IGN Review of Resident Evil Archives: Resident Evil
Resident Evil: Archives is a bare-bones Wii port of the 2002's Resident Evil (remake) for GameCube, which was itself essentially the 1996 PlayStation classic with a massive visual overhaul. You're not going to find any changes with this latest iteration. It's the same game. Same controls. Same graphics. Same 4:3 presentation. And same scares. That being true, remake remains one of the most frightening games I've ever played and even with a truly archaic control scheme by today's standards, it is entirely worth revisiting (or discovering) if you're a fan of Capcom's lucrative survival-horror franchise. Still, given that nothing has really changed between this Wii port and its GameCube predecessor, I've simply grabbed relevant excerpts (in italics) from my original review, added additional comments, and updated our review scores to reflect the expectations of a different era in gaming.
Archives is just the GameCube game with a new name, which means it is a remake of the PlayStation game that ignited the series. You play as S.T.A.R.S. agents Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine as they travel to a creepy mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City, where people have gone conspicuously missing. As the two make their way through the locale, they discover a seedy plot involving double-crossing team members, a corrupt organization and, of course, a whole lot of hungry zombies. Crimson zombies even -- and those dudes aren't to be trifled with, trust me. Right off, you will likely find Archives' eerie, isolated presentation spooky and the thrills seldom relent as undead dogs crash from windows and moaning flesh-eaters shamble out of the darkness and grab for you. While Resident Evil 4 is oftentimes more frantic and unnerving than it is genuinely disturbing, Archives will have you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of whatever lurks around the next corner, just like a good scary movie. In fact, even after all these years, it is still the scariest survival horror offering produced, in my opinion.
Gamers that have played the original Resident Evil will be wondering about the changes, particularly in regard to control. The basic setup has, unfortunately or not, remained largely intact with Capcom's remake, offering no true analog sensitivity. What this ultimately means for players is a control scheme that isn't poor, but isn't great either. It gets the job done, and in truth works quite nicely in some cases, but always feels decidedly old, sometimes over-responsive and robotic. There is no real precision -- it's impossible to tiptoe by an enemy, or to aim at a specific body part, in other words. One wonders why, when Capcom could overcome so many technical feats visually, it couldn't address some of the control problems inherent to the series itself. And yet most everybody will probably be willing to forgive any manipulation drawbacks as the end experience is otherwise perfectly tight.
I wrote that seven years ago and by today's standards, the dated control scheme is less acceptable than ever, which is to say, it's still entirely playable and simultaneously unintuitive. Chris and Jill still move robotically through environments, seemingly unable to turn without stopping and pivoting first. Although some fans actually have the nerve to defend these mechanical controls as heightening the sense of fear (probably the lamest and most transparent excuse for a shortcoming of this kind ever), I've always believed them to be a necessary evil, so to speak. Just like pre-rendered graphics -- and, in fact, the two go together. Capcom wanted to develop the most realistic homage to Night of the Living Dead possible, and back on PlayStation, that inherently meant you went with pre-rendered backdrops, which led to a series of jarring camera cuts and inevitably the fundamentally problematic controls that were completely overlooked in 1996, frowned upon in 2002, and rightfully bashed in this review.
As a collector's item, these controls are forgivable, a reminder of the hurdles that developers have mostly overcome as games have transitioned from quasi-3D to genuine 3D. As a brand new experience, you're going to wrestle with the configuration. This is true despite the fact that you can play the game using a number of different control methods -- standard Wii remote on its side, classic controller or even GameCube pad, the latter being preferable to all others since remake was developed to maximize Nintendo's previous peripheral.
The play design is linear -- gamers move throughout the mansion and its surroundings while fighting off bloodthirsty zombies with a barrage of different weapons. The undead come in all shapes and sizes, from regular old ghouls to nasty crimson zombies that brandish razor-sharp claws and run faster than the characters. There are hunters, spiders, snakes, dogs -- just about everything rotting and grotesque, all of which present different offensive and defensive challenges to players as they progress, and all of them scary. On top of that there are bosses -- from demonized sharks that flail about in open water to overgrown, man-eating plants -- and one or two additions not featured in the original game, I might add. There is, in fact, one particular enemy that's so new it has its own sub-storyline to it -- never before seen. No spoilers here, though. The weaponry is equally varied and impressive, allowing gamers to shoot everything from a regular old pistol, to a head-exploding shotgun, a grenade launcher, rocket launcher, flamethrower and more -- again, all of which have different gory affects upon the enemies. Using each weapon feels great. Blowing apart a zombie, blood and guts flying in every direction, carries with it a certain sick satisfaction that I don't like to talk about with my psychiatrist ... uh, if I had one, I mean.
There are puzzles -- some that make sense and others that have no place within the universe of the game. The puzzles range in difficulty and size. Some may take hours to complete. Others can be completed within a matter of minutes. Some will be familiar to gamers who played the original. Others, more than some might think, are completely original, brand new, and in fact take place within areas that weren't even featured in the old version. Puzzle types range from turning objects to face a certain direction in order to unlock a door to retrieving a number of artifacts which, when fitted appropriately, trigger events. These puzzles are generally satisfying, but there are a few that go above and beyond their call of duty to extend replay value, and these sometimes become frustrating as it's quite obvious that there's really no point to them other than to prolong the length of the game.
There is an inventory system that must be balanced, items used and stored carefully by players depending upon the situation. This works in an identical manner to the original title -- it's part of the gameplay mechanic, really. Only a certain number of items can be held at any time, but there are chests located about the mansion that can handily store objects and weapons that aren't needed immediately. The problem, or the trick if one prefers, is that certain situations arise when characters will absolutely need to pick up an object to proceed, but can't because their inventory is full. So, they'll have to go back through the mansion, drop off unnecessary inventory, go back to the spot with the needed object, pick it up and proceed. Once they use it, meanwhile, they might need to go back through the mansion again, pick up their initially useful items, and come back once more. It extends the length of the game greatly -- but let's face it, it's a cheesy ploy to do so, and it does sometimes become tedious.
It's is a difficult title, even on easy. It may be possible to complete the adventure in fewer than five hours if one knows every nook and cranny of the mansion, has the exact method of everything down pat and is dead set on doing so. But it's a near impossibility. Several editors at IGN attempted to finish the game on easy, and -- well, it wasn't. We estimate that even gamers who played the original version will spend more than 12 hours, and possibly up to 20, running through the adventure for the first time. That's with Jill. For Chris, it's even harder. And on the most difficult setting it's more trying still. There is never a point in the game, though, where one will want to call it quits for good. The mansion calls to players -- its mood and promise of something special in the next room, and it's highly likely that gamers will go through it several times in hopes of seeing the different endings.
This is all still true. Simply put, some of the game's design choices can be frustrating at times, but even in this day and age you will be able to turn a blind eye to the inventory system or the obscure puzzles because the dark ambience that engulfs the experience is so well preserved. And even seven years after the GCN title shipped, the visuals still look good on Wii, even if they're in 4:3 and not 16:9 widescreen. I practically proposed to the graphic presentation of the GCN in 2002, going on and on about it, so I'll save you the details and quote a few excerpts that remain true:
The game uses pre-rendered backdrops, as the original did, but with much improved high-resolution textures, sweeping background art, and varied locales. It then uses polygons to overlay real-time shadows, lights, particles, and animations into and onto the environments so that they bloom to life. The result is a mansion with fans that rotate and cast spooky shadows onto walls, with fluorescent lights that buzz on and off, illuminating dirty kitchens infested with cockroaches, with plants and grass that sway in the wind outside the house, puddles that splash and reflect the objects around them, and much, much more.
Odd camera angles shoot the action from eerie spots, as characters walk down long hallways, shadows stretching onto the flooring and tunneling about the environment. Chandeliers swing to and from somewhere above stairways as animated crows watch from a window ledge, cocking their heads instinctually. Water splashes around with realistic reflections as giant sharks crash into it, their dead eyes staring blankly, their giant teeth outstretched. Defined zombies crawl and fall as if right out of a George Romero movie, blood spilling from their mouths, eyes white. It looks absolutely fantastic.
The look still holds up despite some stiff character animations here and there. The only downside to the presentation is that Capcom has learned a lot in the years since it created the franchise and remade it on GameCube. Archives is plagued by terrible character acting and some pretty poor dialog. I'm sure collectors will agree it's laughably bad at times. Then again, story has never been the franchise's selling point.
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