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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Revisiting the Weird and Wonderful ‘Resident Evil – Code: Veronica’ [Resident Evil at 25]

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Resident Evil game franchise – my favorite video game series of all time and can play anywhere, anytime – on the 22nd of March, I feel obligated to call out one game in this franchise that hasn’t gotten the respect that it deserves. This is a title that is epic in scale and contains one of the most interesting stories of the entire franchise. This game was released exclusively (initially) on the Sega Dreamcast on February 3rd, 2000, which is a few months after Resident Evil 3: Nemesis released on the PlayStation (PS1) back in late 1999. I remember buying a Dreamcast for the sole purpose of playing this entry, and I was truly unprepared for what was to come. This franchise is known for its ridiculous plots and absurd twists, but nothing quite reaches the madness that game director Hiroki Kato brought to the fourth mainline entry in the series, Resident Evil – Code: Veronica.

This is the true “black sheep” of the franchise and one that revels in broad characters and brutal difficulty, and I loved every second of it.

Resident Evil – Code: Veronica is the 1st entry that moved the series from pre-rendered backgrounds to fully realized, 3D polygon backgrounds, whilst still retaining the “tank” controls and slow pace of the earlier games. This entry follows the events of Resident Evil 2, three months later. Claire Redfield, fresh from escaping from Raccoon City and the zombie outbreak, has traveled to Europe to locate the whereabouts of her brother Chris and help take down the evil pharmaceutical corporation Umbrella. While infiltrating one of Umbrella’s facilities – in a bombastic opening CG sequence with music and destruction reminiscent of peak Jerry Bruckheimer action epics of the 90’s – she is captured and taken to an offsite Umbrella facility called Rockfort Island. 

We are quickly introduced to our supporting character in this adventure, an irritatingly-voiced prisoner on the island who is clearly modeled to look like Leonardo DiCaprio, named Steve Burnside. The first syllables that leave his mouth are high-pitched whines and bad attempts at impressing Claire, all while having the strongest Canadian accent one could possibly imagine. Steve just looks and sounds like a complete lightweight, unworthy of being teamed up with the badass Claire Redfield. The game probably knows this and makes every attempt to turn Steve into an action hero.

We get multiple action cutscenes where Steve is trying to look like Schwarzenegger, leaping through windows and doorways to shoot down creatures – including one in which he is forced to gun down his now zombified father – in a hail of bullets. It’s clear that the developers were heavily influenced by The Matrix, as these cutscenes are filled with swinging cameras and freeze frame/slow-motion shots to further add style. At the end of the day, he endears himself to me in his complete ineffectiveness and is clearly a character that feels like a product of the times, but I love every corny line delivery and pitiful attempt at wooing Claire. He’s annoying as heck, but he ends up fitting nicely within the Resident Evil universe. 

We are also introduced to one of our main protagonists early on in Alfred Ashford. He makes a grand entrance into the game, along with his sniper rifle, in the main hall of the mansion that sits on the island. Alfred is another high-pitched, somewhat whiny, individual who has a penchant for aggravated outbursts when someone questions his authority or power. Oh, and in a surprising twist a few hours into this game, we learn that Alfred is suffering from multiple personality disorder and believes that he is also his sister Alexia, whom he has been dressing and talking as in various cutscenes throughout. Alfred is one of the most over-the-top villains in the Resident Evil franchise – which is saying a lot – and a complete delight to watch every time he is on screen.

Every line delivery is dialed up to 11, every motion is super-expressive and visually arresting. His motivations come off as purely vain – preserving the once great name of his family – and the unhealthy love that he has for his sister, which is visually presented throughout the game, provides a constant uneasy vibe. This weird tone hits the apex during a CG sequence later in the game, where Alexia Ashford is risen from the grave and is sitting on the floor of a research lab, naked and brushing the hair of her dying brother on her lap. In the end, Alfred is never a bore and always a completely intoxicating presence to watch as he delivers a scenery-chewing performance every second he sashays across the screen.

I’d be remiss not to talk about one of my favorite video game characters of all time who returns for Code: Veronica, and that is none other than the pure unadulterated evil that is Albert Wesker. The surprise villain of the original Resident Evil finally reappears in the franchise and immediately cements himself as the larger-than-life presence he would solidify even more in future entries. Every line is delivered with malice and hatred, pure corny Bond-like villainy dripping from every motion and action; he is simply the most irredeemable character in video game history, and I love every second of it. I am not alone in this take. In the original Code Veronica on Dreamcast, Wesker was only in a few cutscenes as an outside presence. A year later, Capcom released an updated version, Resident Evil: Code Veronica X, on the PlayStation 2 (PS2) and GameCube, where they added in more story cutscenes, which all involved Wesker. Sequences that were added included an interaction between Wesker and Claire, a heavily Matrix-influenced battle between Wesker and the newly revived Alexia Ashford that was reworked, as well as an amazing final hand-to-hand fight between Chris and Wesker after you finish the final boss encounter with Alexia.

The puzzles that the Resident Evil franchise were known for, primarily being outlandish and obtuse in the best, Myst-like ways, are back and brutal as ever in Code: Veronica. Three military proofs to unlock access to a freight plane and a painting of a pirate skeleton bathed in a red background that provides a room code are a few of the select roadblocks you will come across. Nothing, however, comes close to one such puzzle that happens only a few hours in. The conundrum in question involves seven paintings of a long line of Ashford family members. It involves reading a memo of how a teacup set was passed down from person to person, and with the descriptions within that memo, clicking the buttons below each of these seven paintings to trace the path from the first person to have the teacup set to its current owner. This is still, to this day, a puzzle that I at least mess up the order once and I am forced to write down specifics on my phone’s notepad to keep track. 

Another staple of the franchise is the haunting, top-notch creature designs, and Code: Veronica has some of the most beautiful and intense enemies of the series. The Bandersnatch, a yellow tyrant-lite creature who extends his arm to slash you across the room is a memorably vicious beast that I avoid more than I confront every time I do a playthrough. We also get a vicious worm creature that confines itself to a small courtyard – though later you must face this beast one on one – and it bears such a resemblance to the Graboids from Tremors that I feel a royalty check is due to someone, somewhere. We are also treated to one of the most intimidating and scary iterations of the Tyrant creation. This version comes with a stone-cold expressionless face and two hands that are just spiked balls that he can use to bash in your head at a moment’s notice. Your first encounter with him forces you to face him head-on, unable to pass by him, and it’s a great way to acclimate you with how to deal with this creation of science and madness.

The main reason I appreciate Code Veronica is that it’s, by far, the most difficult Resident Evil game I have played to date. I just replayed this game over the weekend and I STILL had moments where I had to put the controller down to remember what I had to do next. This never happens with other entries in the franchise, for which I have an almost reflex memory of where everything is and where I need to go. It’s a big and sprawling adventure that swaps between two characters – later in the game you eventually take control of Chris Redfield, which was somehow a HUGE surprise for me despite his face being plastered on the game case – and across two massive locations, Rockfort Island and a military base in Antarctica, so it’s very easy to get lost amid the mayhem that is surrounding you.

In addition, to this day, Code Veronica is filled with multiple instances I call “gut-check” moments. These are parts which, if you do not prepare well enough, will result in you having to load a previous save or start the game all over again. Three boss fights across this game fill this meaning. A fight with the new version of the Tyrant aboard a cargo plane, an outside fight against a creature known as Nosferatu on top of a helipad in the Antarctic, and the final boss fight with the bug-inspired Alexia creature can be nigh impossible unless you have the correct weaponry on you at the time of these encounters. I remember the plane fight causing me to start the entire game OVER again because I was lacking enough firepower, either on me or within the item box nearby, to even beat him. Code Veronica is one game that doesn’t particularly care if you were too cavalier with that ammo early on. If you didn’t play the right way, you’d better have a save state that is somewhat recent or you’ll have to run it back from the start.

Resident Evil – Code: Veronica is the entry in the series that gets forgotten most. This was for a couple of reasons. It not being a numbered entry didn’t make it seem like it was a “necessary” entry to play. The game releasing exclusively on a system that was dead within a year due to the release of the PS2 in late 2000 didn’t help matters, as well as this system not being the native console on where the original trilogy appears. It did eventually release in 2001 on the PS2, but the world was starting to get news and word on Resident Evil 4 and the amazing things it was going to do to revolutionize the series. Code: Veronica does have its loyal group of supporters, mostly die-hard RE fans, and it has seen its stock rise in recent years with the recent digital release on the PS4/XB1. I’ve even seen people calling for this to be the next RE game to get a remake after RE2 and 3 got the red-carpet treatment. 

The stock for Code Veronica, for me at least, was never at a low point. I have always considered this entry an ambitious globe-trotting epic that really expanded the RE universe outside the confines of that small midwestern town of Raccoon City. Later entries would truly embrace this worldwide outlook, with Resident Evil 4 taking place in Europe, Resident Evil 5 happening in Africa, etc. I would love to see this weird and wild game get the exposure and success that the Resident Evil series has been experiencing since 2017, to get more eyeballs on this forgotten gem and really reintroduce it to the collective gaming community today. Until then, at least we still have this weird and wonderful entry in the RE lore that wasn’t afraid to just go for it. 



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/video-games/3656070/revisiting-weird-wonderful-resident-evil-code-veronica-resident-evil-25/

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