Although not the very first survival horror game, Resident Evil is often touted as one of the genre’s leading pioneers – and rightly so. Since its debut on PlayStation almost two decades ago, the Capcom powerhouse has gone on to sell more than 11 million copies, petrifying players across the globe.
Over the past few years however, the series has admittedly lost its way. Bowing to ongoing trends in the third person action genre, Resident Evil 5 was a markedly different horror experience when it finally touched down in 2009. Gone was the prominent focus on zombies and puzzle solving, replaced by swarms of mutants sandwiched between bombastic set-pieces. Even less forgiving was the reception its sequel received three years later, generating a saddening sense of apathy that continues to linger even now. With many fans calling for a return to the series’ roots Capcom has partly obliged, repackaging Resident Evil’s first outing in high definition for both current and last gen hardware.
With Resident Evil HD, Capcom has taken the popular 2002 remake for GameCube, kitting it out with enhanced visuals and a modernised control scheme. The end result is a faithful adaptation, yet one that feels somewhat out of place, especially when you look at the lineup of horror games we’ve had in the last couple of years. In short, it’s a remaster specifically targeted at those looking for a nostalgia trip. If it’s an accessible entry point you’re after or just a horror game you can casually dip into then this isn’t for you.
Regardless of its improved textures and character models, Resident Evil HD still follows the same core beats of the 1996 original. Set two years after the game’s original launch, a team of specialists are deployed on the outskirts of Raccoon City in order to rescue their missing comrades. Things quickly go from bad to worse and, after a spine-chilling chase, the remaining survivors are left to fend for themselves within the halls of a deserted mansion.
As far as zombie fiction goes, Resident Evil has always been out there, mixing up its cast of flesh-eaters with the occasional giant snake or mutant shark for good measure. Whether you decide to immerse yourself in the backstory or not, the atmosphere is always spot-on, galvanised by an iconic yet hauntingly original soundtrack.
Where the PlayStation version and subsequent ports always felt clunky and taxing, the remaster is slightly more forgiving. Instead of having to contend with the game’s original tank-like controls, players are given complete freedom of movement. The shooting, however, remains largely the same, forcing you to stand still when taking aim – even when using handguns. Also missing is the option to toggle first person view or any sort of direct control over the camera. This limits players to either shooting straight or in awkward forty five degree angles up and down.
It may sound like a bit of a deal-breaker but is far less offensives than some of the game’s other hand-me-downs. For those familiar with older games in the series, Resident Evil’s typewriters make a pronounced return, forcing players to search one out if they wish to save their progress. This wouldn’t feel so punishing if not for the overwhelming amount of backtracking present throughout.
Although there are certainly zombies and other creatures to dispatch of, most of your time with Resident Evil will be spent memorising specific items and locations. Nearly every room in the mansion has its own secret puzzle to overcome, requiring laborious amounts of legwork as you move from one area to the next, hoping to find a solution. It’s repetitive work, made even more strenuous by the archaic limitations on your inventory. With only eight slots, you’ll often be forced to pass on picking up key items only to return later, having scouted out one of the game’s few storage chests.
The puzzles themselves are mostly quite clever and, more often than not, have you interacting with different parts of the environment. It’s just a shame that some traits from the original Resident Evil’s design do nothing but hinder the player, adding a thick layer of frustration to an otherwise enjoyable gaming experience.
Capcom may not have gone back and changed the fundamentals but there are still plenty of bells and whistles to be admired. The foreboding environment textures – though outdated – give it a look and feel few horror games have since managed to emulate. Furthermore, this version of the game is completely bug-free from what I’ve played, with the only performance issues I ran into being the long set-up and saving times.
If you’ve played the original Resident Evil inside out, or the Gamecube remake, you know exactly what you’re getting with Capcom’s shiny re-release. It’s a polished update that never strays far from the template, proving just as faithful as it is hardcore. For those looking for a gateway into the series, however, we advise extreme caution, especially if your notions of Resident Evil are based on more recent instalments. Although perfectly playable, it is likely to defy most, if not all, expectations you may have.
Version tested: PS4