Enter the original survival horror…and decide if it’s worth the trip.
Acclaimed horror writer Stephen King had a very succinct way to describe the scariest sensation, namely that of loneliness. “Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.”
It’s that fear – the fear of loneliness, of no one coming to help you and even guns failing to stop the nightmares before you – which the Resident Evil franchise has lacked for so long. From the third game onwards, the series has leaned closer and closer towards a more action-oriented style of gameplay. The roots of survival horror were nearly stubbed out when Resident Evil 4 released. Granted, it had its own hallmarks and introduced a high-octane element of horror to replace slow-moving zombies of yore.
But it didn’t have the loneliness. It didn’t have the awful connotations and consequences that being alone, trapped in an enormous mansion with flesh eating zombies seemingly impervious to pain – and later, as you’ll discover in some circumstances, death – out to get you. Resident Evil HD takes us back to those days of survival horror and more than 12 years on, recreates the foreboding and horror that’s haunted S.T.A.R.S. members for years.
"After multiple conspiracies, numerous crises and outbreaks, clones of series mainstays, infuriating side characters and stupid plot twists, it's refreshing to play a Resident Evil game with a story presented so simply."
The story, at this point, is iconic. Mysterious deaths and cannibalism on Raccoon City’s outskirts has spurred the police department to send it special team S.T.A.R.S. to investigate. After Bravo Team goes dark, it’s up to Alpha Team consisting of Chris Redfield, Barry Burton, Jill Valentine, Albert Wesker and others to find them. Of course, as soon as they touch down near the wreckage of Bravo’s helicopter, the team is quickly split apart by ravenous zombie dogs. This causes them to seek refuge in a nearby mansion and thus the night begins.
After multiple conspiracies, numerous crises and outbreaks, clones of series mainstays, infuriating side characters and stupid plot twists, it’s refreshing to play a Resident Evil game with a story presented so simply. The pacing is incredibly competent – the game pushes you to discover things for yourself as much as it reverts to its cinematic roots when moving events forward. If Resident Evil 6 aimed to out-do its movie brethren in terms of bombastic chaos and absurdity, then Resident Evil HD is more Night of the Living Dead: Deliberate, calculating, sinister and surprisingly freaky when it wants to be.
Players can choose either Chris or Jill from the outset. The key aspect to choosing a character is both a unique set of skills (Chris can take more damage while Jill has more inventory space and can pick locks) and some different story events. Jill will have Barry to help her out from time to time while Chris will encounter Rebecca Chambers, the surviving medic of Bravo Team. Whichever character you choose, you’ll be embroiled in the same fight for survival against hordes of the undead.
“Hordes” is a bit of a misnomer though. Unlike, say, Resident Evil 6 which assaulted you with wave upon wave of zombies and somehow diminished their overall danger in the process, Resident Evil HD has you facing a few zombies at a time. Many rooms will only have a singular zombie or two at the most and you’ll go for long stretches without encountering any enemies. This means you won’t know when to expect danger and when it does arrive, you’re completely alert.
"The 2015 edition of the GameCube remake simply scales up the resolution of its settings and slightly improves the lighting and character models. It's not a bad looking game at times but there are others where you'll walk into the graveyard and be greeted by a mess of dirt. "
Much of Resident Evil HD involves running from the zombies as much as fighting them. You’ll have defense weapons that will automatically activate (or which you can manually trigger) to get away from a zombie. You can also run past some zombies instead of dispensing lead. Running isn’t always an option though as you’ll come across several mid-bosses and bosses that must be dealt with. And while you’ll still have weapons like the assault shotgun and grenade launcher to help you out, they must still be intelligently utilized. Ammo is scarce in this mansion and you’ll be reminded of such at every turn.
Even when you decide to down zombies, you have to make sure the head is destroyed or the body is burnt. If not, then said zombies will rise up as Crimson Heads, becoming faster, stronger and harder to kill. There’s only so much kerosene to burn up bodies though.
You’ll also be reminded of another hallmark of early Resident Evil games, namely the inane puzzles. Long-time veterans may prefer the Code Veronica approach to puzzle solving but there’s still some appeal in running around, collecting items and trying to figure out which item goes where. It’s not immensely difficult to figure out and even the least adventure-hardened of gamers will be stumped once in a while.
Capcom did a splendid job with Resident Evil HD. However, they did a splendid job nearly a decade ago. Every aspect of the first Resident Evil was reworked with high resolution character models and pre-rendered backgrounds. Even the cutscenes have been cleaned up noticeably though they’re not the most detailed CG you’ll see this year by a long shot. The 2015 edition of the GameCube remake simply scales up the resolution of its settings and slightly improves the lighting and character models. It’s not a bad looking game at times but there are others where you’ll walk into the graveyard and be greeted by a mess of dirt. This is a shame since it only serves to pull you out of the game.
"When you get right down to it, Resident Evil HD is still the epitome of many serious criticism fans had with the series, such as the clunky gunplay. The atmosphere, nostalgia, puzzle-solving and survival horror aspects thankfully save the experience and keep you enthralled throughout."
Sound quality is another element of Resident Evil HD seemingly at odds with itself. The squeaky doors and telltale silence when opening them is still creepy as are the game’s ominous, atmospheric tones. Even the voice acting isn’t half bad though previous Resident Evil games have done nothing to set the bar. It’s just the odd sounds of foot-steps and zombies moaning that feel off at times, like they’ve been recycled from the GameCube version rather than remastered. The audio immersion isn’t disrupted as many times as the visual but it does come across as odd in some cases.
The pacing and overall quality of the gameplay still holds up after all these years though, and Capcom thankfully introduced a nifty new way to control your characters. You’re no longer confined to figuring out your character’s orientation relative to their surroundings and pushing the corresponding directional key.
If you want Chris to move up, hit Up. The jerkiness of this is apparent when switching camera angles as you’ll suddenly find yourself moving back when you intended to move forward. It happens occasionally and it’s only ever so slightly annoying on the PC. This is still miles better than the original control set-up (which you can select at any point if you’re feeling especially masochistic)/
Overall, Resident Evil HD is a strong remake that still holds up after all these years. It’s best recommended for series’ veterans who want to revisit the good ol’ days as well as survival horror enthusiasts looking for a puzzling but scary good time. One can’t help but think what Capcom could have done had it overhauled the visuals of the 2002 remake and rebuilt it from the ground up for current and previous gen platforms as it did with the 1996 title on GameCube.
When you get right down to it, Resident Evil HD is still the epitome of many serious criticism fans had with the series, such as the clunky gunplay and the fixed camera angles which made assessing threats difficult. The atmosphere, nostalgia, puzzle-solving and survival horror aspects thankfully save the experience and keep you enthralled throughout.
More than a decade ago, Resident Evil HD was an instant classic in the series. In 2015, it has to settle with being merely good.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Pacing and presentation still very strong. Character models and lighting appear crisp. Improved movement scheme. The same, foreboding survival horror that made us love the series in the first place.
Fixed camera angles and control scheme takes getting used to. Many pre-rendered backgrounds haven't upscaled very well. Considering its age, very few attempts to significantly review things.
Resident Evil HD Remaster is survival horror but surprisingly as good as you remember it. It could have used more work in the porting department though.