Resident Evil is a franchise that I am genuinely sad about. The first three games are essential classics to me, representing the golden era of survival horror games. They feature stories and characters that were remarkably down to earth for games centered on corporate conspiracy and zombies. Granted there is some convolution and the dialogue is always the best, but they had it where it counts. Playing these games was scary.
The Resident Evil franchise today is anything but scary. Where it was once about eeriness and making you jump, it’s become about steroid junkies popping zombie wannabes across the world. It has lost those core sentiments that made it cool at its beginnings, and the further it continues down the path its on, the worse off it will eventually be.
Most would blame Resident Evil 4 for this. To an extent they’d be right. Resident Evil 4, with its dramatic shift in gameplay, utter lack of zombies and development of Leon into an almost literal superhero was the last nail in the coffin of Resident Evil as a survival horror franchise. That said, I’d say the blame lies with an earlier title it, Resident Evil: Code Veronica.
While for the most it does play out as a rather traditional Resident Evil game, tank controls and all, it exhibits a change in tone and imagery that would carry on to the later installments. Take the opening FMV. I will confess that when I saw this, I thought it was awesome. Clair, having been caught while infiltrating an Umbrella facility flees from its security forces. The climax of this scene is her narrowly outrunning a helicopter as it tries to shoot her with dual chain guns. It closes with a scene that could have come straight from The Matrix. Running into a room filled with guards, Clair drops her gun. Then, in glorious slow-mo she catches in mid-air and falling to the floor shoots a gas canister that explodes and wipes out the guards.
Compare this to the opening scenes of the prior three Resident Evil games. Each of these was used primarily to establish the setting, and namely the severity of the situation. In the first game our heroes discover the butchered remains of their comrades before being chased into the mansion. In the second game, Leon and Claire arrive in Raccoon City and discover it filled to the brim with zombies. The third game opens with a detailing of the actual T-virus outbreak and the last desperate stand of the locals as the try and fail to contain the outbreak.
These scenes work to establish the situation and more importantly, demonstrate that your character is ill-equipped to deal with it. In Code Veronica the cutscene does just the opposite. It sets the scene most certainly, but also shows us that above all else Claire is a bad ass.
Now granted, you could argue that Claire had picked up some skills during her earlier experiences, but this isn’t even the game’s worst offense. The worst bit comes later on. Claire is about to be killed by a monster. Suddenly in bursts her companion Steve who leaping through a plate glass window, shoots the monster in mid-air all in extreme slow motion. I don’t want to stress the Matrix connection too much, but the original version of Code Veronica was released less than a year after that film. It might be fair to say that Capcom adopted a few moves from Neo and company.
Moves not limited to just the heroes either. Wesker, presumed dead after being impaled in the first Resident Evil returned in Code Veronica alive, well, and decked out with a whole slew of very literal superpowers. The return of Wesker is easily one of the worst crimes this game committed. Worse even than making its other main antagonist an incestuous cross dresser that sounds like a neutered Peewee Herman. His role in the game is almost non-existent. You never fight him in the gameplay; he’s just there to provide sinister laughs and more excuses for slow-mo fight scenes. He returns just so the series can have a repeat offender bad guy to fall back on when the creativity wells run dry.
In short, the narrative shift away from vulnerable human characters is not as pronounced as in later games, but it is still present and unfortunate. That was one of the things that made the first three games great. You weren’t a superhero or some buffed out Ahnold clone. You were an everyman struggling to survive against impossible odds.
I could probably wrap this up here, but there is an even worse issue with the game. The presence of zombies here makes almost no sense. In Resident Evil, the release of the T-Virus was a believable research accident. The outbreak in Raccoon City, the backdrop for the next two games was a logical extension of this. In Code Veronica though, there is no intelligent way to explain why there are zombies on this island. The only reason they’re there is because it’s a Resident Evil game, and at the time they were a requisite of the franchise. Their appearance is explained away as merely another accident.
Really? You mean to tell me that after two previous and devastating accidents with the T-virus, that Umbrella wouldn’t have been smart enough to up their safety measures a bit? I know, it’s just a video game, but this is supposed to be a powerful international corporation. You don’t get to that level being stupid, and that’s what a third outbreak is. Stupid. It makes me angry because it’s Capcom assuming that gamers would be too stupid to care.
“Just give em’ their guns and gore and they’ll be happy.”
Code Veronica was not the death knell of traditional Resident Evil. No, that moniker belongs to Resident Evil 0 which pretty much confirmed that change had to happen. I blame Code Veronica for perhaps laying a lousy foundation upon which that transition could be built. Resident Evil today is infinitely more stupid than it used to be. Code Veronica is one of the reasons why.