It’s hard to believe that it has been almost 20 years since Resident Evil lurked onto the video game scene and completely redefined the survival horror genre. There has been no shortage of sequels and spin-offs, but many people argue that the series has derailed over the last decade, losing the horror element of the original and focusing more on action. The first game in the series has arguably been the most iconic, and so just like the zombies that inhabit the games, the original Resident Evil has returned to life and is now remastered for current generation consoles. So does the original game hold up after all these years, or has this forefather of horror games shown its age? There’s no denying that certain elements feel dated, but for the most part, Resident Evil has held up fairly well.
The premise in Resident Evil HD is simple. Players take control of either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, members of a special police task force known as S.T.A.R.S., on a rescue mission for their missing teammates following a series of bizarre murders in the fictional Raccoon City. After stumbling upon a mysterious mansion in the woods, their mission becomes focused on escape and survival as they are forced to push further into the zombie-infested mansion.
Gameplay revolves around exploring the terrifying mansion. The many rooms of the estate feature puzzles, which are usually solved by finding the right item hidden in another location of the mansion. Along the way, players will encounter tougher enemies as they seek to discover the cause of the outbreak.
It should be noted that this remaster is actually a port of the 2002 GameCube remake and not the 1996 PlayStation original. Because it is just a port and not a complete from-the-ground-up revamp, the visuals have not seen a current generation overhaul. Resident Evil is one of GameCube’s most visually impressive games, but by today’s standards some areas will come across as looking a bit flat and grainy. It definitely does not look bad, but don’t go in expecting a complete facelift.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been upgrades, though. This remaster now runs at a crisp 1080p resolution and has added 16:9 widescreen support for the first time. The sound has gotten an upgrade as well and now features 5.1 surround sound, making the game’s sounds all the more unsettling.
All those improvements are great, but what really matters is how well the game has held up. The short answer is that the game is still a lot of fun to play, albeit with a few annoying pitfalls from the old days of gaming (more on that in a moment).
Perhaps what is most impressive, though, is just how well Resident Evil continues to terrify you even after all these years. The game is still extremely atmospheric and gives you a constant feeling of uneasiness. Even longtime fans of the game may find themselves being cautious. You may know where a dead body will spring to life, or when a vicious dog will burst through a window, but the suspense is still likely to keep you on your toes.
There are several things about the game that don’t hold up so well, though, the most obvious of which is the fixed camera angles. Rather than using a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective like modern horror games such as Dead Space, Resident Evil HD still uses the same obstructive angles that it did in 1996. It is not uncommon to have a zombie that is literally right next to you, but still hidden behind a corner that the camera doesn’t reach. It is also frustrating when the camera does a sudden switch to a new location that faces the opposite direction that you’re attempting to move. There were a handful of times where I would move down a hallway, the camera would change and suddenly I would find myself going back in the opposite direction simply because the new camera angle worked inversely to the direction I was originally moving. It doesn’t break the game, and it certainly makes it feel more cinematic, but absolutely gets in the way at times.
The controls are far from perfect as well. Resident Evil HD thankfully implements a new control scheme that helps make it more user-friendly (although you can switch to the old style, if you prefer), but often still comes across as obtrusive. General movement is mostly acceptable, but aiming can be a nightmare due to the aforementioned fixed camera, especially when attempting to aim at enemies that aren’t on level footing, such as a dog or a raven. This is also a return to the days where you could not move and shoot simultaneously, meaning combat oftentimes relies on finding an ideal corner before comfortably firing off rounds. I can’t imagine a way to fix the controls without retooling the entire game, but this is one area where newer Resident Evil installments have seen a big improvement.
Another frustrating aspect is the limited number of inventory slots available to the player. Chris can only hold up to six items at a time (Jill can hold eight). This most likely stems from system limitations on the old hardware, but having such little room for inventory becomes a nuisance quite quickly. Your character almost always carries around necessities like weapons, ammo, keys, and healing items, so very little is left for important puzzle-based items. Making matters worse is the fact that you can’t drop items either, meaning that there is plenty of backtracking to save rooms where items can be stored.
Speaking of those save rooms, players are limited in how frequently they can save as well. To save your game, a player must use an ink ribbon on a typewriter, but the problem is that the ribbons are finite. This encourages players to make as much progress as possible before using up their precious ink. That means that if you are killed after thirty minutes of playtime, you’ll lose all that progress. It creates a tense “should I or shouldn’t I?” scenario but makes playing the game for shorter periods of time nearly impossible.
As annoying as all of these things are, changing any one of them would alter the dynamic of the entire game. The game is frustratingly limiting, but that contributes to the horror. Part of what makes Resident Evil so scary is the fact that you never quite feel like you’re fully equipped for a situation. I may find myself wishing for more inventory slots or easier controls, but to be given either of those would empower the player and break the game’s formula. Modern Resident Evil installments don’t hesitate to provide plentiful ammo and smooth controls, but they’ve also lost their element of struggle. Resident Evil HD’s shortcomings may be annoying, but they are part of why it continues to be one of the scariest games around.
As far as content goes, everything from the GameCube edition has been brought over. The main campaign clocks in around the 8 hour mark, with players who are already familiar with the original likely to take less time. The game encourages you to play through the game a second time as the opposite character, as there are minor variances in Chris and Jill’s campaigns. There are also several difficulty settings to choose from, so both veterans and amateurs can find just the right difficulty. Leaderboards and achievement/trophy support may also entice players to continue playing after the credits have rolled.
All told, there is a reason that Resident Evil has become one of gaming’s most iconic franchises and this remaster reminds us why. While not a full remake, the modern touches help bring this classic game to the modern consoles. The game’s limitations may prove to be annoying reminders of the past, but the horror and core gameplay are still intact. As a whole, Resident Evil HD is an impressive modernization and holds up surprisingly well overall.