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Resident Evil: Code Veronica (Dreamcast) artwork

Resident Evil: Code Veronica (Dreamcast) review

"You think they've dug as low as they can get, and then someone throws them a shovel. "

You think they've dug as low as they can get, and then someone throws them a shovel.

Resident Evil has always been a series easy to lampoon, with almost every aspect of it's digital makeup being ripe for parody. You would expect Capcom to attempt to make it's epic survival horror series a bit less laughable, but no; the Dreamcast debut title does quite the opposite. Code Veronica moves the series into whole new alleys of absurdity, alleys that all but the most grim of players will only snigger in disbelief at. Bullet-time gunplay, super-powered villains, ladyboys; all delivered with the straightest of faces. The RE series now borders on farce, but, like before, it's saved by the quality of it's gameplay.

This new push forward in the field of ludicrousness becomes evident as early as the opening FMV, which depicts RE2 heroine Claire Redfield infiltrating the HQ of Umbrella Inc, the corporation that holds the undead industry in an iron grip. Faced with dimwitted security goons and an Apache chopper apparently piloted by Norman Wisdom, Claire repeatedly defies reality in her attempts to escape, but unfortunately ends up being captured and locked up on Umbrella's prison island. Fortunately for Claire escape from jail cells always comes quickly for videogame characters; mere moments into her sentence her captor staggers in and sets her free, before crowing some vague hints about the island being taken over and then passing out. As per Resi law, you're on your own.

Out of the cell our lovely lady trots, and you take control. The first change to the RE format that becomes apparent is in the sole area in which it's not rich with unintentional humour; the graphics. The pre-rendered backdrops of old have been replaced with shiny 3D environments and, impressively, the decrease in detail isn't huge. Even in today's world in which every game must hurl a billion buzzword-mapped polygons about every second, Code Veronica still impresses despite being developed on an dead console; this is due to the quality textures and lighting, and the constant attention paid to detail. The move to 3D also allows a camera which actually moves, giving the game a far more cinematic feel as the camera swoops gracefully through windows and creeps malevolently behind our unsuspecting girlie.

Trudging up the stairs (in that age-old firstperson loading screen), you emerge into a muddy, rain-drenched graveyard, blanketed by the suffocating night. RE veterans will find snaking through the dirty headstones a familiar task; the clunky controls of previous games haven't been changed. They remain handy enough for sprinting through empty areas without being thrown off-course by camera angle changes, but nigh-on useless for combat with anything more agile than a stumbling zombie. RE3's useful dodge move has been inexplicably removed; replaced by a new quick-turn that does speed things up a bit. As they always were and likely always shall be, the RE controls take a while to get used to and are never quite as wieldy as they should be, but after a while they'll become second nature and you'll work out the best way to work with them.

After a harrowing little battle in the graveyard (what do you think happens?), you'll trot onwards through the prison complex, unravelling various mysteries and battling various horrors as you go. The game is the same Resident Evil mix of infant-grade puzzling and frightful avoidance of the monstrous hordes. As always, ammo and supplies have to be fearfully rationed and the threat of being left with only a dull blade to hold back the beasts looms constantly large.

Other games may have surpassed it on the horror front, but nobody does survival better than Resident Evil. The limited-space inventory system, unrealistic as it may be, remains a brilliant device that lends the gameplay all sorts of depth. Save rooms, with those all-important bottomless item boxes, are more than mere rest stops; they are war rooms, where you'll plan every boss encounter and item run to the finest detail. Life-and-death decisions are made at every turn; empty your shotgun into these zombies now, and risk being lesser-equipped for a boss battle later? Stuff the inventory full of health and ammo, leaving yourself incapable of picking up any important items? These kind of choices make up the real meat of Code Veronica. You'll get lost in your own plans and quests; despite it's relative linearity, the game does make you feel like you're doing things your own way, and this makes it extremely absorbing. The desire to unlock the next door is always great, if only to get the next weapon or meet the next boss.

Once you do unlock the door (usually by putting some stupid emblem in some stupid hollow), you'll rarely be disappointed by the gruesome delights beyond it. Weapons are the usual cocktail of shotguns and grenade launchers, with new akimbo automatics and a sniper rifle thrown into the mix. The beasts upon which you'll unload these armaments are reasonably inspired in their design; aside from the generic zombie dunces / dogs / spiders / moths / bats, there's the Bandersnatch, a splendidly hideous mass of melted gristle, and the reptilian powerhouse Hunters, back in action for the first time since RE1. The enemies are intelligent enough to be convincing and blasting them away is satisfying enough due to good weapon effects and death animations. However, the sluggish controls ensure that combat rarely rises above being a troublesome chore.

As well as the peon abominations, there's a bevy of boss creatures for you to do vague, graceless battle with. With chest-mincing claw and soul-freezing stare, the latest Tyrant is a hulking 7'' juggernaut that instigates a few of the game's more intense set-pieces. There's also Nosferatu, the insane ball-gagged freak who's been locked up in a dusty basement for a few years and is understandably a bit eager to meet you. Best (or perhaps worst, etc) of all, though, is Lady Alexia, the slinky undead aristocrat who spits insects and bleeds fire. Lovely stuff. While most of the boss battles do make good set-pieces, they are, like every other action moment in the game, made tiresome by the leaden controls.

If you've tried a Resident Evil game before, you'll probably know whether or not you can suffer the series' more uncooperative elements. You'll also likely have formed an opinion on the series' sci-fi schlock horror storyline. Code Veronica doesn't advance things much, but it does provide some history that fans will enjoy. There's a few new characters; blond teenage fruit Steve Burnside provides a tiresome love interest for Claire, leading to a few embarrassingly ham-fisted 'bonding' scenes (Steve crashing their escape vehicle because he's staring at her arse is a standout moment). The plot's a bit more 'experimental' than previous RE efforts, presumably to keep up with the more original storylines that others in the genre are coming up with. Unfortunately, like everything everything else in Resident Evil, most of it just comes off as laughable; even the most loyal of fans will have trouble stifling the giggles at the Matrix-lite cutscenes and the gender-bending plot twists.

Code Veronica is the maverick Resi, the one that attempts to break the mould. It doesn't to do well with it. Chances are, though, that if you can already bear RE's trademark flaws - slovenly controls, crap voice acting, uninspiring music, imbecilic story, and the fact that it isn't actually all that scary - then you'll be able to do the same for the new absurdities CV introduces, and just enjoy the refreshingly complete, absorbing experience.

S'your call.

autorock's avatar
Community review by autorock (August 14, 2004)

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