Resident Evil Code: Veronica – the Sleeping Giant of Survival Horror

For whatever reason — despite selling relatively well and receiving flattering review scores — Code Veronica isn’t remembered as fondly as some of the other games in the series. Be it due to its initial exclusivity to the Dreamcast, the wacky characters or the equally wacky acting — the unwelcomingly high difficulty, even — it’s often (undeservedly) viewed as the odd entry in the zombie franchise. But if one looks past some of its glaring shortcomings, Code Veronica boasts a lot of hidden potential that other entries lack. And because of this potential, no fan of the series should ignore its story.

Code Veronica takes place after the events in Resident Evil 2 and once again puts Claire Redfield in the spotlight. Following an escape from Raccoon City with Leon, Claire continues searching for Chris on her own. She infiltrates an Umbrella facility, but things don’t go her way. Outnumbered, Claire is soon restrained and brought to Rockfort Island where a large portion of the game unfolds. However, in a classic Resident Evil fashion, the island is attacked, unleashing the t-Virus on everyone there.

Later, it turns out that the attacker is none other than Albert Wesker himself: the former captain of S.T.A.R.S. Wesker makes his first appearance since the original game and, while evidently unharmed by the Tyrant, it’s fairly obvious that he’s no longer human. At this point in time, his motivations are unclear, but because of his assault, almost every person on the island turns into a zombie and Claire is subsequently released from her prison cell to attempt yet another escape.

She meets other survivors while doing so. Some helpful, like captain Rodrigo — her captor — but also the one who unlocks her cell. And then there’s the deceptively garrulous Steve, a prisoner on the island and an avid fan of automatic weapons. While he does come off as a crybaby sometimes (almost always), there’s still something endearingly cool about him.

Back then, I wanted to be just like him: the cool guy with the machine guns who protects the girl from harm. To me, Steve is the epitome of cool and whenever I play Code Veronica, I can’t wait to reach his segment: a short, but action-packed rush through a hoard of zombies with fully-loaded machine guns at the ready. And all of it to selflessly protect Claire. Steve’s story, albeit dragged down by some subpar acting, is actually full of emotional bits.

Some, however, like Alfred and Alexia Ashford, the current owners of Umbrella, are not so friendly toward visitors. A pair of sick twins who will take any measures necessary to further their goal. Even if it means turning their own father into a hideous monster fittingly named — Nosferatu. And the story revolves heavily around the pair’s intent to create the immensely powerful t-Veronica virus.

Each of these characters — even Nosferatu — has a story to tell. The story behind the Ashford twins and their possibly incestuous relationship is especially intriguing. And while it’s a spin-off story on paper, Code Veronica was planned as the original Resident Evil 3. As a result, some events portrayed within it are integral to the overall plotline. For instance, it fleshes out the relationship between Claire and Chris and provides a smoother transition of Wesker as a super-villain into Resident Evil 5.

But beyond the characters and the story, there’s also the environment: the island itself, which housed workers mere hours ago, now dilapidated by the explosion. There’s the grand Ashford estate which gives off vibes of the original Spencer estate. And when most Resident Evil games would roll credits, Code Veronica introduces another environment. Booting up Disc 2 (the original on Dreamcast came on two CD’s) introduces a whole new location: the Antarctic Base. That’s right, a secluded and frost-covered base of operations for Umbrella where the lengthy story eventually culminates.

Being on the game’s cover like a true star, Chris is introduced around a third into Disc 2. Climbing a cliff of the island like he’s Alex Honnold with an epic theme playing in the background, Chris makes an absolutely badass entrance. Following the trail left by Claire allows him to firsthand witness the remnants of her actions and even meet some old friends. Much like Wesker, Chris didn’t make an appearance since the first game and now seems older and much more confident.

Unlike in previous entries, there’s no civilization surrounding these environments; no shops, no public facilities, no nothing. It’s an island in the middle of the ocean and getting off is highly questionable. And the same goes for the Antarctic research base. Every corridor and room is shrouded in mystery and despair. Which is also why I can’t talk about Code Veronica without mentioning its awesome save room theme. Quite possibly, the best in the whole series.

Once it plays in the warmly-lit office of the Ashford estate for the first time, its soothing piano tones never leave your ears. It makes you truly relax and feel safe. Unlike some of the game’s predecessors which, albeit beautiful and relaxing in their own way, often included notes of general hopelessness.

Ah, yes… hopelessness. Today, I know the game by heart and completing it doesn’t cause me any trouble, but it wasn’t always so. My first attempt at Code Veronica was rather awful; and so was my second. On my first playthrough, I didn’t conserve enough ammunition to defeat the Tyrant on the plane. Reaching Nosferatu on my second attempt, I once again didn’t have the required firepower to take him down. And at the time, I didn’t know about the easy-as-peanuts sniper rifle strategy.

It took me three attempts to beat the game and Code Veronica is possibly the most challenging entry in the series. It’s not just about the bosses, which are no more difficult than your typical Resident Evil monsters. It’s more about managing (or in my case, mismanaging) ammo and knowing which weapons to use on which enemies. These are learning experiences and I doubt anyone made perfect choices during the first playthrough. And that made the second one all the more special.

There’s so much to miss in Code Veronica that a second playthrough is mandatory. For instance, you could forego bringing the medicine to Rodrigo which meant that Chris wouldn’t obtain the lighter from him and miss out on a pair of machine guns. Alternatively, you could even bring the medicine too soon and give up the lighter earlier than necessary. As a result, you would miss the opportunity to light the fireplace at the Old Ashford Estate and miss out on a small stack of supplies.

Using it once as Claire, you could think of the empty fire extinguisher as useless and abandon it in the security box altogether. But doing so, you wouldn’t be able to refill it later and extinguish a fire as Chris to obtain the all-powerful Magnum. And consequently, this would make the first fight against Alexia much more difficult. Of course, you would make these choices in consideration of the strict inventory system. Often, due to a lack of space, you would agonize over picking a green herb or a pack of bullets and leave the less integral item for later.

Boss battles offer similar choices. For instance, the battle against Nosferatu has several different outcomes. Killing Nosferatu in the old fashioned way takes a plethora of ammunition, after which he miserably falls to the ground. Aiming shots carefully at his heart, however, with Alfred’s sniper rifle, makes the battle quicker. After a few well-placed shots, Claire takes another shot to explode the beast’s still-beating heart. And there’s also a satisfying cutscene for killing Nosferatu with a knife.

All of these small nuances makes Code Veronica highly replayable. Which is also why I’ve made it a tradition to revisit Rockfort Island at least once every year. I always look forward to traversing its abandoned facilities and listening to the save room theme afterward. And I’m always eager to reach Steve’s segment to make a colander out of zombies, if only for a few blissful minutes.

I may have already made it blatantly obvious, but Code Veronica is my favorite game in the series and definitely my favorite spin-off. It’s by no means perfect, mostly because of some poor, frequently exaggerated acting. But the challenging gameplay, the chillingly engulfing atmosphere, the clever puzzles, the unique environment and characters more than make up for it.

And what begins as a simple spin-off, ends up being a crucial point in the timeline. Resident Evil 3 is coming out in just a few months and I hope that Capcom will consider remaking Code Veronica next. For one, it’s the last game from the classic Resident Evil era, before Resident Evil 4 took a turn toward more action-oriented gameplay. It deserves more attention than it garnered in the first time and the Ashford twins, if properly reimagined, would make for an unforgettable couple of villains.

But for now, thanks for 20 years of heartwarming memories, Resident Evil Code: Veronica.

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