Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! Previously we went through the series from the remake of the original to Resident Evil 7. At the time I said I’d pickup the franchise’s several spin-offs and other media at a later date, and that time has finally come. We’re going to start with Resident Evil Survivor, the franchise’s first spin-off video game. While oft-forgotten and overlooked, it is still a canonical entry thanks to the shoutout it gets at the start of Resident Evil 0. At a time when Resident Evil games used pre-rendered backgrounds, fixed camera angles and auto-aiming, Survivor differentiated itself by being a first-person shooter with fully 3D environments. How does it hold-up playing it today? Read on to find out…
- The Writing and Voice Acting – Early Resident Evil games are known for having bad voice acting, but Survivor‘s bad voice acting combined with its atrocious writing come together to make every bit of dialogue and every file you come across into an unintentional comedy sketch. The main character is often reacting incredulously to the things going on around him but their voice actor sounds like he’s holding back his performance, as if he’s recording his lines while hiding in an attic as the police are searching the house for him. The writing makes it all worse though – the writers want you to know that, get this, VINCENT IS A MURDERER, so every file and line about him hammers home what an over-the-top monster he is, how everyone hates him and is afraid of him, and they’ve got to write all this down to record it because people need to know how much of a murderer Vincent is. There’s even a part where the main character comes across a recording of Vincent’s mother calling to tell him to stop being a murderer, it’s fucking hilarious. Every line feels so unnatural and inhuman, even innocuous stuff like when a character says “At the request of my friend, Leon S. Kennedy, I came here to investigate!”… because we wouldn’t know which Leon they were referring to without throwing in their middle initial. It’s so bad, I legitimately adored this part of the game.
- Branching Pathways – So the one legitimately good thing that Survivor does is that at a few points in the game you will get a one-use only key item which can be used to open a couple different side-routes of your choice. For a game that is expecting replays this helps keep the game from feeling the same every thing time and there can be some extra rewards for going through some of the more off-the-beaten-path routes.
- It’s Short – After spending like 20+ hours of my life on Resident Evil 6, I appreciate that Survivor only wasted a couple of my evenings. That said, the fact that it’s short also gives you some excuse to check it out – it’s not going to waste a ton of your life so if you’re curious then maybe give it a shot.
- It’s Still Survival Horror, For Better or Worse – Survivor plays very much like a first-person version of the classic Resident Evil games, including tank controls, item management and even much of the button layout. One big difference though is that pistol ammunition is unlimited, so you’ll always have at least one gun available for any situation. However, ammo for other weapons and healing items are very limited, which is nice for keeping the game from getting too easy. That said, the game gets real stingy about doling out healing items in the latter section of the game… which is the part where you are actually going to need your healing and special ammo the most. Seriously, health was pretty abundant early on but I don’t even think the game gave me more than one herb during the entire last area of the game, not even before boss fights, which is a major problem because I reached the final boss with literally 1 HP left and low on special ammo types, so I had to either git gud or replay the whole game knowing that you’re not actually supposed to use the resources the game gives you because it will stop giving you them later. I went with option three and just Youtubed the final cutscene.
- Bad Controls – Resident Evil Survivor is in the unfortunate position of being a console FPS before the control schemes for these kinds of games were figured out and standardized. As a result, Survivor literally lifts its controls from the main Resident Evil games, including tank controls, having to hold R1 to draw your weapon and then press X to actually fire it. Classic Resident Evil manages to get by on this control scheme, but for a first person shooter it does not make for a good time. Probably the worst part of this is that there is no way to move the camera vertically, which is a major problem for two reasons. First of all, you have to just walk over some items and hope you bump into them because you have to get too close to see them in order to pick them up. Secondly, dogs and lickers will get under your line of sight and be untargetable as a result, which is a major issue in a game where 99% of the enemies are trying to melee you. The game’s solution is to lock the camera onto enemies when you shoot them, but this can cause the whole camera to flail wildly as it tracks their erratic movements. Oh, and this also makes follow-up shots ridiculously easy to chain, which leads into the next problem…
- Bad Game Design – Survivor has a litany of badly designed elements which can make playing it feel dull. One of the worst elements compared to mainline Resident Evil games is its brain-dead use of key items. Classic games in the franchise will have you collecting multiple key items and carrying them all over the map to find their use. In Survivor once you pick up a key item you’re rarely more than one or two rooms away from the place where it’s needed, meaning that you’re barely going to be holding them for more than thirty seconds. Also not helping matters is what I call this game’s “dummy button”, L1. Tapping L1 will lock-on to the closest door, item or enemy, which turns into a crutch to make you have to think even less while playing this game. Also, having played the game like a shooter and fighting all the enemies as I went, in retrospect this game is unintentionally encouraging you to not fight unless you’re going to take damage otherwise. Any area rarely has more than 2-4 enemies in it, there’s plenty of room to maneuver (even when you’re up against tougher foes like Lickers or Tyrants), and ammo for your stronger weapons is too rare to waste on every Tyrant and Hunter you come across because the game does not reward you for fighting them. Running through every room to avoid combat isn’t going to do this already short game any favours. Which leads into the next issue…
- Bad Checkpointing – What do you do to make your two hour game feel longer? Why, make it so when the player dies they have to replay like a half hour of content to get back to where they were! Brilliant! Seriously, I died on the final boss and the game plopped me back in somewhere before the ruined mansion area, which was easily 30+ minutes of gameplay (and unskippable cutscenes!). Thankfully I was on an emulator so I could just reload a save state, but to make matters even more infuriating, there are no save rooms in Survivor. Anyone who bought this game for PS1 was expected to complete it in one sitting and only got three lives before they just straight-up lose. If I was playing this game back in the day, I would fling my disc across the room if that happened.
- Bad UX – Item management is a real pain in Survivor. Any time you need to heal or switch weapons, the process is laborious. First, you have to pause, open the inventory, scroll through all your items to find the one you want, select it, press equip/use and then unpause the game. Oh and button inputs are delayed so everything just feels like it takes longer than it needs to, on top of the whole process taking several more steps than it needs to.
- Bad QA – So, Resident Evil Survivor is so slapdash that it may not have even had a quality assurance team involved in its creation. I can’t verify the veracity of this claim, but it really wouldn’t surprise me because I came across a few bugs in my short playtime. Perhaps the most annoying one was that I had to go into the sewers in order to progress, which involved picking up a manhole opener and then walking over the manhole. I did so, but it wouldn’t trigger, making me think that I had to manually press “Use” on the item. This did not work. It wasn’t until I walked in a straight line from the place where I got the manhole opener to the manhole itself that it finally triggered, which is just ridiculous. How could they not anticipate players maybe approaching the manhole from a slightly different angle…? Perhaps the most common bugs though will be with the enemy AI. I’ve had spiders run headlong at me but not be able to do any damage, enemies getting caught helplessly on scenery and each other, and enemies just running around in circles while you shoot them.
- Bad Sound Effects – How bad does your game have to be when I’m even ragging on the sound effects??? The pool of sound effects in this game are incredibly limited, meaning that every time you shoot your gun you’re getting assaulted with the exact same gunshot over and over again, and enemies just keep making the same stock sound effects every time they’re hit and die. The worst offenders for this are the Undertakers, bio-weapon soldiers who make this bizarre, ungodly screech like a jungle cat when they die (I guarantee that you have heard the awful sound effect they use for this before).
- Bad Story – Look, the writing in Survivor is at least ironically funny, but the actual story here is even worse than I was expecting. Like, to set the stage for you, the whole plot revolves around amnesia and a bunch of ridiculously contrived misunderstandings and blatant lying from the writers to make you believe that you are Vincent (who is a MURDERER). It’s bad enough that any sort of story they could have told about what Umbrella was up to on Sheena Island gets lost in the shuffle.
My God Resident Evil Survivor was bad, easily the worst Resident Evil game I’d played up to this point and probably up there amongst the worst games I’ve played through, period. That said, at least it’s short so if you want to check it out you’re not going to suffer for long. And with all that said, Umbrella Corps can’t be worse than this though… right? Right?