What happened to Resident Evil? How does a series that began like this 19 years ago end up an action fest like Resident Evil 6, with co-operative modes and characters that performs suplex moves on armed zombies? How could it take such a wrong turn? Fortunately, we can now reminisce about the glorious past with Resident Evil HD.
Resident Evil was originally released in 1996, in Japan, and it would later be labelled the 'father of the Survival Horror' (a debatable title, but now is not the time for that). Later, in 2002, Capcom released a remake of Resident Evil for the Gamecube that, while following the plot of the original, showed a vastly superior experience both in terms of graphics and gameplay.
This new Resident Evil HD, which now sees release on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC, is a remastered version of the Gamecube remake. This marks an opportunity for a new generation of players to experience this version of the game for the first time, especially given the game was essentially a Nintendo exclusive until now, only available for Gamecube and Wii. And you should experience it, because Resident Evil HD is a masterpiece. In part, at least.
Resident Evil HD, as a game itself in the context of it's original release, was superb, and even today it can be an exciting experience. The HD remastering, however, could have been better. The highlight of this new version is the inevitable upgrade to a high definition resolution, with sharper 3D models and an adaptation to the 16:9 format (but you can opt for the original aspect ratio of 4:3 if you wish). The game runs at 30 frames per second on all platforms, and while the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions only support 720p, the PS4, Xbox One and PC versions deliver 1080p.
Another novelty of this HD version are the new controls. The game includes a new modernised control scheme, where you can control the character with 3D movement, where the direction indicated on the analog stick is the direction the character follows on screen. It works well, and for some players - especially those who never played a ancient Resident Evil - it can be the preferred method. If you have played the original though, you'll prefer the original scheme.
In the original scheme (that the remake improved on), you control Chris and Jill in a 'tank'-like fashion. If you press up, the character moves forward, if you press down the character backs away. Left or right is limited to rotating the character in place. It is an old-fashioned scheme, which can be a bit shocking and strange during the first minutes, but it still seems to be the best option for this type of game, with fixed camera angles.
It is a competent remaster, but Capcom could and should have gone a little further. The pre-rendered backgrounds are improved since the original, but they are still pixelated in parts, this becomes especially apparent on a big TV. The worst part though are the videos that play during the game, with a ridiculously low resolution and totally inadequate to current standards. Some videos, such as the introduction, have reasonable quality, but most are horrible. Fortunately, they are also few. The pricetag also seems somewhat exaggerated. A fiver less would have been welcome.
Another extra feature of this remastered version are the new suits for Chris and Jill, based on Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition. These are exactly the same models from that game and are obviously much more detailed than the original models. Still, it seems little in the way of extras. Resident Evil and it's fans deserved something more in the way of special features and extras.
Even with this update, Resident Evil is a old school game and initially it may even be something of a shock. The archaic controls, the fixed camera angles, the limited saves system... if you never played a game from that era, it may be difficult to get into Resident Evil. Even the veterans may need a bit of time to re-adjust, but will be worth it.
The truth is that, if you accept the rules of the game - that Resident Evil is archaic, but it was designed that way and it works - you're in for something really special. A classic in every respect and a game that reminds us why the survival horror was a very promising genre in the mid 90s. The pacing of Resident Evil is superb, breaking up the combat with zombies (or something else) with various puzzles and exploration. The setting, even if it shows its age, has an impeccable detail (as already noted, they are pre-rendered in 2D, not truly 3D) and the mansion is one of the richest environments of any survival horror game.
Part of its charm also lies in the limitations and difficulties it imposes. If you play at the highest difficulty (selected by default and it is how you should play Resident Evil), you will suffer during the first hours. In part this will also be determined by the character you choose. The campaign is mostly identical to Jill and Chris, but there are some differences. Jill has the help of Barry, while Chris has the help of Rebecca. Jill starts the game with a pistol and a bigger inventory, Chris with a knife, a reduced inventory and a lighter. Chris is also more resilient and slightly better with weapons.
If you play as Chris in particular, you likely die repeatedly against the first zombie you meet - mastering the knife attacks takes time. When you die, you will be sent back to the last save. To save the game you will need to visit one of the few typewriters and use an Ink Ribbon. The number of saves is limited and you should take that into account before you start saving repeatedly.
Another element that may seem dated to some players is the inventory. Chris has access to six inventory slots, which means that a gun, ammunition and a medical item will occupy half of the space available. Whereas many puzzle force you to transport items from one place to another, this may cause some frustration. There are however specific areas, certain security areas, including a chest where you can store items. These chests are apparently magical, since they have no limit and share items between each other.
Resident Evil is known for zombies, but there are many more dangers waiting for you in the mansion and beyond (you will also visit underground laboratories, caves...). Among the various traps within the mansion - you can be sliced, poisoned or crushed - you will have to fight giant snakes, sharks, spiders, dogs and carnivorous plants. Among other surprises, such as Lisa Trevor.
By the way, some pro-tips: 1) save your ammunition because it is scarce. 2) if you can avoid killing a zombie, do so. The best option is often to run, not to shoot. 3) if you have to kill a zombie and it's head is still intact, make sure you eventually burn him - you never know what can happen later...
Resident Evil is an old game, and it shows, but it deserves its status as a masterpiece. The original, in 1996, paved the way for the Survival Horror genre and the 2002 remake raised the experience to a new level. The game was visually stunning at the time (especially because the sets were pre-rendered), and that means it has stood the test of time.
This HD remastering itself is a mixed bag, compentent without going the extra mile, but the experience itself is still fantastic. If you've never played a Resident Evil game pre-Resident Evil 4, you may struggle to accept the archaic mechanics, but if you were fans of the first chapters and did not had the chance to play the Gamecube/Wii remake, you owe it to yourself to revisit this masterpiece.