Resident Evil Code: Veronica
Initial Release: 3rd of February 2000
Platform: SEGA Dreamcast
Metacritic Rating: 94/100
The sadists amongst you who follow the Sega Mania team into some of their other work will know there are more than a couple Resident Evil fans around this neighbourhood. Some of us are fresh-faced recruits, excited to get out there and see some action, whilst others are hardened, grizzled vets of several campaigns who have stuck by the franchise through thick and thin, and watched with disbelief as the ridicule train left the station during the Resident Evil 6 era (If ever there were proof that we don’t deserve nice things it’s how well that game sold, by the way). Needless to say, then, there have been various and chronic bouts of mismanagement of the franchise over the years, each one taking a bit of our soul with it. If you ever encounter a zombie in real life, chances are they aren’t infected with any virus, they are just beleaguered Resident Evil fans.
Thankfully, and for many inexplicably, the Resident Evil Franchise seems to be channelling its horror roots and rising from the apparent dead in recent years. As we enter the latter stages of 2022, fans of the series will be looking at the future of the franchise with something akin to, dare I say it… hope? The now well established remake cadence is in full swing and it seems that Capcom are finally delivering what many around the industry see as the definitive versions of Resident Evil 2 & 3. Then, of course, there's also the continuation of the mainline, numbered releases which have found a sense of maturity and understanding of what the series needs to thrive. The brave and bold decision to shift the series to first person has injected (yes I said it) the King of Horror with a fresh and clear sense of purpose.
Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, we have a franchise that appears to be stretching its legs and enjoying itself by exploring the many facets, nooks and crannies that the horror genre has to offer. From gothic fantasy to psychological and the occult, the Resident Evil franchise is finding that horror in all forms has a home there, and it’s been an absolute delight to experience the games moving in different directions. With the imminent arrival of the Resident Evil 4 remake, it seems that the series is now in safe hands and with anticipation, rather than dread, we can all stare dramatically off into the distance and wonder, “What does the future hold for Resident Evil?”
As rosy as the garden of Evil is at the moment, there are still a few big ugly weeds that need pulling and wrongs that need to be made right. None more so than the stewardship of Resident Evil Code: Veronica. Looking back at the shoddy treatment of the game over the years, if Code Veronica were a child, it'd be looking over at Oliver Twist in his orphanage or Harry Potter in his bedroom under the stairs, and thinking they had it good. Make no mistake, the fact that RE Code: Veronica is, for the most part, remembered fondly is testament to how good a game it is, because it certainly had no help from Capcom.
From having its rightful status as the third main instalment of the franchise cruelly and coldly ripped from it, to the frankly offensive attempt at a remaster for life after Dreamcast, the game has been poorly treated at every turn. Yet still it lives on in the minds of Resident Evil fans. Despite being treated like an old sock, Code Veronica is, for many, held up as both one of the classic games in the franchise, as well as one of the standout games on the equally under-appreciated (in its day) Sega Dreamcast. As we look forward to life after the Resident Evil 4 remake, it’s hard to think of a better candidate for the Remake treatment than Resident Evil Code: Veronica. It’s time that game got the love and attention it so rightly deserves.
Code Veronica is, in almost every regard, a vitally important game that fans of the series should have an understanding of. Of course, this is every bit the hot-take with hindsight firmly in tow, but as mentioned, Code Veronica initially started life as a mainline entry into the Resident Evil Series following Resident Evil 2.
Unfortunately for Code Veronica though, after a deal was struck with Sony, it was decided that another Resident Evil game in development for PlayStation (Resident Evil: Nemesis), would instead be given the go ahead to be the “official sequel”, leaving Code Veronica in the interesting position of being a so-called “side game”, but one that also contained valuable and vital information for the overarching plot. As development was also well underway by this point, we can also see a subtle, but important, adaptation of mechanical and gameplay styles that can still be seen in the series to this day. This is a pivotal game for Resident Evil, even if Capcom would like to pretend otherwise.
Unlike its predecessors, RE Code: Veronica also made the bold step to move away from the use of pre-rendered backgrounds, instead opting to use the power of the Dreamcast to utilise 3D environments. This might seem like a tiny step by modern standards, but in reality and, again, using our big old lump of hindsight, it allowed the developers to create a sense of place, atmosphere and dynamism similar to that of Dino Crisis.
Rather than being stuck in one static spot like you are viewing the action from an awkwardly placed CCTV camera, the camera could dynamically move with the player as they traversed the game's environments and was able to zoom in and out at key moments to raise and lower tension. This gives the action a more cinematic feel, further drawing the player into the events unfolding around them. If you go back and spend some time with the older, more static cameras, it’s surprising how this seemingly minute change can dramatically alter the atmosphere of an area.
It’s also important to consider this as we now know the games industry was about to fall down a decade long hole of chasing “cinematic experiences”. The use of real time cutscenes also furthered this by making gameplay and cutscenes feel less jarring and more cohesive than the pre-rendered visuals of old. It’s also in Code Veronica that we would also see the Resident Evil franchise begin to play with the idea of managing resources between characters. Players would begin the game as Claire Redfield, before switching control to Chris and if players had played smartly, then Claire could leave items behind to make life easier for Chris.
As time has gone on, this has become a point of contention with the title. For some, it’s the best and most interesting part of the game, whereas others note the possibility of being able to back yourself into a corner and make the game impossible to finish. It's something that we would see worked upon further in Resident Evil 0, as players could switch between characters and pass items to one another in order to complete puzzles.
Set after the events of RE 2 and before the events of RE 3, Claire Redfield finds herself stranded on a prison island as she searches for her brother Chris. Without going into spoilers (because you really should be playing this game for yourself), players learn much more about series antagonist Alfred Wesker, gaining a better understanding of what motivates him and how he has come to be who he is. With the knowledge in hand that this was originally to be slated as a core release in the franchise, the plot revelations feel important and weighty in a way that side titles tend not to be.
For many, it’s the remaster that’s the real elephant in the room here and the real insult to the legacy of the game. Visually, it just isn’t acceptable. The colours all too often appear oversaturated when compared to the Dreamcast version, changing a grim, dark, atmospheric scene into a cosy evening by a bonfire. For me, however, the moments the game switches between gameplay and cutscene is where the real crimes take place.
Brightly lit gameplay scenes will be plunged into darkness in the cutscene; clear crisp nights will become foggy, Silent Hill-esque nightmares, and there were even occasions I had to double take the character on screen because Claire Redfield frequently looks like a different character. Moving between having that classic petit anime head chin thing going on to looking like a horse. As a result, the early stages of the game feel disjointed and jarring in a way that significantly damaged my early opinions.
In researching this article, I’ve seen several people blame these inconsistencies on the time period - stating that oversaturated visuals was a fashion of the era - but really, these moments look so different from one another that it often feels as if the cutscenes and gameplay were made by different teams. It’s stark in a way that can leave the player with no other conclusion than this was done on a tight budget and timescale.
What I’m saying is, by making RE Code: Veronica their next remake, Capcom have a lot of opportunities to right wrongs and finally give this game the love and attention that it so rightly deserves. In one fell swoop they could modernise the game, opening it up to the wider Resident Evil audience, This would also give the story the oxygen and the platform that it deserves, and revamped visuals would bring the game together into the cohesive whole it was on Dreamcast.
Resident Evil Code: Veronica is not only an important game in the Resident Evil franchise. From overarching narrative reveals to brave gameplay decisions and a definitive move towards the creation of a more engaging and cinematic experience, it’s also a game that has been under utilised and underappreciated since it was released.
A mainline game relegated to the sidelines for business reasons, it remains one of the best games on the Dreamcast, which as the years progress, seems to be a console that people are finally seeing for the fantastic machine that it was. Add this to what feels like a lacklustre remaster in later years, what we have is a game that is in desperate need for some love. Resident Evil is a franchise that is, after a long rocky road, finding its footing again and it's only fair that Resident Evil Code: Veronica is given its rightful place and part in this long-awaited revival.