Spoiler Warning: Lots of spoilers for Resident Evil: Code Veronica are here!
After digging out my PS2 games from my Mom’s attic earlier this year, I found myself revisiting a few of my favourites; Silent Hill 2, SSX3, … and finally Resident Evil: Code Veronica, before giving up sometime around June having scrambled through about half of the game. I decided to head back to that save file last week in an effort to clear some of the backlog playings that I have on the go, or more accurately before I felt like I could legitimately start file #2 of Resident Evil Outbreak.
RE:CV (X Complete; seriously Capcom, what is it with you and editions??) is an oddball of a game in the franchise and deserves a little backstory introduction, so settle back whilst I recline in my wing-back armchair and tell you the tale:
RE:CV has it’s origins way back with the original Resident Evil. Not only released for the PS1, the S.T.A.R.S. team’s first incident riddled adventure was also a bit of a standout title for Sega’s flailing Saturn. Seeing the reception of its sequel, Sega (like Nintendo) must’ve been straight on to the phone to Capcom asking for a Saturn port of Claire & Leon’s funtime zombie shooty-shooty. Unlike Nintendo however, Capcom concluded that the Saturn just didn’t have enough bits, or megs, or ram or whatever to handle RE2 and the idea was scuppered. Sega didn’t stop the conversation there however, they convinced Capcom to develop the direct sequel to RE2 for the yet to be released Sega console, the Dreamcast; a game that would become Code: Veronica. The only problem was that Sony also wanted an RE2 sequel on their system (and let’s not forget that by this time RE4 and Zero were already being developed for Nintendo; Capcom really spread themselves around). Capcom agreed, and an in-development spin-off title called “Last Escape” gained the ‘3’ to become part of the numbered games in the series and the third to be released on PS1 under the title Resident Evil 3: Nemesis in the west. Played in this context, these games seem to make much more sense with RE3 feeling lite on plot, but heavy on “here’s more of that Resident Evil that you like”, and RE:CV opening with a direct continuation of the plot from RE2.
With RE:CV sitting in that early era of RE games, it’s not surprising to see gameplay more-or-less lifted from those early titles including tank controls, slow shambling zombies, lashings of gradual exploration and backtracking, item boxes, and ink ribbon saving. The most significant difference is in the presentation which moves the series away from pre-rendered backgrounds to fully 3D environments for the first time (… more or less…). Whilst this wasn’t the game that moved the series to the 3rd person camera of RE4 and onwards, it did free it up to being a more ‘semi-fixed’ affair with shots panning and tracking the player through rooms. There’s also the addition of dynamic lighting which is shown off during the early stages of the game where Claire strolls around holding a lighter aloft, and some shoehorned-in dynamic water rippling that the designers were obviously keen to include. Sitting at the earlier end of fully 3D graphics however, RE:CV offers the player a world that’s far too clean, crisp, and stark. Surfaces are devoid of clutter, furnishings in rooms are boxy, and characters have uniform skin tones that gives the experience a look that I associate with early 3D NAMCO titles. There’s none of that beautiful environmental detail that is captured with pre-rendering which makes a Resident Evil game feel like a world gone wrong; my opinion is that RE:CV is poorer for the move to 3D. For completeness it’s probably also worth mentioning that RE:CV has a few dual wielding weapons and even the occasional weapon that the player can aim in first person – a feature they too further in the bonus battle mode where there is the option to play entirely in 1st person.
So, mechanically it’s more or less ‘by-the-numbers’ Resident Evil, but in order for me to look at how it fares as a Resident Evil title I’ll need to fill you all in on the plot; so hold on, it’s synopsis time!
The game kicks off with one of the more memorable opening sequences of the franchise as Claire is running from armed guards having broken in to Umbrella’s headquarters before finally being captured and taken prisoner (you know.. after she does that bit with the gun when she drops it and catches it again). The player joins in as a friendly guard releases her from her cell on the prison island she’s been taken to. From here Claire explores the facility, meets the one person, two personalities, of Alfred and Alexia Ashford and starts to unravel the secrets of the Ashford family – including this week’s Umbrella virus of the week; the T-Veronica virus. Claire also runs in to Wesker who has been mysteriously resurrected after that whole kerfuffle at the Spencer Estate… oh and Steve… Steve Burnside; a character who’s supposed to have his own tragic backstory, but all you really need to know is that he looks at Claire’s butt one time and falls in love with her. Finally Claire and Steve escape on a plane and fly off in to the sunset… only they don’t because the plane autopilots them to an antarctic Umbrella facility where the real Alexia Ashford has been cryogenically frozen for 15 years and luckily wakes up on that very day to say hi to Claire and Steve in a kind of virus-riddled-super-being sort of way. Snap back to the prison island where Chris Redfield shows up on Claire’s trail, also runs in to Wesker, and also ends up flying… a fighter jet… to the antarctic base. Yes, Chris Redfield, a member of what is effectively a special police unit, flies a harrier jump jet perfectly, using vertical takeoff out of an underground hanger to the antarctic. Chris eventually tracks down Claire in a creepy replica of the Spencer estate main hall from the first game. Steve turns in to the incredible hulk and then gets killed. Finally Chris has to destroy the T-Veronica infected Alexia with a convenient weapon before a weirdly long-winded sort-of showdown with Wesker that the player doesn’t have any involvement with before meeting back up with his Sister and flying off in to the sunset.
… and breathe…
If you’re sitting there thinking that this all sounds convoluted and long-winded…then it means that you stuck with me through all of that, so kudos, and yes, that’s exactly what it is. RE:CV is one of the longer Resident Evil titles and has far more plot elements in it than it really has room for, but to break it down, there are four main things going on.
Firstly the Ashford Family form the malevolent face of Umbrella this time around, and certainly provide memorable villains in Alfred & Alexia, but possibly push the scenario in to slightly too fanciful realms. Are we expected to believe that Umbrella just allowed, funded, and supported a teenager to develop a virus, build a huge arctic facility, infect herself, and freeze herself so that she could take over the world? And if she was acting alone then who was building all this infrastructure?
Secondly, the reappearance of Wesker was a big deal at the time, the game being bundled with a bonus DVD entitled ‘Wesker’s Report’. Mysteriously being alive, thanks to some viral regeneration, Wesker shows up … only to not do very much. He’s supposed to be trying to capture Alexia to recover the T-Veronica Virus for whoever his new masters are, but in real terms barely has any influence on the game or the plot aside from giving Chris a kicking. His only real contribution is to unleash the hunters on to Chris which show up whenever the player accidentally activates one of his motion tracking drones. Technically he’s also responsible for the attack on the prison island that unleashes the T-virus and various monsters… so yeah, he does do something critical, but that point is really only mentioned in passing during a cut scene. It just feels like a bit of a missed opportunity given how much of a big deal it was to have him in the game.
Thirdly is Steve… Steve Burnside… this weird, one-way, love interest plot line might have worked if it had been written better, if Steve had any personality, or if there had been any chemistry between him and Claire. Unfortunately their interactions just made me cringe. Him turning in to a monster and his subsequent demise is supposed to be a big climactic moment, but came across as both hilarious and a relief knowing that he wouldn’t turn in to a long running series character.
Finally, Chris tracking Claire down allows the player to take control of both Redfields in a single game (which is cool), and as Chris has to retread some of the areas that Claire has already passed through, there are some “aaahhh… I see what that was for” moments as Chris solves puzzles that Claire couldn’t do anything with. Unfortunately, Chris showing up seems to suddenly strip Claire of all her bad-ass-ery. The game forgets that she was running away from machine gunning helicopters, surviving a zombie nightmare, and doing a pretty good job of surviving without him. The absolute worst moment happens right at the end of the game where Claire tells Chris not to “ever leave her alone again“… What? Claire Redfield suddenly being helpless without big strong Chris Redfield to come in and save the day? Don’t do that to Claire Capcom. Just don’t…
… and so I finished the game feeling as though I hadn’t really enjoyed the plot. I mean, sure there are good ‘moments’. Stumbling upon a recreation of a portion of the Spencer mansion, heading up to the Ashford manor house in a thunder storm, Wesker’s sudden reappearance; these are all good moments, but they don’t really come together to form a satisfying plot. Not that plot is the be all and end all of Resident Evil so long as the gameplay has that satisfying RE mix of exploration, puzzle solving, and tense survival horror vibe. Playing this past week however I was reminded of some of the more tedious facets to the game which formed the reasons why I’d put the game down in June, and possibly why I hadn’t explored the title quite as much as its brethren even when it was new.
These are highlighted in the ‘Training Facility’ section of the map; it’s an area the player has to pass through with both characters and I found it to be an effort in patience both times. On paper it sounds like a pretty standard Resi-location; small building, several floors, puzzles, locked doors – you know the drill. The problem is navigating the layout. Unlike most Resi-areas, the training facility isn’t really made up out of rooms connected to corridors. Instead many of the rooms are only accessible from other rooms making it much trickier to remember how to navigate back to areas to solve puzzles, this is amplified by the generally sterile appearance of the 3D locations that seem to make many of these enclosed spaces feel generic. I guess as a way of trying to counter this, and to add some distinction between the areas, the interior styles vary wildly between rooms in the facility from grimy mould covered stonework, wooden panelling, modern office, scientific facility, and cold concrete. This doesn’t really help and only serves to heighten the sense that this building is a disjointed jumble where knowing where a door leads becomes half memory and half just rolling the dice. Adding to the navigational problems here are the three floors that the building is laid out over, each having a similar sections of floorplan, and accessible via two sets of stairs and two different lifts. Oh, and did I mention that many of the puzzles here are navigation based with certain areas needing to be approached in a particular order (for example a lift in the correct position for example). I’m no stranger to this style of Resi-gameplay and I have completed this game in the past, even so, there was a healthy does of backtracking where I got puzzles wrong and a sense of relief when I finally left this building for the second time.
The other grating aspects I encountered were some of the cheap ways the game inflates the difficulty. Such as a tough enemy type with a crazy long arm that can swipe at you from off-screen and re-spawning poisonous moths in a corridor that you need to repeatedly navigate. Then there’s a notoriously difficult mid-game tyrant boss which involves fighting in the close quarters of an open aircraft cargo bay and firing a crate at him several times using a slowly recharging launch mechanism to finally send him hurtling out the back of the plane. With limited resources, it’s a boss where the average player will need a lucky run to survive.
Now, I know that this game holds some great memories for veteran players of the series, and as one of those players I remember enjoying this game when it was released, but in the cold light of the present day, I can’t say (for me at least) that it holds up so well. Yes, the core gameplay is classic Resi, and nothing can detract from the place the RE:CV has in the series, but there’s also the sense that Capcom were already moving away from what I loved about the series; at their core, to me, Resident Evil games are about the protagonist’s struggle for survival. RE:CV added overarching and tangential plot elements, along with a vision that was maybe too grand to feel the same as the claustrophobic games that had gone before it. I’ll stick to my pre-rendered backgrounds…