Wot I Think: Resident Evil HD Remaster

Originally released in 1996 and remade in 2002, Resident Evil is one of the giants of survival horror. This new release is the first appearance of the remake on PC and it comes hot on the heels of director Shinji Mikami’s return to survival horror. Far more than an object of historical curiosity, it’s a smartly designed and claustrophobic masterpiece.

This is the third version of Resident Evil I’ve played and I have a stronger appreciation for the game every time I encounter it. I found the original release disappointing, following months of hype that had inflated my expectations unrealistically. Horror films have been my cathartic companions from a (perhaps too) early age and Resident Evil looked like it might be the first blockbuster game to capture the terror of Romero’s Dead trilogy.

Unwilling to trouble myself with the facts, I’d absorbed the handful of screenshots published in magazines and dreamed up a game around them. The foundation of my beliefs – and much of Resi’s actual design – was Alone in the Dark, which had plucked at the delicate tissues of my pineal gland, chasing away sleep and inducing the weird joy that comes from fear. I expected a more through simulation of the zombie-infested mansion and pictured my character barricading windows and doors, collecting supplies to treat wounds and stave off infection.

It wasn’t to be. Resident Evil’s mansion is a giant puzzle box, the eventual unlocking of which requires backtracking and inventory management that brings to mind another Z Word – Zork. Gruesome it may have been, but Resident Evil’s abstract puzzles and camp dialogue disappointed me. I wanted tactical survival and psychological scares, not an elaborate item hunt with a narrative wrapping that could have passed for a Sci Fi Channel original.

By the time the Gamecube remake rolled around, I’d discovered the Silent Hill series and thought of Resident Evil as the slightly embarrassing uncle of the survival horror genre rather than the venerated godfather. The conspiracies and corporations of the sequels and spin-offs all seemed to confirm that the plot had become the daft, convoluted mess that the first game hinted at. I’m always dismayed by the presence of the culty nonsense in Silent Hill games but it’s barely an issue at all next to Resi’s cast of cartoon action heroes and plastic villains.

The moment a Resident Evil game presumes I have an interest in or knowledge of the series’ tedious backstory, it’s in danger of losing me. A decent sequence, set piece or scare will pull me back in easily enough, but I have about as much interest in the fiction as I do in the awful films.

Perhaps that’s why revisiting the first game again has been such a splendid experience. The main plot is almost as tight and controlled as the setting, owing as much to mad scientist B-movie narratives as to comic book conspiracies. And then there are the subplots, including one added to the 2002 remake that is the game’s standout dose of nightmare fuel. More on that later.

First of all, a brief re-evaluation of the game’s design. It entirely fails to be the impossibly advanced simulation I wanted and expected as a teenager, but it is a masterpiece. The layout of the mansion and its surroundings is the foundation, and as the map turns from black to red to green, new routes are opened and mysteries are revealed. It’s a crowded location, retaining its claustrophobic quality even as its outer edges and darkest depths are discovered. Almost every scene contains something of importance, with even seemingly empty corridors and trails usually offering some challenge rather than simply acting as a link from one puzzle to the next.

Everything in the game relies on careful management, whether it’s combat and the handling of ammunition and healing items, or the plotting of a route from a safe room to an obstacle. It’s a slow game but impeccably paced, almost always offering one or more obvious threads to pull on. Apply just the right amount of pressure – the right object in the right place – and the mansion starts to unfold and unravel.

Following those threads isn’t always the most satisfying experience. The game’s most noticeable failing is a lack of direction. There aren’t always enough hints, textual or visual, as to what the next step should be and even though this is my third time playing through the game, I occasionally felt like I’d hit a brick wall. The first couple of hours can be particularly confusing, as several possibilities seem to open up simultaneously but then transform into dead-ends, with emphasis on the dead.

Boss fights can be frustrating because, on the whole, they operate on the same wavelength as the puzzles. Even though they look like they involve a steady hand and quick feet, they’re mostly about bringing the correct equipment to the fight. All combat involves calculations rather than reflexes. I don’t ask myself if I have the skill to take down a zombie, I ask myself if I have the necessary resources.

I wonder how often I’m likely to venture down a certain corridor, figuring out whether it’s worth expending the ammunition necessary to dispatch the zombie that is groaning and gurning in the shadows. I can sneak past but every once in a while the thing manages to grab me and bite chunks out of my neck. That wound will need to be healed, and herbs and first aid sprays become increasingly rare. But ammunition is limited as well – every bullet fired into a zombie’s fetid face is a bullet that won’t be available when facing one of the huge mutants that can’t be bypassed.

The save system and limited inventory space irritated me when I first played the game but they’re fundamental to the design. The physically impossible item boxes, which apparently allow the player character to store all of their stuff in a pocket dimension, ensure that the player plans ahead. On this most recent playthrough, Resi became a cooperative experience – one person with a joypad, the other drawing copies of the maps and annotating them, making notes and linking inventory items to locations. The adventure game logic of the mansion and its puzzles happily translated into a method of playing that reminded me of long nights solving Sierra games with my sister decades ago.

As far as the story goes, it’s as naff as ever, although thankfully without the meandering mythology of the later games. I find it enjoyable in the same way that I find Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations enjoyable, with the occasional delicious thrill of fear alongside the creaking backdrops and splatters of gore. The horrific highlight is the Lisa Trevor subplot, which made its debut in the Gamecube remake and remains as a jarring and effective spike of terror.

Genuinely unsettling in a way that is perhaps even more startling because of the hammy context, it’s as if you’ve spent an hour and a half watching Vincent Prise seasoning and then devouring the scenery, and suddenly the last ten minutes of Rec happen. I’ll say no more.

That’s the only ‘new’ thing though and even that won’t be new to anyone who played the first iteration of the remake. So what is the particular appeal of this version? It’s attractive for the most part, although some textures look almost as old as the original game and stand out next to their retouched neighbours. I was relieved to see that the increased resolution hasn’t entirely removed the VHS quality of the graphics. It looks beautiful but hasn’t lost its grainy, dirty quality, although that does mean the graphical update isn’t quite as obvious as some might hope.

Partly the appeal IS nostalgic but this hasn’t been a case of revisiting a shiny version of a game I already loved. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the intricacies of design and where I might once have been disappointed by the occasional silliness and inconsistent atmosphere, I’m now far more interested in picking apart the efficiency and economy of the map. I wish there was more information about the design and development, but apart from a digital artbook preorder bonus, it’s sadly lacking in extras – I’d like to have seen a stack of unlocks digging through the history of the game but there’s nowt except difficulty levels and a ‘gallery’ of videos.

Those disappointments aside, replaying has been something of a revelation for me. This new release may not be as bold and striking as the remake seemed when it first appeared but I’ve been surprised by the enduring quality of the mansion. Playing through into the early hours of the morning almost every night last week led to a hugely entertaining collaborative conversation, with occasional breaks to shudder at a barely remembered horror or to giggle at a ludicrous line of dialogue. I’ve been known to dismiss the early games in the series, seeing Resident Evil 4 as a new beginning that erased the sins of the past, but I’ve spent the weekend trying to track down my copy of Resident Evil 2 so that I can get a second fix.

It may not be perfectly tuned but Resident Evil is as pure an expression of the survival horror genre as you’re likely to find (although the sequel might well be its match, I’ll reconsider if I ever do find that copy). If you’ve never played the remake at all, it’s worth visiting the mansion again just to meet Lisa Trevor, and if you’ve never played Resident Evil at all, now’s the time. It’s a slice of cultural history that has exerted enormous influence but has mostly avoided direct imitation. When something is this well-crafted, the flaws of a counterfeit are obvious.

Resident Evil Remastered is out tomorrow.

50 Comments

  1. RuySan says:

    So the ink ribbons are still in?

    Too bad, it seems that i have to give it a miss. Time is a very precious resource nowadays.

    • Xzi says:

      It’s not really. We as a society just decided to all start pretending it was at some point.

      • SlimShanks says:

        I like the logic of not having enough time to play Resident Evil, but having enough time to complain about it on RPS.

        • RuySan says:

          It took me a couple of minutes to read the article and half a minute to “complain”.there’s your “logic”

          • SlimShanks says:

            Hey, just poking fun…

          • dethtoll says:

            Someone’s butthurt.

          • Salsa says:

            It takes 4 hours to beat the game at a steady pace. I know this because, back in the day, we didn’t have memory cards to play at the video store, so we would pay by the hour to play. So you needed the equivalent of 4 hours worth in money to beat the game without saving and that’s assuming you knew the entire walkthrough for it. Some games nowadays take up to 80 hours to beat. Consider that, the game is not long AT ALL, time is not an issue, and neither are the ink ribbons.

    • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

      Ink ribbons returning might be cool, actually. Limited saves don’t usually make things more challenging or anything, but they add this dose of anxiety to the mix and fit well with REs general gameplay design.

    • Kitsunin says:

      The ink ribbons are what keeps the health/ammo economy functioning.

      If you could save constantly then you could safely conserve yet more ammo knowing that if you get hit by a zombie you decided you could safely not kill, use the knife on or such, you can just reload. The scarcity of saves ensure that the decisions you make are tense and important, that you can’t always be conservative with both health and ammo, which drives the gameplay and its tension.

      Besides, if you know exactly what to do, this type of game is very short. So if you lose an hour of progress you can almost always blow through everything you accomplished in the hour within ten minutes, knowing what to do.

    • PaidenTheGreat says:

      I fail to see how the ink ribbon effects your time on any level what so ever…

      I think you wanna QQ about it, but horrifically took a shot from the hip – into the dark, and failed.

  2. XhomeB says:

    Buying this thingy as soon as it’s released on Steam. The original RE Trilogy plus Remake will probably remain the best installments in the franchise for years to come, if you ask me. Not that it was a bad game, but I HATE RE4 for what it’s done to the series, sorry.
    I really love how wonderfully simple the first three games were, especially in terms of premise and overall storyline. Then came Zero, Code Veronica, RE4&5 and everything became a bloated mess.

    How’s the PC version, there’s little to no mention of the port quality in this – great, otherwise – article? No hiccups?

    • SavageTech says:

      I’m with you brother. Getting to play RE4 was not worth having the Resident Evil series completely derailed and ruined. It’s a great game that should’ve been part of a different series entirely.

  3. Maritz says:

    Hold on, the last ten minutes of Rec is a good thing?

  4. Napoleon15 says:

    That was too close. You were almost a Jill sandwich!

  5. SlimShanks says:

    Ok ok cool, the game looks like it’s Resident Evil. But when does the sequel to RE4 come out?

  6. Oozo says:

    I have about as much interest in the fiction as I do in the awful films.

    See, I always thought of them the same way, so much so that I never even watched one. But then I realized that a handful of movie critics that I really respect — you know, the kind that regularly points out a thing in a movie that you just didn’t see, but now that they mention it, it’s true, and worth seeing — think highly of them. Not the story, that is, but Paul W. S. Anderson. Take the always venerable Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, for example:

    “Paul W.S. Anderson makes lively, unpretentious mid-budget genre movies fixated on video-gamey ‘cool’ and distinguished by their leanness and their inventive—and sometimes even poetic—use of space. […] Anderson’s work may not have a lot of narrative substance, but his visual sensibility is so well-developed that it often doesn’t matter; form is substituted for theme.”

    I always told me to once watch them with these eyes one of those days. Of course, I first have to play Resident Evil 4, or now that you mention it, Resident Evil full stop. I have to admit that I always thought that the first game has lost everything interesting about it, too, but you may have convinced me that this, too, was only a very limited way of looking at things. So thanks for adding to my backlog, I guess?

    • RuySan says:

      For a second i read that Paul Thomas Anderson had directed the Resident Evil movies. I was about to have an heart attack.

      I’ve only seen the first one, and you can watch them with the kind of eyes that you want, it will always be pure rubbish, wo

      • thekelvingreen says:

        If the world was fair, then Pauls WS and T would be the same man using slightly different names depending on whether he’s doing trashy genre films or slightly pretentious black comedies, in a similar way to Iain M Banks and Iain not-M Banks.

        • SnowWookie says:

          If the world was fair, Paul WS Anderson would be dead and Iain (with or without the M) Banks would still be alive

          :(

          • Allenomura says:

            It turns out, that yes, I did actually just read a RPS commenter wish death on a media creator because they made a movie franchise they don’t view highly. I don’t think “contemptible” aptly covers my reaction. Standards.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      I think I’ve watched all the Resident Evil movies, and they have been without fail fun. No, they’re not something you’ll talk to people about and you’ll never put ’em on any favorites list. But that’s never what they were supposed to be. They were supposed to be fun, and that’s what they mostly are. You’ll get an interesting afternoon/evening out of them. And that’s honestly more than I can say for most movies. As an added bonus, if you’re a Resident Evil fan, you’ll also get shout outs to some interesting tidbits of game lore.

      In fact, now that I think about it, Resident Evil movies might be the only decent video game movies ever made.

      • Premium User Badge

        Risingson says:

        They are. And they are a nice saga, true, with the first and the third one being the highlights in my opinion.

        About the games, I am with Adam here: didn’t like them when they were released (I saw the first one as a very poor Alone in the Dark with a technology that was much worse than the one in Bioforge) and I appreciate them more now.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      A good summary of the films:

      link to redlettermedia.com

      (Spoiler: They think they are terrible)

    • Distec says:

      I think my problem with the film series is that it seems to have less to do with Resident Evil and more to do with Paul’s fuckin’ wife doing cool acrobatics and punching zombies. Or punching other humans, for some daft reason.

      And she ain’t even a character in the games. Unacceptable!

  7. Colonel J says:

    “…the increased resolution hasn’t entirely removed the VHS quality of the graphics. It looks beautiful but hasn’t lost its grainy, dirty quality. ”

    I’m glad that’s the case.
    That line is the one that makes me most want to get this and replay it.

  8. Mechorpheus says:

    I really, REALLY hope that someone, somewhere inside capcom (with any influence at all) is going to look at the sales figures for this and say ‘well, that did alright, lets go do Resident Evil 2’. Still my favourite of the entire series, and is begging to be spruced up a bit. So much game there too, if you count all 4 scenarios.

    • N'Al says:

      Haven’t Capcom lost the code to RE2? That’s why you never see a remake.

      • Mechorpheus says:

        Why would that matter? I can’t believe there’s much shared code or even assets between the orignal PSX RE and the NGC version, so they’d just do it all from scratch.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I’d argue that, unlike RE1, RE2 was good and non-ugly enough that it manages to stand up as a fun, unmarred experience even today.

      Still, getting the REmake treatment would be an absolute dream, and what else is Capcom doing that doesn’t suck anways?

  9. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    BTW.

    “I find it enjoyable in the same way that I find Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations enjoyable”. Whoa. Patronizing the games and the Roger Corman adaptations at the same time!

  10. Drunk Si says:

    I remember trying to play this on the PSX and again on the gamecube and I couldn’t get around the fact that your control over the characters was akin to steering a shopping trolley with one stuck wheel around.

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      I hate to defend the infamous Tank Controls but it’s (kind-of) a limitation to static camera angles.

      If the walking direction is in relation to the camera it creates annoying issues walking into a new scene and instantly stepping back to the old one because forward is now backward etc.
      There are other games from that era that solved it though. For example by not flipping directions until you let go of the button even if the camera changes, (Silent Hill ?).

    • felisc says:

      You can opt out of tank control in this edition.

  11. Fnord73 says:

    Me and a friend played through the last remake, smoking and swapping the controls. It was a thing of beauty. The inventory-challenge becomes a part of the puzzle when youre just a little bit south of the weather. And the “woooo!” factor of opening up a new room is immaculate. (And the big freaking snake, wooo x2!)

  12. CelticPixel says:

    ‘replaying has been something of a revelation for me’

    So it’s fair to say you’ve had a…Resident Evil…Revelation? Huh? Anybody?

  13. Jalan says:

    Vincent Prise? I had to look it up to make sure it wasn’t an actual person with an ironic last name.

    Also, REC was awesome. And in a rare (insanely rare) instance, so was its American-ized version, Quarantine. Sadly the REC sequels weren’t so hot and the Quarantine sequel was… eh, despite what some may claim it’s best left unwatched.

  14. krawtch says:

    If we could all stop referring to The Evil Within as survival horror when any semblance of that evaporates from the game in Chapter 10 and never returns, that would be greeaaaat.

  15. Muppetizer says:

    REmake on the Gamecube is perhaps the one game I have ever been able to competently speedrun, it’s mostly just routing — knowing where and how to get to where you want to, what you have to bring there, leaving some of the timed encounters to their most optimum (there’s a door handle that breaks after a certain amount of uses, and the obvious dog corridor) but then there was the movement skills, which I had down to an art with my backstepping sidesteppining quickstepping zombie dodges. All in an effort to get the infinite rocket launcher, which totally ruined the feel of the game once you got it.

    I think one of the most substantial changes, beyond the mentioned story addition, was the Crimson Heads. They added a really interesting flavour to the whole inventory focused decision on what zombies you should engage and which you should flee from. If you did make the decision to take a zombie out because it was in a frequently traveled corridor, you then had to choose if you wanted to also lug the necessary items to burn its body lest it became an even greater (chasing you through doors!!!) problem. They’re probably actually my favourite Survival Horror enemy because they really utilise everything that makes the genre so intriguing.

    • Jinqs says:

      Totally agreed. Crimson Heads totally change how you approach a lot of situations and manage your available resources, and they were an amazing and understated addition to the REmake. If you had experience with the original game (where zombies “coming back” or following you through doors wasn’t a thing), it also helped subvert your expectations a little bit, because the first time you encounter a crimson head in a hallway or room that you previously “cleared out,” you come to the realization that not everything is the same as it was in the original adventure.

      Needless to say, Resident Evil is one of my favorite games of all time, and I cannot wait to dig into the new version tonight .

  16. Gwilym says:

    Does the screen still freeze every time it’s about to switch camera angles? It bugged me in 1996, and in 2002 it drove me mad. If it happened in 2014 I would probably kill a man.

    • Shizuka says:

      According to some Steam reviews, there isn’t. Hoping to get the game and play it myself later.

  17. bill says:

    The Lisa Trevor bit was added for the Gamecube? Really? that was the best bit!

    I finally got to play it on Gamecube (after watching my mate’s older browther play it a bit on Playstation years before) and it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I was expecting something with more action, but it’s much more slow paced and methodical.

    the first hour or two, when you have like 3 bullets and have just wasted them all blasting a zombie that you didn’t need to blast are both awesome and confusing. Once you get its rhythms and methods down then it gets much easier, but also less scary.

    It’s still better than people give it credit for, though. People keep getting hung up on the controls. (same as early tomb raider).

    • Jalan says:

      It was great, since it helped clear up a lot of glaring plot holes in the series (I’m not saying it did its job to perfection mind, but it did it well enough).

      It was also the first time I’d found myself genuinely spooked by the first game in the series (I played through the Director’s Cut version often and was never terrified, sadly). It almost recreated the feeling I had when playing RE2 for the first time, nearly sweating through the controller as I faced off against the alligator in the sewers.

      • SomeDuder says:

        Lisa’s shack of horror in the (newly added for REmake!) garden was a goddamn nightmare. Her whole backstory is just a sad tale of misery – definately worth exploring

  18. Cash at Folsom says:

    Collaboration really is the way to play this game. Some of my most glorious gaming memories are of nights in my college dorm, signing out the building’s giant lobby TV for the evening, hooking up one of the several GameCubes on our floor, passing the controller, nudging each other towards certain strategies, ignoring each other’s nudging, collectively tensing with each door-opening loading screen between rooms. All of it in the dark. I’ll play this re-re-release with fondness, but part of me knows it won’t quite measure up to those electric evenings.