Resident Evil HD Remaster is, as you’d expect, a remaster of the 2003 Nintendo Gamecube remake of the original Resident Evil game. If you’ve only ever played the Playstation original – you’re in for a treat. This is a remake in almost every aspect. Visuals have been completely redone. Several side character arcs have been added. New enemies appear here and there. There’s even brand new areas to explore in the surrounding areas of the mansion. It is, more or less, a completely different game.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the story. And since it was originally penned between 1995 and 1996, it’s a bit of a typical and predictable story. A series of bizarre murders have taken place in the outskirts of Racoon City, in the Arklay Mountains. Victims appeared to be eaten.
Noting a problem, the Raccoon City Police Department sends the Special Tactics and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.) to investigate the murders. Bravo Team are sent first, but after contact is lost, Alpha Team (lead by none other than series stalwart Albert Wesker and joined by Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield) are sent to investigate their disappearance.
Probably the biggest issue with Resident Evil’s story today is that anyone who has played Resident Evil 5 or even 6 will probably have a good idea of where things will go in terms of characters and deaths. But if you don’t know, the twist is still pretty cool even if it adheres to pretty commonly occurring horror movie tropes. But it’s nothing special and definitely not worth playing the game for solely.
The remake of Resident Evil was one of the best looking title of its time, owing to its clever use of pre-rendered backgrounds and animations coupled with some very highly detailed character models. Thankfully, today the game still looks great despite being almost eleven years old. But it’s not just about how great it looks technically, it’s about the artistic style and the atmosphere that it evokes. Areas outside the mansion are littered with shrubs and trees that blow in the wind ever so softly. The warm glow of an oil lamp in the game’s infamous save rooms help to give an ambience to the whole experience that few games manage to do successfully even today.
The main attraction of the HD Remaster is, as you’d surmise, the improvement of the game’s visuals to compete with today’s standard. Rather than stretch the pre-rendered backgrounds abnormally to accommodate widescreen resolutions, Capcom have instead opted for a pan and scan approach. What this means is that the image is touched up and increased in terms of resolution, but it doesn’t actually all appear on screen at once. Instead – the camera pans up and down or left and right depending on the position of the character.
On one hand this adds a bit more dynamicity to the static camera angles the series is used to. On the other, it’s implemented as a whole across the entire game rather than being individually tailored to individual cameras. What this means is that there’ll be times where the camera will cut to the next scene almost instantaneously, creating a jarring effect where the camera attempts to pan and then changes scenes anyway. It’s a minor complaint but one that might annoy some purists. Thankfully, the original option is there too.
The backgrounds themselves all look great, but there’s definitely some areas that have had a lot more attention paid to them than others. Some of the areas outside of the mansion – in the graveyard and the forest trail – are amongst the greatest looking in the game. Others have been upscaled and had a strange filter put over the top of them that makes them look either very washed out (ie. The entire Aqua Ring section) or like a scratchy oil painting. These moments are few and far between, but it is a tad disappointing to see such an inconsistency.
The voice work is dreadful, however. Resident Evil is infamous, especially the original game, for employing some absolutely atrocious voice work but it’s most likely worse than you remember it. The music, on the other hand, is still absolutely fantastic and really helps to set the mood the game is going for. Most of the tracks are incredibly dark in tone and employ strange noises and strings to really help ramp up the tension.
The Xbox One and Playstation 4 versions look much better than their previous generation counterparts. Character and enemy models are much more crisper and in some instances have even received some texture upgrades. The Neptune shark, for example, is now visibly covered in scars giving it a new look, which makes sense considering it’s time spent as a test subject for Umbrella. Plant 42’s strange central bulb like appendage is textured to the point where it looks realer than it ever has.
The backdrops similarly look slightly better and crisper on Xbox One and Playstation 4, although there are still some inconsistencies in some areas. But all in all, the next gen versions of HD Remaster are super crisp and easily the best looking ones available the players. The PC version even runs at a very smooth and stable 60fps if that’s your thing too.
Resident Evil feels like a strange mix of games that encourage backtracking like Metroid and open world games that encourage exploration. The game throws either Jill or Chris into the Spencer Mansion, which is also home to all kinds of creatures and experiments. From the outset, only a few rooms are available to the player to find – with most of the other areas of the mansion being barred behind locked doors, secret panels and of course powered down elevators. You progress through the area, managing your inventory and slowly unravelling the mysteries within the mansion. It’s open ended – but not quite of the same scale as typical open world games.
The controls themselves were probably the most contentious parts of the classic Resident Evil games and the developers have accounted for this with a new control scheme, which controls like games made more recently. As per with the other changes, purists can play with the original control scheme if they wish. The new controls are definitely much more accessible, but they also remove a lot of the challenge as they allow the player to be a lot more manoeuvrable than previously. It’s minor gripe that only a long-time fan like me would complain about – but it’s something that bares mentioning.
The game features two playable characters but their paths throughout the game is largely similar. Jill can hold more items but takes more damage from enemies. She can also pick certain locks throughout the mansion. Chris can hold less items but take a lot more damage, but has to find keys to unlock the doors Jill can with her lockpick. Both characters have their own different encounters with both creatures and characters and even weapons along the way which gives a great air of replayability to the game.
When the mansion and its surrounds are being explored you’ll come across a wide range of enemies who you can choose to take down with your limited resources or devise a strategy to avoid altogether. Combat is simple – you hold a button to aim / ready your weapon and press another to shoot. Should you make mistakes, defense items are littered throughout the game that give you an opportunity to escape an enemy’s grasp. It’s a simple combat system but one that feels appropriate given the tone and way the game is played.
Conveniently enough, the mansion was designed by an eccentric and paranoid man who incorporated a lot of strange and bizarre puzzles into its design. This acts as a very convenient way for the developers to implement said puzzles into the gameplay to break up the tension of the game. They’re not completely baffling and many of them are easily solved, but they’re a staple of the franchise that unfortunately less emphasis is given to today. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting stuck on them for too long, though.
But what’s fantastic about Resident Evil is just how well it does exploration. From the start, you’ll be finding locked doors that you’ll come back to in the last third of the game. You develop an understanding of where certain items are in the house, which rooms are connected to which and where you need to go next to finish your goal. The games non-linear progression means you can approach your goals at your own pace and in your own order (within reason). You’ll get lost and engrossed in the Arklay Mountains and the Spencer Mansion – because the art and the atmosphere is just that well realised.
When you’re not exploring, you’ll be surviving, and that’s just another aspect of what makes the Resident Evil remake such a fun game. From time to time you’ll have an exact idea of where you’re going or what you’re doing – but that can all change in an instant if you are attacked by an enemy enroute to your next destination. Your objective than changes – to survive to a nearby save room where you might have a healing item stowed. It’s this constant sense of on-the-go strategy making and improvisation that highlights what was so great about the Survival Horror genre.
Depending on your experience with the game previously, a playthrough with one character could last anywhere between six and twelve hours. Combine this with another playthrough and there’s quite a few things to see and do throughout the Spencer Mansion – including multiple endings and branching story paths depending who you save throughout your adventure.
Once finishing the game, there are several new modes unlocked that pose more of a challenge to veteran players including one where all enemies are invisible as well as costumes for the main characters. Finally, there’s even some unlockables that will help ease the tension after a tense playthrough – like a rocket launcher. So while it doesn’t have immense replay value akin to an online shooter, Resident Evil is easily playable at least twice or even double that if you want to see all the endings on offer.
This doesn’t come without its slight downsides though. The new camera can be frustrating in tighter spaces where camera angles are switched quickly and the new control scheme can remove some of the challenge from the game. Similarly, it’s quite obvious some areas received more care and attention in the remaster than others. And obviously there’s not a whole lot that can be done about the atrocious voice work.
Regardless, Resident Evil HD Remaster is still a fantastic game and quite possibly one of the best, if not still the best in the genre. And one that I cannot recommend enough.