Well! My first night in the Spencer Mansion was…harrowing. Despite my long and seasoned gaming history, and particularly my experience with survival horror games, Resident Evil had a few tough lessons to teach me. But I guess that makes sense. After all, this is the veritable grandpappy of the genre, and it’s well within its rights to slap me around a little bit, whippersnapper that I am.
“Oh, you like Silent Hill do ya? Like symbolism and conflicted protagonists? How about consumable save items. How about six slots of inventory space. How’s that grab ya?”
As I’m sure all of you who have played the game before know, Resident Evil is a pretty punishing game if you’re not attuned to the way they want you to play it. There are way, way too many enemies to kill with the amount of bullets available, and health items are at an absolute premium. Saves are limited to how many ink ribbons you have (not many) and your inventory is such that you will constantly be agonizing about what you do or do not have room to carry around with you.
So I kind of got my ass handed to me for a couple of hours. I ran around and solved the first, simple puzzles, but I stupidly used up all of my bullets trying to kill the crows around Forrest Speyer’s body. I was expecting something to happen after I cleared the room, or maybe I thought that I would be able to loot his body and find something important if they were gone. Neither was the case, and I ended up down about thirty bullets and behind a wall of zombies I had run past to get to that area. Also, at that point I had been saving pretty liberally, despite knowing that my ink ribbons would run out at any time. I figured that I could probably get myself out of any bad situation I saved myself into with a little ingenuity and elbow grease…but this ended up being (dead) wrong.
At first, I found these experiences pretty irritating. My biggest gaming pet peeve is replaying a section that I’ve already completed because of a stupid saving system, and it became perfectly clear to me that I was going to probably be doing a lot of that in RE if I wasn’t very careful.
When I calmed down a tad, I realized that I really needed to recalibrate my thinking about this game. It is aptly named as survival horror, and I was coming at it in too much of a conventional sense. Clear this room, get this item. Proceed in this direction, complete this objective. This line of thinking was taking me straight into a zombie-covered brick wall. While my initial instinct was to criticize the game design, I am starting to think this is really one of the game’s biggest strengths.
The mansion is large and confusing (even with only the starting area unlocked) and there are a ton of areas to explore from the word go. No explicit objectives or instructions are given and you’re expected to just wander around and puzzle it all out for yourself as you progress. Make no mistake: this is awesome. If the game was made today, you’d have a little HUD thing flashing in your face every time you went somewhere, communicating your latest subobjective and pointing you to pertinent rooms and items with a fucking Crazy Taxi arrow.
I finished for the evening, defeated, but I immediately started forming a plan to start over from scratch the next time I played. I’ll be doing the smart survival things like saving judiciously and running past zombies as much as possible, but most importantly, I will be mapping the mansion as I go. That’s right, with pen(cil) and paper! I love doing this sort of thing, and I am very, very excited to be playing a game that requires it.
So we’ll see how it goes. I think this more holistic approach will bring me closer in line with Shinji Mikami’s design and give my candy-ass a better chance of survival. Hopefully. That first night was tough, and I ended up leaving no farther into the actual game than when I started, but I gained some valuable insight and a workable plan for how to start my next run.
I’ll let you know how it goes.