By: Kyle Grubb
Now that I’ve gotten my requisite first review for each Stuff category finished, it only seemed logical to start reviewing things I’ve recently been experiencing. As I mentioned in my last Week: In Review, I’d been playing the PS4 HD Remaster of the 2002 GameCube remake of the 1996 PS1 Resident Evil.
But yeah, I’ve been playing that. It’s the most logical thing to review.
In Life: I’d never played the original Resident Evil before. There, I said it. It’s just one of those games that passed me by. When this game first came out, I was 5 years old. When Resident Evil 2 was released on the N64, I rented it from a Blockbuster, got terrified of the first Licker after it impaled me through the face, and promptly returned it the next day. I pretty much steered clear of the series for a while after that.
My first real journey into Survival Horror was Silent Hill 2 on PS2. That game, I understood. I was old enough to be able to handle the fear, but still young enough to be freaked out. When Resident Evil 4 came out, I was experienced enough to attempt the journey. While RE 4 failed to really scare me, I feel in love with the game anyway. It was fun, challenging, and had an entertaining, if zany, story. Despite my enjoyment of the game, though, I never looked backwards. I didn’t have the money to pick up the old games while still getting newer ones. Besides, the other games were old. I knew about the tank-like controls, the set camera angles, and the limited amount of saves. That just didn’t sound fun to me. I was young, still. Cut me some slack.
I heard a while ago about the plan to remaster the original Resident Evil, particularly the GameCube remake. I was familiar with the remake, where they rebuilt the game from the ground up and reworked various parts of the original game that were flawed. By this time, I had since watched Resident Evil fall out of favor with the co-op focused, action-heavy RE 5 and the giant mess that was RE 6. I hadn’t hated either game, but they had completely lost focus of their past. I became determined to take advantage of this chance to experience the game that had started it all. Spoilers alert: I’m glad that I did. Well, let’s get this REview of the REmaster of the REmake underway.
In Review: Resident Evil, originally released in 1996, did not, as some people believe, create the Survival Horror genre. Many other series, such as Alone in the Dark and Clock Tower, existed before hand. What Resident Evil did was make them cool. This game, the story of a special operations team, S.T.A.R.S., tasked with investigating a mysterious mansion, took Survival Horror conventions and utilized them in unique ways. Players were empowered but limited; you had the kind of weapons needed to handle the mansion’s threats, but not enough ammunition to take care of them all. A very limited inventory contributes to the oppressive feeling, as well, by forcing you to think carefully about what you bring with you at any given time. The game also attempted to tell a cinematic story. Sure, the writing was awful and the voice acting was laughable, but somewhere between all of that was an interesting world to explore as you slowly uncovered clues to the greater mystery around you. Taking all of the game’s pieces together, you had a game that caught the imagination of quite a few gamers. Suddenly Survival Horror, a formerly niche market, was viable in a big way.
In the early 2000’s, Capcom got it within their heads to take their original game that launched a franchise and rebuild it, make it better. The new graphics and sound were incredible, the dodgy writing was improved, and the new voice cast was… better. In addition, they improved a few other features from later games in the series, such as incorporating visual cues for the character’s health. This mode also included the Crimson Heads, enemies that mutate from regular zombies left behind by the player. The HD Remaster of this version on PS3 and PS4 has updated the graphics to modern standards, though not as breathtaking as newer games as would be expected, along with including new character costumes and an alternate control scheme to the original tank-like movement.
When starting the game, players choose between playing as Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield. Both characters play mostly identical, though Jill’s campaign, with her larger inventory size, alternate approach to a certain boss, and access to the Grenade Launcher, is recommended to first time players. While the moment to moment beats in game progression are largely the same with both characters, each has a slightly different story and a unique character that they work together with. A surprise to me, and may serve as a surprise to many other new players to the older games, is the focus on exploration and puzzle-solving. The mansion is a labyrinth, and the player must solve countless puzzles to unlock keys or gain tools that allow them to progress into more corridors and rooms. While many of the puzzles are fairly simple, the constant expansion of accessible areas is an inherently engaging mechanic that is constantly rewarding the player. You are constantly expanding your network of rooms, keeping track of the areas that require items you don’t yet possess to make progress. In the end, you’ll have explored every inch of the mansion and its surrounding areas, and will be able to navigate the twisting halls with ease. And maybe the use of a handy map.
The gameplay of Resident Evil is solid, though it is where it wears its age the most. Despite the new control scheme, the shadow of the tank is always there. The constantly shifting camera can play havoc to a player attempting to use the analog stick to move around, and I personally found myself utilizing the old controls on the d-pad more and more as I progressed. The incorporation of defense items is both a blessing and a curse. These items are found around the mansion and allow you to avoid damage if grabbed by an enemy, expending the weapon and doing damage. If you are caught without one of these tools, though, the player is forced to take the the full damage of the attack, unlike other games in the series which allow you a frantic attempt to shake the creatures off. Aiming and attacking in the game works fine for what it sets out to do, and boss battles are tense and engaging.
Crimson Heads, one of the new additions made in the GameCube version, alter the way a player approaches the game in big ways. Any regular zombie, left dead for long enough, will transform into a Crimson Head, a faster, stronger, more persistent foe. To prevent this, the player can attempt to blow off the head, attempted either with a close-range, upward shot with a shotgun or lucky shot with other gun, or by burning the bodies. With a limited amount of kersene or flame rounds to burn them, though, players are left considering every encounter, and whether each enemy need be killed it all. With ammo so limited, the concept of having to kill an enemy twice is a daunting one; I came to realize early that any enemy I din’t need to kill is better left avoided.
The sound design for the game is spectacular. Throughout the entire game, I left my speakers cranked high in hopes of hearing an enemy before it was able to get the jump on me, and each noise was well designed to help sell the atmosphere. A particular room, completely safe from enemies, was one I regularly avoided because of how uneasy the sound of a murder if crows that made their home there was. Also heightening the tension is the preset camera angles. Without control over the camera, you’ll regularly have to brave a corner without any way of knowing what could be past it. While a cheap technique for controlling a player’s tension, it absolutely works. And while I rarely did more than jump in my chair throughout the game, all of these design choices and clever decisions do work together to create a truly oppressive and imposing atmosphere.
The story for the game is fine, though any exposure to other games in the series is sure to remove surprise at any of the twists and turns the narrative tries to throw your way. Frankly, the story itself is fairly light. The majority of the time is spent on the gameplay, namely the puzzle-solving and exploring. When the cutscenes do pop up, they are usually short and fairly cliche. The characters are anything but deep, and usually boil down to a base motivation of survival. In particular are Chris and Jill, who are barely given any notable traits in this game. Future games proceed to flesh them out further, but in this adventure they function rarely as anything more significant than the player’s avatar. The story is better served in the various memos and letters scattered around the mansion, which give proper backstory and motivation to various auxiliary characters. In fact, there are characters that you never actually meet that are more fully developed characters than the main cast. While the story is never fantastic, though, it also never gets in the way of the enjoyment the game provides. There is something to that.
In Summation: This remaster of a remake of a 19 year old game holds up amazingly well considering its age, and that is, honestly, probably the most glowing compliment I can give it. As far as games have come in the last two decades, the original Resident Evil, with a few little tweaks, manages to not only avoid embarrassing itself, but almost shine. Even the newer entries of this series have lessons to be learned from their progenitor. This game manages to succeed because of successful building of tone and a rewarding cycle of exploration and puzzle-solving, two things that the series has all but abandoned in favor of big, bombastic set pieces and frantic gunplay. Hopefully Capcom has learned from its look backwards, as the upcoming Resident Evil Revelations 2 does look like a step in the right direction. No matter where the Resident Evil series has or hasn’t gone, though, this version of the game still stands up as a fun, enjoyable experience that might just give you a few jolts and jumps while you submerge yourself into its world. And for only $20, I’d be hard pressed to a feeling why you shouldn’t dive right in.
Resident Evil HD Remaster
Apparently, there are rumors to suggest that Resident Evil 0 is being given the same HD Remaster treatment. Just an interesting tidbit. I never played that one either, and so it might be a great chance.