Why Resident Evil 1 is the most innovative survival horror game ever made (so far)

Resident Evil 1 is one of those few games that is still amazing and relevant today, you can try and try, but you can probably never replicate it’s amazing formula perfectly in any other game, it has given us scares, awed us with its ideas of a perfectly planned zombie apocalypse, and annoyed the Hell out of us with its sometimes VERY frustrating puzzles, it’s Resident Evil 1 and we freaking love it, so for this Zombie Jesus Day (or Easter or Passover for you non-crazy people) I’m going to look at why Resident Evil 1 is such an amazing game and why we still love it so much

The cast for Resident Evil 1, both the Alpha and Bravo teams.

  1. First Person Scenes

These are some of the most interesting additions to a game that I have ever seen, they only occur twice but they are pretty scary and easily remembered by anyone who has played them. Unfortunately, they’re a little unrealistic because as we all know zombies can’t open doors and while Hunters have at least the intelligence of a human being, it’s doubtful that they’d bother working a doorknob instead of crashing through it like the BAMFs that they are. These scenes are particularly scary because you are seeing from the monster’s point of view which is downright eerie to begin with, but they are also tied with a sense of helplessness. You know something is coming to kill you and you can’t do anything about it because it’s a cutscene, and they always wait until you are right in front of a door to do it, too, making it even scarier. You may know they’re coming, but that doesn’t alleviate the ‘oh s#!^’ feeling that drives the helplessness home, which brings me to my next point, the extreme feeling of helplessness purveyed throughout the entire game for numerous reasons.

First Person Zombie


First Person Hunter

2. Helplessness of the Player

The scenes I just described are inherently scenes driven by the feeling of the player’s helplessness, but Resident Evil 1 has so many more instances of this and drives this point home better than most games, a feeling not exemplified in games since Megaman X (if you don’t know what I’m talking about then go watch Egoraptor’s Sequalitis series on YouTube). A series of other scenes worth mentioning are what I like to call the ‘jump scenes,’ this is anything like when the first zombie dog jumps through the window at you, when a Hunter pops out of a hallway and screams at you nearly making you drop your controller, when a giant spider drops from the ceiling right in front of you, or your first unfortunate meeting with Leviathon. These scenes help drive the point home that the player truly has no real control of his/her situation; yeah, you’re blowing monsters away, but you’re trapped in a mansion full of them and you’re practically by yourself, who’s really winning in this situation?

Next is the unorthodox amount of locked doors throughout this game, some of them are locked, some of them are jammed, and one slowly breaks a little bit every time you use it. This system very efficiently controls where you go and when you go there, again, driving home the point that you truly are not in control. Sure, you can find the keys, but it only lets you unlock the doors in a certain order and practically pushes you around the mansion to its pleasing. And let’s not forget the myriad of traps placed throughout the mansion: the room that crushes you if you take the shotgun, the caverns with the boulder traps, the snakes that fall on you as you’re trying to turn the cranks in the garden, and, of course, the holes in the floor that the vines shoot up from as you try to walk by. Again, these traps actively control your movements through the mansion, you can disarm most of them, but even then, you’re gonna panic before you do so, making the helplessness even more prevalent.

There’s also just the practical inability to kill the monsters in this game, later on when you get the grenade launcher and the magnum it becomes a much more doable task, but until then, especially with your Beretta, it feels like you aren’t even damaging the monsters. Remember your first fight with a zombie, it was horrible, you used more bullets on that one zombie than Steven Seagal does in an entire movie, then you were afraid to fight zombies, ever, as far as you knew you weren’t even hurting them, cause it sure didn’t look like you were. Taking the power away from your weapons and forcing you to avoid fighting your enemies is another way that this game drives home the helplessness, until you get at least the shotgun, you have no idea if you’re hurting anything unless you empty a full clip into it. And let’s not forget the horrible Tyrant fight, that entire boss battle you are stuck on a helipad with a Tyrant who is just laughing off all your ammo, it’s not until a few seconds before the mansion blows up that Brad drops you the MRL, the only weapon in the game that can kill the Tyrant. Again, this controls your actions because you eventually figure out that none of your weapons are hurting the Tyrant so you have to start just dodging all of his attacks and hope something happens, again, putting the player in a prolonged state of helplessness for ninety percent of the boss battle.

Adding to the helplessness of fighting near invincible monsters is the fact that there is only a limited amount of space in your inventory; if you’re Jill it’s only eight spaces and a lock pick, and if you’re Chris it’s only six spaces and a lighter, not nearly enough space to carry everything you need to, especially considering the fact that puzzle pieces like cranks and rune pieces take up a space, keys take up a space, and you’ll have at least two spaces full for a weapon and ammunition as well as at least one space full for healing items like first aid sprays or herbs. If you come across anything that you don’t have enough room to pick up then you’re out of luck, and this was back when there was no way to mark anything on a map. There were item chests where you could deposit as many items as you liked for later use, but again, there was no way to mark them on the map so you just had to hope you’d come across one if you needed health, ammo, a key, or an ink ribbon to save. Finally, there are the save points, this is the only game I know of that charges you for saves. So, in other words, there are only a certain number of saves you can possibly make in one game, and this is totally based on how many ink ribbons you pick up throughout the game (which also take up an inventory slot), so in order to save, you’d, in theory, have to go to an item chest, get out an ink ribbon and go to a save point, which are also not marked on a map, hoping to God you didn’t get killed by anything on the way there, there are no continues in this game, only loads. This also meant that when you loaded up your game, you’d have to run back to an item chest and deposit the ink ribbons for later use because theoretically you always needed at least one or two spots open for items you came across. And just be mean, when you got farther in the game, it would start guarding save points with monsters, making your panicky run to the save point even worse.  With all of these factors combined, this game had more than a touch of insanity in the helplessness of players department.

Tyrant T-002 Type, the final boss from Resident Evil 1 that NOTHING can hurt.

3. Suspense

This game is FULL of suspense, you are constantly tense and on alert making sure you aren’t about to get beheaded by a Hunter and jumping at every sound you hear, more than once I got freaked out by my own footsteps thinking they were those of a zombie or Hunter, this game psyches you out that much, consistently, and there’s no music alerting you to a monster’s presence, either, you just have to hope you aren’t walking into one. This game also conditions you to be careful and scared of the resultant of every action you do, after almost getting crushed by a room for taking a shotgun, it makes you consider picking up anything lying around or hanging on a wall, much less turning a crank in a dark hallway that supposedly opens a door to God knows where. Speaking of conditioning you to be afraid of everything, the game also makes you afraid of backtracking because while you were gone, a zombie or Hunter may’ve moved into that hallway or shuffled into that room, it’s been to happen and it scares the Hell out of you every time it does because you’re expecting an empty room just like you left it. While on the idea of expecting things, there’s also a wonderful Alfred Hitchcock moment in this game when you walk into a room that turns out to be a short hallway. You start walking, then suddenly you notice a sound, and look up to see a murder of crows staring back down at you hungrily eyeing you up and squawking. This room scares the Hell out of every first time player of Resident Evil 1 because you are constantly expecting the crows to swoop down and attack you with the end result being you ending up dead, this is a lot of crows, so you probably wouldn’t survive. But, against all odds, the crows stay there, patiently staring at you from their perch, but never attacking, making for a truly nerve-wracking scene. Adding to the suspense, unlike in Resident Evil 4, 5, and Operation Raccoon City, you have no one with you, ever, occasionally one of your teammates will show up, or you’ll get a note from one of them, but you almost never see a physical manifestation of any of them. Barry helps Jill out in a few particular situations, but if you’re Chris, you never get help from anyone, thus making the trek through the mansion that much more unbearable and suspenseful, trust me, it will drive you nuts.

The Crow Room (start at 2:40)

4. Puzzles

This game is rife with puzzles, traps, and locked doors, all to keep you on your toes. This is especially interesting because most games that included puzzles up to this point were straight puzzle games or they were point and click games, seemingly the only place that horror and puzzles would ever meet. Resident Evil 1 takes this to a new level because you get not only horror, you get survival horror, plus puzzles, and nice third person view that still manages to put you in the shoes of the protagonist you’re playing and scare the Hell out of you. This is pretty impressive and was a totally new concept that wouldn’t be seen again until eight months later in Legacy of Kain, which, in my opinion, still didn’t put you in the shoes of the protagonist nearly as well as Resident Evil 1 does and grants you supernatural powers thus encouraging you to avoid fighting less, in fact, it practically downright encouraged it. These puzzles weren’t super complex and often when you got them you’d that ‘oh wow, that was easy’ moment after you solved them, some of them were a little harder and definitely out there, like the crank to avoid the boulders in the caverns, but others were straightforward, like how you had to push the boxes over the holes in the floor to avoid getting attacked by Plant 42’s vines. One of the most interesting puzzle elements to me though in this game is the chemical mixing puzzle, in accordance with a paper left in the chemistry lab, you have to find and mix all of the elements, which are all lying around the mansion, to concoct V-Jolt, the only thing that will weaken Plant 42 enough so that you can kill it. To my knowledge (and please, correct me if I’m wrong) this was the first game to incorporate this kind of puzzle into it, much less a horror game, which adds an edge to the puzzle solving idea and makes it that much more interesting.

5. Everyone’s Fears Culminated Into One Game

This game is especially impressive at shoving everyone’s worst fears into one action-packed, horror-filled game, and they do it damn well. Think about it, this game has a lot of everyone’s worst fears in it; it’s like a Stephen King novel, THAT YOU CAN PLAY! There are dogs, spiders, abandonment, betrayal, snakes, zombies, crows, the dark, your alone ninety percent of the game, sharks, water, caves, certainly enough of the unknown lurking around every corner, giant scary plants, bees, and let’s not forget the entire [email protected]#&ing mansion blowing up practically right on top of you. That’s a lot of phobias shoved into one game, and a lot of those are common phobias, I can probably name one person I know for almost every one of those phobias without any problem, that’s no small feat, that’s pretty impressive, so chances are, you’re going to be scared to death of SOMETHING while you’re playing this game. But, Capcom wasn’t satisfied with just one thing, they wanted you to be afraid of everything, and it worked, this game was pretty terrifying when it came out and it can still usually get under someone’s skin while they’re playing it.

6. Inspiration For Other Games

This game has inspired many a games since its release with its near perfect formula for a survival horror game or just a scary as Hell game that can get under your nerve and make you tense and jumpy. Since its release, some of the games that have followed in its footsteps in one way or another are: Legacy of Kain, The Ring: Terror’s Realm, D, Fatal Frame, Clock Tower, and most notably, Silent Hill, just to name a few. A scant few amount of games can reach the level of suspense and horror and that Resident Evil 1 brought to the gaming world with its unorthodox first person scenes, unbearable feeling of player helplessness, tension and suspense, puzzle elements, and just the sheer fear that this game presents. There’s a reason why Resident Evil is still the top survival horror game of the video game industry, it’s because this series started with such a great and unique game whose concepts were unheard of and thought risky at the time, but it has paid off and become the steadfast franchise that we know and love today. Resident Evil 1 will always live on in our fear-ridden and zombie-bitten hearts as the original horror story.

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