Resident Evil HD Remaster Review
Resident Evil is an iconic name in video games. However, in order to properly evaluate this particular remaster, we need to understand the reason behind the franchise’s legendary status. Is it legendary because of the often infuriating tank controls and tedious inventory system? Of course not. It was singularly remarkable due to its atmosphere; the tension and urgency the original title(s) generated was unparalleled and really, unlike anything we’d experienced in games up to that point. This is what’s on display in the Resident Evil HD Remaster and if you can accept that other elements fail the test of time, you’ll be plenty satisfied.
In short, as is the case with most upgrades of retro games, you must allow nostalgia to play a role. That’s the point, obviously. If you don’t, if you’re a newcomer seeking a bit of history, you may end up laughing and pointing at those of us who remember the unbelievable impact such games had.
At any rate, a remake of a remake can be difficult to analyze. Here, we’re talking about an updated version of a 2002 GameCube game, which was a remake of the revolutionary 1996 PlayStation classic. The good news is that we get the expanded widescreen view, enhanced background textures, and fresh lighting. The bad news is that even with such upgrades, the game falls shy of other remasters we’ve seen recently, likely because the original graphical content is just so outdated. Yes, we’re talking about a first-generation PlayStation experience. Then again, that atmosphere remains untainted and just as effective as ever…especially ‘cuz you might’ve forgotten some of those fearful segments and reliving them is a joy.
The sound suffers from compressed voiceovers and a set of effects that could’ve used more sprucing up. Again, with a game that’s nearly 18 years old, you’re going to get a production that falls well shy of what we know and appreciate today. Even the GameCube update is over 12 years old. Still, the soundtrack is beautifully composed and orchestrated, the audio is good enough to punctuate those jump-out-of-your-seat moments with horror and surprise, and the nasties still make appropriately nasty noises. Resident Evil had great sound for the time and some of it remains impressive and wildly effective. Simply transport yourself back in time and indulge in the greatness, if you can.
You will play as either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, both members of the special ops team known as S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics And Rescue Service). The setting is a mysterious mansion, where you end up getting trapped on a mission to locate missing S.T.A.R.S. agents. It doesn’t take long before your initial goal falls by the wayside, to be replaced by the much more urgent goal of survival and escape. You’ll evade and attack a variety of creepy monsters, including the memorable zombies, and you’ll solve quite a few puzzles in your harrowing quest. You’ll combine valuable items in your inventory as well and although that inventory system is really the opposite of “streamlined,” I still took to it like a fish to water (not everyone will, though).
As I said above, the fear is the focal point. If the game can still create that creeping sensation, if it can put that tingling at the base of your spine, if it can tense up those fingers, then it’s doing its job, regardless of age. Resident Evil HD Remaster, while in some ways a testament to how far the industry has come, can still make you jump. It’ll still make you hesitate before entering a new area. Those dogs busting through the window? Okay, we all know it’s coming and yet, when it happens, our bodies invariably respond. This is precisely why these games had such an impact, and why they’ve turned out to be some of the most important efforts in the industry’s history.
All of that remains. Perhaps it’s clouded by many years of advancement, which only serve to emphasize the shortcomings of yesteryear. And maybe you’ll experience a few cheap deaths, and maybe you’ll get bored retracing your steps several times over for a particular puzzle (the origin of the “fetch quest”…?). But you know, it works. Humans experience fear when we feel uncertain and defenseless and throughout this challenging adventure, those are the dominant sensations. Whether you’ve resolved to stand and fight or you’re running for your life, that tension is always there; the palms will get sweaty and the pulse will race. Yes, we see that it’s outdated. But this updated version also proves that technological advancement has no bearing on artistic and emotional greatness.
This is coming from a long-time fan of the series and one who appreciates true survival/horror. I also know the difference between gore and titillation, as opposed to the Hitchcockian method of inducing fear. One requires talent on the part of the creator(s); one does not. One has an immediate and lasting effect; one only serves to further desensitize an already frighteningly jaded populace. It’s why I will always give these original RE creations plenty of praise. But it doesn’t mean I’m allowed to give them a pass when it comes to the aforementioned old-school drawbacks. For instance, the camera in those days was often a bigger enemy than anything on the screen.
That still holds true here, as the fixed camera is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, not being able to see what’s making that horrid noise contributes to our fear. On the other hand, not having a full vision scope is just plain infuriating. We also must admit that the fixed camera can be an even bigger problem during critical moments where the player has to move. These cameras never supported fast movement well, unless the camera was drawn back far enough, and it’s not in the RE games. The tank mechanics, tedious inventory, and sometimes deadly camera always got in the way back in the day and unfortunately, that really hasn’t changed. It’s just amplified due to the refinement of today’s games.
But speaking of that inventory, while it can be a pain sometimes, it also plays into the vulnerability of the character. It’s a limited inventory, which means you can’t carry everything, and that requires plenty of planning and strategy. On top of which, there’s nothing quite so unsettling as taking a peek at your stock and realizing you’re almost out of healing items. You’re in a tough section of the mansion, you don’t recall seeing any other herbs out there, and you can’t combine anything in your inventory that will help. These are the situations for which this franchise is best known, even if we don’t always acknowledge the truth. The atmosphere, environment and situation in which you find yourself are legendary; the technical aspects surrounding all that are indeed secondary.
Resident Evil HD Remaster is exactly what you expect it to be, but it’s also a work of extreme contrasts. While showing you how far gaming has come, it puts a vivid, nostalgia-shattering spotlight on all the old-fashioned flaws. At the same time, the spotlight can shift in mid-session, from highlighting the technical shortcomings to emphasizing the game’s timeless ability to instill terror and suspense. Personally, I think the latter spotlight shines brightest because there are so few games that achieved their manifest intent so damn well. Achieving that goal withstands the test of time and that’s what matters, especially for die-hard followers of the series. And let’s face it, they’re the intended audience for this remaster.
The Good: Terrifying atmosphere remains effective and timeless. Well-paced gameplay creates tension. Many well-designed puzzles add variety. The mansion is wonderfully designed and full of thrills and chills. Visual upgrades, while not especially impressive, are consistent throughout.
The Bad: Camera is as big a problem as ever. Inventory system can be tedious and frustrating. Lingering archaic hitches.
The Ugly: "RE was the epitome of 'ugly' but in a good way, of course."
2/9/2015 Ben Dutka