The master of unlocking has returned, with a few new tricks up her sleeve.
Resident Evil 4 for the GameCube re-invented the Resident Evil series, but it's always nice to be able to see how it all started. Capcom is offering just such an option with Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, a port and reworking of the PlayStation original released in 1996. The transition to the handheld is a very good one, but the problems that were present in the original still show up.
One of the “problems" that was in the first version is probably the most infamous one. Capcom decided it would be a good idea to get some actors and film scenes for the game, including the opening sequence. (This scene is included in the DS version, but it's highly compressed and hard to see.) These same actors did voice work for the cast during the game, which made for some of the worst dialog in gaming history. When Barry calls Jill “the master of unlocking," or Jill exclaims, “Now it's Wesker's time to disappear," you know things are only going to get worse. Nowadays, this cheesiness takes away from the mood the game brings, and although Resident Evil is a now a classic, there are times you'd wish it was different.
With this caveat, let's get to the game. RE DS can be played in either Classic mode or Rebirth mode from the get-go. Classic is a straight port of the original Resident Evil, with every room, item and zombie arranged in the exact same way as the PlayStation version. Rebirth is the same game with new gameplay elements, puzzles, control methods and some other neat things. Resident Evil newbies would do well to start off in Classic mode to get a better understanding of the crazy RE control style.
Moving Jill and Chris around will initially be your largest problem. Up on the Control Pad moves your character forward regardless of the camera angle, and pressing left or right will make you turn in place. Yes, that's the same control scheme found in all the Resident Evil games, but now it's on a handheld instead of on a console controller. Even veterans of previous RE games may need a few mansion rooms to adjust to the change of format.
The aiming system has remained unchanged as well. Turning in place and trying to aim up, forward or down makes it difficult to accurately shoot. The quick 180-degree turn is included, but there aren't many times when it's practical to use. Those nasty crows that fly all over the place are impossible to hit without wasting a handgun clip. Thankfully, the knife can be drawn at any time, a la Resident Evil 4. It's nice to have the option available to pick off crows or kill grounded enemies without needing to waste valuable ammo or switch through sub-menus constantly, although the knife is clunky to use.
Getting through the mansion alive is your top priority, and the extermination of the zombie inhabitants is not. Though you will be killing a good portion of them, most of the time you're going to need to judge how much ammo you have on you and your current health against how badly you really need to kill what's in the same room as you. Toward the end of the game you will be just as satisfied with escaping a foe without incident, rather than killing it.
Running around is part of Resident Evil gameplay. Jill and Chris can only carry a limited number of items, so deciding what to take can be a hard choice. Jill's mode is easier, as she can carry eight items and unlock small locks with her trusty lock pick. Chris can only carry six things, and he needs small keys to unlock the same locks that Jill would normally be able to open without the use of a valuable item slot. Item toting is made somewhat easier in the DS version, as all items now take up only one item slot, regardless of how big they are.
Item management is either the most strategic or most frustrating aspect of Resident Evil DS. Do you pick up all of those herbs and bring them back to the item storage box, or do you leave them for later? Are you going to want to save at that typewriter in the middle of nowhere? You'll need an ink ribbon, but it'll take up an item slot that you could be using for ammo or a healing item. If you can plan ahead for what you may need and what you can get away with not having, you can get to the end without much hassle. Otherwise, getting through will require multiple trips to an item box to pick up keys or drop off important items. It will usually take a few plays through to know what to take and what to leave behind.
After you've had enough of Classic mode, you can tackle Rebirth mode. Rebirth is a reworking of the original, using the features of the Nintendo DS. The mansion, story, and general game progression remain unchanged. The difference is in how the game plays and the neat things you can do along the way.
The mode's most apparent addition is that of more enemies and a few more rounds of ammo to take them down with. You'll still need to conserve the weaponry for later in the game, though. Herbs and healing items are also somewhat more abundant, but that's just a result of there being more enemies and hazards. Also, some of the undead are in different areas and appear at different times compared to Classic mode, requiring you to be on guard everywhere you go. Ultimately, it's balanced out to be about the same struggle to survive as Classic mode is.
Every so often, you'll come through a door and trigger the first-person knife fight mini-game that uses the touch screen. As zombies approach, you can swipe at them by dragging your finger across the screen, or stab at them by tapping it. Just like a real knife, back-and-forth motions are need to score maximum damage without taking some yourself. This feature of RE DS is fantastic. Unfortunately, it only occurs at pre-scripted areas in the game, instead of whenever you would want to use the knife. It would have been nice to use it in real-time, but considering the nature of how this mode works, it's understandable why the event happens in the way that it does.
The touch screen is also used to solve a lot of new puzzles. Every safe room has a special item box that can be opened via a touch-screen puzzle lock. Most of the puzzles from the original Resident Evil have been improved or replaced using the touch screen interface. A lot of the things that were needed to be turned or cranked now must be done manually on the touch screen. There are a few places in the game where the pressure's on to turn a wheel crank as fast as possible, or you're dead meat. It's really cool to be put in the same life-or-death situation that your character is put in, because nothing sucks more than failing to turn a crank and needing to start over from your last save.
The biggest addition that Resident Evil DS has to offer isn't in the single player game. For the first time ever, the original Resident Evil has a multiplayer mode. Either competitively or co-operatively, up to four people (each with copies of the title) can engage in a quest to escape from the mansion within a given time limit. The novelty of the mode really ends there, however. It seems that every player involved in the game is basically on his own, even though all players are supposed to be in the same mansion. Even when two or more people are in the same room, they just show up as floating colored stars, indicating their relative positions.
This configuration makes co-op mode play in a strange manner. All players share the same health meter, despite them not sharing the same enemies. One player might kill a zombie in a hallway, but another player also needs to kill the same zombie in the same hallway. Attack power is increased when everyone is in the same room, but it doesn't make sense that you might lose health because someone else got attacked and there's nothing you can do about it. Still, the multiplayer modes are an interesting romp though the game, and you can play as Wesker and Barry, among other unlockable characters.
Even with the control and dialog problems, and the item-toting frustrations, Resident Evil: Deadly Silence is still as good as the original was, and more so because of the addition of Rebirth mode and the touch screen mechanics. The game works perfectly on the portable because of the start-stop flow, so an hour or two of straight playtime isn't always needed. As long as you don't expect a Resident Evil 4 kind of overhaul, what you'll get in RE DS is a fantastic version of the original and a good addition to the DS library.