Saturday, January 29, 2011

Resident Evil: Deadly Silence

There are a lot of people who will tell you that the Resident Evil franchise hasn't aged well. For a long time, I was one of them.

Horror has always been a fringe genre of the video game industry. It costs millions of dollars to make a game and companies want the most return for their investment. Since people are more likely to play sports games or military/sci-fi first person shooters, horror games have a reputation in the industry for being minimal return for the investment. Later iterations of the Resident Evil franchise seem to be tailor-made for mass-appeal, jettisoning the notorious tank controls and fixed cameras for clunky shooter controls and protagonists that looked like a fusion of an emo rocker and a gorilla juicehead. Resident Evil 5 in particular seemed to be almost apologetic for the series' early attempts to scare the audience. The game took place in broad daylight and talked up its co-op play features over its atmosphere and eerie storytelling (as well as its disturbing racist undercurrent.)

Anyway, the point of this long preamble is that I'd also written off the Resident Evil games. My pretension had gotten so bad that I remembered the negatives of RE1, specifically the unwieldy controls and terrible voice acting. I'd forgotten how much fun the game was to play.

It took my Nintendo DS to remind me.

I'd picked up Deadly Silence as sort of a lark after getting a Nintendo DS for Christmas, thinking it would be good for some cheesy fun between rounds of Grand Theft Auto. I was quickly surprised at how completely enthralling and immersive I found the game to be.

The plot is old news by now: members of the ridiculously named Raccoon City S.T.A.R.S. police tactical team find themselves trapped in an old mansion while investigating violent deaths in a woodland area outside of the city. As they struggle to survive the monsters that lay siege to the mansion, they discover the sinister secrets of the Umbrella Corporations biological weapons program and come face to face with a traitor in their ranks.

It's been over ten years since I've played the original games and it really refreshing to return to the game with fresh eyes. I'd forgotten all those little tricks I'd used to move through the mansion. I'd forgotten the caution I'd use when exploring an unknown hallway, or the rounds I'd pump into a body to make sure it wouldn't come after me again. I'd forgotten the pleasure of solving puzzles or finding new keys. I'd forgotten the simple satisfaction of putting one zombie down, watching him get up, and putting him down again. I'd forgotten the eerie little messages you'd find around the mansion as the unfortunate souls before you wrote their final letters to their loved ones. I'd forgotten finding a shotgun and feeling like a dark, merciless god.

The DS is the perfect vehicle to replay the game. Graphics and game elements that would be unforgivable on a main system work just fine on a handheld. In addition, there's a DS-specific most called "Master of Knifing" where you assume a first-person perspective to fight the undead with your trusty blade. Surprisingly, it works really well. I found that I could understand and anticipate attacks and react with moves tailored to each threat.

The complaints with the game are the same as they were before. Sooner or later you're going to be attacked by something you can't see due to the camera angles and sooner or later you're going to wind up in trouble because you try to run away from the bad guys only to hit the wrong button and run right into their waiting mouths. If Resident Evil was never your cup of tea then Deadly Silence won't make a convert out of you, but I had a blast playing it.

And, just because he's so goddamn funny, here's another Zero Punctuation take on Resident Evil games.

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