Capcom has a penchant for remakes, reimaginings, rereleases, remasters and, of course, they are the creators of Resident Evil. Naturally, this remaster of the 2002 GameCube Resident Evil was not an unexpected move for Capcom, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. This beloved 2002 remake has accrued a 91% aggregate rating on Metacritic, and rightly so.
It took what was excellent about the original grandpappy of survival horror (back when the genre’s name meant something), rebuilt the engine from the ground up leading to eye-popping graphics and even more delicious pre-rendered environments, added locations which were cut out of the original (such as the path through the woods and the graveyard), incorporated gameplay elements from other series entries (such as the use of body language to indicate character condition and the extremely useful 180-degree turn), tolerable-to-good voice acting aided by a complete recasting of the characters, and my personal favorite, the restoration of the George Trevor subplot left out of the original that led to one of the most memorable creatures in the series, which has now haunted me for over a decade.
In short, it was absolutely brilliant. While remasters are all the rage in gaming these days, one would be hard-pressed to select a title more deserving of the HD treatment than this GameCube classic.
Part of the reason the aggregate score suffered a bit is due to the nature of the “tank” controls, which arguably made the game less accessible to a more modern audience. However, with the addition of the 180-degree turn, this made the characters a bit more mobile while still retaining the feel of the original game, arguably finding the elusive “sweet spot” for horror gameplay.
However, this has been compensated for with an additional “modern” control scheme with the new release, allowing newcomers to control characters more easily as well as giving a fresh take on the gameplay for veterans - while still retaining the essence of the fear, more a’la Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s latest work, The Evil Within. The addition of the “survival items” helps the control scheme, as well; sticking a grenade in a zombie’s mouth to make its head explode with a tactical headshot is supremely satisfying. While the new control format feels fluid and will likely be more approachable for neophytes, I personally preferred the original layout when playing through this release.
In defense of the control scheme, it gives the entire game an intensely cinematic feel, as though one is playing through a horror movie. It also intensifies the startle of a creature lumbering out from a shadowy corner, making one feel that they’re in control of the experience, but also watching it at the same time. This also makes the game thrilling to watch, which adds to the overall presentation of the game (and is a terrific excuse to have your significant other watch you play!).
While it can be understood that this control layout is not for everyone, it’s likely that if you’re buying this game, you probably don’t care too much. And if you do, the new control setup is in place as a reasonable alternative, even if the characters move faster than was originally intended and this takes the tension down a wee bit.
The already gorgeous graphics have been enhanced with HD visuals - 720P on current-gen consoles and glorious 1080P on next-gen - giving one the feel of walking through a painting, even after more than a decade. The greenery bristles in the wind, the gates show rust, and the bizarre and horrifying creatures throughout the game feel much more alive and real. Coupling this beautiful HD coat of paint with digital 5.1 surround sound (as well as trophy and achievement support, for those who care) makes the Resident Evil HD Remaster the definitive way to experience this classic title. The new widescreen mode allows for even better viewing as well, giving the game a more grand and cinematic feel. The remake also includes references to other games, such as Alexia Ashford and William Birkin, making this a fantastic introduction for newcomers to the rich fiction crammed into the Resident Evil series.
I really have very few gripes with the game: there is the (admittedly rare) muddy texture, but it’s quite a minor complaint, considering the source. The graphics of course have their roots in the two-generation-old GameCube. While this HD remaster cleans it up quite a bit - even character models are touched up pretty well - don’t be fooled into thinking it’s going to compare with games powered by Unreal Engine 4 or Id Tech 5.
The nature of the game is designed to extend total play time by making the player backtrack if they do not possess clairvoyant foreknowledge of the game’s events. However, it could be argued that this is a part of the atmosphere and style, and I think this is ultimately the camp into which I personally fall. Resident Evil HD Remaster's pacing actually feels quite nice, and ends up being a solid 15-20 hours for the first-time player.
The definition on each grotesque creature and crack in the floor is deep and breathtaking, particularly so considering that the game is technically thirteen years old now in 2015. The 5.1 surround sound support accentuates every terrifying wail, indicates the direction of key puzzle sounds, and gives a subtlety to the mansion and its surroundings which makes every moment tense and gripping.
For Sony adopters, Capcom has been generous: pre-ordering the game stateside (or simply purchasing the digital title on one platform within the first two weeks for UK residents) enables a nifty Spencer mansion foyer theme for your PS3 as well as cross-buy, meaning you can play your new download on both PS4 and PS3. This is nicer than people are thinking, I believe, since lots of people still have yet to jump on the next-gen bandwagon. They can therefore enjoy the game on their current console for now, and when they upgrade they’ll have a title already purchased and waiting for them in full HD. Or if one console is in the main room but being used by friends, significant other or kiddo, they can still enjoy the Resident Evil HD Remaster on their other console. It certainly enticed me to pre-order it, and I’d like to see this type of pre-order reward (or something similar, like cross-buy support for the Vita) in future releases.
Naturally, all (technically fourteen!) endings are present in this release as well, giving fans plenty of reason to replay the game on various difficulties and experiment with certain events to make the story end the way they wish. This was one of my favorite aspects of the game, because there are enough events stacked throughout to potentially give players different experiences to share over the water cooler, and entices players to come back to see how many different endings they can unearth. It does help having two different characters to play as well, each with different advantages and weaknesses, enabling horror enthusiasts to experience evil REborn from different perspectives.
Overall, the purchase price of $19.99 USD is absolutely worth the price of admission for veterans and newbies alike with the Resident Evil HD Remaster, particularly for those who are able to get the game on two platforms for the price of one. Beautifully retouched graphics, terrifying sound and tons of replay value add up to a package worth experiencing for people in all walks of gaming.
The game featured in this review was purchased by the writer for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 systems, and this review is based on the versions available for those consoles.