As video game franchises go, Resident Evil has quite the legacy.
Various games, spin-offs and other media all bear the brand. With the imminent release of Resident Evil Village upon us, it only seems fitting to take a look back at Capcom’s first attempt at translating survival horror to the first-person.
The concept of Resident Evil in the first-person may not be anything new these days. It’s the standard for the franchise now, and we even saw some on-rails shooters released for the Wii in the form of The Umbrella Chronicles and The Darkside Chronicles back in the late 2000s. The first Resident Evil alone was originally planned to be a first-person game (following its Sweet Home inspirations) before technical limitations forced Capcom to adopt a third-person approach. Released for the original PlayStation in the year 2000, Resident Evil: Survivor is a first-person spin-off acting as a last hurrah for the franchise’s presence on the console – but the results are something of a mixed herb.
As soon as you start the game, you know you’re in spin-off territory. Gone is the introduction montage that was standard for the franchise by that point, presumably due to a lower budget. The opening recap is a little lacking, too, with just a black screen and a disembodied voice giving us a summary of the Racoon City incident, along with a text crawl that can’t quite keep up.
It’s an inauspicious start, and the words “Raccoon City wasn’t the only place an outbreak occurred…” makes the whole thing feel like bad fan-fiction. The story is told purely through cutscenes using in-game graphics, eschewing that fancy CG from other Resident Evil games, but for some reason the development team decided to heavily compress these cutscenes into a lower resolution.
The story told in these cutscenes, which has since been canonised in Resident Evil 0, goes like this: the big evil corporation of the franchise – Umbrella – has its own little township in a place called Sheena Island. As usual when Umbrella is involved, something has gone terribly wrong and Sheena Island is now infested with zombies. At the start of the game, the player character is thrown from a helicopter crash and wakes up with no memory of who he is or how he got there. It’s an age-old trope, the amnesia thing, and our hero soon comes to believe himself to be a man named “Vincent”. Vincent, we learn, works for Umbrella and has been kidnapping kids and experimenting on them in order to create biological weapons. What a charmer.
Fighting his way through the streets of Sheena Island and, in standard Resident Evil fashion, the underground Umbrella laboratories and T-virus production facilities, “Vincent” will be stalked by the Tyrant T-103 who shows up a number of times to block the player’s progress. Eventually, as if quotation marks didn’t give it away, “Vincent” finds out he’s not actually the murderous Vincent at all but is instead a spy named Ark Thompson who has been sent by – I kid you not – his “good friend, Leon S. Kennedy” to investigate Umbrella’s machinations on Sheena Island. The twist is fairly obvious, but the name-drop is a real slap-your-forehead moment and I can’t help but think that someone played Resident Evil 2 and wanted to make their own fan-insert character who is on totally cool terms with a franchise protagonist.
To anyone familiar with the original Resident Evil 2, you’ll instantly recognise that a lot of the assets are reused wholesale in Resident Evil: Survivor. All your favourites are here: cream shirt, green pants zombie? Check. White shirt and jeans zombie? Check. Lab zombie with crooked arm? Check. Lickers, Ivys, and even Hunters from the first game? They’re here too, as are the alligators and spiders. At least everything is recognisable, but new assets would have been preferred. Thankfully, there is a new enemy type in the form of the UT Trooper – a sort of mercenary with a sub-machine gun, who squeals like a cat when shot only to deflate and expel a green gas when killed. So there’s that.
Outside of reused assets, the other visuals are hit and miss. There’s a bland use of colour, though that is at least in keeping with the atmosphere and tone, I suppose. Getting up close to textures can have its problems, however. Sony’s original PlayStation always suffered from issues with texture perspective correction, leading to warping and snapping textures. It didn’t plague the prior Resident Evil games, as they used mostly pre-rendered backgrounds, but walk around a fully textured 3D environment in first-person as in Resident Evil: Survivor and suddenly this texture warping is up-close and in-your-face. It doesn’t help to show the limitations of the hardware quite so blatantly but some people may find this quirk of PlayStation architecture charming these days, or even nostalgic. There certainly is an endearing element to it.
Being a light-gun game, Resident Evil: Survivor is designed for Namco’s G-Con 45 light gun, but can be played with a controller if no light-gun is available. Light-gun support was removed from the U.S. release of the game (due in large part to gun games being blamed for the tragic shootings at Columbine), though it still remains in Japanese and PAL region copies. Pointing the gun at the screen naturally fires your weapon, but pointing it away and firing the trigger makes you walk, with a double-tap making you run. The A and B buttons on each side of the G-Con turn you left and right respectively. It might sound clunky – and, I can’t lie, it is – but it’s a surprisingly innovative attempt at introducing Resident Evil’s famous ‘tank controls’ into the first-person perspective and in that respect, it’s serviceable. It doesn’t entirely work, but props to the team for at least trying.
Of course, you’ll need an old CRT television to use the G-Con so you may end up just being stuck with a controller anyway, but either way you’ll still find – perhaps due to the limited number of button options on the G-Con – that other elements seem cut. Items are automatically picked up just by walking over them, rather than asking the player to pick them up or even to ‘shoot’ them like in the later Chronicles entries on the Wii. It’s good that you’re given an unlimited inventory as compensation, but it doesn’t help that using the inventory is incredibly slow this time around. Removing the necessity of item management (such as with the shared item boxes in the mainline games) also takes away a lot of the elements of survival horror the franchise is known for, as does getting unlimited ammunition for the handgun. In that regard, it doesn’t feel entirely faithful. There are no real puzzles either; sure, there are keys and certain items that must be used to progress, but there’s nothing resembling the need for the backtracking of prior games.
Nevertheless, the combat is still quite fun whether you use a light-gun or a controller. If you can ignore the awful story and find some charm in the graphics, there’s still fun to be had being immersed in a Resident Evil story that features the enemies you’ve come to expect. The first zombie you encounter drops a key which can be used on three separate doors: a church, a restaurant or a cinema. This is your first taste of what is probably the best part of Resident Evil: Survivor, in that at certain points in the game there are branching paths which alter both the levels you experience and the bosses you fight. (One particular path takes the player to a nightclub called Heaven’s Night – an obvious nod to rival franchise Silent Hill.) These branching paths may only occur a total of four times in the game, and the story remains largely the same whatever you pick, but it certainly helps to add a bit of variety and encourage further playthroughs (especially when a single playthrough can be completed in under two hours).
It’s something of a dichotomy, to be honest. Canon, but bad fan-fiction. Weak graphics, but some replay value. Dead, but walking. Is Resident Evil: Survivor any good? No, not really. It probably deserves its Metacritic score of 39. But do I like Resident Evil: Survivor? Yeah, kind of. It has a weird sort of charm and, although I won’t rush to replay it, I can see myself picking it up again at some point.
Resident Evil: Survivor only managed to sell less than 500,000 copies, making it one of the lowest-selling releases in the franchise, though it would see a release for Windows PC in 2002. Despite its flaws, it somehow managed to spawn a mini-franchise in its own right with Capcom releasing the first of two sequels in 2002 as Resident Evil Survivor 2 – Code: Veronica before dropping the ‘Survivor’ subtitle altogether with Resident Evil: Dead Aim in 2003, both for the PlayStation 2. There was also a spiritual third sequel released in 2002 as Dino Stalker – though that’s more of a tie-in to the Dino Crisis franchise and has little to do with Resident Evil outside of a few wink-wink-nudge-nudge references.
More “itchy” than “tasty”, certainly, but Resident Evil: Survivor isn’t the worst Resident Evil spin-off ever made. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you may just find something in here to compel you to play it.