As time marches on, it gets easier and easier to dismiss the original Resident Evil. While it ushered in a golden age for the survival horror genre in 1996, Capcom rather notably remade the game for the Nintendo GameCube in 2002. Simply titled Resident Evil, the remake essentially replaced the original in the eyes of the greater gaming community and it is not hard to see why. Resident Evil (2002) respectfully expands upon its source while adapting the key details that made the original such a sensation. Any changes exist to either make the game scarier or ground it in a deeper sense of reality. Resident Evil (2002) is a best-case scenario when it comes to remakes — but it’s not Resident Evil (1996).
As amazing a remake as Resident Evil (2002) is, there are enough inherent differences from the original where playing one is not analogous to playing the other. Resident Evil (1996) and Resident Evil (2002) offer completely different survival horror experiences in terms of atmosphere and tension. Where the latter is tonally grounded in reality by design, the former is as “video-gamey” as it gets, to the point of resembling a B movie stylistically. They’re the “same” game on a foundational level, but as far as presentation goes, the remake veers from the source material quite dramatically. This is absolutely in benefit of the remake on a whole, but also a distinction that cannot help but divide the two titles.
That’s not a bad thing, though. All it means is that audiences have two excellent versions of Resident Evil to play through. In theory at least. In reality, the original Resident Evil has been ported multiple times, often re-releasing with changes or additions to the main game. Settling on a version to play, let alone for a franchise newcomer, can be frustrating. The original North American release for PlayStation is a non-starter on account of its censorship and lack of auto-aim rendering gunplay borderline useless. While the Sega Saturn version includes auto-aim along with new enemies and a remixed Battle Mode, it remains one of the least accessible ports by virtue of releasing for the Saturn.
A Director’s Cut on the PS1 was released in the lead-up to Resident Evil 2’s launch — adding in auto-aim for North America and remixed campaigns — but cutscenes remain censored everywhere but France and Germany. The later Dual Shock re-release replaced Dual Shock’s soundtrack with a rather lackluster score ghostwritten by Takashi Niigaki, greatly undercutting the atmosphere. While the first Director’s Cut is the go-to version in terms of sheer content available, one port stands out for preserving Resident Evil as it was while modernizing the gameplay just enough without betraying core design principles. So much so that some might call Deadly Silence the other Resident Evil remake.
Resident Evil: Deadly Silence released exclusively for the Nintendo DS in 2006, roughly a decade since the franchise’s debut and a full year after Resident Evil 4 reshaped the series’ identity. In a world where Resident Evil Remake and RE4 exist, a milestone port of the original developed for a Nintendo handheld with touch controls as the main gimmick seems downright ridiculous. Going off hardware alone, the DS was never going to match the PlayStation’s visuals or audio. Compressed cutscenes undergo further alterations to fit onto the cartridge; the audio quality is nowhere as high & a few tracks have even been replaced, and the graphics are naturally lacking compared to the PS1. Deadly Silence is a bust on paper, but actually playing the game is another matter entirely.
There is some light censorship befitting a Nintendo exclusive, but Deadly Silence takes great advantage of the fact it was the first DS game to warrant an M rating. Interestingly, gore goes almost completely uncensored. Blood color defaults to green in the options, but can be changed back to red at any time. Albeit in black and white like in the PC port, the opening live-action cutscene makes its way to Deadly Silence (and actually carries a Night of the Living Dead-esque charm thanks to the filter). Kenneth’s decapitation at the start of the game is also fully preserved despite being censored in most versions. Bizarrely, the port’s censorship only pertains to Resident Evil’s depiction of cigarettes.
Protagonist Chris Redfield is seen smoking on two occasions – once during the opening title crawl and again in his bad ending — both cut from RE:DS. Other than that, Deadly Silence is one of the least censored versions of Resident Evil. The soundtrack does come with similar caveats, but the overall score is still leagues above the Dual Shock release. Along with missing a few tracks in the second half, Deadly Silence rearranges the original score and even reuses music for certain cutscenes. While this might be frustrating for purists, the vast majority of the original soundtrack is still present and the rearranged track placement is by no means unpleasant (just imperfect).
The lower quality backgrounds are a valid enough concern, but Deadly Silence still looks fantastic for a DS remaster of what was originally a PS1 exclusive. Updated character models also help lend RE:DS its own aesthetic that stays true to the PlayStation’s graphics. Enemies have brand new animations that make their movement smoother in-game and Chris & Jill’s new sprites are surprisingly detailed. Deadly Silence only looks worse in direct comparison to the original Resident Evil, and mainly by nature of the technological differences at play. In terms of art direction, the tricks Deadly Silence pulls off to emulate the atmosphere and setting of a PS1 game near 1:1 elevate it above any technological shortcomings. Even then, these are all nitpicks considering just how much the port offers in terms of sensible quality of life additions.
Other than touch controls, the DS’ main gimmick is its very namesake: dual screens. The first Resident Evil is an adventure game at heart, requiring players to forge an intimate familiarity with the level design by observing their surroundings and cross-referencing their map in the menu. Deadly Silence has the luxury of displaying the map on the handheld’s top screen at all times. Not just that, the map updates in real-time with valuable information: the layout expands as you explore or find in-game maps, visited rooms are marked in green, unvisited in grey, your current location flashes red, and there’s even an on-screen cursor that accurately tracks where Chris & Jill are on the map.
The top screen map promotes spatial awareness and helps you understand where you are in regards to the greater level design at a glance. Planning a route through the mansion becomes second nature which makes backtracking feel almost effortless as a result. As an added courtesy, the top screen keeps track of health. In every other version of Resident Evil 1, you need to manually enter the menu to see how much health Chris/Jill has left. In Deadly Silence, the space behind the map changes color depending on the damage taken. This helps mitigate menu time considerably, preventing gameplay from losing its momentum whenever you take a hit.
With the top screen also displaying how much ammo your gun currently has, all actual gameplay is left for the bottom touchpad. Deadly Silence itself is split into two game modes — Classic and Rebirth — that both use touch controls to different degrees. Where Rebirth features remixed puzzles and combat set-pieces designed around touch, Classic simply swaps a few UI elements from traditional controls to touch (physically inputting the code into the V-Jolt room, typing out computer passwords with the stylus). Purists might balk at the changes, but they are minor and implemented well enough to not feel out of place. As a little Easter egg, touching Chris’ butt or Jill’s breasts with the stylus makes both characters (understandably) react with shock.
Tank controls remain one of the most contentious elements of classic Resident Evil, in large part due to how alien the mechanic is compared to modern control schemes. Audiences have a habit of writing off tank controls as outdated relics of the past, but this is fairly reductive. Tank controls are not archaic, so much as they are different. They suit a specific style of gameplay, often catered towards very deliberate level design — which is the case with Resident Evil. Deadly Silence does a fantastic job translating the PlayStation 1’s controls onto a handheld. Other than a lack of rumble (which the original release did not have), the DS controls are analogous to the PS1 and arguably make for a more comfortable experience.
Probably the most significant addition Deadly Silence makes to the control scheme is the inclusion of the Quick Turn mechanic. Introduced in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Quick Turn allows players to immediately turn around by pulling back on the D-Pad/analog stick and pressing the dash button. This has since become a staple of the franchise with Deadly Silence the only version of RE1 (1996) to include it. The mechanic plays off the level design so naturally that it feels like Quick Turn was always meant to be in Resident Evil 1. The mansion’s long hallways and tight corridors call for a mechanic like Quick Turn, especially the ones littered with enemies.
While not as substantial as Quick Turn, Deadly Silence also inherits the Quick Knife mechanic from Resident Evil 4. Holding down L pulls out the player’s knife regardless of which weapon they have equipped. This also means the Knife no longer takes up space in Chris or Jill’s inventory, now an inherent part of their tool kit. Like the rest of RE:DS’ gunplay, Quick Knife makes use of auto-aim and turns what was a last-ditch effort in the original release into a viable weapon. No longer needing to manually equip the Knife whenever you want to use it encourages its use on a more meaningful level.
Likewise taken from Resident Evil 4 is tactical reloading. Previously, players needed to hop into the menu to reload any guns low on ammo. Now, Chris and Jill can reload their equipped weapons with the press of a button. Where the Quick Knife undeniably makes resource management easier, tactical reloading simply makes gunplay more natural. Hopping into a menu to reload doesn’t take away from the experience, but it also fails to add anything in terms of tension. If anything, tactical reloading is more in the spirit of survival horror without the safety of a pause menu.
Interestingly, one quality of life fixture Deadly Silence shares with no other game in the franchise is the ability to skip doors. In the pre-RE4 games, door animations are used to mask load times and foster atmosphere. Whenever you need to enter a new room, a first person animation plays where your character physically opens the door in front of them. This helps build tension while rendering new areas, but sometimes you just want to blast through the mansion at a breakneck pace. Being able to skip these little loading animations help highlight just how well crafted the level design is and how quickly you can make your way around the mansion. These skips also apply to cutscenes, greatly increasing the game’s replay value while incentivizing speed runs.
All these changes do make Deadly Silence one of the easiest ports of Resident Evil, but not so easy where the trade-offs are not worth it. Quick Turn makes dodging easier, but navigation far smoother. Quick Knife means Chris and Jill are never defenseless, but now players will actually be inclined to fight enemies up close if they run out of ammo. Skipping doors, tactical reload, and the on-screen map just make gameplay more fun by ironing out little wrinkles. These are good changes that seamlessly blend in with RE’s core design. The difficulty curve loses something, but the first Resident Evil was never the hardest survival horror game, to begin with.
More importantly, Deadly Silence is a great way for newcomers to get accustomed to the series’ classic gameplay loop before moving onto the other classic entries. Quick Turn will be missed heading into Resident Evil 2 and Code: Veronica, but playing through RE1 with QoL features from 3 and 4 makes it easier to acclimate to the old-school design philosophy. Backtracking because a puzzle solution just dawned on you isn’t so damning when you can turn around on a dime. Resource management is still in play, but the fact that so much of the gameplay happens outside of the menu helps players immerse themselves in the setting without getting bogged down by their inventory every few minutes. Even just having the map on-screen will give you a better understanding of how to approach the series’ level design.
Deadly Silence does not revamp its source material the way Resident Evil Remake does, but it respects the foundation it was built on while recognizing how the series’ mechanical evolution could retroactively apply to the first game. Director’s Cut might be the best version in terms of overall content – featuring three distinct campaigns and a truly challenging arrange mode — but RE:DS opts for quality additions over quantity. The end result is a surprisingly accessible port that caters itself to a wide audience. Purists have the nearly untouched Classic mode, those looking for a challenge have Rebirth, and all the new quality of life mechanics are as appealing to a newcomer needing help as they are to someone who’s conquered Resident Evil a dozen times over & just craves a change of pace.
Resident Evil (2002) is an outstanding remake, but the original game has a certain charm that was lost in translation. Deadly Silence preserves the first Resident Evil’s atmosphere and identity without neglecting to modernize gameplay as a reflection of the franchise’s growth. At the same time, RE:DS never overplays its hand and keeps the experience as authentic as possible in spite of change – becoming the rare RE that can potentially satisfy classic and modern fans alike. Deadly Silence is nothing short of an incredible port and the best way to experience the first Resident Evil.