Beware that this review contains minor spoilers about the book's content, (minor because it has very little substance) and spoilers about the Resident Evil (RE) games. Since the various games are quite old I hope you're okay with that.
Here is a summary of the book. The author briefly summarises the various games and spin offs in the series up to Resident Evil 4 (RE4). He lets the reader know how he feels about each one. The author also briefly explores the origins of RE. Many fans will know that RE is by Capcom and is based loosely on an old Capcom video game called Sweet Home. The author describes Sweet Home and even obtains the Sweet Home movie which that old game is based on. He writes up the movie in transcript form so readers can see what this obscure movie is like. In another chapter the author compares RE protagonists (or heroes as he puts it) to Jesus Christ. Finally the author mentions the movies, books and comics and what he thinks of them.
Here's why I didn't like it. If my summary sounds short and simple that's because the book is too. Aside from the poor and often childish writing, grammar mistakes and factual inaccuracies the book is also a mess. There are also aspects which don't make for an enjoyable read as a gamer. In an attempt at humour the author says that after playing Resident Evil (RE1) he `collapsed in his bed, exhausted and half blind, with throbbing thumbs', reinforcing the negative stereotype that gamers are addicted to their hobby and will play video games until their bodies hurt.
The factual inaccuracies include the author getting the release order of the RE1 Gamecube remake and Resident Evil 0 (RE0) around the wrong way, calling Rebecca Chambers from the original game a little girl when she is an adult and also wrongly claiming that Leon S. Kennedy from Resident Evil 2 (RE2) is a member of S.T.A.R.S. At one point the author makes an error which isn't factual but is structural. He says to the reader something along the lines of `you may remember I completed Resident Evil: Directors Cut (DC) in around 9 hours', the problem with this being that in the book this is the first time he has mentioned DC or how long it has taken him to tackle any of the games. When I read this part I actually had to stop and check that I hadn't overlooked something, which goes to show how little time must have been spent proofing `Origins & Experience of Resident Evil'!
The book features generalisations and at least one made up statistic. Harrison claims by his `weird reckoning' that less than 1% of RE fans know about Sweet Home. Harrison phrases his thoughts on the origins of survival horror in an ambiguous way, making it unclear which game he thinks `started it all' and offering no indication that he has put much thought into it. When describing each game the author swings wildly from being very vague to quite detailed. Even as a fan this vagueness left me not really knowing what he was talking about, non fans who may be interested in getting into RE wouldn't have had a clue what he was talking about.
Out of the blue the author talks about specific characters, sometimes minor ones from the games, without giving an overview of who they are. One of the worst problems is that the author tells us what he thinks of things without qualifying why or how they made him feel the way he does, this makes for an incredibly boring read. Not only is this boring, sometimes it is frustrating. He takes a dislike to two characters in the series - Steve Burnside from Resident Evil: Code Veronica (CV) and Rebecca Chambers from the original game. In particular he says that he hates Rebecca and that she is obnoxious, this is despite the fact that she is very helpful towards the player and very capable in RE0. Of course, crucially Harrison can't seem to explain why he dislikes Rebecca so much, a guess would be that the quality of her voice acting is very poor but I'm just `stabbing in the dark'.
When gameplay comes up, nothing of substance is said. Here the repeated use of weapons and items in the experience could be considered archetypes; it could be argued that once you play one RE title you have a good idea of what many of the other games in the series will be like. The author doesn't touch upon this, he does make some nonsensical comments about `safe' areas in the games where your character cannot be attacked, however he goes into no detail about why this is significant or how a feeling of safety is created. Harrison states that the cut-scenes in RE1 are the players reward for playing; he goes into no level of detail about the poor quality of the voice acting in the RE series in general and how that may give the games a B-movie feel.
The amount of time spent exploring the original game and his experience of it is laughably brief. RE1 heavily influenced many horror games which came after it and established motifs which would be key to the gameplay and story of the series. Clear similarities can be seen between RE1 and the sequels. For example RE1 set the standard for the differences between the male and female protagonists in the series. Harrison doesn't mention anything like this; it is hard to get a clear idea of exactly what he experienced while playing the best part of an entire franchise! In a later overview of the games in general Harrison talks about the types of areas traversed and how this is done, the opportunity to talk about the `haunted house' type area which is reused over and over in the games and why this is done is missed. An interesting entertainment archetype is also overlooked, the greater horrors imagined being in a dark basement or attic and how they affect gameplay could have been considered, but they were not.
Harrison describes RE2 as the `most creepy' in the series. This statement is another example of limited use of language in the book. The RE games vary in creepiness. Adequate description of the mansion's decor seen in the first game would confirm that. In RE2 a particular character mutates into and monster and continues to mutate further throughout the game, I'd say that this is an example of body horror. The character's body is pushed way beyond anything any normal human could take. RE2 takes place in a city (Racoon City), a police station and some other locations. Although unusual and gothic they are quite different to the locations in the original game. However to describe all of this only the word `creepy' is used. On its own it is next to useless and the reader gains nothing from it. The author talks passionately about the beauty of the artwork in RE2 and Resident Evil 3 (RE3) but doesn't describe the grimy city streets, the neon signs or the unique shops. Arguably Racoon City is a Japanese imagining of an American town, but no interesting points are made of this. It's worth mentioning that the music and sound effects help RE to be more scary, many video games and movies would have much less impact without their score. The author doesn't include sound as part of his experience though; nothing can be learnt here, because he fails to mention it!
Harrison fails to offer any insight into how the RE universe works. RE3 features more of the city briefly seen at the beginning of RE2 and expands upon ideas from that game. Any RE fan who has played the second game thoroughly will realise that the tyrant monster who follows the player in the harder, initially locked `Scenario B' game modes must have influenced the creation of the titular `Nemesis' who pursues the protagonist in RE3. The two monsters abilities are different but their appearance and behaviour is very similar. Unfortunately the impression the reader is left with is that the author didn't play RE2 thoroughly, this serves to diminish his credibility among RE fans that must undoubtedly have hardcore gamers amongst their ranks. While the author seems to notice that the protagonist of RE3, Jill Valentine, is inappropriately dressed to escape a city infected with the living dead, his lack of insight here is alarming, at the very least he could have mentioned that Jill's outfit objectifies her and how this makes her character different to her appearance in the original game, however he has little of worth to say about it.
A small amount of time is taken to criticise the ammo creation mechanic in RE3. Harrison refers to it as a `time waster' failing to realise that it has gameplay altering affects and that a different approach can be taken adding important replay value to the title, this is another example where the author shows his ignorance and I doubt if he played the games thoroughly.
Shockingly when Harrison comes to talk about CV he goes into so little detail you have to wonder if he appreciates RE at all. In terms of plot CV has a lot going on; an insane family who recreate locations from the original game in a secret base and experiment on each other, implied sibling incest one of which who cross dresses and pretends to be his own sister, a son dealing with the tragic loss of his father and a super-powered villain are just some of the things which occur in CV. Overlooking CV's distinctive locations and gameplay innovations Harrison spends a surprising amount of time describing how good one of the female characters (Claire Redfield) in the game looks, it is a puzzling thing for him to focus on, and whereas this gives an indication of the graphical quality of CV it is a jarring read which makes the author look obsessive rather than passionate. With no context to frame it in Harrison does describe a particular moment of gameplay, but as a RE fan it makes for an excruciating read. He claims that somehow he was very low on ammo but inexplicably defeated a powerful enemy. Anecdotes about playing the RE would have been a good inclusion in this book but the story he shares about CV manages to be far-fetched and boring in equal measure, mainly because the language used is so primitive.
The games in Capcom's mis-judged Outbreak (OB) series are looked at. The two games were designed to be played online with other people. Whereas this could have offered great insight into a chapter of RE history which is often not talked about (especially for people in PAL regions who could purchase the game but not go online), it was discarded on the basis that the author didn't want to play online. The pages about OB appear to just be in the book to pad it out. It is hard to believe that Harrison is the ardent RE fan he claims to be when no effort to play OB properly appears to have been made. Unfortunately the author uses exactly the same tactic when he comes to describe the Gun Survivor (GS) spin offs. The prose appears, again to just be padding. Harrison tells us that the GS games are `cool', but of course doesn't tell us why. Again Harrison wastes time when he comes to describe the Gaiden spin off for the Game Boy Color. He writes it off because the story is non-canonical and takes no time to describe the game for gamers who may not have played this more obscure title. When talking about the Wii spin offs (Umbrella Chronicles and Darkside Chronicles) unsurprisingly very little of the experiences are talked about. Part of Umbrella Chronicles involves revisiting the mansion location from the original game, albeit from a very different perspective, Harrison doesn't say how he felt about this, leaving the reader uninspired. When Harrison does offer his thoughts they are incredibly arbitrary; he says he didn't like the gaming experience because he got stuck and could not progress!
Harrison implies that RE4 is one of the best in the series, but predictably doesn't really say why. RE4 marks a significant departure from survival horror into action, and while the author mentions that the game has many innovations he doesn't mention many of them or go into any detail about them, he literally mentions nothing of worth about one of the most important games in the series. Here it is worth noting that Harrison doesn't explore his experience with the zombies in RE or the more intelligent enemies featured in RE4. For him to not even consider expressing his views about zombies when they are so significant in pop culture is laughable.
Arguably the Gamecube remake of RE1 is also one of the most significant games in the series because it offers diehard fans another chance to revisit the original game's pure survival horror albeit with enhanced graphics, story, gameplay features and even new characters and areas to explore. It's not particularly clear how Harrison feels about the remake, in one section of the book he says he was not excited by the prospect when he heard about it (until he played it) but in another he says it didn't get the recognition it deserved upon its initial Gamecube release (despite the industry awards it won). I see the remake as a `gift' to the fans allowing them to revisit some of the best known RE characters as well as containing the aforementioned enhancements. Directly comparing the remake to the original would be an excellent way to explore the essence of each game. In this case the author merely states that the remake is `better in nearly every way', which is not only potentially incorrect but a generalisation which tells us as good as nothing about the RE experience.
At one point the RE novels are talked about. Little time is taken with them however despite their generally good quality (these books are by other authors, NOT Harrison). The books are ripe with opportunity as they can be directly compared to the games they are based on, the author could have said what worked in the books, what didn't and how the RE universe is expanded. Instead we are `treated' to a list of the titles in the series which could be obtained from any library, bookshop or even using a simple internet search. Which RE comic books Harrison owns are also listed, seemingly to fill pages, he states that he prefers the games and movies over the comics; this is despite the fact that the movies have received terrible review scores and criticism. At the very least here Harrison could have said exactly what he likes about the movies even if it does buck the trend. I was left uninspired however because nothing of the sort occurs.
After Harrison sums up each game in the series he offers an unqualified analysis of the box art for each respective title. However he merely states which art from which region he likes best, barely taking any time to assess their aesthetic merit or deconstruct their meaning. Harrison also rarely mentions the PAL box art despite how different it looked on some occasions.
Later Harrison talks in more detail about the Sweet Home video game and movie. I say `talks' because this is all he does, the game's controls are mentioned, the enemy types and characters are listed, but only the briefest comparison between Sweet Home and RE takes place. The various screen shots and elements listed from Sweet Home only serve to fill pages. The movie transcript only serves to fill pages too; the author doesn't talk about which elements of the movie were used in the Sweet Home game or RE. While reading I was suspicious that Harrison was just putting the first things which came into his head on paper, without putting any thought into it, later parts of the book seem to confirm my suspicions.
I've mentioned already that Harrison doesn't talk about perhaps one of the most interesting things about RE, that being the series shift from survival horror to action horror. The light-gun and Wii titles are very different to the original games, but RE4 marks the most significant gameplay change in the main series. It is worth pointing out that this book was written before the release of Resident Evil 5 or 6 which are very action focused titles, but this oversight still speaks volumes: what experiences did the author pick up on if he didn't really mention how different the RE games became? Harrison does mention survival horror games by the same publisher as well as from others but goes into no detail about how they are different about RE. This could have told us more about his experiences of the RE series as it would have told us more about what he likes about the games specifically. Squaresoft's `Parasite Eve 2' is mentioned as is Capcom's `Dino Crisis'. Harrison states clearly that he hates the Dino Crisis games but in keeping with the apparent `theme' of the book fails to tell us why, which is frustrating considering his notably strong reaction. Considering the amount of things the author talks about which are completely unrelated to RE it is also interesting to note that he doesn't mention `Eternal Darkness' or `Silent Hill' which similar horror titles. It would have been interesting to find out if the author preferred action packed survival horror over psychological horror but we had no chance to discover this.
At several points the idea of the `heroes' in the games always `doing the right thing' is brought up. It would be understandable if the author, with his religious background, made more of an effort to compare the RE stories to religious texts, because part of the RE story is a fight of good against evil. Conveniently it is temporarily forgotten that the RE games are inherently about survival. Characters are thrown into situations where they have to survive against monsters as well as human antagonists, the need to fight their way out is usually constant, but rescuing team mates is often optional. During the RE series and its related media the protagonists are not shown to be purely heroic, and in the games the player can make choices which help determine the orientation of those character's respective moral compasses. I've mentioned that Harrison directly compares the RE protagonists to Jesus Christ. One such argument is that the characters are put into turmoil, just as Jesus was, however the comparison is bizarre as, in my opinion, fighting zombies is quite dissimilar the hardships Jesus faced. Harrison also had the chance to explore how characters reoccur in the series, characters from the first two games end up being the protagonists in the subsequent three and arguably become more heroic and capable, though this isn't touched upon at all.
At no point does Harrison mention how compelling the series antagonists are. Albert Wesker and Ada Wong are perhaps the most entertaining as they skilfully play two sides to serve their own interests. This lack of insight into the characters in RE is a wasted opportunity for a book which claims, in part, to be about the experiences of RE! Harrison does make one point about the villains in RE though; he claims that the monsters and antagonistic `Umbrella Corporation' are also trying to survive, albeit in their own way. In fact Umbrella is trying to seize control and make financial profit but the moral implications of this are not touched upon.
Finally it is worth stressing that this book about RE is full of things completely unrelated to it. It opens with a description of the consoles used to play the games (a fair amount of unnecessary Sony fan-boy type statements are seen throughout, including ham-fisted, negative remarks about the control pads by other manufactures such as Nintendo and Sega) as well as a brief history of video games, this would be fine if it didn't make for such an uninspired, uninteresting read.
Alarmingly a great deal of pages are spent talking about other `heroes' who `do the right thing', these include John Wayne, Tarzan, Beowulf and King Arthur and The Knights of The Round Table. RE fans I asked found these pages excruciatingly boring when we read them. There is also a section of the book (It doesn't seem to have proper `chapters') where the author evaluates the entertainment value of the games. What the reader gets is a literal and brief look at how much the games cost and how long they are played versus how much a movie costs and how long it is viewed for. Harrison makes no attempt to analyze the quality of the RE games, though it is worth mentioning that throughout the book he says the games are `great entertainment' and `all good', as you can tell these phrases serve to go into no depth about how he really feels about RE. In case I was unclear about this I recommend that this `book' be avoided at all costs.