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‘Resident Evil: Code Veronica’ – The Bridge between Horror and Action

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The Resident Evil series is about experimentation, success, and failure, both inside and outside its story. The series that had started out conceptually as a remake of an old Famicom RPG had grown and evolved throughout its life on the PlayStation, and as the dawn of the sixth console generation was upon us, Resident Evil would begin to change for both better and worse as it tried to re-find its footing among other Survival Horror titles. Being the first game released on a then next-generation platform, Resident Evil: Code Veronica could be seen as the bridging point for things to come with the series.

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All of the screenshots for this review were taken from the HD version of the game. Not much was changed between X and the original Code Veronica.

The development of Code Veronica is actually a little sad. The title was announced in 1998 for the Dreamcast, several months before Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. As far as consumers knew, this was the next storyline sequel to Resident Evil 2… until Nemesis was unveiled at Tokyo Game Show the following March. Code Veronica was then pushed back from its planned April 1999 release to the end of the year, and then eventually to February 2000. While Code Veronica released with nothing but positive reviews, in hindsight it feels like the game has not aged as well as other Resident Evil titles.

The story of Code Veronica starts several months after the events of Resident Evil 2. Claire Redfield has finally found a lead on her brother, Chris, after his disappearance before the T-Virus outbreak in Raccoon City. She infiltrates an Umbrella facility in Europe, is captured by security, then is deported to a prison on the Umbrella-owned Rockfort Island. She now has to escape the island and stop the plans of the Ashford siblings, whose family runs the island and is trying to regain their control over Umbrella.

Family relationships, or rather sibling relationships, is the big theme for Code Veronica. Claire and Chris’ “healthy” relationship is continually contrasted to that of Alfred and Alexia Ashford. The Ashfords live in a nightmare of crushed self-imagery, having learned that their family was once one of the most powerful influences within Umbrella until their father tanked that reputation into the ground. Both Alexia and Alfred sought to reclaim that position by working together, or so Alfred thought. Alexia’s true intentions are much more selfish than what Alfred thinks. She sees all of those around her as being below her. Her remarkable intelligence led to a remarkable ego. These same qualities are eventually her own undoing, as the Redfield siblings work together (sort-of) to take her down and end the Ashford line.

Code Veronica presents most of its story upfront through cutscenes. Whereas past titles relied mostly on old documents, giving a feeling that you’re witnessing the consequences of things gone wrong, Code Veronica’s story plays out in the now. It’s a bold decision, one that creates an interesting dynamic, even if it’s held back by clumsy writing and voice work. After the improved voicework for Resident Evil 2, Code Veronica’s cast, specifically the supporting cast, feels like a complete joke. Leonardo DiCaprio look-a-like Steve Burnside sounds like he’s fresh off the playground from middle school, and the over-caricatured Alfred Ashford feels very out of place, his voice reminiscent of something from the original PlayStation Resident Evil. Code Veronica did give us Richard Waugh for the voice of Wesker though, and his accent and mannerisms would serve as the ground for every Wesker actor to come after him to play it cool, calculating, and as suave as possible.

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The sound design doesn’t just end with the voice cast though, as Resident Evil: Code Veronica has one of the most defining soundtracks in the series….or at least one of the most defining songs. If anyone who played this game pulled anything from it into their memory, it was probably one of the themes for Alexia Ashford. This small music box jingle is everywhere in the game, right up to the credit roll. The soundtrack for Resident Evil has had a few very notable tracks, but none as recognizable or up there as the Ashford theme. While the theme doesn’t do much on its own, I feel like I’d be denying a bigger part of the game by not acknowledging it. The amount of remixes it has both in-game and in various remakes/retellings solidifies it as the identifying element for Code Veronica. Whether a song defining a game is a good or bad thing, however, comes down to one’s opinion about the rest of the game.

Sadly, Code Veronica’s contribution to evolving gameplay is not as ambitious as its contribution to story. Developed in tandem with Nemesis, Code Veronica carried over only a fraction of the gameplay choices that its partner title made, most notably the 180-turn that would become a series staple. It did bring back 3D examination of the inventory though, a gimmick not seen since the original Resident Evil. The game also introduces a first-person mode, specifically for one boss fight and for post-game unlockable “Battle Game.” This focus on the third-dimension mirrors much of the original Resident Evil, in that the game aimed to capture its audience through what was, at the time, a demonstration of stunning visuals. While Resident Evil has yet to take a full-jump into the FPS genre, the working parts and missteps of Code Veronica probably inspired some of the movement options for Resident Evil 4 and every action-oriented Resident Evil game to follow it.

For a brief moment Claire was in “Silent Hill.”

 

It’s actually surprising that reaction commands were not carried over from Nemesis for this game, as all the enemies feel like they were designed for it. Hunters return from classic Resident Evil, and they’re now much quicker and quieter than they were before- so quick in fact, that it’s hard to beat them on the draw, and they’re almost guaranteed to get in one or two hits before you can even raise your weapon. Even worse is the original enemy, the Bandersnatch, a tyrant-like monster that can stretch it’s arms like a long-range projectile and can hit you at almost any range. This is abused a lot, with plenty of Bandersnatches being left out of view and hidden in crammed corridors. You don’t have many options to deal with them, and the cramped hallways and rooms of the Rockfort base make for some frustrating encounters. You’re given a plethora of unique weapons to fight the hordes of the undead with, but not many defensive options to help when literally forced against a wall, other than to die and reload with that knowledge.

Keeping with the dynamic protagonist theme of previous titles, Code Veronica is split between Chris and Claire. Unlike previous titles though, you don’t pick one or the other, but instead play as both throughout the game. Despite both of them retreading the same areas, their playthroughs feel strikingly different.

Claire’s story takes place before the destruction of Rockfort Island and later on the Antarctic base. Much of the land is left undamaged and begs to be explored between all its major areas, but this is also where my personal least favorite element of Code Veronica, its over-saturated amount of needless backtracking, lies. Claire runs between a prison, training facility, airplane hangar, and mansion area. Each of these areas then gives a puzzle piece to something from a completely separate area, and it takes quite some time to navigate from one place to the next. There’s no feel of connectivity between the sections of Claire’s playthrough, but rather just a bunch of fluff meant to pad out the time and make the game feel bigger than it actually is.

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In contrast, Chris’ levels feel very different, despite being retreads of where Claire has already been. He arrives at Rockfort after it’s been destroyed, and is left trying to find a way to his sister. Many of his puzzles are linear in nature. Each new item he uncovers goes directly into something within the next few rooms. There are plenty of shortcuts to help quickly navigate the area, and ultimately it gives the level design a sense of cohesion. It never feels like you’re stopping to backtrack- only like you’re moving forward. If anything, Chris’ half of Code Veronica is one of the better laid out maps of the Resident Evil franchise.

On its release, Resident Evil: Code Veronica received primarily praise from critics. It scored well, with the subsequent PS2 updated version Code Veronica X receiving much the same. If you were to ask any fan of the Dreamcast what their favorite survival horror titles were, you’d be hard-pressed to not hear this game somewhere on the list. Despite all this praise though, Veronica just hasn’t aged well. Its clunky approach to combat hearkens back to the original Resident Evil more than Resident Evil 2 or Nemesis. Its direct presentation of story flounders near the end, denying the first-round players a boss fight they’d been waiting almost half a decade for. And finally, its poorly constructed level design bloats the first half of the game for no reason other than to bloat it.

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Denying the player a Chris vs Wesker fight is probably up there on the list of “Top 10 Teases” in gaming.

As a stepping stone for the series, Code Veronica is to Resident Evil what Castlevania 64 was to Castlevania. It’s a design choice that would eventually flourish in subsequent games years later, except, unlike Castlevania 64, people didn’t hate it upon release. If I had to recommend Code Veronica, it would only be to those thoroughly interested in experiencing the progressive baby steps Resident Evil took before 4. Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3, and the 2002 REmake offer much better and unique survival horror experiences than this aged Dreamcast exclusive.

Sordid Cinema
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