Review: “Resident Evil: Code Veronica” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for fast-paced horror fiction. So, I thought that I’d take the chance to re-read S.D.Perry’s 2001 novelisation of “Resident Evil: Code Veronica” since it was the next novel in the series that I hadn’t re-read yet (you can see my reviews of the previous books here, here, here, here and here ).

Although I first read this book and played the “Resident Evil: Code Veronica X” Playstation 2 port of the game it is based on when I was a teenager, I remember more about the game than I do about this adaptation. Still, since the game was probably the most modern “Resident Evil” game that I’ve completed and I have a lot of nostalgia about playing it, I was eager to see if the book would live up to this.

Even though it is possible to enjoy this novel as a stand-alone book, it is worth reading several of Perry’s previous “Resident Evil” novels and/or playing some of the older games in the series in order to get the most out of it. Even so, the novel contains a brief author’s note about continuity differences with previous books in the series.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Code Veronica”. I should probably warn you that this review may contain some SPOILERS and some GRUESOME/ DISTURBING cover art (yes, fans of the series and/or the zombie genre won’t exactly be shocked by it – but I thought that I’d include a warning on the off-chance that anyone who isn’t a fan stumbles across this review).

This is the 2001 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Code Veronica” that I read.

The novel begins on a remote island called Rockfort, owned by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. A guard on the island, Rodrigo Juan Raval, has just survived a ferocious air assault by unknown forces that has not only left parts of the island in ruins but also released several experimental bioweapons from the island’s labs. With many of his fellow guards turned into shambling zombies and a serious injury to his stomach, Rodrigo decides to limp back to the island’s jail and release a recent prisoner who has also survived the attack.

Claire Redfield – survivor of the zombie incident in Racoon City- dreams about her failed attempt at taking down one of Umbrella’s facilities in Paris before waking up in a cold, dark cell. To her surprise, a wounded guard shows up and lets her out before telling her to run for her life. Although she is initially wary about this, she takes the guard’s advice and leaves. Only to find herself in a graveyard filled with zombies….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a fairly fast-paced horror thriller novel that is also reasonably true to what I remember of the game (which is both a good and a bad thing). Whilst it probably isn’t my favourite one of Perry’s “Resident Evil” novels (the first and third ones are better), it is still a fairly entertaining novel.

Still, I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, which include a mixture of character-based horror, monster horror, body horror/scientific horror, cruel horror and gory horror. Although these elements are reasonably well-written, this novel’s horror often feels a little less intense than some previous novels in the series. Whilst the novel’s many scenes of gory horror are as splatterific as you’d expect from a S. D. Perry novel, they aren’t always as well-supported by the other types of horror as they could have been.

If anything, this novel is more of a gruesome, monster-filled action thriller story than a horror novel. And, in this regard, it works well. Not only is the novel written in the kind of fast-paced way that will allow you to blaze through it in a couple of hours, but the story also includes things like multiple plot threads (although not to the extent I’d expected), suspense and – of course- lots of dramatic set pieces and action sequences 🙂 These are all written in a way that is fast-paced and easy to read, giving this novel the kind of fun, cheesy “late-night B movie” atmosphere that you’d expect from the series 🙂

As for how well this novel adapts the source material, it seemed reasonably close to what I remembered of the game – albeit with some changes. In addition to adding a few references to previous books in the series (including the ones not based on the games), there’s also a brief cameo by a few familiar characters (eg: Barry and Leon), the puzzles have been streamlined a bit (if only it was possible to just shoot the metal detector in the actual game) and there’s a bit of extra backstory, dialogue and characterisation for some of the characters too. For the most part, this is an enhanced and streamlined adaptation of the original game. Plus if, like me, you’ve only played the later “Code Veronica X” version of the game, it’s also an interesting glimpse at an earlier version of the game too.

However, since it was published within a year or so of the original game, this adaptation also includes some brief and/or subtle moments from the original game that haven’t really aged well. The main antagonist, Alfred Ashford, is something of a “feminine villain” stereotype and one of the main characters also makes a rather derogatory comment about this aspect of him too (although, if my memory is correct, it is said by a different character at a different time in the game). Still, this is more of a criticism of the source material than this contemporaneous adaptation of it.

But, although Alfred isn’t really a well-written character (again, more the fault of the original game), the other characters are reasonably well-written. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, the story adds a bit more personality, backstory and emotion to many of the game’s characters. This works best with Claire and Steve with, for example, the story focusing slightly more on Steve’s immature bravado, insecurities, inner conflicts etc… than the game does. Plus, of course, Claire is also a more confident character thanks to her experiences during the previous novels/games too.

As for the writing, it’s fairly good. As you’d expect from one of Perry’s “Resident Evil” novels, this story is written in a fairly informal, fast-paced and “matter of fact” way that goes really well with the thrilling events of the story. Plus, all of this fast-paced narration is also paired with some well-placed descriptive moments that add extra atmosphere and/or intensity to the story without breaking the flow of the narration too much.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent. At a gloriously efficient 241 pages in length, not a single page is wasted. Likewise, this novel also maintains a fairly consistent fast pace, with only a few brief moderately-paced moments to give the reader a slightly rest. In other words, this is one of those awesome thriller novels that – like a movie- can be enjoyed in just a couple of hours.

All in all, although this isn’t really my favourite “Resident Evil” novel, it is still a reasonably enjoyable fast-paced zombie/monster thriller novel. Yes, the horror elements could have been creepier and some moments will seem dated when read today – but, this aside, the novel was still reasonably fun to read and is a fairly good adaptation of the source material too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably just about get a four.

Review: “Resident Evil: Nemesis” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Ah, “Resident Evil 3”. Having reviewed the videogame, the film adaptation of the videogame and the novelisation of the film adaptation, I thought that I’d complete the set by re-reading the original novelisation of the game – S. D. Perry’s 2000 novel “Resident Evil: Nemesis”.

After all, I’ve re-read the previous four books in Perry’s “Resident Evil” series (you can see my reviews of them here, here, here and here) and it has been about a decade and a half since I last read the fifth one.

Interestingly, although this novel does reference the previous novels in Perry’s book series, it can pretty much be read as a stand-alone novel. Interestingly, the novel also includes a brief author’s note that points out that there are continuity differences between this novel and some of Perry’s previous novels (since the plot of the videogame contradicts some extra plot points Perry added to the first four novels).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Nemesis”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2000 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Nemesis” that I read.

The novel begins with corporate mercenary Carlos Olivera taking a shower, which is interrupted by a phone call from his commander Mitch Hirami. Hirami tells him that the Umbrella Corporation wants the mercs to go into Racoon City to help deal with a recent chemical spill. On his way to headquarters, Carlos is accosted by a mysterious man called Trent who offers him additional information about Umbrella…

Meanwhile, in Racoon City, ex-S.T.A.R.S officer Jill Valentine is hiding in an abandoned block of flats. The hungry moans of zombies carry across the city. She has been hiding out for three days, troubled by flashbacks to her last S.T.A.R.S mission six weeks earlier, where she had barely escaped from a zombie-filled mansion outside the city after another one of Umbrella’s accidents.

Picking up her pistol, Jill begins to make her way out of the block when she smells a gas leak and hears zombies nearby. Following a fight and a spectacular explosion, she finds herself on the streets with zombies closing in on her….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really good horror thriller novel that is both reasonably faithful to the source material, whilst also adding some interesting extra stuff too. Unlike Keith R. A. DeCandido’s novelisation of the film adaptation, Perry’s novel also makes sure to actually include a decent amount of horror in addition to lots of thrilling action and is therefore the definitive novel adaptation of “Resident Evil 3”.

So, I should probably talk about the novel’s horror elements. Although this novel isn’t exactly scary, it contains a good amount of gory horror, body horror, post-apocalyptic horror, scientific horror, monster/zombie horror, suspense and character-based horror too. This really helps to add atmosphere and drama to the story. In essence, this novel is kind of like a “HD version” of the original 1999 videogame, with the gruesome zombies, monsters, ruined city etc… all “looking” a lot more realistic than they did in the original game 🙂

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really good too. If you’ve read a S.D.Perry novel before, then you’ll know that she’s an expert at writing fast-paced action scenes (and, yes, this novel also includes the trademark Perry “ka-WHAMM!” explosion description too). These action scenes are also complimented by a few moments of suspense, some intrigue, the use of 2-3 plot threads and a few spectacular set-pieces too. This all helps to keep the novel compelling and reasonably fast-moving 🙂

As for how well this novel adapts the source material, it does a reasonably good job. All of the important moments from the game are in here, although they’ve occasionally been tweaked or streamlined slightly. The most major change is probably the fact that Carlos and Jill learn that Carlos’ commander Nicholai is a villain earlier in the novel than they do in the game, which allows for something of a “cat and mouse” plot where Nicholai and the main characters try to either avoid or kill each other. Since this change adds more suspense and thrilling drama to the story, it works really well.

In addition to this, the novel also adds a few other things too. Whether it is extra characterisation, an actual explanation for why Jill jumps out of an explosion at the beginning of the game, some extra references to the first two videogames, an explanation for why Mikhail is wounded, a new sub-plot involving Nicholai’s murderous plans to profit from the zombie incident and a few scenes involving Perry’s “Trent” character, this is kind of like an expanded version of the original game 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. Not only does everyone get more characterisation than they did in the game, but Jill is also fairly faithful to her portrayal in the game too (whilst also occasionally being haunted by flashbacks to the events of “Resident Evil 1” too). Interestingly though, there’s much more of a “good vs evil” dynamic between Carlos and Nicholai than in the game – with the novel making Carlos seem like even more of a good guy and adding various scenes showing Nicholai doing evil things. Although this does add extra drama to the story, it can come across as a bit stylised when compared to the mildly more understated moral landscape of the original game.

In terms of the writing, it is really good too. For the most part, this novel’s third-person narration is written in the kind of slightly informal and/or “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a fast-paced thriller. Interestingly though, it is also a bit more descriptive than I’d expected – whilst this can slow the story down very slightly, it helps to add intensity, personality and atmosphere to what is happening.

As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly decent. At 272 pages in length, it felt a little longer than I’d expected, but still seemed reasonably focused and streamlined. Likewise, the novel maintains a reasonably fast pace most of the time, although this is broken up by the occasional slower moment of description and/or document that the characters find.

All in all, this is the definitive novel adaptation of “Resident Evil 3” 🙂 Not only does it expand on the source material in a few interesting ways, but it’s also a reasonably compelling thriller novel that also includes a decent amount of horror too 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at a zombie novel that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about S.D. Perry’s 1999 novel “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”.

I can’t remember if I played the PC port of the original “Resident Evil 2” videogame before or after first reading this book during my early-mid teens. But, the original “Resident Evil 2” holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons (amongst other things, magazine articles about it were my first introduction to the zombie genre). So, I’ve been meaning to re-read this novel for a long time.

But I should probably point out that, addition to being a novelisation of the original “Resident Evil 2” videogame, this novel is also a sequel to Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” and “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove“. Although it is possible to read most of this novel as a stand-alone book, a few of the extra scenes (not found in the game) will make a lot more sense if you’ve read Perry’s previous two books first.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1999 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead” that I read.

The novel begins with a collection of local newspaper articles from 1998, talking about police politics and mysterious murders in the US city of Racoon City. The novel then includes a brief (non-canonical) scene showing Jill Valentine returning to her apartment to pick up some stuff, before joining the surviving S.T.A.R.S team members as they prepare to flee to Europe.

The novel then begins the story of “Resident Evil 2”. A rookie cop called Leon Kennedy is running late for work after misjudging the traffic in New York. It is his first day on the force in Racoon City and he wants to make a good impression on Chief Irons. But, as he approaches the city, he notices that the streets are unusually deserted. Not long after that, he makes a grisly discovery.

Meanwhile, Claire Redfield, is riding her motorbike to Racoon City after not hearing from her brother Chris in several weeks. When she arrives in town, she decides to stop off in a local all-night diner, only to find that the cook has turned into a zombie and started devouring another member of staff.

As more zombies lurch towards her, Claire flees the restaurant and runs into Leon. Needless to say, both of them need to find some way to survive in this city of the dead….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really compelling zombie thriller novel that also does some clever stuff with the source material too. However, since it is a thriller, it doesn’t stand up to re-reading as much as I’d hoped (since the suspense works less well if you already know what will happen). Even so, it’s still a fast-paced, action-packed thrill ride of a story that fans of the zombie genre and/or “Resident Evil” will enjoy 🙂

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they mostly consist of lots of well-written gory horror, some body horror/monster horror, some suspenseful horror and a bit of character-based horror. Whilst this novel isn’t really that frightening, it’s considerably gorier than the original videogame and is a bit like a fast-paced splatterpunk novel (such as Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus) in some ways 🙂

Still, as mentioned earlier, this novel is more of a thriller than a horror novel. And, in this regard, it works really well. Not only is there lots of suspense, multiple plot threads (with mini-cliffhangers), a fast-paced writing style and lots of dramatic fight scenes, but the novel also manages to keep some of the survival horror elements of the original games. In other words, the characters are sometimes low on ammo and/or wounded in some way or another.

In terms of how well it adapts the original “Resident Evil 2”, this novel does a really good job 🙂 The novel follows Leon’s “A” scenario and Claire’s “B” scenario, interweaving both storylines absolutely perfectly. Yes, there are a few small changes (eg: Leon has the magnum from the start of the story, the gun shop guy is already dead when Leon finds him etc…) but the novel manages to cram pretty much every major moment of the game’s story into one book. Plus, some extra stuff too.

In addition to adding a lot of extra characterisation to both the main characters and a few of the background characters (eg: Ada, Sherry, Annette, Chief Irons etc…), the novel also includes a few extra scenes and references that link in with the continuity of Perry’s novel series. Whilst the scene involving Jill Valentine has become non-canonical ever since “Resident Evil 3” was released, these extra scenes are a cool bonus for people who have read the previous two books. However, they may be a little bit confusing if you haven’t.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. As you would expect, this novel’s third-person narration is mostly written in the kind of informal, fast-paced, “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a gripping action-thriller novel. But, in a nod to the source material’s horror elements, there is also more formal/descriptive narration during some moments of horror too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 338 pages, it might seem a little long at first – but, considering that it is cramming two versions of the same game (eg: Leon and Claire’s campaigns) into just one novel, it is relatively short 🙂 Likewise, as I’ve mentioned before, this novel is a thriller novel, so expect a reasonably fast-paced story with some slightly slower suspenseful moments too. Surprisingly, this works really well, considering how slow-paced the original videogame is.

As for how this twenty year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Although the story itself will probably evoke lots of 1990s/early 2000s nostalgia (and there isn’t a smartphone in sight 🙂 ), it is the kind of adaptation that could almost have been written today. It also has a level of gruesomeness that reminded me of the preview footage I’ve seen of the modern remake of “Resident Evil 2” (yes, I write these reviews quite far in advance.)

All in all, whilst the novel’s thriller elements work better when you read this novel for the very first time, it is still a really great zombie thriller novel 🙂 Not only does it cram the whole of “Resident Evil 2” into just one book, but it also adds lots of extra stuff and is also more of an intense experience (eg: pacing, horror etc..) than the original videogame is too 🙂 Even so, you need to read Perry’s previous two “Resident Evil” books to get the most out of this one.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just get a five.

Review: “Resident Evil Genesis” By Keith R. A. DeCandido (Film Novelisation)

Well, although I’d planned to read a different novel, a combination of being busy and tired meant that I needed to read something a lot more readable and faster-paced.

Luckily, several months earlier, I’d found my old copy of Keith R. A. DeCandido’s 2004 novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” film that I’d bought sometime during the ’00s, but never got round to reading. So, this seemed like the perfect time to actually read it.

Although it is possible to enjoy this novel without having seen the film, I’d recommend watching the film first since the novelisation makes a few changes to various things. But, like with the original film, be sure to have a copy of the sequel (either the film sequel or DeCandido’s novelisation of it) nearby, since it follows on directly from the end of this story.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil Genesis”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2004 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil Genesis” that I read.

The novel begins with a meeting between a man called Aaron Vricella and another man called Matt Addision. Both are part of a secret group who are devoted to taking down the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical company who may be working on illegal bio-weapons. In order to do this, they need someone on the inside and, after some discussion, Vricella reluctantly agrees to allow Matt’s sister Lisa to do the job.

Lisa is, of course, glad to help out because one of Umbrella’s malfunctioning medicines and the subsequent cover-up (and campaign of intimidation) killed her friend Mahmoud. So, she interviews for a computer maintenance position in Umbrella’s mysterious underground Hive facility near the town of Racoon city………

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is kind of like an expanded and slightly re-edited version of the film. This is both a good and a bad thing.

On the plus side, all of the extra “deleted scenes” help to turn this novelisation into something more like a conventional novel. They add a bit of extra depth to the story and help to fill in some small gaps (eg: how and why Alice’s contact, Lisa, spied on Umbrella) in the story. But, as I’ll explain later, not following the structure of the film’s story also has some negative effects on the novelisation too.

Another good thing is that this novel also includes a lot of extra characterisation which not only helps to add extra depth to the story, but also means that the scenes where background characters (who only appear for a few seconds or minutes in the film) die have a lot more dramatic and emotional impact than they do in the film. Good horror relies on good characterisation and all of the extra characterisation in this adaptation helps a bit with this.

On the downside, the re-edited story means that the novel is fairly slow to start. Basically, all of the stuff that is told via flashbacks later in the film makes up the first 50-100 pages of the novel. This change also means that the grippingly mysterious early scene of the film where Alice wakes up with no memory doesn’t have the same impact in the novel because it happens on page 116 – after we’ve already learnt a lot about Alice’s backstory.

Likewise, the novelisation also adds some extra thematic stuff, but it is somewhat muddled. Basically, one theme in this novel seems to be that the US Govt/Police are stuck in the 1950s with regard to gender politics, with two characters (Alice and Rain) joining the nefarious Umbrella Corporation’s security division because it actually offered to promote them on merit. Whilst this could possibly be political satire, it not only comes across as a little bit heavy-handed but it also slightly undermines the “ultra-rich corporations are evil” theme that also runs through the novel too.

Still, if there’s one thing that this novel gets right, it is the original film’s suspense and sci-fi elements. The slow beginning means that it is even longer until the first zombie lurches into view (it doesn’t happen until page 180). However, like with DeCandido’s adaptation of the film’s sequel, the novelisation doesn’t use the added freedom of the written word to add lots of extra gory horror to the film’s story (unlike, for example, S.D. Perry’s brilliantly macabre novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” videogame). So, this is more of a suspenseful thriller novel than a horror novel.

On the plus side, the fact that the story is told via words means that there’s more room to explore the sci-fi elements of the film. Although these aren’t explained in a huge level of depth, there’s enough extra stuff here to give the story a bit more atmosphere and depth than the film had in this regard.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is reasonably good. The novel is narrated in a reasonably matter of fact way, with the narration being more descriptive in some scenes and more informal during more fast-paced moments. It’s fairly readable and the writing doesn’t really get in the way of the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 277 pages in length, it thankfully isn’t too long, although I got the feeling that the story could have probably been told in 150-200 pages. Likewise, whilst the later parts of the novel are more fast-paced than the early ones, the slow-paced expanded introduction robs the story of some of the film’s pacing (although it does add a bit of extra suspense to the novelisation though).

All in all, this is a reasonably good novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” film. Yes, all of the changes and additions are a bit of a mixed bag. Still, if you want a slightly slower-paced and more suspenseful version of the film with a lot of extra character depth, then this novelisation might be worth reading.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Three Things Artists Can Learn From Old Survival Horror Videogames

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote an art-based article and, since I’ve returned to making more imaginative art (on a semi-regular basis, at least), I thought that I’d look at a few things that old survival horror videogames can teach artists. Although I’ve almost certainly talked about this topic before, it’s always worth returning to.

If you’ve never heard of survival horror videogames before, they were a genre of horror videogame that was popular during the 1990s and the early-mid 2000s. They were games that used a third-person perspective and had slightly more of an emphasis on exploration, atmosphere, storytelling and/or puzzle-solving than on combat.

Notable examples of the genre include games like “Alone In the Dark“, the first three “Resident Evil” games, the first three “Silent Hill” games and the “Project Zero”/”Fatal Frame” videogame series.

And, if you take artistic inspiration from them, you can make dramatic art that looks a bit like this upcoming digitally-edited painting of mine:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 25th June.

So, what can old survival horror videogames teach us about making art?

1) Perspective and composition: One of the interesting things about survival horror games from the 1990s is that, due to technical limitations, they would often use pre-made 2D backdrops rather than actual 3D locations. What this meant was that the game’s “camera” had to remain in a fixed position in each location (since the background was actually a 2D image). Yet, this technical limitation proved to be one of the best parts of these games. But, why?

Simply put, game designers of the time had to use this limitation to their advantage. In other words, they had to use perspective and composition in interesting and dramatic ways. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 3” to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from the 2000 PC port of “Resident Evil 3” (1999).

Notice how the “camera” lurks far away from the main character, creating a sense of both impending danger and of being an insignificant part of a large uncaring world. Likewise, notice how some dramatic flames and burning pieces of wood have been placed in the close foreground, adding depth to the image and also “framing” the image slightly. All of these things were conscious creative decisions that give this moment in the game a little bit more atmosphere.

In other words, old survival horror games can teach us that both perspective and composition are integral parts of any painting or drawing. When used creatively, they can add instant visual interest and atmosphere to a piece of art.

2) Altered familiarity: If there’s one thing that made old survival horror games so eerily dramatic, it was that they would often take familiar locations and turn them into something a bit more dark and twisted. This contrast between the familiar and the unfamiliar is designed to evoke something that Sigmund Freud called “The Uncanny” and it not only adds instant atmosphere, but it also allows for a lot more visual creativity too.

In addition to the post-apocalyptic settings of “Resident Evil 3”, one of the best examples of this can be found in another horror sequel called “Silent Hill 3“. This is a game that will often take familiar locations (eg: subways, shopping centres, hospitals etc..) and turn them into something eerily terrifying. Here’s an example:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” (2003)

In this scene from “Silent Hill 3”, an ordinary location (a subway corridor) is turned into something much creepier through the addition of things that you wouldn’t expect to see in this location. The incongruous piles of old junk not only evoke a feeling of dereliction and decay, but they also present a menacing barrier to the player too. Likewise, some faded/dried blood spatter on the wall also helps to add to this sense of menace too.

So, if there’s another thing that old survival horror games can teach artists, it is to be a bit more creative with “familiar” locations. Whether you’re trying to add a sense of ominous horror to your artwork or whether you just want to add some quirky and comedic stuff to your art, don’t be afraid to be a little bit creative with “familiar” locations.

3) The lighting: You knew I was going to mention this. But, it’s worth mentioning anyway. If there’s one visual feature that really makes old survival horror games stand out from the crowd, it is the lighting.

In order to create a dramatic atmosphere, these games were usually either set at night or in gloomy locations of one kind or another. What this meant is that the designers could use lighting creatively. Not only do the dark backgrounds make the lighting stand out even more but it also means that the lighting can be used to draw the player’s attention to particular areas of the picture. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 2”:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Resident Evil 2” (1998)

Notice how most of the foreground is shrouded in shadows, yet the stairs and the corner of the walkway are brightly lit. Not only does this add some visual interest to the picture, but the player is also quite literally being invited to “go into the light”, since the area you’re supposed to walk to (eg: the end of the walkway) is the most brightly-lit part of the picture.

So, what can we learn from this? Simply put, in addition to making sure that 30-50% of the total surface area of your picture is shrouded in gloom (so that the lighting looks more vivid by contrast), it also reminds us that lighting should be used to direct the audience’s attention towards interesting or important parts of the picture.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, a while after I finished the previous novel I’d reviewed, I was still in the mood for some relaxing literary comfort food. Naturally, my thoughts turned back to an old favourite of mine that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about S.D.Perry’s 1998 novel “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy”.

This is a novel that I first discovered when I was about thirteen or fourteen and, along with classic 1980s splatterpunk horror novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, it showed me how utterly awesome novels can be 🙂 Yes, I’d read other novels before then, but these old 1980s/90s horror novels were the things that really got me interested in reading (and writing too).

Not only that, S.D.Perry’s “The Umbrella Conspiracy” (and it’s sequels) were based on the classic “Resident Evil” games – which were one of my favourite computer/video game series at the time. Perry’s novels were everything that my younger self had really wanted these slow-paced, atmospheric survival horror games to be – fast-paced, ultra-gruesome, pulse-pounding thrillers.

So, yes, this novel made quite an impression on me when I was younger 🙂 But, I was curious to see how I’d react to it now that I actually am one of the “mature readers” which the patronising content warning on the back cover recommends the book for.

So, let’s take a look at “The Umbrella Conspiracy”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 1998 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” that I re-read 🙂

The novel begins in the near-future year of 1998 (the original videogame came out in 1996), with a series of newspaper reports describing a series of mysterious grisly deaths in the forests surrounding the American city of Racoon City. The reports speculate that cannibals or wild animals are behind the horrific killings.

With mounting concern about the deaths, the local police chief authorises the force’s elite special tactics units (“S.T.A.R.S”) to go in and investigate. But, when Bravo team loses radio contact with HQ, S.T.A.R.S leader Albert Wesker decides to send Alpha team into the forest. As their helicopter gets closer to the forest, they notice a pall of smoke from a crashed helicopter. Bravo team’s helicopter!

After landing near the crashed chopper, Alpha team notices that it is completely abandoned. During a search of the surrounding woodland, Alpha team soon find the dismembered remains of one member of Bravo team. But, seconds later, they are menaced by ferocious mutant dogs. Fleeing for their lives, Alpha team find a disused mansion and take shelter inside. But, far from being a sanctuary, they have unknowingly entered the world of survival horror…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, even though I’ve read it before and even though I’m very familiar with the game it’s based on, it was still just about gripping enough for me to read all of it within a single day. Yes, this novel will be more suspenseful and dramatic if you haven’t played the game. But, even if you know everything about the story, then it’s still a fairly atmospheric and gripping novel.

And, although this novel isn’t that scary, it’s still a brilliant horror novel. Not only do the earlier parts of the novel build up ominous suspense quite well, but the novel’s creepy mansion setting also has the kind of gloomy, claustrophobic atmosphere that you would expect too. Plus, as mentioned earlier, this novel turns the gruesome elements of the source material up to eleven – giving this novel the macabre, vicious and grisly atmosphere that the original game lacked somewhat.

Likewise, this novel works really well as a thriller novel too. Since the main characters quickly find themselves separated when they enter the mansion, this allows the novel to jump between different areas and include lots of mini-cliffhangers. In addition to this, the main characters are frequently menaced by an assortment of zombies and mutant monsters, which gives the story much more of an action-packed feel. This fast-paced combat is also expertly contrasted with slower moments of puzzle-solving, suspense and characterisation too. Seriously, this is a thriller novel 🙂

As for how good an adaptation it is, it’s a really great one. Since “Resident Evil” is more of a story/puzzle/exploration-based game than an action game, it translates really well to a novel format – with Perry also being able to expand on all of the characters’ backstories in a way that really makes you care about them.

In addition to this, the novel also cleverly interweaves the game’s two campaigns (Jill’s campaign and Chris’ campaign), allowing the story to include many of the best moments from both of them. Plus, a few of the game’s signature lines of dialogue/text (eg: “You were almost a Jill Sandwich”, “…pecked to death by crows”, “Itchy. Tasty” etc…) also make an appearance too 🙂

The novel also takes a few interesting creative liberties which really help to keep the reader on their toes too. Not only does a mysterious new character called Trent (who is expanded upon more in Perry’s “Resident Evil: Underworld”, if I remember rightly) make a couple of cryptic appearances, but there are also a few amusing moments – such as Jill taking a much more common sense attitude towards a few of the game’s contrived puzzles (eg: just shattering the glass in the statue room, just climbing down the outdoor lift shaft etc..) too.

As for the writing, it’s really good. Perry’s third-person narration strikes just the right balance between being atmospherically descriptive and grippingly fast-paced. It’s written in a fast-paced, informal “matter of fact” way that allows you to blaze through the whole thing in a single day – but there’s enough description and formality to really give the story a sense of depth (compared to the game). In classic splatterpunk fashion, many of the novel’s most elaborate descriptions are also often reserved for moments of grisly, grotesque horror too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really great 🙂 Not only is it an efficient 262 pages in length, but the novel’s pacing is utterly brilliant too – with a really good contrast between fast-paced action scenes and slower moments of suspense and characterisation. Seriously, even if you know the story by heart, then this novel is still fairly gripping.

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it’s aged really well. Yes, there are a few obviously “90s” elements (such as a “futuristic” PDA that is more primitive than a modern smartphone) but, for the most part, this novel has lost none of it’s atmosphere, intensity and drama. Plus, of course, if you’ve played the original “Resident Evil” game, then this novel is a wonderful nostalgia-fest too 🙂

All in all, this novel is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of “Resident Evil” 🙂 If you’ve never played the game, then the story will be a lot more suspenseful. If you have played the game, then this novel is a deeper, more expanded and more intense version of a familiar story 🙂 Regardless, it’s a wonderfully gripping horror thriller novel. Yes, whilst it didn’t quite evoke the feeling of wide-eyed awe that I felt when I read this novel for the very first time, it’s still a very gripping and well-written novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” By Keith R. A. DeCandido (Film Novelisation)

Although I reviewed the film version of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” about five or six months ago, I thought that it would be kind of fun to see what the film novelisation of it was like.

Since, although I’ve read all of S.D. Perry’s excellent novels based on the original “Resident Evil” videogames, I can only vaguely remember reading Keith R. A. DeCandido’s novelisation of the third film (Resident Evil: Extinction) about a decade or so ago. So, I thought that I’d check out his 2004 novelisation of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2004 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” that I read.

The novel begins by giving us some backstory for Timothy Cain, one of the high-ranking henchmen of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. A scientific team from the corporation begins to re-open the corporation’s secret underground laboratory (called “The Hive”) after some kind of mysterious accident happened there. Of course, once they open the doors, a horde of zombies pours out…

Soon, the local town is infested with zombies. A suspended police officer called Jill Valentine, who has encountered the zombies before, decides to fight them. Meanwhile, a team of Umbrella mercenaries, led by Carlos Olivera, enters the town. A high-ranking Umbrella scientist realises that his daughter is missing. A character called LJ is arrested and almost bitten by a zombie at the police station. One of the survivors of the Hive disaster, Alice Abernathy, wakes up in hospital. Needless to say, the stage is set for some thrilling drama…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a reasonably good adaptation of the film – in other words, it is a gloriously silly, over-the-top action-thriller novel. Or, at least, most of it is. If there is one flaw with this novel, it is that it is a bit slow to start – with many earlier segments of the book being taken up explaining the backstories of various characters and recapping the events of the first “Resident Evil” film.

Even so, when this book hits it’s stride, it is a fun, fast-paced action thriller story that can be read reasonably quickly. However, you’ve probably noticed that – for a novel about zombies- I haven’t mentioned the word “horror” once. This is because this really isn’t as much of a horror novel as I had expected. Sure, there’s lots of death, monsters, suspense and zombies but – like the film – there’s relatively little in the way of horror.

One of the things I loved about reading S. D. Perry’s novelisations of the “Resident Evil” videogames when I was a teenager was that she was able to inject a bit of horror into the stories. Perry’s novelisations were at least three times as gruesome, grotesque and intense as the videogames were.

However, unlike Perry, DeCandido sticks pretty closely to the relatively bloodless action-thriller style of the film in his novelisation of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”. So, if you’re expecting a bit more horror than you saw in the film, then you’re going to be disappointed.

In terms of how this novelisation relates to the film, it is fairly close. Although there is a lot more characterisation than in the film and there are a couple of very small story differences to what I can remember from the film (eg: Alice finds a zombie-filled Italian restaurant, Alice doesn’t use batons during one of the later fight scenes etc.. ), the most noticeable difference that I found was that Jill and Alice have slightly different outfits in the novel than they do in the film. In other words, Jill wears shorts and Alice keeps her lab coat. Aside from this, the book is extremely close to the film.

This is helped by the novel’s third-person narration, which is written in a very informal style which really fits the “cheesy action movie” atmosphere of the film. Although more prudish readers might not like the sheer number of four-letter words that have been added to the narration, they lend the story a greater degree of intensity whilst also evoking nostalgia for the more immature and “edgy” elements of the early-mid 2000s.

The style and tone of the informal third-person narration also changes slightly depending on the character that is being focused on. For this most part, this works reasonably well and helps to immerse the reader further. However, this can be a bit on the cringe-worthy side of things in a few scenes.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 277 pages, the story’s length is fairly reasonable and it never really outstays it’s welcome. The pacing in most of the book is fairly good too, although the earlier segments of the novel were a little too slow-paced for my liking (especially when compared to the beginning of the film).

Yes, taking the time to set the scene and develop the characters would be admirable in an ordinary novel – but this novel is based on an ultra-fast paced, super-cheesy action movie. So, a bit more action in the earlier parts of the story would have been welcome.

All in all, this novel is a reasonably good adaptation of the source material. And for a novel based on a film based on a videogame, it’s surprisingly good. Yes, there are a few flaws. But, for the most part, it is a very readable, fast-paced novel that can be enjoyed within a small number of hours. Still, if you want to read something “Resident Evil”-related, then I’d probably recommend S.D. Perry’s “Resident Evil” novels over this one.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would get at least three and a half.