Resident Evil: Code Veronica X
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on Sony PlayStation 3
There seems to be a spate of "HD" upgrades of old games at the moment, which has so far seen collections of Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid (both from Konami) appear as physical budget releases and things like 'Earthworm Jim' appear in the Arcade range. Not to be left out, Capcom have now taken the opportunity to port two past entries in the Resident Evil franchise to Xbox 360 and PS3 with revamped visuals and some minor tweaks.
Resident Evil 4 is an obvious choice for Capcom as it was already a massively modernising take on the survival horror genre and could probably be knocked out reasonably quickly. Resident Evil Code: Veronica X, however, seems less sensible, especially before the first three games. More of an obscure release at the time (all of the off-shoot games have tended to be platform-limited and provide background detail to the main game series, rather than furthering the storyline), it was originally released exclusively on the Dreamcast in 2000, then strangely upgraded to 'X' with additional cut scenes for Dreamcast in Japan and PlayStation 2 worldwide in 2001, and then ported to the Gamecube in 2003. Its release on Xbox, the 'X' version, is therefore a big deal for any old franchise fans who didn't happen to own one of those consoles.
As Capcom haven't changed very much at all for this new port, a quick round-up of the original basics for newbies should be all that's required. The plot focuses on our favourite siblings Chris and Claire Redfield, and takes places immediately after the events of Resident Evil 2. In it Claire is still searching for Chris and gets herself captured in the process, being sent to a prison island called Rockfort, run by clearly mad toff Alfred Ashford. Without giving too much away for anyone who hasn't played it, there's a new virus, a new and incredibly irritating buddy character called Steve, Albert Wesker skulks around not making a great deal of sense as usual, and there are plenty of new mutant abominations trying to skewer you with tentacles.
Developed in tandem with Resident Evil 3: Nemesis it shares some of the gameplay changes introduced with that instalment, like the quick about-face turn, exploding barrels to shoot and being able to switch target locks, but otherwise it has far more in common with the first two games. You can't, for instance, run up staircases freely like you could in RE3, you have to press the 'action' button like you did in RE1 and 2. And the zombies are super-stupid too, just like in the original, although they can use shorter staircases themselves, which they never could in any of the others. That puts paid to standing just out of reach and shooting down at them.
Indeed the pleasant sense of nostalgia that comes with those confirm and cancel sound effects, the cut scene every time you go through a door, the sound of zombie feet shuffling or dog feet tapping, and the magical item boxes which contain all the items you ever put in them regardless of location, floods back from the very first scene of Code: Veronica X and you forget that Capcom have basically done nothing with it except make it look acceptable on today's screens. Even then you can tell in the FMVs that for the most part they've just blurred the edges so the inherent pixalation isn't so obvious.
And really, because of that, it's old Resident Evil fans that are going to want this. Anyone who came in at RE4 or RE5 probably isn't going to "get it". They'll feel the gameplay and graphics are horribly out-dated, the script and voice acting aren't up to scratch (they aren't) and there's just not enough shooting going on. Resident Evil pre-4 was a different beast entirely to what it is now, but the games were still one of the finest franchises in console gaming history and everyone would do themselves a favour to see where it came from. Especially when Capcom have done such a good job of upgrading the in-game look.
There were two main advancements with Code: Veronica. It was the first RE game to be 3D, not that it really made a difference but at least it looked a little less like your character was running around on a table-top game board. You can't rotate the camera manually, so it didn't help you at all, but at least the camera does move and zoom now. All of the camera angles are pre-set still, and it just switches between them depending on where you're standing or moving to. The other new thing was dual weapons. For the first, and still only, time you could wield two pistols at once, meaning you could shoot two targets at the same time or pump twice as many bullets into a single zombie chest. This seems incredibly cool to begin with, but after a while it becomes clear that it's of no real benefit because the time saved in killing a zombie twice as fast is largely irrelevant and anything big requires a bigger, two-handed gun anyway. The fact that the bowgun is now no more useful than throwing toothpicks at enemies is another change which doesn't help. Although being able to give a handful of arrows explosive tips is a big benefit early on when you don't have any decent weapons.
All of that was true of the original version too. For this port, barely anything has changed. Some of the item placements have moved around, but in-game there's no difference besides the upgraded visuals. It's still a bit blocky, and clearly out-moded compared to today's graphics, so don't go expecting them to have magically advanced the look by a decade, but it does at least look as good on a HD screen as it did at the time on regular screens, which is about as good as you could hope for. Fans of the first three games will still think the rather amateurish attempt at 3D bodies, which kind of made them look like crash test dummies with 2D skins stretched over them, makes the whole thing look a little too much like a cartoon though.
Initially the controls seem kind of strange on a modern gamepad, Claire wheeling around in circles like she's chasing an imaginary tail, until you remember this is a game from the time before analogue sticks, and since the control system hasn't been changed at all, switching to the d-pad, something you've barely used for anything meaningful for about six years, suddenly sets this right. That was also a time when not quite so many buttons were needed, and as such a few of the buttons just don't do anything most of the time. Run, shoot, aim, target switch and map. That's it, besides pause, obviously.
As for any additions, those are limited, and frankly a bit half-hearted. In an attempt to bring the game into current gamer territory they've added achievements, but these aren't for things like killing x zombies, or performing challenges like "kill three zombies at once with an exploding barrel". The format is similar to most Arcade games, but multiplied up so that the total gamescore is the same as a retail release. There are 12 achievements, and most of them are just for getting past certain bits of the game as normal, worth 50G each. A couple of 100G ones require the killing of a boss character, and three 150G ones are for killing the final boss and getting the unlockable weapons. Apart from those, there's a leaderboard, but who really cares? And strangely there's one thing missing. In the original Japanese version there were three difficult levels, "Easy", "Very Easy" (where you started with a rocket launcher) and "Normal". The European and US versions only had "Normal", and so does this version. Surely this would have been the time to put the other two in as well?
Worst of all though is the fast one Capcom have pulled in Europe and North America by releasing Code: Veronica X and RE4 exclusively on the Xbox Live Marketplace and PlayStation Network, whereas in Japan they were released together as a retail product. We therefore have to pay £14.99 a piece for them, whereas if they were on a disc it probably wouldn't be too long before they cost £14.99 for the pair. Maybe the retail version will appear further down the line.
So it's job done, in a sense. But the real benefit of bringing older instalments to the new generation consoles will only be realised if and when they go back to the beginning and ‘HD-ify’ the first three, then Resident Evil Zero and the re-make of Resident Evil, both of which were exclusive to Gamecube.