In a lot of ways, Resident Evil: Degeneration is the most well-realized video game adaptation in existence. The plot is jumbled, the voice acting is wildly inconsistent, the script is terrible and it’s riddled with cliché – which makes it pretty much exactly like the games. It’s also quite a lot of fun, with some strong (if rather ridiculous) action and typically imaginative creature design… again, just like the games.
Of course, the question is where exactly this leaves Degeneration as an actual film. Much like Dead Space: Downfall and its superior sequel, Aftermath, this is a film which presumes a certain familiarity with the source material, and it neglects important cinematic components in favour of establishing a recognisable atmosphere. Which is fine for the most part, but separating the non-interactive aspects of Resident Evil from the gameplay really serves to highlight how nonsensical the story and characters really are.
The overarching story of the Resident Evil saga has always been ludicrous, and that’s actually something people tend to enjoy about it. There’s a certain ineffable charm to a rotten little midget Napoleon. There’s also a degree of self-awareness in a lot of the silly dialogue and plotting. The series never felt manipulative or disingenuous; just properly proud of how stupid it was.
That kind of thing is somewhat acceptable in video games, because those are elements which are frequently short-changed in favour of gameplay. Midget Napoleon, for example, featured in what is commonly regarded as one of the very best games ever made. And Degeneration really does feel – and perhaps is – as much of a game as it is a film, from the scripting to the character models, to the way the scenes progress from one distinct environment to another. It’s essentially a 90-minute cutscene. The problem with that is that the player spends the duration of it eager to pick up a pad and actually play.
This is of course the root problem: for a video game adaptation to really satisfy fans of the game, it has to be similar enough to a game that it becomes a bad film by default.
What this trade-off essentially accomplishes is the annoyance of everyone. A passive medium like film cannot, by definition, be similar enough to a game that it becomes satisfying or pleasing in the same way. This irritates the gamers. On the other hand, those just hoping for an enjoyable film are instead forced to endure a bad one, because most video game stories simply aren’t up to cinematic par in and of themselves. This, of course, aggravates the film buffs.
And then there are people like me, who want to see a film which is at least decent while simultaneously being an adaptation that is, again, at least decent. I want to be pleased as a fan of both games and films, which is perhaps a bit unreasonable, but in many ways Degeneration actually kind of manages to do that.
I like Resident Evil not because I care about any of the characters in its extensive canon or even because it’s all that good (at least, not since the aforementioned RE4). I just like how bonkers it is. There’s always something to enjoy in a Resident Evil game, and Degeneration has a strong helping of the silliness which has sustained the series for so long. It’s certainly more in-step with the franchise than the live-action films, so as far as being a decent adaptation goes, that box is pretty much checked.
While it isn’t quite as successful from a cinematic perspective, I should probably point out that it’s in no way an abject failure, or even particularly bad in most of the ways that matter. Yes, the plot is a mess, but it still allows for a series of interesting scenarios and plenty of enjoyably over-the-top action. The CG and visual design are consistently pretty impressive. Degeneration has things to offer, it simply struggles to secure its own identity and speak in its own voice.
But, in a world of Uwe Boll and derivative Hollywood adaptations with no soul or personality at all, what Degeneration does offer is just about enough.
Enjoyed reading this review? Then you will probably like listening to us too so check out our podcast