HIGH: The tension is still palpable after all these years.
LOW: The story is still laughable after all these years.
WTF: Exactly what does one put in a Jill sandwich?
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It blinds people over time, letting them overlook major issues in favor of whatever joy they recall. Distance and age make us all more forgiving, which means revisiting the past is a risky proposition.
While I was installing Resident Evil HD Remaster I was almost giddy to replay what was one of the greatest survival horror games in memory. Ten minutes later, my rose-tinted glasses were knocked askew as I was harshly reminded of all the problems I had forgotten about. However, the glasses weren't lying entirely… Once I readjusted them, I found that Resident Evil is still an excellent game.
This version of Resident Evil is an HD port of the GameCube version, which is itself a full remake of the classic PS1 title. The genuinely new content is just a few extra character skins and an easier difficulty setting. This stuff won't blow anyone away.
One thing that will, however, is an optional control setup that allows the player to move in the direction the controller is pressed, rather than having to rotate on the spot. That's right, the famously awkward ‘tank controls' can be substituted by a setup that actually makes sense. Having the option to pick between two control styles makes the game more accessible, especially to anyone not old enough to be familiar with such an archaic layout.
All of the other changes to Remaster are graphical in nature. High resolution backgrounds, improved lighting effects, and widescreen support help keep the game from looking too dated. I didn't notice the differences at first, but once I popped in the GameCube version for comparison, the increase in quality between the two was clearly apparent.
Apart from the extras, the graphics and the controls, everything else is unchanged from the GameCube version… for better and worse.
The ‘worse'? The Resident Evil franchise is notorious for its unintentional camp factor. Poor dialogue, mediocre voice acting, and ridiculous plots run rampant throughout the series, and all those issues originated here. While the story here hasn't disappeared up its own backside as it has in the more recent installments, it's still pretty laughable. Much like any B-horror movie, nothing that happens makes sense under even cursory scrutiny. If you ask me, Resident Evil is best viewed through the same way one would watch Sharknado—just accept everything at face value and move on.
Hokey acting and storytelling aside, Resident Evil excels at building suspense if played at the Normal difficulty or higher. Limited ammo, health pickups, and even limited saves makes it all feel like there's never enough of anything to go around. The characters also have extremely limited inventory space for carried items, especially by today's standards. This keeps someone from becoming a walking arsenal, and I felt that every missed shot or wasted healing herb would come back to screw me over later.
This constant sense of being in over my head means that Resident Evil still ranks among the best in the horror game pantheon, and clearly shows how it was strong enough to spawn the survival horror offshoot genre. While many modern horror games (including the later REs) have replaced tension and fear with jump-scares and endless hordes to be mowed down, the true dread in this classic gem still shines darkly.
Sure, it might be getting up there in years, but while the younger generation feels like it has to show off how ‘scary' it is with cheaper, higher-octane thrills, Resident Evil takes the time to really get under my skin, and considering how many times I leapt out of it, I'd say a bit of maturity isn't a bad thing.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted and the game was completed with both Chris and Jill. There are no multiplayer modes, but there are online leaderboards.
Parents: This game is rated M by the ESRB and contains: violence, blood, language, gruesome death scenes, fine zombie dining, and a really angry snake. While tame to other contemporaries such as Dead Space, this is still pretty graphic and not for kids.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: While the game has subtitles, there ARE a few sound cues that, if missed, could lead to a lot of wasted time trying to track down items. In addition, moaning is sometimes the only clue if there is an enemy behind the player or around a blind corner. Still very much playable, but will require a bit of extra diligence to safely progress.