It often feels as though Resident Evil Code: Veronica is the least regarded game in the iconic survival-horror series. Not least well-regarded—most who have played it would agree that it’s one of the better Resident Evil games—but few seem to regard it at all. Most notably, it was even snubbed by Capcom themselves in their current series of remakes as they opted to jump from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis straight to Resident Evil 4. It seems a strange fate for a mainline, canonical, critically well-received entry in the series. So why is Code: Veronica so commonly ignored?
Released in the year 2000, Code: Veronica began life on the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast. The game had been born from a failed attempt to port Resident Evil 2 to the Sega Saturn. Realising that the port would require significant sacrifices in quality, a decision was made to instead focus on a new, exclusive title for the upcoming 128-bit system. Developed in tandem with the games that would become Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, and Resident Evil Zero, Code: Veronica would have the honour of continuing the overarching story from Resident Evil 2.
Something Old, Something New
Taking place three months after the incident in Racoon City, Resident Evil Code: Veronica follows Claire Redfield’s continued search for her brother, Chris. The opening FMV cutscene shows Claire breaking into an Umbrella Corporation facility in Paris. After an over-the-top, John Woo inspired, shoot-out—complete with dual pistol wielding and physics defying stunts—Claire is cornered by security forces and captured. She is then taken to a prison on a remote island, owned by the sinister corporation. After the island is mysteriously attacked—resulting in the death of all of its guards—Claire is freed from her cell and left to attempt to escape the island.
Of course, escape is not going to be a straightforward affair. The T-Virus has broken out on the island resulting in the usual assortment of zombies, rabid dogs, and genetically engineered monsters to fight through. Equally predictable is the abundance of keys and unusual objects that are scattered throughout the island that need to be found and relocated. There’s also the usual slightly obtuse but easily solved puzzles to break up the action. Combined with the signature tank controls, it’s fair to say that Code: Veronica did little to advance the gameplay of the titles that preceded it. What it did do however, was go big.
A Long Drawn Out Affair
Up until this point, Resident Evil games had been short affairs, typically taking between 6-10 hours to complete. The games were tight-knit experiences that took place in relatively small areas—perfectly paced, and ripe with replayability. Code: Veronica not only takes twice as long to complete, but also requires the player to backtrack between several, interconnected locations. Starting in the Prison, Claire finds her way to the Palace, Military Training Facility, Underwater Area, and Private Residence, before a final stretch on an Antarctic Base. Much of the playtime is spent backtracking between areas.
In contrast to the preceding Resident Evil games, which had all been set in the fictional American Midwest town of Racoon City, Code: Veronica’s setting feels more European. The island itself (named Rockfort) is supposedly situated somewhere in the South-Pacific, but its architecture and locations feel reminiscent of the many Napoleonic Sea Forts dotted around the English, French and Spanish coasts. This feeling is cemented when we meet the antagonist of the story—Alfred Ashford.
Claire first encounters Alfred in the Palace. He stands atop a staircase looking down the barrel of a hunting rifle at her. He is a young man, with slick-back blonde hair, and is dressed in a military redcoat. In an aristocratic English accent, he proudly introduces himself as the commander of the island. He also reveals that his Grandfather had been one of the founders of Umbrella Inc. With an air of pomposity and a falsetto laugh, Alfred gives a theatrical, camp performance that gives Code: Veronica a unique tone compared to its more gritty predecessors. Whereas the Spencer Mansion, and the Racoon City Police Station had been the stars of their respective games, Alfred Ashford is unquestionably the star of Code: Veronica.
Alfred is already in an unhinged state when we first meet him, but his story quickly takes a Hitchcockian turn. He continually makes reference to his beloved twin sister Alexia. Claire soon finds a home video of the twins creepily plucking the wings from a dragonfly. They then leave the defenceless insect to be eaten alive by a swarm of ants. Something about the way the pair look into each other’s eyes as they commit the cruel act tells you that their relationship isn’t normal. The extent of this unusual relationship is revealed in a confessional letter, written by Alfred.
An Unhealthy Obsession
Alexia, my sister, is a genius and possesses unmatched beauty. She is everything to me. I would overcome any obstacle and be willing to risk my life for her. For Alexia, I must revive the glorious Ashford Family which fell during the era of my father, Alexander.
Together, we will restore our family name. Once that has been achieved, I’ll build a palace where only nobles may gather. I cannot allow the unwashed to see my dear Alexia, to whom my life is devoted to. She reigns the world as queen, with I as her servant.
That is my dream, and how sweet it will be. Those accomplishments will be proof of my love toward Alexia.
It is the purpose of my existence.
All other people are meaningless, and they shall prostrate themselves before Alexia and I.
Devoted to my beloved Alexia,
We first catch a glimpse of Alexia in the Private Residence as she berates her brother for their current plight. Or at least we think we do. During a later confrontation it is revealed that Alfred’s obsession has in fact led him to develop a split personality. He becomes Alexia. The real Alexia’s whereabouts and condition are yet to be revealed. Alfred’s mental state is further damaged when he sees himself in character as Alexia but having removed her wig and dress. Despite occurring at the midpoint of the game, it feels like the defining moment of the story. It’s invariably the moment everyone remembers.
The End of the Beginning
At this point, I should probably mention Steve—the character everyone invariably forgets. Claire bumps into Steve early on in the Prison area of the game. Steve is the teenage son of an ex-Umbrella employee who had been caught selling insider information. After the execution of his Mother, Steve and his Father were held in Rockfort Prison. He becomes separated from his Father but manages to escape and survive the T-Virus outbreak long enough to bump into Claire. Throughout the game, Steve and Claire cross paths at opportune moments. They eventually work together to commandeer a plane and escape the island.
This is the point when a typical Resident Evil game would reach its climactic finale. We have all of the usual staples. An escape plan, a self-destruct timer, a confrontation with the antagonist, a battle with a Tyrant, a seemingly successful escape, before another final battle with the Tyrant. It’s all there. In this way Code: Veronica perfectly plays with our expectations—however, Alfred (as Alexia) triumphantly declares that “the game’s not over!” Steve and Claire, having escaped on the plane, are rerouted to another Umbrella facility in the Antarctic. Here begins Part 2.
A New Chapter
Resident Evil 2 contained two separate stories which play out concurrently—each concluding satisfyingly. Code: Veronica contains two parts which serve as one long, continuous story. I prefer the former. I always feel slightly aggrieved by fake-out endings in games—I can’t help but feel disappointed by what comes after.
Part 2 certainly has some great moments—Alexia (who had been experimented on and kept in cryostasis) takes over as the antagonist, Steve is injected with the T-Virus and becomes a monster, and Claire is recaptured. From this point on we play as Chris Redfield who arrives Rockfort Island in search of his sister. After tracing her steps, he discovers that she has been taken to the Antarctic Base and so follows her there.
The game concludes with Chris saving Claire and then destroying the mutated final form of Alexia. During this climactic finale, I couldn’t help but feel as though Claire’s story had been usurped. She fearlessly went in search of her brother, overcoming every horrific obstacle in her way, only to end up as a damsel in distress. I feel as though Claire should have been the one to finish the job—it feels like her game. That’s the problem with having Claire and Chris’ story back to back—one of them was always going to have the last word.
The Trouble with Code: Veronica
Overall, the story and its conclusion are certainly satisfying enough. I just wish it could have been paced a little differently. After the 15 hours or so it takes to play out, Code: Veronica begins to feel as slow and bloated as the walking corpses that inhabit it.
I also think that something was lost in the transition from the 32bits to 128. Code: Veronica proudly replaced the pre-rendered backgrounds of old with fully rendered 3D environments. It allowed for less rigid camera angles and enabled the character models to blend in better. It was impressive at the time but in hindsight much of Resident Evil’s character was born from those beautifully drawn backgrounds. Code: Veronica’s bland textures and smooth character models look far more dated. It results in a survival-horror game that’s lacking in atmosphere.
Nevertheless, there’s plenty left to appreciate in Resident Evil Code: Veronica. The game may not be as iconic or as memorable as its predecessors, but it does share many of their strengths. The classic tank control gameplay is as good here as in any other Resident Evil. Rockfort Island is a fun location to explore and uncovering the secrets of the Ashford family is wonderfully creepy. The boss fights are fun, and there’s plenty of cinematic flair to enjoy. Apart from its uninspiring visuals, Code: Veronica’s biggest flaw is simply trying to give the player too much of a good thing.