Resident Evil (HD Remaster)

Resident Evil Is A Testament That Good Game Design Survives The Test Of Time

overall score 95 / Buy Me
Feb 15, 16  | reviewed by Phoenix Vanguard (1031)

gameplay 95 / story 85 / graphics 95 / sound 90

To be up front, I must admit, Resident Evil is one of my favourite games of all time. It made quite an impression on me upon its original Playstation release in 1996, when games were achieving a new level of immersion and cinematic realism. I loved the Director’s Cut which was released in 1997, and contained a more difficult “arrange” mode that altered item and enemy placement. An amazing remake was released in 2002 exclusively for Gamecube which further refined the game, adding new areas and enemies. I even picked up the 2006 DS release Deadly Silence which I still haven’t gotten around to finishing. With the release of Resident Evil on PS4, this is the fifth version of this game I have bought. One would think I would have grown bored playing the same game over and over again during the past 20 years, but each time I play it I am filled with the same fear and excitement, and overall appreciation of the game design.

After a series of killings in the woods around Raccoon City, special forces team STARS heads into the Arklay mountains to investigate. After losing contact with Bravo Team, Alpha Team is attacked by a pack of dogs in the opening cinematic, and the survivors are forced to find refuge in a nearby mansion. As it becomes apparent that the inhabitants of the mansion have become zombies, the survivors must search for their lost team mates and try to find a safe way out.

The plot is primarily communicated to you through documents you find littered around, which reveal that the zombies and other undead creatures are the result secret viral experiments by a corporation called Umbrella. Reading the diary entries of a man who has been infected by the T-Virus and is slowly manifesting symptoms, or a report from a researcher in the labs detailing the human experiments being conducted is extremely effective. Most of the interesting plot points lie within these documents you read, and using them like a detective to piece together what happened to this place enhances the creepy mystery.

However, despite the strength of much of the plot, the narrative woven by the main characters is less interesting, and basically revolves around them trying to survive and find a way to safety. Cinematics between major characters are few and far between, and usually results in them coming together at a moment of danger, and then splitting up again in true horror movie style. Even though you may read some interesting notes which explain the threat you are facing, and reveal the sinister nature of the place you are in, the main characters never seem to discuss these revelations with each other. For all its reputation of being like a horror movie, the meat of Resident Evil’s story is presented more like a book.

There are two characters to choose from. Jill Valentine can hold eight items and has a lock pick which can open certain locks, but is not very resilient to attack. Chris Redfield takes less damage from enemy attacks and has a lighter, but can only hold six items. The two campaigns differ slightly in their difficulty, the scenes that occur, the characters they interact with, and the weapons available.

The mansion you find yourself in is a foreboding place, composed mostly of twisting hallways branching out into every corner. Most doors you find are locked, but as you continue to explore, you will discover keys to open them, which will eventually lead you to other areas outside the mansion. In a sense, the mansion, and specifically the main hall, acts as a kind of hub area, where other rooms and areas branch off from. It reminds me a little of Metroidvania style games where you find an item which will let you enter a previously inaccessible area. As a result, backtracking is an important part of the structure.

Watch out for zombies though, and resist the urge to recklessly engage the enemy. Not only are ammo and healing items in short supply, especially early on, but zombie corpses can also be reanimated as Crimson Head zombies, which are faster and deadlier. You can prevent this by blowing their head off with a shotgun, or burning their corpses using fuel and a lighter, but like ammo, fuel is also in short supply and should be used strategically. The fact that you may have to come back through this area will make you think carefully when deciding whether to engage an enemy or attempt to run past them.

Resource management is a key component of Resident Evil; even saving the game at a typewriter requires ink ribbons which are limited in number and littered around the environment. But often the most valuable resource is the one in shortest supply, and that is space. While you can store as many items as you want in the interconnected item boxes located throughout the game, you are restricted to holding a certain number of items on your character. Coupled with the inability to drop items outside of item boxes, you must be careful to balance taking items you need while leaving room for important items you find.

It’s frustrating not being able to pick up a key because your inventory is full, but that frustration will force you to think carefully about what you take with you and pick up along the way. In this sense, the time consuming nature of finding yourself over encumbered and having to return to a save room encourages you to travel light by actively punishing you for carrying surplus items. Loading up on ammo and healing items may make taking on those zombies a lot easier, but if you find a new weapon or a key you may be forced to make more than one trip, and this could mean exposing yourself to more danger and using more of your precious resources. Only taking a shogun with you will leave plenty of room to pick up extra goodies, but you may find yourself ill-equipped to face the dangers lying ahead, leaving you injured and low on ammo.

Making mental calculations on whether you will have enough to get by and trying to find the most efficient balance is part of the puzzle of Resident Evil. Everyone knows the square crank goes in the square hole, the puzzle is how do you get the crank to the hole while having enough item slots to carry everything else you need for the journey?

Will I have enough bullets to take down those zombies in the next hall? Should I save my ammo and try to run past them? Will I have to come back through here again? Will I have enough healing items to cover the damage I might take? Should I save now or wait until I explore the next area? Maybe I’ll just take the shotgun to save space and hope I find some shells for it. If I kill this zombie, will I be able to get back through here before he reanimates as a Crimson Head? Damn, I forgot the fuel! The beauty of this is how the gameplay systems feed into the fear element of the game. The indecision of what to take and the uncertainty of what will come breeds horror.

Slowly exploring and unlocking different areas of the mansion and beyond is really engrossing, and trying to carve an economical route through each location is rewarding. You will explore several areas beyond the mansion, and each of these areas is creepy and memorable, but the mansion itself is the real star, and the fantastic level design of this location has clearly benefited from its refinement through subsequent releases.

The mansion is several stories high and contains multiple hallways and stairs leading through the east and west wings, which often allows for more than one way to get from point A to point B. The route you take could be dependent on which enemies you will face along the way, and this could be dependent on your previous actions. Taking out all the zombies in a hallway will create a clear passage for future travels through here, but failing to burn their bodies could create an even bigger threat in the form of Crimson Head zombies. Some areas have zombies banging on the windows, and if you pass through too many times they will smash through the glass and flood the area. One area has a door with a handle which is about to break off on one side, and can only be used a certain amount of times before the handle breaks, forcing you to take the long way around. Things like this will make you think twice about which way you go, and force you to make strategic decisions on certain routes depending on your available resources and the threats you will face along the way.

The locations look detailed and dirty, which sets a creepy mood of isolation, but the places you visit never seem too real, and the amount of dust and grime present fails to make sense given the time frame of the story. Most rooms are useless in a realistic functional sense, and although this can be ascribed to the insanity of its owner, it’s clear that the long winding hallways that compose most of the locations were made for gameplay purposes. Like the limited inventory system, the illogical is presented only for the logic of gameplay and enhancing the horror.

The boss encounters are great, even if the battles themselves revolve around firing a few shots and then running out of the way. The game has a great way of building anticipation for some of the battles too. You see the tentacle like vines creeping through the walls, and read a scientist’s report about the out of control Plant 42, some time before you actually face off with the monster. You discover Richard with a massive snake bite on his chest and must rush to the west wing to retrieve some serum if you want to save his life before taking on the beast yourself. Others are more sudden, and some for the better.

There are also different endings to be obtained for each character, depending on who you save through the game and whether you successfully eliminate the threat. The endings themselves aren’t great, but the paths you take to them can result in different scenes occurring through the game, which adds to the already strong replay value (I recommend saving Richard to see him pop up later in some cool scenes). Apart from the initial three difficulty levels available, a fourth Hard mode is unlocked upon beating the game, which makes resources even more scarce. There are other modes to unlock as well, such as survival mode where item boxes are not linked, and invisible enemies mode (only for the hardcore), along with some extra weapons and costumes.

One of the major strengths of Resident Evil is the atmosphere, which is a powerful thing that can be influenced by a number of factors. The flash of lightning through a shattered window, as the inevitable thunder rumbles over the dark music. The fear of not knowing what’s around the corner due to the cinematic camera angles. The sense of isolation, broken only by the zombie moaning just out of sight.  The dread of realizing you did not bring enough ammo. The sense of mystery and intrigue as you piece the story together through diary entries and scientific reports. Atmosphere relies on a synergy between several elements, and Resident Evil has it in spades.

The music is great, and the upgrade to 5.1 surround sound in this latest version really makes a difference, especially when hearing a zombie moan out of sight. The game was always great looking in its original release, but now looks absolutely amazing in HD. Characters, enemies, and backgrounds have been significantly improved. There is a new widescreen mode, which is kind of like the old pan-and-scan movies, except the image scrolls vertically to keep the character centered on the screen. Overall, it works well, but when you enter some areas it can take a split second to snap onto the character which can be distracting.

The new control system should be familiar to those who played the old school Devil May Cry games, however, it does not work as well here. Running down an empty hallway is fine: you can just hold in a direction and the character will continue moving that way even if the camera angle changes. However, if you need to carefully weave a path past a zombie, which happens quite a bit, slight movements intended to steer your course will register as different directions if the camera angle changes, often leading you into the arms of the zombie. After a while, I switched the controls back to the original setup which I found far more comfortable and reliable.

This new version also includes a gallery for watching the endings you have unlocked, which is a good way of letting you know if you’ve seen them all, and some leader boards as well, along with trophies and achievements for those who are interested.

It would have been nice to have an “arrange” mode like the Director’s Cut did years back, the lack of which disappointed me in the original Gamecube release, or an extra hard difficulty for us veterans who know the game like the back of our hand. I also miss the original Gamecube saves, where the typewriter clicked as each letter popped up in the save title; this new version just plays the typewriter sound with the text being displayed in one clump. But it’s hard to complain too much. Resident Evil has always been a great game, and this HD remaster does exactly what it’s supposed to: upgrade the visuals to HD while leaving the rest alone.

Stephen King once wrote that horror is the moment before the monster is fully revealed, when the zombie is moaning just around the corner. Terror is the moment the monster is shown, when the zombie grabs hold of you and bites deep. Stephen King’s criticism of most people working in horror was that they overused terror, and Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6 were definitely guilty of this. They focused on swarming the player with enemies, and in their attempt to terrify, shifted the focus of the game to one of action, where quick reflexes were the keys to surviving. The original is a slow paced game where managing your resources is the key to survival. The horror felt by the player is one borne out of the fear of what lies around the corner, and not just in a literal sense, but in the overall uncertainty of your decision making process which could spell the difference between life and death.

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release date

January 20, 2015