Resident Evil was originally released in 1996 for the Sony PlayStation. Its emergence has met critical acclaim, and its influence upon popular culture and the gaming industry is irrefutable. Unknown to many, Resident Evil was actually the spiritual successor to the Nintendo Famicom game, Sweet Home, and borrowed many themes from the title.
Resident Evil series creator Shinji Mikami is often credited with establishing the survival horror genre with this PlayStation classic, but in fact, Resident Evil did not invent survival horror—it simply made the genre mainstream. Earlier titles such as 1992’s Alone in the Dark are responsible for creating the genre, but Resident Evil undoubtedly perfected it. While the former flew under the radars of many, Resident Evil established a series which has consistently enjoyed commercial success, and remains to do so today. The quality of the series as of late is very questionable, but Capcom is seeking to rectify this by remastering titles from its glory days. Thus, we have Resident Evil HD Remaster, which is an HD remastering of a GameCube remake of 1996’s Resident Evil. Before I confuse our readers any more, let’s determine if this release is up to snuff.
Resident Evil is host to content not suited for some. Being a horror game, its primary objective, first and foremost, is to instill you with fear; to the game’s credit, it excels. The enemies the player will encounter are biological monstrosities which come in a variety of flavors. Your chief foe is the vanilla zombie, human beings infected with the T-Virus. While they share some traits uncommon to zombies in films and other media, they are generally indistinct from your classic Romero zombie. Decomposed flesh hangs off their faces as they lumber towards you.
Killing these adversaries is a feat equally unsettling to the eyes. Upon landing a headshot, a zombie’s head will make a distinct “pop” and explode into a gory bubble. The visual and auditory cues here may be desirable to some players, but those who are easily disturbed will find no respite here.
Our main cast of heroes are totally silent during gameplay, and only hold conversations during cinematics. Mild language is used occasionally, and obscenities are used sparingly.
As previously mentioned, Resident Evil HD Remastered is a high definition upgrade of a 2002 GameCube remake of the original 1996 Resident Evil. As such, let’s contemplate the new additions this title introduces, which were absent in the 2002 version.
For starters, Resident Evil HD runs at a consistent 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. PC adopters will of course have the option to play at higher resolutions and framerates, while PS3 and 360 owners will be experiencing the game in native 720p at 30 frames per second.
There is now an addition of 16:9 widescreen, but there are some compromises which had to be made for its implementation. Allow me to illustrate. Resident Evil relies on fixed camera angles which shift depending on where the player is positioned in the environment. In the original GameCube version, these camera shifts were fast and seamless because of the black bars on each side of the screen in 4:3 mode. Now, in order to accommodate these shifts in widescreen, the camera will slowly move and track the player, as they transition into the next area. This camera movement is very subtle, but it may disturb purists or gamers who suffer with motion sickness. Thankfully, this remastered version offers the option to switch back and forth between 16:9 or 4:3 on the fly.
Also included in this remaster are two costumes for Chris and Jill, reflecting their appearance in Resident Evil 5. There is even an addition of a third, easier difficulty level, which may help less experienced gamers, due to the fact that this game is widely regarded as one of the most difficult of its kind.
Our main story begins with reports of several grisly murders in the Arklay Mountains surrounding Raccoon City. The elite S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team that was sent to investigate has gone missing. Prompting action, Alpha Team is sent shortly after, comprised of six members. Following their arrival on scene, they discover the corpses of several Bravo Team members, and are immediately ambushed by mutated dogs, resulting in the death of one of their comrades. Our remaining five heroes flee into a nearby mansion, where untold horrors await them. Eventually, we get a plot filled with camp, evil corporations, and lab experiments gone wrong. Basically exactly what you’d expect from a Resident Evil title.
Upon beginning the game, players are asked to choose between two protagonists: Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield. There are several changes which take place in the game depending on which character is chosen. Jill can carry more items and pick locks, but she has a smaller amount of health, and runs at a slower speed. Chris, on the other hand, has more health, less inventory space, and can run faster. The overall narrative changes very little depending on the character chosen. The player will visit the same environments, fight the same bosses, and solve the same mystery. You will however, meet different characters depending on who you’re playing as.
The Spencer Mansion is Resident Evil’s setting, and you’ll become very intimate with it during your stay. Environments are labyrinthian, and you’ll often backtrack through many areas in search of important keys and items required to progress. The mansion is filled with puzzles and enemies, demanding forethought on how to navigate environments. Zombies must be eliminated via headshot, or burned with scarce kerosene, otherwise they come back as a powerful Crimson Head—a creature that will relentlessly chase you with great speed, and can only be killed after expending a great amount of bullets.
Supplies in Resident Evil are exceedingly limited, and you have to make a conscious effort to determine which supplies are necessary or not, due to the space they consume in your inventory. Any items you do not currently need may be deposited in a chest in save rooms that are scattered throughout the mansion. Saving can only be done at typewriters, which require ink ribbons. There are a limited number of ink ribbons in the game, adding to the great stress of item management.
Being the survival horror classic that it is, Resident Evil is played through the perspective of fixed camera angles in 2D pre-rendered backgrounds. While pre-rendered backgrounds have historically been met with mixed reaction, these ones are some of the best that have ever been drawn into a video game. Each camera angle is deliberate, and allows the player to enjoy the most of these fabulous environments. This game was the prettiest of its kind back in 2002, and it can still stand toe-to-toe with major releases today.
One noteworthy criticism, however, is that some of the textures on the pre-rendered backgrounds were only polished in some areas. Other areas, such as the caves, look rather low-res, which makes a stark contrast to the improved character models. This is an issue that Capcom rectified with its HD re-release of Resident Evil 0.
Resident Evil is played using polarizing “tank” controls. While I’ve never had any issue with this control scheme, Capcom nevertheless decided to offer a more modern setup that can be used at any time in the options menu. This option, however, makes your character glide around environments in a strange manner. It’s almost as if the character is no longer properly grounded in the game world. Purists will want to continue using the tank controls.
In closing, Resident Evil HD Remaster is every bit as great of a game as it was in 2002. The characters are lovable, and the challenge is still there. This is the game that every survival horror title should look to for its roadmap. In its transition to HD, several minor technical issues have presented themselves, but the fact remains that this is still the definitive way to play Resident Evil. It’s the granddaddy of horror, and a one-of-a-kind game.
The Bottom Line
Resident Evil HD Remaster is a time machine that takes you back to an era when horror games were great. This is the gold standard of survival horror. Minor technical issues may have latched onto this game when it received its new coat of HD paint, but the presence of these issues is insignificant in the face of everything else this game gets right.