While probably not the best PlayStation game ever made (a title usually reserved for Metal Gear Solid), Resident Evil (or possibly Resident Evil II) is certainly among the best. This 1996 Capcom release revived the "survival horror" genre pioneered by the classic PC game Alone in the Dark and even uses a similar method of controlling the character.
"Survival horror" is actually a very accurate, concise description of RE's gameplay. The plot and style of the game mimic a horror movie, and your character's goal is simply to live through it (the screen displayed at the end of an unsuccessful game says "YOU DIED" instead of "GAME OVER"). Unfortunately, as this game is based on zombie movies and not slasher flicks, it's not as simple as avoiding sex, drugs, and the phrase "I'll be right back."
The game begins with a fairly lengthy fmv sequence of a helicopter, full of SWAT-style special agents (their organization is called S.T.A.R.S., or Special Tactics And Rescue Squad) out looking for the crashed helicopter of their partners, making an emergency landing in a field near a mansion. Oh, dear. Large, creepy mansions do not bode well for our heroes, and any bad feelings about this you may have are soon justified as dog-like creatures chase these agents into the mansion...
The next scene takes place in the game's normal graphical style; the player gets the first sample of the game's cheesy voice acting (which some may find adds to the game's charm) as three of the agents who managed to make it into the house begin to discuss how they should go about escaping this situation, and soon the game begins.
You have a choice between two of the agents; you can play as Chris Redfield, whose sister is a playable character in Resident Evil II, or the lovely Jill Valentine. Jill's game is easier, as she can hold more items at a time and can pick about half of the locks in the house open without using a key. This opening cut scene, like the rest of the game, is slightly different depending on who you've chosen.
In any case, you get control for the first time after these opening scenes; pressing left or right on the crosskey will make your chosen character rotate in those directions; pressing up will make him (or her) walk forward, and pressing down will make the character walk backward. The "X" button is used to examine something in front of the character or open a door; the square button is held down to make the character run; the R1 button is held to ready your weapon, and X is used to attack while R1 is held. The start button brings up an inventory screen to examine and use items in your possession, reload or equip weapons, and similar necessary actions.
Much of the game revolves around finding an object, such as a hand crank, and bringing it to another location to use it. As a result of this, only being able to carry eight items (including weapons, ammo clips, and healing items) at a time (only six at a time for Chris!) would make the game near-impossible, if not for the magical storage boxes found throughout the mansion and surrounding area; items can be swapped between these boxes and your inventory whenever you are at such a box, and an item placed in any of these boxes will be available at any of the other boxes as well. Even so, the inventory limit is frustrating.
Battle is also frustrating. There are a lot of zombies and other nasty creatures in and around the mansion, and they are quite difficult to kill. Even if you can hit them consistently, most of these creatures take a lot of shots to permanently kill, and will keep getting up until that point. Beginning players will run out of ammo often and be forced to fight using a knife. Not easy. The shotgun found about halfway through the game helps immensely with the zombies, as with practice, they can be killed in one shotgun blast each, but by that time, there are stronger creatures to deal with. Chris and Jill aren't nearly as resilient, though, and it only takes a few good bites before they die. There are first-aid sprays and "green herbs" (wink) around to restore their health, but not nearly enough...
With death always right over your shoulder, the ability to save and restore the game is greatly helpful; unfortunately you are not only restricted in where you may save the game, but how often as well. The game may only be saved at the typewriters which are found throughout the mansion, and each time you save the game, one ink ribbon is used, and there are only about 30 ribbons to be found in the game. This seems like a lot, but this is not an easy game, and the temptation will be to save constantly, but this is just not an option.
Evil creatures or not, Resident Evil is about exploration. By the end of the game, you'll have seen the entire mansion, and then some. This is time-consuming, the first time around at least, but a player who knows his way can finish the game in under two hours, and such a feat is handsomely rewarded. Imagine playing the game again, only this time, you start a rocket launcher. Did I mention that this particular rocket launcher has unlimited ammunition? Must have slipped my mind...
Trying to get that rocket launcher, as well as having two different characters to play through the game with (besides the aforementioned differences, some items are in different locations), add some replay value to this adventure and make it worth its price.