Developed and Published by: Capcom
Platforms: GameCube, Wii, Switch, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed – via Resident Evil Origins Collection), PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: Out Now!
It’s finally here; it’s the week of Resident Evil Village releasing, so I thought I would move up my usual weekly post by a day or so – that way, I’ll have more of my Saturday to blast through the eighth mainline entry into the horror series (I am SO excited)! However, this is still going to keep to the Resident Evil theme, by continuing on from my last post and adding another Resident Evil review to my ever-growing collection (this’ll be my eighth of the eleven I have played, including Resistance)! It seemed apt that, given Village releasing, I went back to the one that started it all – or at least the 2002 remake of the 1996 original. Packaged with prequel Resident Evil Zero in the Origins Collection, I played the original Resident Evil on PlayStation 4 during my much-documented quest through the series in 2020. In contrast to, say, the recent radical overhauls of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3, which switched the camera style from fixed-perspective to over-the-shoulder, the remake of Resident Evil is a much closer recreation that focuses on refining the visuals and player experience to more modern standards without losing the essence of the iconic original. I’ve got to say, playing it makes clear just why it started such an iconic and long-lasting series. This is subtle, intelligent, and thrilling survival horror, and whilst I did have some issues with the game during my playtime, it undeniably kept me absorbed and returning for more.
It All Starts Here…
The Resident Evil remake – which this review shall refer to as REmake for the sake of brevity – starts with a new CG telling of how the Alpha Team of S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) go to the Arklay Mountains to investigate mysterious reports and the missing Bravo Team sent out beforehand (see Resident Evil Zero for more on that). When Jill Valentine (Heidi Anderson), one of the two playable characters in the game, discovers zombified dogs feeding on the body of one of her colleagues, she and most of the surviving members of Alpha Team flee to a nearby mansion for safety. Before getting any further, I’ve got to say how well done this CG is; originating on the GameCube, it is slightly grainy and blurry compared to cinematics of today, but that almost boosts the mysterious qualities of it. There is an uneasy feeling as you see these characters roaming the wooded mountains just prior to making discoveries that will develop into the series that is Resident Evil. It’s well framed, and there is one moment in particular that stands out – when, as aforementioned, Jill sees the dogs and the body, she holds up her gun but stands rooted to the spot, clearly shocked and stunned by the scene she has seen. This opens up an opportunity for a dog to turn, see her, and attack, but Chris Redfield (Joe Whyte), the second playable character, is there to intervene. It’s a really telling moment, and one that now actually connects really well to the signs of trauma Jill shows in the remake of Resident Evil 3. As an opening, this REmake CG is incredibly effective in pulling you into the setting and establishing a tone that is carried throughout the rest of the game.
Once into the mansion, the gameplay begins, with Jill and Chris separated. Whilst the general structure of REmake is mostly the same whether you play as Jill or Chris, there are definite differences to each experience that set them apart – I recommend playing both sides of the story. One of the most clear ways they vary is the main supporting character; for example, as Jill, you’ll frequently run into fellow S.T.A.R.S. member Barry Burton (Ed Smaron) but this is not the same for Chris – and you’ll also regularly interact with your leader Captain Albert Wesker (Peter Jessop). Either way, though, you’ll soon discover that the mansion is infested with zombies who are keen for you to be their next meal. The REmake, as with the source material, is played through a series of fixed-perspective screens which you roam around, exploring, finding items, and solving puzzles in order to progress. To begin with, only a fraction of the mansion is accessible, but as you push forward through the narrow corridors and work out how the secretive rooms – and their contents – fit together, you’ll steadily open more and more of it up. Even as you stray into the forests and caves surrounding the mansion, the imposing presence it has is felt in the ways paths connect and circle back to each other like an ominous set of sprawling, interconnected roots.
When moving through said mansion, it immediately struck me how smartly the fixed perspective format is implemented. Compared to other examples of this viewpoint – even, say, Resident Evil Zero – REmake shows how much potential this set-up can have for the genre when done thoughtfully. Entering any new room brings with it trepidation, as the interstitial point-of-view loading/intro screen transitions into an opening camera angle which varies wildly, whether it be close-up starting shots that reveal little of your surroundings, or a view of labyrinthine corridors with mirrors that simultaneously reveal and conceal the path ahead. Enemies and other surprises are often staged in clever ways to maximise the scares, and even when you can see it coming, it is still utterly effective. Entering a room and hearing the shuffles, moans, or clinks of movement a split-second before you can see the cause of those sounds immediately fires off the senses. These scare tactics are well combined with the Metroidvania nature of the mansion and how you must return to previous areas with new keys and means of access – the areas you backtrack through rarely stay as you left them, and sometimes contain fresh, escalating threats that ensure you never feel too safe. In addition, it gives REmake a unique replayability, with a lot of speedrun potential for optimising your routes; then you have harder difficulty modes on top of that, throwing new curveballs at you that completely change how you tackle certain parts of the game.
Aim For the Head
A combination of claustrophobic mansion corridors and hostile undead opposition means that Jill & Chris have to rely on an array of weaponry to clear their paths. Starting out with a handgun, the two characters come across a variety of guns that set the template for the sequels, prequels, and spin-offs to come, including shotguns, grenade launchers, and more. The controls of the early Resident Evil games are infamous for being clunky; you hold down one input (on PS4, one of the triggers) to raise your weapon, and then can use your movements to slowly turn your angle as needed, before pressing the opposite input to fire. It is clearly and purposefully deliberate, making reaction times slower and allowing others more time to get close. On the other hand, I will say that there is a rhythm of combat that feels quite natural once you have gotten through a few encounters; a rhythm which, with gained experience, you can start to predict. Furthermore, despite this control system, you might think that with the sorts of firearms mentioned above, most situations would be comfortable for these S.T.A.R.S members… However, part of keeping you guessing is the limited and finite amounts of ammo that can be found throughout the game. This inherently pressures the player into only pulling the trigger when you really need to – which is smart design, because it often results in inviting risk by letting enemies get close or attempting to run past them to save ammunition. This can easily go wrong, leading into the player being grabbed and taken a bite out of – unless you have one of the invaluable defense items which act as one-time counters to a zombie attack.
This is where another finite supply, but no less important than ammo, plays a part: healing herbs and first-aid. Again starting a series staple, you can combine together the different types of herbs depending on whether you need health or an antidote to poison – which leads us into the inventory set-up and how you maintain it, which is much more exciting than it sounds, aha! In contrast to how lots of games out there stretch the idea of how many items someone could fit into their pocket (*cough* Link *cough*), REmake is the opposite, emphasising how little room for items you have. When you’re splitting weapons, herbs/first aid, and puzzle items across 8 spaces, you’ll quickly run into issues. This further plays into the route optimisation and planning I brought up before – you can easily go halfway across the mansion before realising you need more inventory space, and need to go back to a room with an item storage crate. In which case, those zombies you just squeezed past safely? Well, you’ve gotta do that again. The item crates let you store and access your supplies whenever you find one, which is usually in a save room. No autosave here – you’ll need to find an ink ribbon (again, limited quantities… ) and then a typewriter to record your progress, so even saving is a factor to carefully keep a track of. Both item crates and typewriters are not frequently at hand, so whenever you set off from one you have to tactically work out which items to take, which to leave, and how much room to leave in your inventory. Getting this planning right is the source of plenty of pain when it goes wrong (losing unsaved data hurts!), but also much satisfaction when you get it right.
Whilst this can all work well in forcing you to return to dangerous areas, it does also create the problem of repetitiveness at times, especially when you’re going back through empty rooms one by one just to sort our your inventory. This situation can take away tension and momentum from the game – it’s a situational problem, but does happen. Indeed, the patient, puzzling nature of the game that is so often a strength can occasionally detract, especially on the first playthrough, when you’re new to all the puzzles, their intricacies, and the distinct way games from the era often kept things cryptic. To the credit of the game, the way items and rooms link together is often logical (despite some ridiculous-when-you-think-about-it solutions), but if you do find yourself stuck by the complexities of the mansion, there is no extra help to figure out the solution. Such a lack of guidance is in one sense freeing, but in another becomes the source of sudden barriers to your progression. On the whole, this is quite rare, and the puzzles, I emphasise, tend to be intuitive, but sometimes the lack of explanation does cause roadblocks that harm the pacing on your initial run.
It is important to realise, too, that there is a difference between puzzle design and environmental design, and furthermore how proficient REmake is at each. As I say, puzzles can be a bit too forced and opaque, but the superb environment set-ups you find yourself in are more concerned with making your progress as uncomfortable as possible and are very successful in that! The camerawork and narrow pathways are definitely a factor, but it’s also the precise way objects are strewn around each location. Every chair, table, or staircase has a part to play in the puzzlebox feel of the mansion and overall game, each being a new factor for the player to consider – and, brilliantly, if you play it right, you can turn them to your advantage, as it isn’t just you who has to contend with the layout of the room you are in. There are those awesome moments of satisfaction when you find a hidden item or successfully use your surroundings to outwit an enemy, and that sense of constant learning is compelling in how it brings you back for more; I have played through this game several times now, and do not plan to stop. It has a bit of that replayable longevity that reminds me of the ways the Resident Evil 3 remake kept me playing time and time again, and if I am making that comparison, then you know I was enjoying my time with REmake! Environment and perspective intertwine so seamlessly, almost always moving forward and hardly ever remaining static – it’s almost as if the mansion itself is watching your every move…
Being a remake, and in the case of the most recent editions of REmake, a remaster of said remake (as in the case of my PS4 version), this release of Resident Evil makes numerous improvements that ensure it’s the definitive way to play. Some of the outdoors areas are brand new, and other existing ones have been streamlined to make them better-paced. I already brought up the CG opening, but there are other story points that are new to the REmake and bring it more in line with the cinematic tendencies of the series as it is now – this, in addition, brings with it new connections to those other games, so that there are at least those hints to set up events to come. It might even take more than one playthrough to see all the ways the story can end, too, so that’s yet another reason to keep returning! As well as this, new gameplay mechanics include using a lighter and canteen to burn zombies (preventing them from becoming the fast Crimson Heads), and the ability for the handgun to cause headshots – which instantly remove zombies from the fight. Improvements such as the quick-turn for spinning 180 degrees in a tight space have also been carried over from other games in the series, and the newest remaster of REmake has an extra control scheme that allows you new choice of how the character responds to your directional inputs across different perspectives.
With remakes and remasters comes the visual upgrade too, of course, and the difference is prominent. Instead of the blocky and flat graphics managed on the PlayStation 1 (just search them and take a look), character models and environments are now much more detailed. Characters such as Jill and Chris are icons of not only the genre but gaming as a whole, so it is fantastic to see their original adventure get such improvements, with expressive animations and new voice acting that fit the game more firmly with their depictions in other games; these are independent, determined, yet fallible people that you’re in these scenarios with. Your surroundings are composed of improved textures that provide opportunity for the colour palette to be both darker and more visible all at once, packed full of atmosphere that lifts everything into a contemporary vibe. There are still some blurry textures here and there in the edges of some screens, and it is quite clear where the focus of the HD remasters went as you play, but overall it is a remarkable overhaul – one which gives new room for the gameplay and story to breath, without giving the player too much comfort in clarity.
Your sense of the environment around you is arguably as much to do with the audio as it is the visual, so it’s also the new sound design that makes a positive impact. Again, I’ve touched on how audio cues can alert you before your vision does, and these creature cries become an ever-increasing library of savagery to memorize for your own sake! All your actions, whether they be the creaks of simple footsteps or the reverberations of reactionary gunshots, have a satisfying substance that cuts through the quiet ambience. Plus, the understated but ominous soundtrack keeps you on edge wherever you are. Whilst I am on the topic of visuals, audio, and enemies, the occasional boss fights definitely benefit from the upgrades and become blood-pumping set-pieces that’ll make you wonder why you weren’t more prepared before going in, aha! These moments break up the slower exploration sequences well, and mark dramatic developments in the narrative.
To finish off, there are some extra, er, extras in REmake to note. It really does feel as though the more you play, the more the game opens up to you; just as you might think you have a firm grasp on the overall structure of the game, a brand new modifier can be thrown at you as a challenge of your skill. One of these, especially, is something that seems exceptionally difficult… Furthermore, there are a multitude of unlockable outfits for both Jill and Chris, including some new and exclusive BSAA ones based on their looks in Resident Evil 5. Add these to the alternate story paths and general longevity of calculating the best way to get through the game, and there is a lot to do within the, I’d say, usually five-to-ten-hour game length – though, there is a Trophy for doing it in less than three…
Playing through this remake of the original Resident Evil is a fascinating, invigorating experience, and one that showed me just how much the ideas of this game inspired and continue to influence not only the series itself but the entire survival horror genre. There are so many examples of this, whether that be the use of perspective to unsettle the player, the suspense of the careful allocation of resources, or the intrigue of the mystery Jill and Chris find themselves in, just to name three. Even with less outright action that some other Resident Evil games, REmake can be more thrilling, with few moments where your heart isn’t pounding from prospective dangers of various forms. There was, here and there, a moment when a less intuitive puzzle would stump and delay me to the point of lessening my enjoyment – in these moments, there is an element of having to stick with REmake and ride it out. If you do just that, though, not only will you discover the suspenseful brilliance of a game that started a phenomenon, but you’ll probably feel the draw to go back time and time again.