorporating any observations that I make or opinions that I formulate along the way. As before, there may be some slight spoilers for early-game story beats within, so enter at your peril if spoilers for a twenty-year-old game are likely to be a sensitive subject for you. With that little disclaimer out of the way, let's boot up the PS3 and launch Resident Evil: Director's Cut from the XMB menu...
Five Minutes In...
After starting a New Game in Standard mode, I have to pick between two playable characters - S.T.A.R.S. team members Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. Both are characters I'm distantly familiar with, having played as Chris in Resident Evil 5 and as Jill in REmake. This time, I opt for Chris - I've already seen this adventure from Jill's perspective, and I'm keen to experience the additional level of challenge that comes with his more limited inventory space. As the game kicks off I'm treated to an opening FMV sequence, merging live actors with CGI and puppetry to create a final product I can only describe as 'unique'. Resident Evil's terrible voice acting is well documented at this point, having given birth to memes including 'Jill Sandwich', 'Master of Unlocking', and 'I hope this is not Chris's blood'. Rather than describe it for you, I'll embed video footage below and let you judge it for yourselves:
After this opening cinematic and a little bit of introductory plot exposition designed to get Chris on his own, I'm finally put in control of our slightly steroidal protagonist. The first area in the game is a dining room whch is devoid of threats and offers plenty of things to examine, serving as a pretty good training ground for getting to grips with the game's fairly simple control scheme. Chris controls like a tank, which feels pretty clunky at first and is probably going to take some getting used to. After running a lap of the long dining table to get used to the walking and running speeds and turning circle, I turn my attention to the pause menu. It reveals Chris's six-slot inventory, two of which are currently occupied by a combat knife and a first-aid spray. Remembering how I struggled with Jill's eight slots in REmake fills me with a slight sense of dread at the prospect of making do with even less.
Fifteen Minutes In...
Through the next door is my first encounter with a zombie, which doesn't go quite as well as I'd hoped. The combat knife doesn't have much reach and I only manage to get a couple of blows in before it starts chomping on my neck. I change tack, pocket the knife and run out of the room. I arrive back in the mansion's central foyer to find Jill and Wesker missing and Jill's Beretta pistol lying on the ground. I add it to my inventory and swap it for the knife, then backtrack to the corridor with the zombie to put it down more efficiently. It's worth it, as I'm able to scavenge some more ammo from the corpse of its victim. Sadly there's nowhere else to go here as all the other doors in the corridor are locked, either from the other side or with a key resembling a sword. Guess it's time to abandon the west wing and head over to the east side of the mansion.
Through the blue door on the east side of the foyer is a small art gallery with paintings on the walls and a statue in the centre. Here the game introduces its first rudimentary puzzling mechanics, as some of the objects in the room can be pushed to access new areas. By shoving a staircase over to the statue I'm able to recover a map of the first floor from inside it, and moving a small bookcase reveals a hidden path leading to a prone zombie (which I'm clever enough to shoot before stepping too close) guarding some ink ribbons. These precious commodities need to be used to save the game, so I pocket them for future use. Another thing that becomes apparent in the gallery is the game's questionable translation, with the paintings described as featuring "steep scenery" and "a chubby woman". Not the most eloquent of adjectives, I think you'll agree. Oh, and I also notice that Chris has a cool little idle animation where he taps his foot impatiently, like a human version of Sonic the Hedgehog. It has no bearing on gameplay whatsoever, but it's a cool (and slightly humorous) little detail.
Forty Minutes In...
Having exhausted all the possibilities for exploring the ground floor of the mansion (for now, at least), it's time to head upstairs. Since I've just come from the east wing, I figure it makes sense to stay on this side of the building for now. The first door I try leads through a corridor and out onto a balcony on the exterior of the mansion. It's here that I start struggling to give RE: Director's Cut a pass on the visual front. It's an early 3D game, and as such I expect the blocky polygonal character models to have aged poorly. What's more disappointing is that the pre-rendered backdrops aren't looking too hot either. It's been forgivable up to this point where everything has been interiors, but out here the low-fidelity static environments are revealed for what they are. They just haven't aged as well as the pre-rendered art in games like Final Fantasy VII.
After being spontaneously attacked by crows I retreat back into the mansion. I spot a sparkling object on a shelf which turns out to be a key, but without knowing what it opens, I'm not willing to sacrifice an inventory slot to give it up. I start to think that RE: Director's Cut might be best played with a notepad at my side to keep track of all the things I need to go back for (or better yet, graph paper to plot out item locations on a map). Something to think about if I decide to play the game all the way through. Moving on to the next corridor, I notice two things. The first is that music cues seem to be tied to the presence of zombies - rooms with no enemies don't appear to have any music, while subtle strings serve as an audio cue to the presence of danger in the immediate vicinity. The second thing I notice is that the zombie encounters are starting to become more frequent, and I don't have enough ammo to deal with all of them. It could soon be time to find another strategy...
My next port of call is a small library where I pick up a book explaining the uses of medicinal herbs - useful information for the future, I'm sure. Just beyond this room is a staircase leading back down to a previously inaccessible part of the ground floor (not to mention even more zombies). I head down and make a break for the nearest door, only to find a safe room on the other side of it! It's a room I remember serving as my base of operations through the first stage of my time with REmake - there's a typewriter for saving in one corner, and a storage container for offloading excess items in another. I take the opportunity to save my game for the first time, re-jig my inventory and help myself to some more ammo from within the container. I also find a bag of chemicals on the ground near some gardening supplies - I wonder what they can be used for?
One Hour In...
With nowhere else to go around here, I backtrack along the corridors on the upper floor to return to the foyer. Now it's time to explore the upper parts of the west wing. Through the first door I'm greeted by a familiar sight from a new angle - I'm on a balcony overlooking the dining room where I began this adventure some forty-five minutes ago. I'm not alone either, as a pair of zombies approach me from opposite sides. My gunfire isn't quick enough and they catch me in a pincer movement, reducing my health to the red 'danger' level. I use the first aid spray and manage to take them down (almost running out of bullets in the process). This is the kind of situation that would probably prompt me to reload my saved game and try again under less restrictive circumstances, but with only fifteen minutes left to see as much as possible, I decide to plough on ahead for now.
While in this room I manage to push a statue off the balcony and down to the floor below. The crashing sound tells me that I probably want to go down and investigate the aftermath, but I put that off for now in favour of seeing more of the mansion. The next corridor features a new enemy type - zombies that can spit acidic bile in my direction to stagger me and allow them to gain ground. My ammo is rapidly depleting at this stage, so I elect to run past the zombies instead of standing my ground. It's only now that I realise speed could well be my best weapon over these lumbering monsters, especially if it conserves precious ammo for bigger encounters later on. My exploring ultimately brings me down a staircase and back into the dining room, where I retrieve a Blue Jewel from the shattered statue. Backtracking a little takes me to a small room with a tiger statue, accompanied by note about tigers having red and blue eyes. Putting two and two together, I place my new Blue Jewel into the statue and am rewarded with a Wind Crest. This sequence of using small items to solve small puzzles which reveal bigger items that in turn solve bigger puzzles is reminiscent of adventure games and adds another cerebral element to the horror and action that most people associate with the series.
Sadly, I don't get to find out what the Wind Crest is for. No sooner have I left the room with the tiger statue than I'm set upon by another reanimated corpse. I'm out of ammo, low on health, and the combat knife just isn't reliable enough to do the job. The zombie grabs me, sinks its teeth into my neck, and Chris Redfield collapses to the ground as the words 'You Are Dead' fade onto the screen. There are still technically three minutes left of my scheduled time with Resident Evil: Director's Cut, but that's not enough time for me to see anything new on reloading my saved game. I admit defeat and power down the PS3, calling this hour over...
I came away from Resident Evil: Director's Cut feeling positive about the experience but not really knowing why. On a lot of levels it's a game that is so dated that it almost voids its redeeming qualities with its negative ones. It's slow paced, the movement and knife combat are woefully clunky, and the cinematics and voice acting are the worst I've experienced at least since my two-month stint with Grandia at the start of this year, if not ever. The translation is questionable, the visuals lack polish and detail, and the user interface is basic and unintuitive. On top of all these quibbles, there's the glaring fact that a vastly superior version of this game exists in the form of REmake, a game that I've already played through to its end and came away from feeling satisfied by the experience.
But for all those things working against it, I couldn't help but be drawn into the action of RE: Director's Cut. I think that draw comes from two places, the first being my innate curiosity as an amateur video game historian. As I stated above, I now own almost every core game in the Resident Evil franchise, and there's a burning desire within me to experience this highly regarded and long-running franchise in all its incarnations. As somebody who grew up with the PlayStation, I'm used to dealing with low-fidelity graphics and clunkier control schemes, and don't necessarily see them as obstacles when judging my experience with a game. The second place that my affection for RE: Director's Cut comes from is in the intended structure of the player experience. It's a game built around the conceit of progress through failure, where every run that ends in death is a learning exercise that equips you with the knowledge you need to stand a better chance the next time through. It's like a survival horror version of Dark Souls, and I'm very excited to find out how the experience grows the further into it I get. For that reason, for now at least, Resident Evil: Director's Cut gets a verdict, albeit with the option to PASS further down the line should I stop enjoying the learning process.
As always, thanks very much to everyone who takes the time to read this blog. I'm having a lot of fun curating this new series and I hope it continues to entertain you all as much as I enjoy writing it. Next time on An Hour With..., I'll be taking a look at a post-apocalyptic first-person shooter adapted from a Russian science-fiction novel. Until then, take care, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Resident Evil: Director's Cut (PS1C)