Resident Evil (Biohazard) HD Remaster
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Action/Adventure, Survival Horror
Upon an end table in a dimly-lit hallway within the Resident Evil mansion sits an innocuous wooden board. As a much younger video game nerd, this board always stumped me. No other puzzle seemed to fit with it, no matter what I tried; every glance into the item box was utter frustration, the board sitting there, refusing to give up its secrets. Years later, I find out this was supposed to be applied on a woodcut map above the fireplace, searing a copy for your own use.
Applying that board to the fireplace in Resident Evil Remaster was deeply satisfying. It’s this level of problem solving that Resident Evil is known for, perhaps even more than the zombies within, and what keeps the series going and this first game, a 1996 classic, coming back again and again.
For people who played that PS1 original (or the Director’s Cut, or the Gamecube remake, or the cut-down DS version), you already know where you are. It’s Resident Evil with shinier graphics and achievements, and if you like Resident Evil, you’ll like Resident Evil again. The plot is as laughably simple as it ever was: as either Chris or Jill of S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team, an elite section of the police force, you’re sent to the forested outskirts of Racoon City to investigate the status of your compatriots, Bravo Team, whose helicopter has been downed. Chased towards a mansion by strange, rotting dogs once you land, the team splits up and begin to investigate this strange building, zombies and puzzles around every corner.
Resident Evil’s hammy B-movie story isn’t where the fun lies, though. The exploration of the Spencer Mansion itself is what did and still does sell the experience, making players continually retrace their steps through the dangerous hallways, getting to know the place intimately rather than charging through dozens of shallow, uninteresting locations. It’s a more focused sort of environment that’s been eschewed in more recent games: every room in the mansion and its surrounds acts as both its own puzzle and a part of the greater whole. Notes left scattered about – starting a long gaming tradition of people jotting down their thoughts while being chased by horrific monsters – add another layer of atmosphere, giving further insight into the people caught up in the horrors of the T-Virus.
In actual gameplay terms, most of the challenge lies in avoidance and inventory management. Choosing Chris gives you a lighter, more health, and six inventory slots; choosing Jill gives you a lockpick and eight inventory slots. No matter who you choose, the enemies you face are stern. Any difficulty Normal or above simply does not give enough ammo to defeat every enemy. In fact, it’s often in your best interests to not take down everything you see and just find ways around. For players used to carrying 200 pounds of weaponry on their back, it’s a harsh reminder of reality. Resident Evil expects you to pay attention, to stay sharp, to read the notes scattered about and to work things out. After so many games where the greatest test of your brain function is ‘follow the glowing reticule and press the Use button’, an experience which demands more grey matter than lightning reflexes is deeply refreshing.
However, not all of those 1996 ideas are necessarily good ones. Were it not for this being a remake of an older game, it would be mind-boggling to include the use of Ink Ribbons as a saving device. As their own limited item, you need to collect them, use them, then toss them back in the item box once you’ve saved to avoid a precious inventory slot being used up. The older style of tank controls, requiring players to turn on the spot rather than move freely, is a similar offender, but the ability to choose between the old ones (which I still like, but have not aged too well) and the new style helps avoid frustration.
Those aside, the voice acting is definitely the worst offender and greatest joy: every character mumbles their lines like they’re suffering from sleep deprivation, occasionally rising to a half-hearted attempt at hammy anger. Though the B-movie camp has its charm, having grown used to expressive animation and emotive vocal performances only makes the dead-eyed stare characters give each other all the more glaring.
Oh, and the door opening animations initially used to cover up the loading times between each room? Still there in all their seven-second flow-interrupting glory. Great for nostalgia, not great for patience.
All told, Resident Evil is not a game for someone who wants a deep story or interesting characters. The appeal of the game is the world you’re slowly unlocking, portrayed beautifully in pre-rendered backgrounds and shot like a master director. It’s a game you can knock over in an afternoon, if you’re good, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a simple game with a single purpose and it executes that purpose as well as it did all of those years ago.
They just really don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
– Gorgeous visuals
– Simple, fun gameplay
– Giant nostalgia rush in shiny HD
– Lacklustre voice acting
– Some features have aged poorly