Touching Is Evil
Resident Evil: Deadly Silence (DS)
(aka Biohazard: Deadly Silence)
Ten years ago Capcom released a game called Resident Evil (or Biohazard as it is known in Japan) that established a new genre in gaming: Survival Horror. Okay, so many people insist that Interplay's PC game Alone in the Dark actually started the survival horror genre and Capcom simply stole the concept, but consider this: Resident Evil was the game that coined the term "Survival Horror", and popularized the genre. Furthermore, the first true survival horror game was not Alone in the Dark (1992), it was Capcom's own Sweet Home (1989), a Nintendo Famicom (NES) game released only in Japan. Sweet Home features a group of people exploring an abandoned mansion in the woods, solving puzzles and battling zombies and other monsters. Sound familiar? It even has the classic door-opening scenes between rooms, and during the game one of the characters actually says "We must escape this house of residing evil!" Whoa. I'm off on a tangent already.
Let me start again. Ten years ago Capcom put Survival Horror on the map with Resident Evil (1996). At the time Capcom were in a financial slump, and the worldwide Playstation hit rescued the company and became their flagship franchise. Since then Resident Evil has spawned many sequels, prequels, spin-offs, ports and remakes -over thirty in all. For a series based around the undead, the franchise still has a lot of life in it; last year's Resident Evil 4 was hailed by many as Game Of The Year, and the forthcoming Resident Evil 5 is already the subject of much anticipation.
In order to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Resident Evil, Capcom have gone back to it's roots and have just released a new port of the original Playstation game. Dubbed Deadly Silence, the name inevitably leads to "silent but deadly" fart jokes, but also hints at the system it has been released on: Nintendo's DS. It's a somewhat unlikely match, as the DS is not known for mature or violent games, and translating a CD-based Playstation game to a cartridge-based handheld that has two screens with touchscreen and microphone functionality doesn't seem to be the most logical choice. And yet...it works.
Resident Evil: Deadly Silence offers two main game modes: Classic mode and Rebirth Mode. Classic Mode is just that - a near perfect port of the original game. Rebirth Mode mixes up the formula to take advantage of the DS' unique capabilities, and to shift the veteran players out of their comfort zones. It's amazing how well the game has translated to the DS. The top screen shows a live map, your equipped weapon and character status, while the bottom screen shows the action unfold. While that bottom screen is obviously much smaller than your average TV, the visuals look much the same as the original, as the actual resolution of each DS screen is not much less than the output of the Playstation version. The DS screens each have exactly 80% of the horizontal and vertical screen resolution of the Playstation original (RE on PSone: 320x240, single DS screen: 256x192). The pre-rendered backgrounds have been made a little brighter (presumably to allow greater visibility when playing in brightly lit conditions), but other than that, you'll hardly notice the difference. DS isn't exactly known for it's 3D capabilities, but the 3D in RE:DS does not disappoint. The framerate is rock solid and while the polygon count for each character has actually dropped slightly, the level of detail has increased, and characters look markedly better overall. In Rebirth mode, there are often more characters/monsters on screen at once than there were in the original too.
RE:DS is the biggest DS game to date in terms of sheer filesize, having squeezed all the content of the CD-based game onto a 1 gigabit DS cartridge. All the shockingly cheesy voice-acting and FMV cutscenes of the original game are present here, including the wonderfully lame live-action intro and endings. The audio quality is good, though compression is evident in much of the FMV. Purists should note that the intro is not the uncut version, and for reasons unknown, one mansion hallway music track has been dropped and Richard Aiken's voice actor has been replaced (though his dialogue is word-for-word the same and is acted just as poorly).
So what's new? Well, even in the Classic Mode, there are some new additions. The 180 degree turn that was added to later RE games has been added to the control scheme, and the left trigger button can be used to draw your combat knife at any time, which is a particularly useful new feature borrowed from RE4. Better still, the combat knife no longer occupies a slot in your inventory either. In a nod to the surgeon general, Chris Redfield no longer smokes, and consequently doesn't carry a Zippo lighter (though one is still available in the mansion). The door opening and stairwell screens that covered the Playstation's loadtimes are still included, but can be immediately skipped with the press of a button. The momentary pause between screens when changing camera angles is gone now too, and the game flows much better as a result.
Rebirth Mode's most notable addition is the surprise first-person attack. When entering a room, even if you've been through it many times already, you may randomly encounter a touchscreen knife-battle shown from a first-person viewpoint. Zombies, dogs, crows and the like will come rushing at you and you need to swipe the touchscreen in order to dispatch them with your knife. By swiping the touchscreen in different ways, you can execute a variety of knife attacks and combos, and by timing your attack correctly you can even perform one-hit kills. The random nature of these events frequently catches you off guard, and can easily prove fatal if you're already on Danger status and are running back to an item chest through what you think are "safe" areas. Clearing these encounters rewards the player with ammunition or herbs, which is just as well considering the amount of enemies you'll encounter. Rebirth Mode puts the emphasis more on action by throwing in lots more enemies and combining enemy types. Dealing with a few zombies becomes much harder when there's a crow or a dog or two in the room at the same time. Working out which enemies to take out first and keeping the rest off you in the meantime is a refreshing challenge.
Many of the puzzles in Rebirth are new and mostly based around the touchscreen. There's even an optional challenge to revive one of your team members by blowing on the microphone to simulate CPR. I was surprised to discover the touchscreen can be used during normal play too. If you're being munched on by a zombie, rubbing the touchscreen will make your character perform a defensive move like a kick or knee to get them off you faster. The save rooms feature new blue puzzle boxes in Rebirth Mode too, similar to those in Capcom's Onimusha series, each of which needs to be solved with a simple touchscreen logic puzzle. While there are no new areas in Rebirth, the new item locations, puzzles, weapons, and greater emphasis on action certainly make it a fresh experience. Completing the main game with each character in both Classic and Rebirth modes unlocks new costumes and the rocket launcher (if you're fast enough) as well as new playable characters for the Multiplayer modes.
That's right - Resident Evil on DS features up to four player wireless Multiplayer in both competitive and co-operative modes. Three scenarios are available and completing these unlocks even more playable characters. Each player will need a copy of the cart, and only local multiplayer is supported (no wi-fi unfortunately). One more new game mode is unlockable: "Master of Knifing", which is basically all the first-person knife battles in a survival mode.
Certainly the most perverse new addition to the game is this little easter egg: if you leave Jill alone until she enters her inactive animation, you can then tap her on the chest or the behind and she'll react with surprise. Likewise, and even more disturbingly, you can touch Chris too. Ahem. WTF Capcom.
All in all, RE:DS is a really well done port, with loads of nice extras. Fans of the original will relish the opportunity to revisit it on a portable system and experience all the new content. Newcomers to the series expecting something like RE4 are in for a nasty shock. The tank-like controls and limited inventory space of the original Resident Evil are as unfriendly as they ever were, and rightly so. This tenth anniversary port shows just how far the series has come, while at the same time demonstrating that what made this game a classic still holds up after a decade.
The Limited Edition Japanese version of Biohazard: Deadly Silence comes with a S.T.A.R.S. branded black leather DS case and strap.
While we're on the subject, you can read my full review of the PS2 port of Resident Evil 4 on Game Power Australia now.