Friday 22 September 2017

Resident Evil HD Remaster review: Rest in peace

Resident Evil HD Remaster: Play as Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield
Resident Evil HD Remaster: Play as Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

IT smacks of desperation when remaking a remake stands in for genuine innovation on a well loved franchise. Resident Evil 5 and 6 lost the true essence of survival horror, but maybe Capcom can learn from RE’s roots with this HD remaster.

Resident Evil HD Remaster (XOne/PS4/PC/X360/PS3); rating: 7.5/10; age: 18+

Based on the 2002 GameCube revamp, which improved the 1996 original considerably, the HD update adds relatively little to the core game. But even in 2015, it still manages at times to be fantastically unsettling and, yes, a little scary.

That in itself is a credit to Shinji Mikami’s original design, which effectively made a character out of the spooky mansion in which RE spins its tale of the policeman (or woman) trying to escape a menagerie of monsters. Visually, the HD update is eerily beautiful, at least relative to the pixellated renditions of 1996 and 2002.

But by modern standards, the genre-defining conventions of RE’s gameplay don’t hold up to scrutiny. There’s nothing wrong with presenting a tough challenge to players – in fact we’re frequently spoiled these days by too much hand-holding and assistance. Some of RE’s structure, however, feels contrived and exists only as padding.

Resident Evil HD Remaster: Shambling zombies abound
Resident Evil HD Remaster: Shambling zombies abound

In particular, a very limited inventory capacity forces you to backtrack on your fetch quests. You’ll spend a lot of time swapping items in and out of your pockets in safe rooms and then running the gauntlet of zombies you’ve already encountered. It drains much of the tension and highlights the other frustrating aspects.

The original’s tank-style controls are just painful but, thankfully, optional. However, the alternative scheme doesn’t make for a huge improvement, being too fast and even finicky. The fixed, kooky camera angles go a long way to building RE’s unnerving atmosphere but sometimes are counterproductive when, for instance, up becomes down as you flick from one screen to another.

The puzzles – typically, key-lock style problems – can be wilfully obscure or just downright illogical. But with the answer nowadays just a quick Google away, it hardly matters except to break the fragile spell of immersion.

We can just about forgive the limited-save system – requiring you to find a rare typewriter ink ribbon each time you want to record your progress. It adds an extra layer of anxiety to your movements, knowing you could lose potentially hours of play in one reckless clash with a zombie.

Resident Evil HD Remaster: The mansion was designed by a madman not an architect
Resident Evil HD Remaster: The mansion was designed by a madman not an architect

There’s no point in harshing too much on Resident Evil – it was and still is a pioneering classic. Veterans of the mansion will probably fall in love all over again, thanks to the new options for leaderboards, speed runs, etc.

At the budget price of about €20, it doesn’t constitute much of a financial risk for newcomers either. But almost 20 years after the dead first arose, it’s time to let Resident Evil as we knew it rest in peace.

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