Thursday, August 22, 2013

Resident Evil Books

Awhile back I wrote about the Wing Commander novels and their relationship with the game series of the same name.  I've decided to revive the topic of video game novels to talk about Resident Evil as penned by S.D. Perry.  Before I begin though, I just want to say that I'm not going to bother with the novelizations of the movies.  Reading bad literature extrapolated from good video games is one thing, but reading poorly written novels of even worse movies is more than I can bear.  I'm also ignoring the comics.

 The Umbrella Conspiracy was the first novel and an adaptation of the first game.  To the author's credit there's a lot done here to lampshade some of Resident Evil IP's more glaring flaws.  The location of Raccoon City is moved to Pennsylvania, which matches the topography a lot better as depicted in the game.  Explanations are also given as to why such a small town has a seemingly excessive S.T.A.R.S. law enforcement unit.  Some of the characters get more fleshed out backstories, namely Rebecca Chambers and Barry Burton.  I'll go into more detail about S.D. Perry's infatuation with Bravo Teams's seventeen year old field medic later.  Sufficed to say this book clings rather closely to the events of the first game.  It is interesting to note that this particular book was written before the Gamecube remake of the original Resident Evil so it lacks the new plot elements introduced in that title.

Caliban Cove was the second novel to be released and the first to feature an original story.  The plot is a bit strange and starts off with Umbrella agents attempting to assassinate survivors of the Spencer Mansion indecent in the first game.  Personally, I found this a bit jarring since none of the Resident Evil games pitted the player up against un-infected humans (at least until Resident Evil 6).  Of course all the ex-stars members escape and we are eventually led to another Umbrella facility located in a sunken ship hidden by sea caves under an old lighthouse.  Setting appropriate, and as you can probably guess by the cover art the main POV character is Rebecca Chambers aided by a few nondescript people exclusive to the novels.  As for unique bio-organic weapons, there are T-virus infected bottom feeders called "Leviathans" and "Trisquads" which are basically like the zombies in Resident Evil 4 minus the Las Plagas parasites.

City of the Dead is an adaptation of Resident Evil 2 and by far the longest book of the bunch.  It's also the most confusingly written.  S.D. Perry seems to have struggled with precise descriptions of locations and where characters are in relation to their environment.  I'm also going to toss this out there...maybe a choose-your-own-adventure style book would have better suited this particular work.  When you get down to it one of the coolest things about Resident Evil 1 and 2 was the fact that you could play as either one of two characters, and depending on which you chose (first) the events of the game would play out differently.  Regardless, the complete absence of Hunk, the fourth survivor, makes this by far the weakest of the whole collection.  If you are at all interested in reading any of these books do not start with this one.

Underworld is the second, and last, original story penned by S.D. Perry set in the Resident Evil fiction.  It follows the events of a raid made against an Umbrella research center located in the American southwest.  Once again Rebecca Chambers is center stage.  If you are familiar with terms like "Special Snowflake" or "Mary Sue" then you have a good idea of how S.D. Perry treats the Rebecca Chambers character.  Despite being situated underground in the middle of an empty desert the setting does have one significant perk in that the facility itself is supposed to be a testing ground for Umbrella's completed bio-organic weapons.  Hence Leon, Clare, Rebecca and a few others find themselves having to fight through a series of gymnasium sized combat testing rooms made to look like dense jungle, steep mountainsides or an urban center.  A few new monstrosities make appearances as well, such as bird-like Dacs, burrowing Scorps, goat-lizard Spitters and a chameleon variant of the Hunter.  The most notable of the bunch though is Fossil, a dinosaur derived version of Tyrant.  Sadly, this Jurassic Park reject only shows up briefly at the very end of the story.

Nemesis, is a retelling of the PSX game with the same subtitle.  It also marks what I consider the highest peak for the Resident Evil franchise.  With the exception of a brief revival in Resident Evil 4, the series has been in a steady decline.  Overall this is also about as good as this collection of books get.  Conversely, it has some of the worst cover art I've ever seen (and that's saying a lot when you look at how bad the previous book covers are).  Thankfully the last two novels after this are a bit better.  Anyway, back on topic!  We learn a bit more about Umbrella's countermeasures unit, as well as how Carlos' ended up a member of this paramilitary group.  There's also a bit of revisionist history altering the demographics of Raccoon City to match the urban density shown in the game.

Code: Veronica continues the trend of video game adaptations.  Having never finished the Dreamcast title of the same name, I can't say with complete certainty whether or not the novel matches up with the game in all respects.  I do want to take this opportunity mention a side character named Trent though.  While only appearing in the books, he's basically serves as a launch pad for the plot of most of the novels.  He's an insider, working with our heroes to bring down the Umbrella Corporation from within.  It's kind of a neat idea...sort of like the G-Man from Half-Life.  The problem is we learn in the opening of Resident Evil 4 that once the United States Government found out what Umbrella was doing they quickly took steps to freeze all corporate accounts and arrest all employees.  Did I mention that the latter novels come with disclaimers on the first page regarding inconsistencies between mediums?

Zero Hour was the last Resident Evil novel I read, and while it wasn't the best, it wasn't the worst either.  Basically a retelling of the Gamecube exclusive, it follows events in the game fairly closely.  The only real criticisms I can think of that hasn't already mentioned earlier is the inherit issues surrounding prequels.  Why aren't any of the bio-organic weapons in this novel in any later games or books?  Why is Rebecca so energetic in Resident Evil 1 considering the amount of hardship she's already gone through by that point in the story?  Why don't we ever hear about Billy Coen again?  These plot holes aren't necessarily the fault of the author, just the kind of difficulties you run into when trying to tell a story chronologically before other already written tales.

I've heard people say that the Resident Evil novels are little better than straight up fan fiction, but I disagree.  The Resident Evil games, while fun to play, were never held in high regard in terms of story.  Don't get me wrong though, the games could also get pretty terrifying in places which is something the books fail to achieve entirely.  That said, I think S.D. Perry did about as good of a job as you can realistically expect.  I certainly don't regret the time I spent with these mass market paperbacks.  Would I recommend them to other people?  No, unless the only alternative were to read nothing at all.  In which case I'd say "yes," if for no other reason than to keep yourself literate.      

No comments:

Post a Comment