Code Veronica is only for the hardcore, in two ways. The first is simply that it's the same old tune on the same old fiddle, playing exactly like the first three Resident Evil games - tank controls, pop scares, tons of backtracking, simplistic puzzles, Master of Unlocking, ammo conservation, and occasional janky boss battles not really suited to the engine. The second is that it's the most demanding of the original four-tet of "mainline" Res Ev games by far; too much so for the average player.

From the beginning, Resident Evil has been about replaying the same sections of the game over, after initially failing them hard; when done right, and when expected going in, it doesn't have to be obnoxious, and can actually be pretty enjoyable. Code Veronica just takes this concept too far and right over a cliff, however. Unless you're sitting there with a strategy guide open next to you the entire time, there is no possible way you'll avoid the constant cheap ambushes, deathtraps and general pitfalls the game lines up for you on the first go.

So why doesn't the "you have to be prescient and plan your route/inventory/item use accordingly" gameplay model work here, when it does in the earlier games? There's a few reasons. The first is that the game simply suffers from *sprawl*. When this first came out for the Dreamcast, everyone at Capcom and Sega was so excited about showing off the bigger screens with scrolling backgrounds that were now possible that they apparently forgot to populate said screens with useful and interesting things. There's so many long, featureless corridors that seem to exist simply for the sake of "check out the 3D background scrolling! Never seen THAT in survival horror before, eh? Go on, really soak it all in!"

It's ostensibly the longest of the original four games, but gat damn does it achieve that length by working the hell out of the backtracking. Again, backtracking puzzles are part of the core design and what many fans enjoy about the original games, but here's it's literally non-stop, and also often feels like it's without real point other than to pad out gameplay time. There's also a ridiculously slow and unskippable "door opening/stair-walking" loading transition between areas.

I also felt the character switching was extremely abrupt, and handled poorly. The game's basically divided into three major segments - you start out playing as Claire "Tight Jeans" Redfield busting out of an Umbrella island facility she got imprisoned at while looking for her brother Chris. That's the first segment. Eventually she busts out via plane (with the help of some goof named Steve), but they crash land at another Umbrella facility on an island in the Antarctic somewhere. That's the second segment. The final segment takes place back at the first island base, as you play as Chris responding to Claire's distress call from earlier in the game. They don't share inventory between them. Eventually they reunite for a somewhat confusing segment to take down the final bosses - and that's where the main problem is. Chris's segment is the longest of the game, you face the most bosses with him, and you'd be perfectly justified in assuming that he's going to take down the final boss. NOPE ... suddenly you're thrown back to Claire at the tail end, with her old inventory, which very likely is not going to be adequate to the task. Really, unless you know this bait-and-switch is coming from early in the game, it's very hard to adequately prepare for it, and caused a lot of people to have to start the game over entirely after their late-game saves became impossible to progress due to this completely-out-of-the-blue wrinkle.

This is compounded by just a generally ridiculous shortage of ammo for how often the game throws you into screens where it's next-to-impossible to dodge and weave through the enemies. I enjoyed the game's first segment because the balance there was more than fair. The farther in you get, though, the worse it gets - the enemies keep getting tougher, but the ammo seems to be in even shorter supply. The second segment is more poorly balanced, but still doable; the third segment, however, is just trash, with reams of ridiculously powerful Hunters roaming everywhere, and Chris having to go for long stretches only finding garbage pistol ammo. Another aspect of this is that zombie-dodging has been changed significantly from the first three games. The rules used to simply be, if the zombie wasn't directly facing you when you were near him, you'd be allowed to squeak past. Makes perfect sense given their slowness and stiffness. While the zombies here still shuffle as slowly and stiffly as ever, however, now they somehow have the catlike reflexes of a ninjer and can whirl completely around to grab you, even from a fair distance. The only way to reliably dodge them is to do this bizarre thing where you run straight at them while they're facing you and try to brush shoulders with them. And even that doesn't work all that reliably.

The graphics are a mixed bag. First of all, it's a port of a Dreamcast release from over a year prior, so it's not gonna be at the bleeding edge of the PS2 capability of course. And not a whole lot of retouching has been done. The "X" version adds some new cutscenes that weren't in the original ... but it also keeps the cutscenes from the Dreamcast as-is, and they look jarringly different ... especially when you see one back-to-back right near the beginning of the game. On one hand, the PS2-gen power does add quite a bit to the Resident Evil formula - more detailed characters and monsters, more real-looking environs, and better lighting/weather effects really do help in a game where atmosphere counts for a whole lot. On the downside, the game is really dark and uses a murky color palette, so it's often hard to appreciate the fine detail.

In terms of plot and characters, it's actually alright, since this was originally written to be Resident Evil 3, then just re-touched to write out Leon and write in goofy Steve in his place when they decided to make it the first Dreamcast title. And I was surprised that it had a great soundtrack as well. The only issue here is the surprise re-introduction of Albert Wesker about 1/3 of the way in, which just comes across as weird and silly. One of the other main antagonists also prefaces the later crazy Napoleon villain from Res Ev 4, but unlike with RE4 this game has a consistently serious tone, so a goofy loquacious spazzy villain really doesn't fit in as well here.

One last thing that deserves a little paragraph of its own - the aiming system is pretty bad. You're forced to use R1 to ready your weapon, which also selects and auto-aims at an enemy, then from there press L1 to cycle targets. You'd think it would be simply programmed to first aim at the enemy closest to you, but apparently not, as a number of times I walked onto a screen, had a zombie right in my face, pressed R1, and watched Claire spin around and target someone half a mile away instead. Once you press R1, you don't lock onto the enemy either, but rather just continue pointing in that same fixed direction, and to "track" them you have to keep pressing R1 repeatedly. You can also tilt the aim up and down, but since it only allows this at 45 degree angles, it's practically useless; tilting up is only for flying enemies that are polite enough to close in right in front of you, while tilting down is only good for dogs and the occasional spider that are right at your feet about to take a chunk out of you. Some of the weapons also have wonky, unexpected aiming and shooting quirks. The bow weapon, for example, refuses to autotarget flying enemies, or enemies that run on all fours. And the grenade launcher has a ridiculously short range.

Despite the overall negative tone here, I don't mean to suggest Code Veronica is a really bad game (it gets a 3/5, after all.) It just regresses in a lot of ways despite having a more powerful engine to play with.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video