It’s rare that a single game will come along and define an entirely new genre. And yet that’s exactly what Resident Evil did.
It’s funny because the term ‘survival horror’ only appeared when a game save was loaded. “Welcome back to the world of survival horror,” teased the loading screen. Later it would become ‘Survival Horror’ with capital letters.
A combination of gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds, a subtle soundtrack and some (if we’re honest) by-the-numbers ghost train shocks (remember the zombie in a wardrobe bit?) made Resident Evil the scariest game yet made.
The way that it built tension was move Hollywood than videogames: the diaries and scrawled notes gave the player a creepy glimpse into the outbreak but not the whole story; the static, claustrophobic camera angles meant that zombies could be heard but not seen when entering a room; the soundtrack built an oppressive, foreboding atmosphere. Relief only came in save rooms, which offered the player an aural and physical respite from the dark world outside.
And let’s not forget that Resident Evil could be played with two different characters. This feature was partly a clever way of framing a difficulty setting, but also offered different solutions to puzzles and enabled players to see events from a slightly different viewpoint.
Then, there was this line of dialogue: “That was too close. You were almost a Jill sandwich!”
Resident Evil’s quirks arguably added to its charm. The nonsensical puzzles (gems that fit into a tiger statue’s eye sockets to reveal a key?), the budget full motion videos that top and tailed the game and the hammy acting and script will go down in the annuls of videogame history.
Yet its strengths far, far outweigh any weaknesses.
Resident Evil is also one of the first games that was watchable, ie that a third-party could happily sit and watch someone play like they were watching a movie. A really cheesey movie, mind, but a movie nonetheless.
Resident Evil is truly a landmark videogame experience.
The genius idea of turning potentially atmosphere-breaking loading screens into tension building ‘cut scenes’ (opening doors) that kept the player in the game world.