We'll just let this out of the bag now. I'm not what you would call a "fan" of Resident Evil. For me, the series both begins and ends at the monumental 4th entry, and everything else just kind of exists.
If I were to lean towards the pre- or post-Resident Evil 4 world, the years before Capcom's seminal hit dominated where the series has gone in recent years. Those earlier PlayStation games still rock that early 3D polygon look and horrendous voice acting, both of which are just starting to hit their nostalgia stride like pixel art and chiptunes before them.
However, I am not alone in thinking that these games have become just a hair shy above unplayable because of their infamous "tank controls," a blight on the gaming world that never will and never should have sentimental value.
Purists will disagree with me and defend them to the death as "a way to build tension," but I'm sorry. The truth is all they managed to accomplish was to scare off an entire generation of potential fans. Sadly, these controls also turned me off to the Resident Evil remake once it launched for the GameCube in 2002.
I played it for a weekend, hated it, and never went back.
With the recent rerelease of Resident Evil HD Remaster, Capcom has corrected the wrongs of forcing an unpopular control scheme on those who don't want it, and my eyes and the eyes of millions should finally be open. We all should have been a Resident Evil fan many years before the dive into big number 4.
Oh yeah, this package is also just $20!
Ditch the Tank
I can't emphasize enough how greatly this new control scheme improves the overall experience of Capcom's classic. No more haphazardly guessing which way to point the analog stick when dodging zombies in tight hallways. No more fumbling through the different angles when a giant snake is lunging towards our "directionally confused" protagonists.
Player points in a direction, Jill or Chris move that way, end of story. I like simplicity in my motion when it comes to games. No need to think too much when it comes to a simple walking function.
Sounds perfect enough, but this major improvement does come with a little baggage. To those who don't know, the original "tank controls" allowed for up to always be forward, and believe it or not, as much as I hate to admit it, this does make a lot of sense in a game with pre-rendered backgrounds and set camera angles.
In the REmaster, "right" might not always be "right" if you take just a few steps into an uncontrolled camera change. Forced perspective really messes with your mind when adjusting which way to point the analog stick. Trust me, Capcom's REmake has no respect for the 180 degree line. "Right" suddenly becomes "up" or even "left" in some cases, and the brain naturally fixates on correcting this.
Luckily, Capcom's developers on this REmaster foresaw this problem and allowed for a little leeway when it comes to reorienting the controls. Continuing to hold "right" will still move Chris or Jill in the same direction regardless of what it becomes after the camera change.
The new controls aren't perfect. I admittedly made plenty of blunders with the camera leaps in some tight hallways, but in a standoff with the old "tank controls," this new setup wins 10 out of 10 times. Capcom's silky, smooth transition makes that decision much easier.
I'm Ready For My Close Up, Whoa Not That Close!
However, other improvements are kept pretty minimal. Make no mistake, that the REmaster is still a very old-school experience, albeit retooled to look very, very modern. Just think about what Capcom is offering here. The REmaster approaches progression with a very 90s' mentality, but it does so with early 00s' character models and backgrounds being displayed in a 10s' gaming resolution!
How crazy is that?!
The REmake can be counted as one of the very few remakes I unconditionally approve of. My firm belief is that all games are a product of their time, and if they deserve to be remembered on their merits 5, 10, 20 years later, then it will happen. Simple as that. No remake, technical improvements, or remasters are going to alter a game's ultimate fate.
You either go all in and build a remake that stands on its own feet, not its inspiration's reputation, or you don't try at all. Capcom took the hard route and transformed a classic into a better classic, one of the most atmospheric games that survival-horror fans have ever witnessed. The REmake stands the test of time as it own separate entity that can be cherished alongside the original, not in replacement of it.
Best of all, it need not be overly tinkered with to be made into something new.
Capcom's latest REmaster, the one we are reviewing today, leaves the core game alone and delivers a makeover that brings all of those frights and horrors to life in ways that the limited GameCube technology simply could not. Remember, even with the standard definition resolution, the REmake was already considered one of the most atmospheric games of all time.
We're not improving on perfection here. We're just, giving it a better chance to show off.
To see all that craftsmanship and art work brought to life at full potential is a monumental achievement. Nothing about the REmaster is fake or "plastically" like a lot of remasters come off as. It's a 100 percent natural visual tour de' force, and the true miracle lies in how this decade old game still looks better than even a few modern ones.
Hold My Hand, Please… Hello? Anybody?
As for that core gameplay that hasn't been tampered with? Well, I think a lot of younger gamers are really going to have a hard time getting into the REmaster.
Not because it is difficult mind you. Console gamers today have Dark Souls to point to as proof that difficult games can be enjoyed by the masses. I'm talking about how the REmaster doesn't hold your hand for a single second from beginning to end.
Resident Evil drops several stranded S.T.A.R.S. officers into a mansion, and simply sets them on their way to uncover its mystery and the way out. No way points, no hints, no dialogue explaining the controls or generic radio voice commanding where to go next. The REmaster respects its audience to proceed at its own pace.
Sticking with that 90s' mentality, adventure game elements overshadow the action sequences throughout the entire experience. I was surprised with how few zombies I actually shot! Instead, Jill's and Chris' arsenal is mostly made up of keys, medallions, emblems, and other unique items that litter the floor and shelves. Progress is made by mixing, matching, contriving and squeezing these items in certain situations. Some open keys which can unlock doors, others lead to more keys or better weapons.
The REmaster's setting unfolds at a pace that is natural to the player controlling it. Slow, methodical players will find that the mansion is loaded with back story and other "tucked away" corners. Doors open with each passing obstacle, access to new rooms means more mind-bending puzzles.
Resident Evil's iconic zombies slowly infest the house in larger numbers, but in the context of the game, they are more like puzzles and obstacles themselves rather than the center piece for an action sequence. Those who also take the time to explore will have the ammunition necessary to survive when the time comes.
There is a reason that Resident Evil is a favorite among speed-runners, and that is because pace is an element left entirely in the gamer's hands. No scripted events dragging our heroes through the plot, no cutscenes chewing up the running time.
Just a pure gamer experience.
The developers never once interfere with progress, allowing their true goal of creating a horrific zombie setting to be that much more enjoyable. In fact, I'd argue that the "tank controls" were the only developer interference forced onto the player. With the option to finally give them the ax, curious fans are as free as a bird to enjoy the REmaster however they choose.
The REmaster is in a class of its own for kickin' it old-school, but is not perfect, mind you. Games have evolved a lot since the mid-90s, and several cracks in its foundations do show a lot of ware.
Most noticeably, the menu system is still a cumbersome drag after all these years. Not that I mind being limited to eight items, but the issue comes with accessing those left behind in a box. For example, Chris or Jill stumbles across a puzzle which requires an obvious item. "Crap! I don't have it!" Thus begins the long tread all the way back through zombie infested hallways to access the item box before stumbling all the way back to the puzzle again.
The REmaster is a nightmare in backtracking!
Aside from that though, my complaints are minor. Aiming can be a bit of a hassle, again, a result of the forced perspective and rotational issues. A lingering sense of not knowing where to go next also always hangs in the air, but Capcom does a great job pulling Jill or Chris subconsciously along an invisible fishing line through its creepy zombie estate.
The Master of Remasters
When compared to other survival horror franchises like Silent Hill and Fatal Frame, Resident Evil has developed a reputation for being more about action, gore, intensity, and "BOO! Gotcha!" moments. Contrast this with genuinely horrifying elements like psychological storytelling and creepy atmosphere.
I'll agree that plenty of Resident Evil games are like that, even the good ones, but this REmaster should be more than enough to put those claims to rest.
Now that it is no longer limited to the GameCube and has the gracious benefit of being liberated from "tank controls," everybody can finally experience the brilliance behind this old-fashioned Resident Evil game as they see fit. However, the true star of this REmaster is not the gameplay, not the blood and gore, and certainly not the characters. It's not even the zombies, if you can believe that.
It's the setting. This house is where Resident Evil all began. As the series began to spread out across the entire globe, the settings were forced to become larger and less effective as a result. "Keep it simple, stupid!" The REmaster's twisted mansion is a tight, claustrophobic, ever evolving set piece which its developers obviously poured their heart and soul into getting it right.
Don't forget that the improved visuals only serve to drive that home.
At $20, this game is an absolute steal. The original PlayStation game is regarded as a classic. The REmake is regarded as a classic, and this REmaster improves on it in all the right ways, never tripping on its ambitions. Resident Evil HD Remaster is a no-brainer and could become a classic in its own right if enough gamers bite.
Buy this game, especially if you are like me and have a hard time enjoying the series outside of Resident Evil 4. It might even make a Resident Evil fan out of you too.
Disclaimer: We purchased Resident Evil HD Remaster for the PlayStation 3 and played its campaign with Jill before writing this review.