Game played on: PS4
Released: April 30, 2002, January 20, 2015 (HD Remaster)
I don’t have any experience playing the Resident Evil games, not even the wildly acclaimed Resident Evil 4. Every time I saw the trailers and gameplay for the old and new ones, I had no interest. It didn’t look scary next to say, Silent Hill. I only decided to give the series a chance once I came to terms with the two series’ differing priorities. Silent Hill is going for a subtle, Japanese horror atmosphere, while Resident Evil, despite also being made by a Japanese company, is going for more of a B-movie, George Romero style of horror. You can prefer one over the other, but comparing the two in terms of which is better horror is unfair.
Resident Evil, a.k.a. Resident Evil REmake to the fans is a remake (obviously) of the original Resident Evil from the PS1 era to the GameCube. It was re-released over a decade later to this current generation of consoles and to PC as an HD remaster. A major benefit that this version has is the choice between the old school tank control scheme and a modern one. Now while I can adapt to tank controls, if I have a choice between them and more refined ones, I’ll choose the latter. But even if it didn’t have its new features, I would still love this game because it is one of the most gracefully aged games ever made.
Resident Evil REmake follows the original’s plot near beat for beat. The elite S.T.A.R.S. unit of the Raccoon City Police Department is called in to investigate a series of grisly murders up in the woods. After contact with one team is lost, another team is sent in to find them. They get chased into the spooky Spencer Mansion by a pack of murderous zombie dogs, the mansion is full of zombies, and the activities of the evil mega corporation Umbrella are slowly discovered through the player’s exploration of the mansion and its surrounding area by solving elaborate puzzles, evading death traps, and finding keys to unlock the mansion’s doors. If you’re looking for a well written story with complex characters, go elsewhere. It’s a cheesy, B-movie plot with corny dialogue (and voice acting to match) that you have to accept for what it is. That doesn’t mean the plot is bad, in fact I’d argue it’s good within its genre. There are good twists and the remake adds a new subplot that changes how the story plays out a bit, the characters are likable, and the pacing never goes too slow that you’re begging it to pick up or too fast that you don’t have time to breathe.
You are given the option before you start the game to play as one of two characters: Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield. Jill has more inventory space for items but can’t take a lot of damage, while Chris doesn’t have as much room in his inventory as Jill but can take more damage than Jill before dying. The story plays out in different ways for the characters as well. Jill’s campaign will have fan favorite Barry Burton as the main side character while Chris will have Rebecca Chambers, a medic from another team that had come earlier that can heal Chris without costing any items. I like both campaigns but I think Jill’s is the better of the two. Barry comes to her aid multiple times throughout the story, has an interesting character arc about his family, and will even save Jill’s life if you get poisoned in the first boss encounter of the game. Her campaign is also just easier for first time players and has more mystery in it on the question of who’s a traitor (even though since the original game is over two decades old I knew and so will you). Play her first, then play as Chris to get the most enjoyment since Chris will have to do some things differently from Jill over the course of the game. Depending on some choices in the game, your ending will play out differently with either a happy, bittersweet, or depressing resolution to the story.
Spencer Mansion is one of the best designed and realized settings I’ve seen in gaming. It is the setting along with Shadow Moses from the first Metal Gear Solid of how to do backtracking right. The mansion is a character in its own right, with a history and its inhabitants history told in the letters and documents you’ll find throughout the game. The atmosphere is claustrophobic with the game’s changing camera angles that never reveal a comfortable amount of what’s next to, behind, or in front of the player, making every turn you make a dangerous one. Going through the same area never feels tedious, since the game is always throwing surprises along the way. Enemies that weren’t in a hallway before will be there later, forcing you to change your approach. Killing zombies is not always the best option, as ammo is scarce and even if you do kill them, unless you shoot the brain or burn the bodies, they will come back later even stronger and faster to make your playthrough even harder. They’re not the only enemy to worry about either, because if they don’t kill you, the mutated animals of Spencer Mansion will. Every decision you make is one that will affect you in the long and short term.
I died a lot playing this, and you can’t just die and go back to the nearest checkpoint, because there aren’t any. The game’s save system has you use type writers to save your progress at safe rooms where you can also story your items. However, to use them, you have to use ink ribbons that are of limited supply and take up inventory space, making the choice between saving your game but risking losing an opportunity to do so later, or not using your ink ribbons to save them for a later time a tough choice. If you don’t choose carefully, you’ll really put yourself in a dangerous spot like I did at one point. The mansion won’t be the only place you’ll explore, with other areas including hidden laboratories and a cabin. They all feel connected, part of a greater whole, and you’ll feel like a genuine badass as you play the game and become more familiar with the environment and the enemies’ behavior. You, and your character go from scared survivor to conquering action hero.
REmake’s sound design and music is another standout. The footsteps on the creaking stars, the thunder from outside, the moans of the undead all sound like they’re real and in your room. While I won’t rank the soundtrack as one of my favorites, it’s a good soundtrack that adds to the game’s spooky atmosphere, though I do think the game’s tensest moments during gameplay are when it has no music playing at all. Just you and a zombie slowly coming your way.
The negative aspects of this game I can name mostly have to do with when it came out. The lip synching and non game engine cutscenes haven’t aged well and the voice acting is okay if I’m being generous. It’s miles above the original’s at least and it fits with the game’s campy style. I can’t think of anything else to complain about technically wise; the game’s framerate is smooth, the load times are mercifully short, and the pre-rendered backgrounds and character models still holdup very well today. I only had one glitch that lasted for 2 seconds involving Chris disappearing in his campaign and it didn’t have any effect on my playthrough.
Resident Evil’s remake is outstanding and leagues above many games today, not just survival horror ones. People might scoff at the dumb plot, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and the gameplay, level design, and atmosphere are a cut above many horror games today. It should be played at least once by gamers and is worthy of being hailed as a classic. I recommend it highly and since it’s the scariest month of the year right now it makes for a good Halloween treat.