Resident Evil HD
Resident Evil has aged better than I thought it would. In a lot of ways, it’s the apex of what was possible with the original survival horror formula. If you have even half an idea of what’s coming and thus have a plan, you’ll be fine; if you don’t, it becomes a frantic struggle for resources.
Even back in 2002, the series had taken a few big steps back from the original’s level of difficulty. You got more inventory slots, ammunition was more common, and you could mow down a half-dozen zombies at a time without having to think too hard about it. The “REmake” went back to basics, to a point when an encounter with a single zombie represented a series of crucial decisions, the first of which was whether you should fight it at all. It was a shock back then, and I can imagine it being moreso now for anyone who doesn’t know what they’re in for. This is classic survival horror, where every bullet counts, the puzzles make very little sense, and the atmosphere counts for more than anything else.
One of the things I always thought was clever about the “REmake” is how it uses its more gamey elements to make the environment seem even crazier. You’re already stuck in the middle of nowhere, inside an old mansion full of monsters, but all the art on the walls betrays a preoccupation with death and dying, no two rooms look alike, and several areas are rigged with lethal traps for no reason whatsoever. It isn’t a building in which something terrible happened, and you’re coming in well after the fact, as with later games like Outlast; it is an entire building that specifically wants you dead, in any way it can get it. The mansion is simply wrong somehow, and the zombies are simply within their natural habitat.
That suffocating sense of atmosphere is one of the big reasons why Resident Evil is remembered fondly. The original PSOne game is a glorified tech demo, and most of why it became popular was it being accidentally hilarious. The remake isn’t at all; it’s ruthless and often cruel, willing to kill you outright for minor mistakes. For this re-release, Capcom’s added a more modern control scheme and a third, easier difficulty, but it’s still a non-trivial challenge.
The two playable characters change the game to a sufficient degree that it’s worth going through with them both. Jill’s path is easier, with two more inventory slots, a fourth available weapon, and a get-out-of-jail-free card against one of the early traps, but Chris gets more health and is slightly better in a fight. You also unlock a few bonus difficulties for clearing the game, which make it even harder, because we were all masochists back in 2002 and this is what we enjoyed.
$20 is about the perfect price point for something like this. Don’t read spoilers, don’t use strategy guides, turn out the lights, and let yourself focus on the game for a while. Put away the cynicism. Yeah, in the cold light of day, Resident Evil is pretty silly, but if you let yourself react to it on its level, it’s frightening in all the right ways.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
This review is based on a digital copy of Resident Evil HD for the PC provided by Capcom.