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Chris Redfield's Journey Through Horror: RE1 vs. RE5

An analysis of where we've been going in the survival horror genre

I don't consider myself to be a gamer who only enjoy the classics, in fact I'm quite satisfied with the state of the game industry today. One thing I've been attempting lately, however, is to play through some of the earlier titles in games and figure out why they put out such a different vibe than modern games of the same genre.

One such example I was thinking about recently was the vast difference between the very first Resident Evil title, vs. the most current numbered title in the series, Resident Evil 5. I have played through Resident Evil 5 more times than I care to mention, and I'll never quite get tired of the feeling of sending Redfield's fist through a Majini's skull like a freight train, but the game doesn't induce fear on any level. The obvious and immediate answer is that I was nine years old when I played my first RE title (which was actually RE2), and twenty when I played the fifth, and had plenty of time to immunize myself to video game fear in the mean time. I there is something more though as recently when I played RE1 I couldn't help but feel a certain amount more of foreboding from the atmospheric elements of the game as well as the gameplay.

1. Gameplay

 The first Resident Evil game, if you're playing as Chris Redfield you start out with a knife. You have no idea what to expect, no inherent knowledge of the layout of this labrynth of a mansion you're trapped in. You travel through a couple rooms, and in a hallway you encounter your first zombie. You have to go back at this point to grab a gun from mansion entrance, but you don't know this. You've just got a wierd shambling pile of pixels moving toward you. To make matters worse, movement is no easy task in classic RE titles. Your choice is to try A) try to kill the zombie with a knife, maybe getting two shots in if you're lucky before it teleports about a foot into it's "Mauling Chris Redfield" animation, or B) Turn clumsily and try to leave the room, bumping into as few walls as possible to outrun the zombie. When you do find a handgun, it has 15 bullets in it. It takes anywhere from 5-9 bullets to kill a standard zombie, and there are roughly twenty of them scattered throughout the mansion, plus dogs and other creatures obstructing your path from room to room. Each clip you find has another 15 bullets in it, but they are found few and far apart. For the first time player, you'll maybe find three clips in your first hour, if you don't die. You eventually find a shotgun, but not before the stakes are raised and bosses are presented, and ammo becomes scarce for that as well. There is always a sense of urgency on your ammo, a question in the back of the players mind saying "Which hallway should I clear out with this ammo? To I risk it and try to run past them? What if I don't find the key back there but waste my ammo?" This same principle applies with health items, etc.

In the fifth entry of the game you ride up in a Hummer, depart and start out looking over the shoulder of a Chris Redfield that seems to have eaten Jack Krauser from RE4. You have radio tactical support, GPS maps, and a hot female sidekick.You walk a short way enemy-free before being given a gun. After fighting a single enemy you get chased down a hallway from an insurmountable amount of enemies from which you team mate informs you it is necessary to run rather than fight. You eventually find a small village area filled with rabid axe wielding villagers, and in this village you find a submachine gun, hand grenades, and roughly 200 handgun bullets, all within the first 15 minutes. Throughout the game you find more ammo than you could ever really use, as well as an arsenal of CQC moves that make low ammo expenditure extremely easy while at the same time feeling like an unstoppable force of nature. By the second section of the game you have the option of buying an RPG for a high but not unmanageable price and using it to blast through bosses in one hit (although in their defense it is much less of a broken feature than in RE4). You blast, knife, punch, and kick your way through several hundred enemies throughout the course of the game.


While both of these game are awesome, I don't know if Resident Evil is earning it's title in the survival horror genre with the later entries. Obviously this is subjective, because in any game the objective is generally to survive, and it's up to the gamer to decide whether they are scared for the "horror" element, but I've always (perhaps incorrectly) defined the survival horror genre by it's psychological effect it took on the player rather than just it's ability to contain gore and monsters. I think in order to get back to the Horror element Capcom needs to focus less on the physical challenge of the game and more on the mental state one is forced to enter in order to play it. Resident Evil 5 was badass, and awesome, and freakin sweet when you were punching through enemies, but scary? Fear does not come without desperation, and desperation will never be found behind a 250 lb roid rage Redfield carrying a shotgun with 60 spare shells.

2. Graphics/Sound

 In Resident Evil one, the graphics are blocky, and this is made even more noticeable by the pre-rendered environments that they don't really match with. The zombies voices are decent, and they respond to bullets with low groans, and by leaking a few red pixels. They are passive opponents, can't go through doors or follow you down stairs, and they won't even notice you until you're in the same stretch of hall as them. The music is simple and eerie, and ranges from sudden pounding fear pieces to simple unsettling creepy melodies.

 In Resident Evil 5 you armies of villagers armed with sharp weapons, and even guns later on. Oh and did I mention that sometime when you kill them they sprout parasites out of their heads, morph into wierd crab monsters, or sometimes just explode. The bosses are massive and vivid, visually incredible, and the music is sweeping and epic.

If Resident Evil 5 has so much more tech working for it why is RE1 feared so much more? The answer is that partly, we're callous and need to work harder to scare. Besides that, however I used to think that there was something in the bad graphics, a sort of mystery that left some of the horror to the player's imagination when they saw the mess of pixels stumbling toward them. But most of all if I could declare any reason for this it would be that a monster, no matter how well designed or scary, will not be scary if the player feels well prepared, well armed, and most of all it won't feel scary if the player feels like a badass. Pyramid Head himself wouldn't have scared us if we had a minigun to mow him down with. 

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