As the Resident Evil franchise approaches its (almost) 20th year of existence it has seen six numbered entries, approximately 10 “core” titles and far more than double that in spin-offs, ports and mobile gaming options. It has also been paired with a relatively mediocre – but extremely lucrative – film franchise, loosely tied to the basic story found in the games. Our focus today is the first game: Resident Evil (no number or subtitle).
Did you play it – perhaps the original 1996 PSX release, or maybe the 1997 director’s cut? It’s possible you played the rare SEGA Saturn port, or the PC port developed by legendary Westwood Studios of Command & Conquer and Lands of Lore fame… Or… for those of you a little younger, you received your first taste of B-style zombie action and gore in the 2002 Gamecube Remake or its eventual Wii release in full glorious 480p under the Resident Evil Archives banner nearly 10 years later… The point being, you’ve probably played this game before; either the remake or the original (though distinctly different in many ways) are most likely listed in your gaming biography somewhere.
So, other than an uptick in visual quality, this week’s Resident Evil HD Remaster, a remaster of a remake which was mostly a remaster, doesn’t really need a review from us, does it? I mean, if you like the series, you’ll probably get it – if you don’t you won’t, right? All settled? OK, good. Carry on.
Oh… you’re still here? Okay then. I guess, prepare to, “Enter the Survival Horror”.
S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) Alpha Team flies over a dense forest in search of Bravo Team, who were sent to investigate grisly murders near Raccoon City. Bravo team has been incommunicado and trouble is quickly apparent after Alpha discovers the heavily damaged remains of Bravo’s helicopter in a forest clearing. The aircraft seemed to have had no trouble landing, but what looks like claw marks, and heavy damage, paired with the ravaged and decaying body of the pilot indicate that Bravo team may be in significant danger. The search is on for other survivors, when the group is set upon by rabid dogs with decaying flesh. The vicious animals kill team-member Joseph, causing everyone else to retreat, seeking refuge in a nearby mansion.
Depending on which character is chosen to start the game, we are left with captain of S.T.A.R.S Albert Wesker, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. In Jill’s scenario, Chris is replaced by Barry Burton at the beginning of gameplay. Once inside the mansion the goal is to find the missing members of both Alpha and Bravo teams and continue the investigation if possible. As Chris or Jill, the exploration of the huge estate reveals an increasingly complex, and at times convoluted story of a secret bio research facility and a virus gone wrong. The unleashing of this deadly chemical agent has turned human, animal and botanical life-forms alike into aggressive, vicious killing machines. Quicker and more deadly monsters begin to appear as the story progresses and our heroes move closer to the truth. Navigating through the mansion complex will require the player to solve various puzzles and find door-specific keys in order to progress.
This is the classic re-imagining of the original Resident Evil, presented in the 2002 Gamecube-exclusive remake. While the core mechanics of the game remained intact, that entry saw a complete visual overhaul. More than an upgrade, the graphical changes not only presented increased resolution and clarity, but also more areas to explore and a rearranging of many locations within the mansion. It also added in new enemies, or rather, a new enemy state. Any zombified human that does not lose their head, or have their corpse burned, will turn into a Crimson Head after a set period of time. In this state they become much faster and deal damage at a higher rate than traditional zombies. As far as the story changes from the original Playstation release, they are mostly all focused on inserting characters that more closely align the story with the overall series. All of that Gamecube content is here in the HD Remaster… and nothing else.
The visual remastering is great… except when it’s not. Starting with the opening intro video it’s clear that all of the cutscenes are simply a basic stretching of the originals, with possibly some noise reduction. They are mostly muddy and don’t really feel “HD” any more than taking a DVD and stretching it to fill a 1080p screen with no advanced upscaling. They are also, for those that care about these things, locked at 30fps. Following the opening, the mansion entrance showcases what this remaster is capable of. The main character models look really good, especially the BSAA bonus outfits that have been made for all versions of the Resident Evil HD Remaster. Particle effects such as candle flicker and dust also have a higher quality look to them along with the lighting.
There are various assets that have received the upgrade treatment. Within those upgraded assets some have nice texture work and others… Again, it looks as if the textures were simply doubled, possibly more, in size and then maybe sharpened, or run through some set of filters to achieve “HD”. At their best, the textures fit the HD moniker, at worst they are ugly, stretched, dirty messes, and it’s incredibly inconsistent throughout the game.
The game did achieve a consistent 60fps on my PC and the widescreen option at 1080p works very well (old-school 4:3 aspect ratio is available for those who wish it). The higher frame-rate results in a smooth experience, once again improving on the tank-style movement controls that were upgraded for the original remake. The increased speed can ease a bit of the frustration resulting from frequent back-tracking, resulting from forced inventory management, particularly when playing as Chris who only has six inventory slots available.
If I sound underwhelmed, it’s because I am. Don’t mistake this for me feeling that the Resident Evil HD Remaster is bad. This could be a case of high expectations. The Gamecube remake was such a jump over the original, it would have been great to see even half of that leap in quality. What we get is something that is visually inconsistent as a remaster, but still with everything that was critically-praised and fan-loved about the remake. That is the key. This is the game that until now was only available for Gamecube or Wii owners, and is now being made available for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Resident Evil is still one of the biggest names in survival horror, and it’s good that more people can now experience Capcom’s definitive beginning of this long-running series.
Resident Evil has it’s quirks, both in gameplay and story. After all, at its heart, this a B-style horror film with doses of action. The voice-acting would be some of the worst ever, if it weren’t for the voice-acting of the original 1996 version.
Do yourself a favor; look it up (found some of it here). What RE did was to build a bridge between adventure games of the late 80s and early 90s and combine it with action mechanics. To really fit the horror genre, and possibly out of necessity of design, they slowed down the movement and the pacing of the narrative. It wasn’t the first game to do this – one can point to Alone in the Dark for that honor. However, it was the first to bring this style to consoles. Through continued refinement of the gameplay, world and story in subsequent sequels, Capcom created a franchise that set itself apart from the competition for a very long time – and it all began with this game.
Once you have memorized the seemingly maze-like layout of the mansion, a lot of that due to fixed camera placement, you have the option to play through again with the other character, or increase your difficulty with a New Game+ mode called Once Again. This, along with special weapon unlocks for beating the game within certain time limits, and modes that unlink storage boxes or make enemies invisible will provide a fair amount of replayability. PC owners will receive the benefit of 60fps and a small amount of control over anti-aliasing. The keyboard controls work well for the traditional “tank” control scheme, and they can be remapped, but the new “alternate” movement scheme works best with a controller. If you know it, and love it, this is the best version of the game available. If you hate it, there probably isn’t anything here to change your mind. For new players this is the most accessible entry into the the series. The Resident Evil HD Remaster is available January 20, 2015 for PS4, Xbox One and PC and is already available for PS3 and Xbox 360.
PC review copy provided by Capcom.