The HD Remaster of Resident Evil Remake comes at a rather crucial time for the Resident Evil series; the last major release from the franchise that popularized survival horror, Resident Evil 6, was roundly criticized for being a clumsy Michael Bay-styled romp that was neither scary nor fun. REmake HD, then, serves as both a reminder of what survival horror used to be like in its earliest days, before the genre swung into two extremes: hiding simulators like Amnesia and Outlast, or action oriented shooters like Dead Space and the last three major RE releases. So then, in reviewing REmake HD, it behooves one to consider how well it stands up to modern standards.
REmake HD, aside from serving as a visual upgrade to the Gamecube original, adds a new control scheme that players can select if they find the original tank controls too slow. In this alternate control scheme, the player character almost instantly snaps to whichever direction you press on your controller or keyboard. This is extremely helpful for boss fights and fast enemies, as you can move in any direction right away. In the original control scheme, you would have to rotate your character to face the desired direction and move…like a tank, get it?
However, the disadvantage to using this scheme is that when the camera angle shifts, you have to readjust your orientation, as pushing down on your controller to move forward could suddenly have your character moving in a completely different direction once the camera shifts angles. It also breaks immersion and looks weird to see your character twitching spastically in response to the most minute of movements. In short, this new control scheme is best suited to fighting quick enemies and bosses, but ill suited to navigating environments. In my case, I switched between the two schemes depending on the circumstances, and REmake’s controls are tight and responsive enough that I didn’t find myself too confused between the two.
Visually, REmake HD is serviceable at best. Character models have been updated and stand up to scrutiny even by today’s standards, though Jill’s new jiggling breast physics are kind of ridiculous. On the other hand, many of the pre-rendered backgrounds look downright hideous when playing on a modern HD screen, and in some notable instances it looks as if you are wandering inside an oil painting. Of course, given that REmake HD is a remastering, one can’t expect too much in the way of a visual overhaul. The game still looks good in other areas, and much of this is due to its masterful use of camera angles. With most, if not all survival horror games adopting behind-the-shoulder third person or first person perspectives, REmake’s fixed camera angles are so masterfully framed that they almost negate its graphical imperfections. Combined with the game’s use of silence, REmake manages to evoke tension through minimalism. Unlike the chainsaw wielding monstrosities of the more recent entries to RE, the original game still holds up by today’s standards in terms of evoking scares and a sense of dread with its use of fixed camera angles and use of subtle sound effects such as floorboards creaking and moths fluttering around lights.
What hasn’t stood up to the test of time, however, is RE’s incredible dependence on backtracking. The game gives you little clue as to where to go, and while its pseudo open-world premise still holds up, the amount of backtracking you have to do to retrieve items from storage can make things tedious. RE’s signature transitional loading screens, which show a door opening very, very slowly, are of little help when you’re trying to run across the entire mansion to retrieve a key from your storage box.
Still, what I appreciate most about REmake is that it takes its time and is about exploration and puzzle solving as much as contending with mutant monstrosities. Resident Evil 6, for example, always assumed that you would lose interest and stop playing if there wasn’t something to shoot at or scare the bejesus out of you for more than a few minutes. REmake, on the other hand, is content to have you simply explore a large section of the level while taking your time at solving the puzzles.
Despite being based on a nearly twenty year old game, REmake contains some surprising twists in the survival horror formula, such as with the way it rewards you for paying attention to your surroundings and appreciating the puzzles. Case in point: one level allowed me to skip a difficult boss fight entirely because I went through the trouble of formulating a toxin that allowed me to kill said boss instantly. There’s also one point in which you have to retrieve a cure for a poisoned ally. Should you drag your feet at the task, your ally will die from his sickness and that’ll be that. If, on the other hand, you get the cure to him in a timely fashion, you’ll be rewarded by not having to fire a single shot in the following boss fight.
Aside from some graphical shortcomings and outdated design choices, REmake is still an effective reminder of all the qualities that made Resident Evil famous. What I appreciate most about it is how understated everything is; while many survival horror games these days overload you with buckets of gore and a novel’s worth of memos and unfinished diaries to pore over, REmake gives you little hints of all these things, pulling its punches 90% of the time before unleashing a barrage of them at you when you least expect it. The voice acting is sometimes awkward and ridiculous, such as when one character says “Something isn’t right with this place!” after being attacked by a giant mutant plant, but overall I liked that the characters were relatively grounded and believable, compared to the Saturday morning cartoon characters that have permeated the more recent games.
I also appreciated the story’s measured pacing, where every detail was slowly revealed to you one at a time. This is on the back of my experience with the likes of Resident Evil 5, 6 and RE Creator Shinji Mikami’s most recent effort, The Evil Within. In all those cases, there were at least four to five different plot points going on, and it was practically impossible to stay completely invested when you had no idea what was going on. REmake’s initial haunted house premise slowly but surely gives way to a more sinister plot about genetic experimentation, and while it isn’t the most original idea today, the pace at which it unfolds is certainly a welcome reminder of how survival horror should be.
The Final Verdict
REmake’s HD re-release is certainly worth the price of admission, especially for those who never played the Gamecube-exclusive original, but I’m hoping that beyond entertaining and scaring us, the game serves as a reminder to Capcom on what the next Resident Evil needs to be more like.
+Classic survival horror gameplay still holds up
+Excellent use of silence and camera angles to evoke tension
-Pre-rendered environments look disgusting
-New control scheme can be confusing when exploring