Resident Evil Remastered Review: The Next-Gen Version Is More A Polishing Than A Remake, But Is That Enough?
When Resident Evil hit the original PlayStation in 1996, nestled in its gigantic cardboard box with a hilariously-stressed out Chris Redfield on the cover, I was 14 years old. It was perhaps the best time to be exposed to the series.
When else could someone truly forgive the campiness, the terrible yet infinitely repeatable overacting, the rampant horror cliches? Truly I was of the right maturity to fully appreciate the game which somehow, despite all its clunkiness, not only spread the survival horror genre to the masses but ended up being one of the finest examples of it.
It's much more than the sum of its parts but today it’s easy to forget what a unique title it was on release. Horror had certainly been done before (Alone in the Dark and Capcom's own Sweet Home are clear successors) but the idea of scaring gamers really hadn’t been explored on consoles before, and Resident Evil’s malevolent zombie dogs bursting through the windows at you were one of the first examples of a jump scare in a game that most remember. Pre-rendered backgrounds allowed the characters models to utilize more polygons and look absolutely stunning for the time, and the plot was charming in its own absurdity. Plus, there was Barry Burton. Oh, Barry.
It was an enormous hit and with Capcom being Capcom, they soon released a Director’s Cut version a year later, followed by a Director’s Cut Dual Shock version a year after that. I, being who I am, bought both of them. (The Dual Shock version came out with a Resident Evil 2 demo, after all!)
In 2002 the game was remade completely for the GameCube. The backgrounds were redrawn, the characters updated with high-poly models. There were locations added to the game and the infamous opening mansion got completely jumbled up, with items and enemies appearing where you didn’t expect them to be. It was pretty ingenious, as it preyed on your memories of the first game and made it way more exciting to traverse what’s basically the same game.
The terrifying new enemies definitely didn’t hurt, either. Zombies that were downed with heads intact could rise back up as "Crimson Heads", fast, red-faced zombies with claws for hands that could hunt you through the entire mansion. It ended up being the perfect example of a remake- one that took the original working formula and updated it to the current level of technology.
But there's a reason that this new version, the first for next-gen consoles, only costs $20 and is called Resident Evil Remastered. This isn't some top to bottom remake like the 2002 version, it's more of a tweaking of the GameCube version. Whether that’s enough for you will likely hinge on how much nostalgia you have for the game, and how well you remember it.
As someone who spent spent countless playthroughs with the original, the remake version is still pretty new to me, the level design feeling fresh and new from the original. The game does absolutely show its age- there’s still that stutter as the game changes between camera angles, the save system is wonderfully clunky, and the inventory is just a nightmare to manage, especially with the increase of items to hold (the game gives Jill eight inventory slots- Chris, a mere six)- but the atmosphere still reveals a survival horror title at the top of its game.
But far as the few improvements to the game they're a bit hit or miss. The new character models look terrific but the 2D backgrounds haven't been updated, looking grainy and decidedly low-res. This also means that everything that’s interactive pops right off the screen, making it blatantly obvious when you pass by a window that will be broken in by zombies and isn't just part of background dressing, for instance. The new widescreen mode is a bit suspect as well, since the original game is 4:3. Offering a 16:9 screen size means that the top and bottom parts of the screen are chopped off, making the screen do some kind of bizarro reverse pan and scan when your character ventures up or down.
It feels more claustrophobic than it should because of it but fortunately a 4:3 original ratio is available. Just deal with black bars on the side of your screen it’s worth it to see the full picture.
There's definitely nothing to complain about with the new 5.1 surround sound, though, which works just as intended. The only jarring moments happen when you switch camera angles and the sound changes accordingly.
New controls have been offered to give you a respite from the much-maligned tank controls, but you’ll soon find out that the tank controls are the only one that offer you the accuracy you need.
The new standard control set lets you use the d-pad for tank controls and the analog stick for full-range controls, which lets you run whatever direction you push. With the camera angles changing every few steps this soon becomes a nightmare. Chris or Jill will keep moving forward as long as you keep holding the direction you were pressing (even if the angle completely changes) but when you have to switch directions it makes for all sorts of jerky motions. In practice it works well for only one situation- when you have to get away from a zombie, fast. Here is where it shines, as you can simply start hustling away from a threat the second it appears, rather than turning awkwardly on your axis to try and limp away.
It’s a terrible option by itself, but giving you the choice of both actually does improve the game and makes it just a tad easier. Half of the horror of the original game was battling with the controls themselves, as your character just didn’t respond quickly enough in times of crisis. If it’s still too hard for you there’s a new Very Easy mode available, but only a baby would play that. Clearly not someone Barry would respect.
So don’t go into this expecting some massively new version of the game- it’s simply a slightly cleaned up and tweaked version of Resident Evil, and is priced accordingly. If you’ve never played the original you’ll soon find out why gamers were disappointed in where the series has gone- while Resident Evil 2 and 4 were (more than) worthy successors, the series seems to have lost its way in recent years, Revelations offering the closest to the original survival horror experience that we’ve had.
If you need Resident Evil in your library- and really, you do- this is the version to pick up. Just don't expect it to be some (ahem) revelation.
Resident Evil Remastered was reviewed on the PS4 via a code provided by Capcom. It's also available for PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC. (Now where's our remake of Resident Evil 2?)