Tank controls, horrendous item management, archaic save system, inconsistent voice acting, simplistic box puzzles and pre-rendered backgrounds. It's hard to go back to a "classic" Resident Evil game. But that's exactly what Capcom is asking gamers to do with their release of Resident Evil: Code Veronica X HD for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Fans of outdated gameplay mechanics will be impressed by this sharp looking port, while everybody else will scratch their head wondering what anybody saw in this franchise to begin with.
At one time Code Veronica was the must-own game for the Sega Dreamcast. Hardcore gamers around the world flocked to Sega's final console just to see Capcom's walking dead in the highest of fidelity. A decade later and we're finally getting another chance to thwart Umbrella's dastardly plans and kick undead butt. This time around gamers will have a chance to see all the gory action in HD on the Xbox 360, the first time an older Resident Evil game has reached a Microsoft console.
Let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat: Code Veronica is a weird game. It's neither a spin-off nor a sequel, yet it manages to fill in some much needed context to the overall Resident Evil mythology. This is a game about siblings, scientific experiments run amok and ... cross dressing? Like I said, it's a strange game. But don't let that throw you off, there is still a traditional Resident Evil story full twists, turns and plenty of brain-eating zombies.
Code Veronica stars Claire Redfield on a mission to locate her brother Chris (one of the stars of the original Resident Evil). Unfortunately, while investigating an Umbrella facility in Paris, Claire is captured and imprisoned on a desolate island. But this isn't your typical island; it's the home base of some of the creepiest experiments ever conducted by the nefarious company. Before long our heroine is knee deep in zombies, hunters, giant spiders and every other ghoulish baddie you can think of.
From here the story stays on a straight-forward path that will seem familiar to anybody who has battled Umbrella in the past. The idea is to locate items around the island and use them to solve puzzles, opening up new rooms that will provide you with even more puzzle-solving items to collect. Along the way you'll run into plenty of mutant bad guys, as well as a creepy brother/sister duo who aren't especially keen on you invading their normally peaceful island.
Don't get too cozy on the tropical island, because that's just the first stop in this 12 - 15 hour adventure. By the time the credits roll you will have met up with familiar faces and fought through familiar places. We all know that Umbrella's criminal activities didn't stop after this game (otherwise there would be no Resident Evil 4 and 5), but the work you do still manages to feel significant given the larger narrative.
When you strip back the fancy graphics and lengthy storyline, we're left with a product that feels a whole lot like the first three Resident Evil games. While that may not sound so bad, it's really a polite way of calling the game outdated. The 1996 original was created at a time when few game developers understood out to control 3D movement. What's more, that first game was released before Sony had a chance to debut their analog controller.
While we can defend those early PlayStation games, this Dreamcast installment doesn't get the same treatment. Five years in, Capcom knew a thing or two about making survival horror games. They knew the problems, yet for whatever reason they chose to ignore them (and in some cases exacerbate them). The result is a game that felt archaic even when it was new. Unfortunately this particular installment hasn't aged well, making this ten year old game feel like it came from a bygone era where people were impressed just to see color on the picture box. Looking at the game now, it feels like there's a huge neon sign pointing directly at every one of the game's flaws.
Let's start with the most obvious problem -- the control scheme. This is a traditional Resident Evil game through and through. That means that you control your character by pushing up on the pad no matter what direction you're standing. Forget flowing 3D movement with the analog stick, in Code Veronica you move everybody around as if they are tanks. This makes moving anywhere a painful experience. Even simple things like turning around corners and running from zombies is made that much more difficult thanks to this unwieldy set-up.
Things go from bad to worse when you try and fight the horrifying mutants found throughout the game. Aiming is imprecise and there's no way to move while shooting. At best you stand still aiming at what you think is a bad guy, praying you don't waste too much ammo. Considering that both Claire and Chris are expertly trained S.T.A.R.S. members, their clunky combat controls make no sense. And don't even try killing anything with the knife you start with, you'll have a better chance reversing the aging process than slashing a zombie to death.
The combat is made even more frustrating with the unmovable camera angles. Much like the first three games, Code Veronica employs dramatic camera angles that look like they're straight out of a movie. This works for the most part, but it does come with its own group of problems. Too often you'll be aiming at zombies that are off screen, making it impossible to see what's going on. Other camera angles make it hard to get a grasp of the room you're standing in, which certainly makes it difficult to evade slow moving zombies.
You'll also discover that the protagonist can only carry a few items at the same time, forcing players to dump valuable items off in safe rooms scattered around the levels. This is also where you save, assuming you have an ink cartridge. Because these save locations or few and far between (and you only have a few ink cartridges to use), it forces players to go long distances without backing up the progress. Without the safety net of a checkpoint system, a single death may mean the player will have to replay ten to fifteen minutes worth of the game just to get back to where they perished. It's incredibly discouraging when you die, especially the further in you get.
Of course, most Resident Evil fans already know about these problems. To this day you hear people defending the tank-like control scheme and the archaic save system. I suspect that most gamers will know what they're getting themselves into with Code Veronica, even if they never owned the Dreamcast or PlayStation 2 versions. But there are a few weird issues that seem specific to this brand new high definition version.
For instance, the graphics are all over the place. For the most part the high res graphics look fine. They are a little muddy here and there, but the textures look fine and the character models have never been sharper. Unfortunately, the striking look flies right out the window every time we are forced to watch one of the many pre-rendered cinemas. It's clear that Capcom didn't go back to re-master the cinemas, so we're forced to sit through some of the worst looking video I've seen on my Xbox 360. Capcom should have simply removed these nine minutes of video. After all, the CGI cinemas weren't even in the original Dreamcast game (they were designed exclusively for the PlayStation 2 port).
The other big issue I have is the price. While you can justify spending twenty dollars on Resident Evil 4, it gets harder to make the case for Code Veronica. Resident Evil 4 is not only a much more recent installment, but it's also one of the greatest video games of all time. Everything from the graphics to the gameplay to the well-paced story continues to hold up six years later. Code Veronica, on the other hand, hasn't aged as gracefully. The HD graphics simply aren't enough of an improvement to warrant $20, especially when you look at newer, better Xbox Live Arcade games going for half the price.
Even though I spent half the review complaining about all of the outdated trappings, I still had fun fighting my way through Resident Evil: Code Veronica HD X. Even with all of these problems, Capcom knows how to tell a compelling story full of big mutant baddies. The story is goofy and the villains are laughable at best, but that didn't keep me from taking a huge bite out of Umbrella's plan. Even though Code Veronica is a strong entry in the Resident Evil franchise, I wouldn't be in a rush to download this overpriced relic of the past.