Resident Evil: Director’s Cut; What’s the Deal With That?

… oh yes, it’s another Resident Evil related post!… 

A few blog posts ago, I vaguely said that my next streaming outing was going to be ‘Resident Evil: Director’s Cut’ (RE:DC) for PS1. Unfortunately life got in the way of me actually streaming, and whilst I might cover this in more detail in an editorial, the cinematic release version of events is that I got crazy busy (both home and at work) and went on an impromptu blogging hiatus because I just couldn’t find my blogging motivation with other things happening. Part of the upshot of the hiatus was that I really wanted to play RE:DC but didn’t have the time to set up a whole streaming evening and finally gave in to playing it as-and-when I could grab a gaming session, sadly without having all you good people over to watch…

… this doesn’t mean that streaming is off the table, I still have to come up with a time and theme for my next evening on Twitch…

Part of the reason I wanted to go back to RE:DC is that it is the version of the original Resident Evil that I own, but I’ve never played it half as much as the sequels. Resident Evil 2 was my initial ticket to Raccoon City and the original game was something I discovered afterwards. The other thing that I’d never really considered was what exactly that ‘Director’s Cut’ subtitle meant or why it existed in the first place.

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I love this shot… they look so hapless…

Resident Evil was first released by Capcom on PS1 in early 1996. It coined the term Survival Horror and became a bit of an instant hit for the company… which I guess must have also been a surprise; after all, here was a company at the time famous for fast paced arcade games, platformers, and most notably a specific fighting series, suddenly rustling up this tense, slow-paced, single player horror experience. Capcom quickly jumped on the triumph by setting up a team to ambitiously knock out a sequel in about a year; due to release in early 1997. This version of Resident Evil 2 became the legendary Resident Evil 1.5 and was never released (and is maybe a story for another day), despite being reportedly very close to completion. Resident Evil 2 development was sent back to the drawing board to be rewritten and started fresh with some of the original team tasked with making Resident Evil: Director’s Cut. RE:DC was released in the second half of 1997 just a few months ahead of the early 1998 release of Resident Evil 2. The general perception is that RE:DC was an apology to fans from Capcom for the delay (something re-enforced by it being shipped with a RE2 demo disk)… or I guess cynically you could say it was a way for Capcom to not entirely lose out on the ’97 holiday season… but where is there any evidence that this is a company willing to bang out another slightly different version of the same game just to make a quick buck.

…*Gently nudges the crate full of Street Fighter II versions he’s bought over the years back out of sight*…    

… now, the plot thickens slightly because there was a Dual Shock version of RE:DC released in some other parts of the world which had a legendarily poorly received new soundtrack (and that in itself has an amazing backstory!), but it was never released in the UK. It was also (as far as I can tell) essentially the same as the standard RE:DC other than dual shock support and the music.

Screenshot 2019-06-19 at 18.06.39
… this actress was barely in the game and seemed to mostly exist to tie a bandanna in the opening credits… also why did she get a credit and poor Joseph Frost didn’t?

Right from development it carried the baggage of a game that was never really supposed to exist shoved in to a pretty poorly defined gap in the market, and almost as soon as they press start the player hits the first hitch. The subtitle “Director’s Cut” links this version inexorably with the 80’s and 90’s trend of re-releasing films with extra scenes apparently realising the vision of the work’s director. Specifically in the Romero-esque-horror sector those were often scenes that had been cut for being too violent or gory for the cinematic release. Given ‘Resident Evil’s’ undoubtedly Romero inspiration, fans in the west were itching to see the cut scenes (specifically that indescribably acted live action opening cinematic) in all their gory glory, but instead, fire up my PAL version and RE:DC delivers the same black & white heavily cut version of events with no zombie dog splattering, Joseph mauling, or severed hand dangling. Capcom had intended to give western audiences the completely uncut version apparently, but due to a publishing mistake the censored version was instead, once again, included in many versions.

The first big difference from the original release that players will notice is in starting a new game; RE:DC offer three different difficulties, or modes, labelled ‘Training’, ‘Normal’, and ‘Advanced’ ….

…or bizarrely ‘Beginner’, ‘Normal’, and ‘Arrange’ depending on which version of RE:DC you’re playing. Aside from the naming there is no difference with ‘training’ being identical to  ‘beginner’ and ‘advanced’ being identical to ‘arrange’ …

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One of the cool new camera angles of the main hall

Unsurprisingly ‘Normal’ is just the original release of the game with only two notable changes: Firstly, it is a little more generous with the numbers of ink ribbons bundled together with pickups now being in threes. Secondly the game now includes an auto-aim feature where the character will automatically point their weapon at the nearest onscreen enemy when entering aim-mode. This feature works in all three game modes and was reportedly supposed to be in the original release of the game, but was never implemented properly. Training mode does little to mix things up being identical to the normal game with bumped up weapons damage, double ammo pickups, and double ink ribbon pickups.

It’s in ‘Advanced’ mode that veteran resi-players will really feel the impact of that ‘Director’s Cut’ tagline. In this mode locations for game items (key game items, weapons, health, and ammo) have been moved, enemy locations have been changed with their numbers generally increased, and camera angles in several locations have been altered. The intention was to provide seasoned players with a new challenge, making their well-worn paths through the game obsolete and forcing them to re-experience the game as new. Alongside this scenario mix-up there are a few other minor changes in this mode. Chris and Jill both have new starting costumes which can be switched back for the originals or their ‘secret’ costumes once the player reaches the dressing room. There are two super-subtle new enemy ‘types’ (if you can really call them that); Forest Speyer can reanimate to become a powerful zombie and some of the basic zombies now shuffle a little more quickly. Finally the player’s starting Beretta is now a custom model with slightly higher fire rates and a chance to headshot zombies.

Screenshot 2019-06-19 at 18.00.01
This new camera angle is pretty cool too…

It’s this mode that I embarked upon in my recent revisiting because amazingly I’d never really played it before… despite owning this game for nearly twenty years and being an outspoken fan of the original Resident Evil outings. So, off I trotted in to the Spencer Estate taking the reigns of Jill Valentine and wielding that shiny new, improved, custom Beretta and even given how long it had been since I played this game (having played the REMake much more recently and extensively) I did start to feel as though I was unlocking and exploring the mansion in quite a different order. Items turned up in unusual places, but more noticeably was when places that I’d expected to find a key game item yielded a weapon or ammo rather than the linchpin to solving one of those famously convoluted puzzles. The second thing I noticed was that I was, initially at least, much more flush with ammo than I usually was in this game; Resident Evil is notably more stingy with ammo than the sequels and one of my overwhelming memories of playing this game is barely ever having a bullet to spare. Luckily that custom Beretta lands more than a few one shot kills on standard Zeds and combined with my own frugal ammo spending (often choosing to finish an enemy with the knife) by the half way point I was hoarding quite the stockpile of firepower. This warm safe and fuzzy feeling didn’t last too long however as hefty ammo stocks couldn’t save me from the re-population of the mansion by hunters that occurs following the guardhouse section. I spent one frustrating evening barely making any progress as several trios of these frustrating reptiles repeatedly mauled me and I suffered more insta-kill decapitations than I ever remember experiencing before. I finally pushed past this section and found the dash to the end credits a much less arduous experience than this mid-game roadblock.

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Everyone’s favourite doggie moment… 

So, I really enjoyed some classic RE-action; the RE:DC was kind of a perfect dose of what I’d been hankering and I have to admit that the ‘Advanced’ mode did feel a little different, but I also don’t think I’d have been disappointed had I just gone back and played the original again. Aside from the re-positioning of items and occasionally neat new camera angle (yes, I’m looking at you “view-from-behind-the-velvet-curtain-in-the-woman-drawing-water-statue-room“), it didn’t feel like a dramatically new or revised experience. The overall plot remained the same and, although some of the key items were in different places, the actual puzzles hadn’t changed so once I’d managed to track down the wooden crest, I knew exactly what I needed to do with it. Given that this version was released only eighteen months after the original and a few months ahead of the actual sequel, it’s difficult to know who exactly Capcom were aiming it at. Sure, there were probably a fair number of people like myself who went back to the original after discovering the sequel (and in that case why wouldn’t you pick up the Director’s Cut version?), but die hard fans would likely have been a little disappointed to fork out full-game-money for a pretty thin new mode. Likewise, it could be argued that there may have been an audience in players who wanted to play the game but were scared off by how difficult it was and had been waiting for the ‘training’ mode in this version; but I kinda feel like I’m stretching with that possibility. All that being said, twenty-something years later, I’m pretty happy that Capcom decided to release some weird and wonderful versions because it’s been super interesting picking this one apart… maybe that’s what Capcom are all about; satisfying the future retro-gamers…

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