“If REmake can be considered the pinnacle of the Resident Evil experience – and it is – then this remaster is undoubtedly the best way to enjoy it.”
RE: A History Lesson
In 1996 Shinji Mikami and his team at Capcom defined what it was for a game to be survival horror. It meant scarce ammo, looming shadows, tough enemies, and brain-straining puzzles. It meant being afraid, but having wits and resourcefulness rewarded with surviving.
The first Resident Evil spawned a long, winding legacy of sequels and spin-off’s that found both critical doting and widespread success – as well as some detours into the woods of failure (goddamn you to hell, Resident Evil Survivor).
Before the core DNA of Resident Evil was forever altered by Leon Kennedy’s gun-blazing excursion to Spain, 2002 saw a celebration of the original game’s definition of survival horror. Remaking the original ‘96 classic from the mansion foundation up, the Gamecube’s Resident Evil used advanced visual and lighting techniques to further decay the infamous Spencer Estate.
But it wasn’t a shot-for-shot, beat-for-beat remake like Vince Vaughn’s Psycho. No, some of the remake’s best components, and best scares, came from the fact that it betrayed fans’ familiarity with the original game. It made for a vicious retread through the mansion (and its creature lousy bowels) that reminded gamers why this series was the king of the genre it coined.
Only problem was: it sold like garbage on the Gamecube. With an exclusivity agreement preventing REmake from jumping ship to another console, Nintendo’s purple system would serve as a cubed tomb for the game.
Remaster of Unlocking
Thirteen years later, the now troubled horror franchise is in dire straits for the simple fact that it’s muddled its definition of “horror.” I can’t help but feel this remastering is Capcom’s way of tossing out a line baited with old school thrills and waiting to see who bites. And they’re most positively going to get bites because, if REmake can be considered the pinnacle of the Resident Evil experience – and it is – then this remaster is undoubtedly the best way to enjoy it.
The entire game is retouched for the 1080p generation and features a new 16:9 aspect ratio to fill in the corners of your fancy Smart TV’s. The graphical boost shines brightest through the 3D models. Chris and Jill’s tushes have never looked better. On the same coin, the monstrosities you face have never looked so horrifyingly detailed. You’re probably jaded to HD zombies, but wait until you see a remodeled Chimera vaulting its way toward you before making ribbons out of your stomach.
The series famous pre-rendered backgrounds even seem to have gotten a new coat of paint, though these fair worse than the gorgeous 3D modeling. Some textures appear murky under the scrutiny of your HDTV’s eye, and the effect really makes 3D models stick out like sore thumbs, but Capcom put in the extra legwork to smooth these aged wrinkles with new radiant lighting and darker, truer-to-life shadows. Some areas, like the graveyard tomb, are remade from scratch and host to fully 3D environments, making for the most beautifully dilapidated areas in the game.
Have Ink, Will Save
Despite riffing on the same formula Shinji and Co. concocted the year Independence Day was released in theaters, the core gameplay tenants
of Resident Evil HD hold up marvelously well. Between resource management and navigating the labyrinthine mansion, getting through the night feels like a prolonged game of chess. Do you unload your 9mm to keep a hallway clear the next time you find yourself backtracking through it? Or do you save the ammo for bigger fish with bigger fangs? Should you backpedal to an item box and grab your canteen so you can burn corpses? Or power through and hope the bastards don’t come back as the stronger, meaner Crimson Heads? (Editor’s Note: Don’t screw around with Crimson Heads, man. Always burn bodies.)
My favorite thing missing from modern Resident Evil is the freedom of choice in how to handle a situation. Venturing locked and loaded means sacrificing inventory slots. But exploring unprepared could put you at death’s door faster than you can say, “Umbrella Pharmaceutical.” Even saving plays a part in resource management since you have finite saves. That’s right, kiddies. There’s no checkpoints activated by invisible thresholds. You have to decide when and where is the most opportune place to save. The line separating progress and becoming a stain on Spencer’s carpet is often the choices you make.
Thankfully, if tank-controls have kept you from playing the world’s deadliest game of chess, modern-ified “Push-to-Go” controls have been implemented. At first, the purist in me wanted to rebel against this change, but the bolstered maneuverability feels like another weapon in your arsenal. If you were raised by the S.T.A.R.S. unit like I was as a kid, you’ll be amazed how easy it is to squirm away from enemies.
That’s not to say much else in the game is made easier (unless you actually drop the difficulty to the cakewalk that is Very Easy – no judgment here, friend), but there were more instances where I found myself carrying a stockade’s worth of ammo since I could just juke away from zombies instead of feeding them my precious lead. The only complaint I have when it comes to 'Push-to-Go’ is a slight orientation problem when moving across the fixed camera angles. It’s a little jarring to be pushing up on the stick and suddenly have 'up’ become 'down,’ doubly so when a hunter is attempting stuff his claws down my throat. A small nuisance made unavoidable given the game’s pre-rendered design.
Show Me a Story
Some of the custscenes dive into campy waters (although the exclusion of the “Jill Sandwich” line is heartbreaking, camp or no). But there’s surprisingly little story fed to you through conventional means. Sometimes context is provided through tragic first-hand accounts scattered about the residence. Other times, all you need to know about what could’ve happened is a few bloodstains and claw marks on a wall.
Before the days of Matrix-dodging Wesker and boulder-bashing Chris, Resident Evil was weighted down by real world fears of biological disaster and corporate greed. The growing sense of dread and gnawing tension flowing throughout every room makes you feel like you’re in a waking nightmare, but stems from this reality. This gravitas is why it’s hard to laugh off an encounter with a giant snake. Or a giant spider. (The giant bees are still laughable but you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down.)
The nostalgia is strong within this one, to be sure. But that’s not what makes this package great. The only real tweaks this remake needed were visual, because the gameplay, even having gathered over a decade’s layer of dust, is still solid.
Once upon a time, I used to consider older Resident Evil’s pretty linear, but delving back into this one, I’m reminded of the reigned-in open worlds found in modern day titles like Tomb Raider and Batman: Arkham Asylum. The Spencer Estate is a sight more claustrophobic than either of those titles, but searching every inch if it gives you a greater sense of how giant, yet interconnected, it is.
And the addition of Achievements/Trophies will just keep pulling you back through the front doors even after your final rocket sends Tyrant to hell in multiple doggie bags (spoiler?). With tasks and goals ranging from missable to insane – like beating the game equipped only with a knife or fighting every enemy in the game… while they’re goddamned invisible – you gain an appreciation for how much variance and player agency is actually available to you in a seemingly “linear” game.
When it comes to these sorts of re-releases, it’s sometimes easy to see which gameplay loops are full of cobwebs and why we moved past them in the first place. In REHD, I’m scratching my head to figure out why we couldn’t make this gameplay work in the future.
What’s been retouched shines. What’s been changed only increases playability. Capcom has taken a pivotal title originally doomed to obscurity by contractual obligation and given it a second chance at life. But instead of simply flooding the game onto multiple platforms as is, it took the time to polish Resident Evil HD into one of the best remasterings a fan could hope for. This is the definitive version of this game, bar none.
Resident Evil HD
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
Platforms: PC/PS3/PS4 [reviewed on]/X360/XB1