Every great series has to start somewhere, and for Resident Evil fans, this is where it all began. Forget the visceral action horror of later entries like Resident Evil 4 or 5 - this is the original, and in some ways, the best.
Released on the PlayStation in the summer of 1996, Resident Evil is a survival horror game that puts you in the shoes of either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, members of an elite police unit called STARS (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) operating out of Raccoon City - a typical midwestern town somewhere in the United States. A series of grisly murders in the local area leads the STARS to a remote mansion. The first team to venture into the place promptly vanished, leaving you and your buddies to investigate.
Finding Bravo Team's helicopter crashed in a field, you land to investigate. But an encounter with a pack of savage dogs leaves one team member dead and the rest stranded. Fleeing from the animals, the remainder of the team make it to a nearby mansion, though they lose contact with another one of their companions on the way. It's at this point that you take over control. Your mission - to track down your missing partner, to find out what happened to Bravo Team, to figure out what the hell is going on, and to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible.
Resident Evil was a revolution when it was first released, and for good reason - it was absolutely awesome. It was like being inside a really cheesy horror film, complete with bad acting, implausible enemies, plenty of boo! moments, a creepy house to explore, bizarre traps to disarm and mysteries to unravel.
The action was viewed from a series of fixed cameras, with your 3D polygonal character moving across a series of pre-rendered 2D backgrounds - fighting enemies, examining items or just generally nosing around.
It was a simple enough formula, and it worked beautifully. You could examine the scenery for clues, and pick up items, ammunition and weapons. But you had to be careful about what you chose to carry, because you only had limited inventory space, and it was often a fine balance between carrying weapons, spare ammo, health sprays and key items.
And that's the key thing that made Resident Evil so much fun - balance. Everything was just right somehow. Puzzles and traps were difficult enough to be challenging, but not so hard as to require a strategy guide. Enemies were a constant drain on your limited weaponry, but there were never so many of them that you became overwhelmed. The plot was intriguing enough to keep you interested and drive you forward, but it never became intrusive. Inventory management forced you to be ruthless about what you carried, but not to the extent that you had to micromanage everything.
That being said, Resident Evil does have its flaws. First of all, the characters. This game features what is easily the worst voice acting you will ever witness in a video game. The dialogue is so stilted, so ludicrous, so awkwardly delivered and so mind-meltingly stupid that it makes me wonder how anyone made it through the recording sessions alive.
The live action intro and ending movies are absolute gems. God only knows what amateur dramatics wannabes they drafted in for this, but watching their ludicrously over-the-top reactions never fails to put a smile on my face.
Some of the characters are also monumentally dense, chief amongst which is Barry Burton. At one point early on he spots a big pool of blood on the floor, resulting in the following dialogue:
BARRY - "What?! What is this?"
JILL - "What is it?"
BARRY - "Blood! Jill, see if you can find any other clues. I'll be examining this. Hope this is not Chris' blood..."
Examining a pool of blood?!? What is he expecting to find there? The whereabouts of his missing companions? The truth behind the JFK assassination? Did he bring a portable forensics laboratory along with him?
There's also a 'plot twist' about one of your number being a double agent and ultimately betraying you near the game's climax, though frankly if you don't see it coming from ten miles away, you're probably a character in this game.
The general set-up is also pretty stupid when you think about it. A trap-filled mansion acting as a front for a secret bioweapons laboratory? Who would set up these traps, and for what reason? Wouldn't it be a hazard to the poor souls who have to work there on a daily basis? And surely it would harm productivity to lock most of the rooms and scatter the keys all around the building?
And yet, the strange thing about Resident Evil is that it succeeds because of these flaws, rather than despite them. The hammy acting, the cheesy enemies and the dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers plot all combine together to create the ultimate guilty pleasure - like all those low budget horror films that plague late night TV. Resident Evil is a game that just works. It has that unique quality of pure fun that makes it impossible not to enjoy.
If you've never played it, then give it a go. You won't be disappointed.