Let’s get one thing abundantly clear right away: if this is your first time playing Code: Veronica after having survived on a diet of RE4/5 for the past few years, then forget any preconceptions you may have of the series. This is another kettle of fish altogether, chaps. Code: Veronica epitomizes old school survival horror to the T, offering up the very best (and worst, for that matter) that the genre has to offer. Yes, it’s cumbersome and laborious at times, but also compelling and brimming with quality moments throughout. If you can look past some of its aging components, there’s still plenty of opportunity here to enjoy a thoroughly satisfying retro-fused horror spectacle.
CVX takes place at the tail end of 1998, some three months before the U.S. government wiped Raccoon City off the face of the earth to quell the T-Virus outbreak that had decimated the mid-western metropolis. You hop into the skinny jeans of lanky Claire Redfield – and later, her burly brother Chris – after she’s captured for snooping around Umbrella’s Paris facility. Now imprisoned on a military base on Rockfort Island, the brown stuff soon hits the fan after an unknown party attacks the installation, spreading the T-Virus in the process. Cue marauding zombies, brutal BOW’s and plenty of monotonous door loading sequences (are those really needed on modern consoles?) as you attempt to escape the facility and lift the lid on Umbrella’s unscrupulous activities.
What follows is a quintessentially classic survival horror fest, and something that will no doubt be a bit eye-watering for those who hopped on board the zombie bandwagon with RE4. Rockfort itself is a sprawling base, complete with many sights including a cemetery, training complex and creepy mansion among others. You’ll also eventually stumble into an Umbrella base in the Antarctic later on, though I won’t spoil the circumstances. The game unfolds in a typical linear RE style, with the meat-and-potatoes of gameplay based on an amalgamation of puzzle solving, combat and exploration. Being the first major game at the time to incorporate 3D backgrounds, CVX takes place from the traditional third-person perspective, albeit with a dynamic and flowing camera in place of static viewpoints. Unfortunately for some, that also means tank controls and a fiddly aiming system to boot.
Personally I’ve never had a problem with the control setup, and even after surviving on a diet of the likes of Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect for the past few months, I slipped back into the old routine like a comfortable pair of slippers. However, that’s not to say folks have plenty to moan about – far from it. The setup was showing plenty of wrinkles back in 2001, and by today’s standards it is so old it could probably be used as fossilized fuel. Basically, there’s no analogue precision here; like with RE4, you have to hold down the X button to run, and navigation is all but impractical on the analogue stick, forcing you to use the D-pad. Aiming is done via holding down R1, with square used to shoot. However, there’s no precision targeting, with the Redfield siblings able to only aim straight ahead (standard), up or down. Aiming ahead will do the trick for most of the slobbering mutants the game throws at you, though a few enemies – notably the zombie dogs, bats and spiders – require you to adjust your targeting slightly to land a hit. It’s horribly basic, though weapons such as the sub-machine gun, Shotgun and Grenade Launcher inject a welcome pinch of variety into gun battles, especially when you can blow a zombies’ scalp apart and decorate the walls with blood and brains.
So, not the most elegant of setups, but once you become accustomed to the antiquated controls, you’ll get over the shock. No, where CVX does excel is in the suspense of the unknown, that fundamental desire to push forward into undiscovered territory, finding out what horrors lurk behind yet another locked door. Perhaps more than other game in the series, CVX is the thinking man’s Resi, with plenty of riddles to ensure your thinking cap is fixed firmly to your noggin. Puzzles aren’t going to win an award on Mastermind any time soon, but they’re certainly varied and interesting enough to tackle. Many of them require you to ticker around with objects in your inventory as much as manipulating bits of the environment or shoving keys in locks, keeping you on your toes. That’s not to say it’s light on action, either. Indeed, the frantic process of capping moaning undead and mutated monstrosities, juxtaposed with the relative solace of snooping around yet another new location, offers a diverse change of pace—and a testament to how satisfying Shinji Mikami’s classic Resi paradigm can prove after all these years.
CVX boasts a nice array of weapons to play around with outside of your bog-standard shooter. There’s a Shotgun, Grenade Launcher, Uzis, AK-47 and a meaty rocket launcher among others, each one packing a distinctive and guttural punch to them. Needless to say, this makes them exceedingly rewarding to use in combat. While there’s no upgrade system ala RE4, you can obtain attachments to upgrade stuff like your handgun, as well as get your mitts on different types of ammo for the Bow gun and Grenade Launcher. However, the problematic controls can make even dispatching rudimentary baddies such as zombies a bit of a headache, particularly if the camera angle at the time isn’t as accommodating as you’d like it to be. Furthermore, dodging foes can be a pain in the arse since the Redfield siblings possess all the maneuvering capabilities of a fat bloke out on the piss on a Friday night.
Auto-aiming helps, though, as does the ability to turn 180 degrees on the blink of an eye, but it’s still needlessly fiddly and may take some time to get used to. Speaking of dodging foes, you’ll go toe-to-toe with a plethora of different BOWs, from regular zombies and undead dogs to one-armed Tyrant beasts, Hunters, giant spiders, moths and more. Bosses also crop up from time to time, and aesthetically they’re quite the eye-opener in all their twisted, grotesque fashion, whether it’s the hulking Tyrant or lumbering Nosferatu. Needless to say, you’ll have to manage your ammo levels accordingly, as the last thing you want to do is go up against a horde of zombies or boss monster with just a few bullets left in your handgun. Indeed, picking which enemies to battle and evade alike is instrumental in ensuring you’re always prepared for any surprises the game springs on you—and believe me, there’s quite a few.
Of course, being a decade old, CVX isn’t exactly the prettiest game you’ll play this year. However, I’m pleased to say Capcom has done a pretty pucker job in regards to the horror’s HD makeover. Aside from things looking a lot sharper and smoother, the game now features real-time shadows and all-new water effects. The former was conspicuously lacking from previous versions, and really adds a whole new dynamism to the environments, while the water effects look rather lovely to boot. Aurally the game is crisp, and a notable step up from RE4’ muffled sound effects, with ominous zombie groans and meaty weapons packing a considerable punch. The soundtrack is a real treat too and really accentuates the fear factor, be it the bombastic, adrenaline-pumping anthems that accompany boss fights or the stomach-knotting creep fests that assault your senses as you navigate through the game’s gritty locations. Sadly, the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired, and while Alyson Court puts in a fine performance as Claire, the likes of Steve Burnside, Alfred Ashford and even Albert Wesker let the side down with some toe-curling performances – particularly Wesker, whose penchant for uttering one of the worst laughs in videogame history makes you wonder if he’s been taking late night lessons in Bad Guy101 from Dr. Evil.
Overall, Code: Veronica does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s classic Resi, love it or hate it, and while not without some notable flaws, offers up a compelling and lengthy survival horror bloodbath. For those of you who can get past the inherently fidgety controls, there’s plenty of enjoyment and content to be found here. Even after the 10 hour+ campaign is over, you can indulge in numerous extras, such as unlocking new weapons and having a butcher’s at the Battle Mode, which eliminates puzzles in favor of all-out blasting and offers new costumes to boot. Try unlocking Wesker, who is armed with only a rubbish combat knife, and make it through this mini-game without becoming brown bread as the ultimate test of endurance. Ultimately, Code: Veronica isn’t the best example of ‘classic’ Resi, but it’s still worth a punt, especially if you are a fan of the old school survival horror landscape. Newcomers may be in for a bit of a shock, however.