Oddly enough, a remake of the original game, Resident Evil HD Remaster, actually feels like the next big evolutionary leap for the series.
Resident Evil HD RemasterPlatforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: 2015-01-20
Resident Evil hasn’t aged. The game originally came out in 1996, then got a graphical update in 2002, and is getting updated again for 2015. The idea of a re-remake would be comical except that Resident Evil hasn’t aged. It doesn’t feel like a game designed in 1996. In a weird, fascinating, kind of sad, and completely ironic twist, Resident Evil HD Remaster feels like the next big evolutionary leap for the series.
Since this remake builds off the 2002 one, the new features for that game are still included here, namely the defensive weapons, which offer one-time-use escapes from a zombie attack like a get out of trouble free card, and more frighteningly, the Crimson Head Zombies. Those enemies that unless you get a lucky headshot and decapitate the undead, their bodies will stick around. You have to burn those suckers with kerosene, a limited resource, or risk the zombies coming back stronger and faster. Both additions were clever tweaks to the design in 2002, and they’re still just as clever now, adding some relief from the awkward controls and an extra layer of tension to your backtracking.
The changes in this remake are mainly cosmetic. The game has gotten a graphical update, including some better lighting effects, so that it looks good in HD. Also, it can now be played in widescreen. Sadly, the widescreen effect is achieved by cropping off the top and bottom of the picture and zooming in. The camera will now pan as you move, so you’re not losing any visual information, but it’s a constant effect and gets dizzying. Just play the game in its original format.
The most substantial change is the new control scheme. Resident Evil was originally played with tank controls. Up and down on the controller moved your character forwards or backwards, but left and right simply turned you in either direction. There was no such thing as strafing, and simply changing directions was a slow process. This made you nearly as immobile as the zombies. Now you have direct control relative to the camera angle. So “up” moves you towards the top of the screen, “down” towards the bottom, and so on. It’s certainly a more natural control scheme for a modern game, but it still has its awkward moments. Since these new controls are relative to the camera and the camera angle is always switching, the nuances of the controls are always switching as well. “Up” moves you north on the map, until the camera changes and now “up” moves you east. There will inevitably be a moment, several in fact, when you’ll get briefly stuck running in circles because the controls have suddenly been reversed.
Awkwardness aside, the new controls make you considerably more mobile, which changes the pace of combat, though not necessarily for the worse. It says a lot about the fundamental design of the game that it’s overall pacing can remain the same even if its moment-to-moment action has changed. Getting away from a fight is no longer an issue, so the shambling zombies are less frightening on their own, but they still represents a scary drain on resources.
Every monster is a strategic dilemma. You’re always balancing bullet costs against item gains. What’s behind the zombie? Is it important? Can I run past the zombie? Is it worth taking a hit to health if I can save ammo? If I kill the zombie, can I burn it? Where’s the nearest kerosene container? Will it likely come back as a Crimson Head?
Since ammo and enemy numbers are tightly controlled by the design of the game, it knows exactly how much ammo to pass out and when. Chances are, if you find some bullets, you’re going to need them; you just triggered an enemy spawning somewhere. However, you might not meet that enemy anytime soon if you don’t walk past the right window or door. This is how the game maintains its overall pacing. It rarely throws combat at us, instead it lets us stumble into combat. It sets its traps and then waits. So whether you’re using analog controls or tank controls, Resident Evil is still paced to evoke horror, suspense, and action, in that order, repeated with each new location you visit.
This is also what makes the game feel modern and forward-thinking. It’s most recent predecessor, Resident Evil 6, felt bloated and weighed down by its fan-service and its need to exist in as many genres as possible. The original Resident Evil now feels like a direct response to that game: a reconsideration of the series and the things that work, resulting in a hard swing in the opposite direction, away from the bombast and action towards a purposefully stripped down experience.
This is a game defined by restraint. It’s willing to let suspense build over time, and it knows how to break an uneasy silence with a single growl or groan. It hints more than it shows, using camera angles to create blind corners and text blurbs to suggest secrets behind every bookcase. It cares about setting as a character, not just as an obstacle, so the mansion feels like an undead thing all its own. Levels are expertly designed to feel bigger than they really are and to gate your progress in a way that hides the game’s linearity.
Resident Evil feels like a radical evolution in much the same way Resident Evil 4 seemed so back in 2005. This is now the game that removes or subverts all the expected mechanics while maintaining the same spirit of the series.
I've always liked Resident Evil, and I've always remembered it fondly. However, returning to it now, I have a greater appreciation for it and a better understanding of how this game spawned such a popular and long lasting franchise. Resident Evil was and still is an amazing game. It lives up to its legacy and feels just as relevant now as it did back then, which is just about the highest praise one could give a 19-year-old classic.