Resident Evil Review (PlayStation 4)
Capcom has decided to dig up 2002's GameCube remake of the original Resident Evil title and give it a current-gen facelift. Gone are the over-the-shoulder camera angles and 'Rambo'-esque sequences starring Chris Redfield and his roided-out biceps punching boulders. Instead, we have Chris Redfield as we'd like to remember him -- an average looking member of Raccoon City's Special Tactics and Rescue Squad. Chris returns with Jill Valentine (Resident Evil's other protagonist, a.k.a. the "Master of Unlocking"), Barry Burton, Rebecca Chambers and Albert Wesker as a group of S.T.A.R.S. members who end up at a mysterious mansion in the woods after investigating a set of serial murders. While its recent entries have been filled with bullets, the HD remaster of Resident Evil proves that some zombies get faster, stronger and scarier after you put them down the first time.
The biggest change to Resident Evil comes in the form of its visuals, which have been ironed out for the PS4 but don't add anything particularly groundbreaking to what we saw last time. Most fans remember the 1996 original and its first two sequels for their tank-like controls and hand-drawn backgrounds. RE's old (but detailed) backgrounds made its pointy, polygonal characters stand out terribly. The 2002 GameCube remake introduced rendered backgrounds that used mini, repeating cutscenes to simulate shadows, fires, candles and other various background objects while its characters were given a full overhaul, resulting in Jill and Chris looking much more natural to their environments. Capcom has utilized the powers of the PlayStation 4 by fixing and re-rendering everything, making things much more smoother this time around. Those small, full-motion video cutscenes that were used to animate lanterns and other items have been replaced by detailed objects using the game's engine combined with new lighting systems. The resulting look provides a beautiful use of atmosphere that provides the apotheosis of the survival horror genre, despite this being a 13-year-old game -- this is what Resident Evil has always meant to look like.
The overall presentation of Resident Evil looks stellar, especially considering the change from a 4:3 to a 16:9 display (which you can switch on the fly) combined with 5.1 surround sound capabilities. Every area of Resident Evil, from its outdoor promenades to the claustrophobic, zombie-filled rooms of the Spencer Mansion, have been optimized for the PS4. The enemies look much more real -- watching your first Crimson Head zombie reanimate was just jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring at the same time. The same goes for every Hunter, Chimera, shark, Cerberus dog and all the other bio-organic weapons sealed within the manor. In particular, Lisa Trevor and Yawn look really good. There is just a perfect ambiance being upheld by RE's sounds, songs and the ragged/bleak look of every room that keeps you thoroughly engaged. You never really settle with RE's visuals, but you feel compelled to see what's next.
Those expecting something different might feel a bit let down other than some a few new costumes for Jill and the gang, especially if you have already played the 2002 version. This game is perfect for your first venture into the Spencer Mansion or if you only played the 1996 original. In preparation for Resident Evil 6 a few years ago, I binged through Resident Evil 1-5 and the 2002 remake (having already beaten each of them throughout the past two decades as well), so I'm quite familiar with Chris and Jill's first nightmare. Almost every item, monster and detail is where they were originally kept, so this could feel a bit lackluster for those looking for something new.
So what is new this time around? The undead elephant in the room would have to be Chris and Jill's new controls. You have the ability to abandon RE's unforgettable tank controls, where pressing Up on the analog stick/directional pad would always move your character forward while Left/Right would turn them and Down would backtrack. Combined with the necessity of holding the run button, tank controls were what helped raise the tension of Resident Evil because you had an imperfect way of avoiding slow-moving zombies that each took a few bullets to kill. The new control system has your character moving in the direction you press the analog stick in, regardless of what way they were originally facing, which is much tighter for navigation. Regardless of which control style you choose in the options, the directional pad lets you use the tank controls in case you ever want to take things slow and soak up all those spooky environments. If you really want to make things feel different, put on RE's Japanese audio to boot.
While the new controls are nice, they feel a bit too perfect. It's now much easier to navigate around zombies without them grabbing you, which gives a deeper appreciation to the old school controls. Don't get me wrong -- despite this improved style of movement, things are still scary as hell throughout the house. Resident Evil's constrictive format provides a lot of tension. Chris still only has six inventory slots while Jill has eight (there are pros and cons to each character), resulting in you having to choose what you carry, especially when each gun, ammo type, key, health spray, herb and puzzle item take up an inventory slot. You can see how this becomes problematic when Chris is carrying a handgun, handgun bullets, a shotgun, shotgun rounds, an Armor Key, a healing item and comes across a necessary puzzle item without an inventory box (where you can unload, store and re-organize all of your items) nearby. This leads to a lot of unnecessary backtracking, which you were already going to do, regardless of your limited bag space.
Resident Evil's inventory system forces you to backtrack a lot through the mansion, but that's not entirely a bad thing. Capcom's sense of pacing results in a lot of surprises and thrills you'll experience as you're going back and forth through those tight hallways. At first, you'll only encounter a few zombies at a time -- maybe two or three in a hallway, or perhaps a lone zombie hidden in a bathtub, closet or enclosed room. Once you start to accumulate more bullets and perhaps a bigger gun, the game starts throwing you curveballs. An empty hallway could have a new, lizard-like Hunter monster in it, requiring a few shotgun rounds to kill it and being much more difficult than your average zombie.
The walkers are much more frightening with the introduction of the Crimson Heads. Unless you burn or decapitate them, zombies will occasionally respawn as a faster, stronger breed of undead that will relentlessly run and claw at you. These guys don't respawn right away, giving you a breathing period from when they are first put down to their reanimation, but the terror is there. You have to burn their bodies, but only have a limited amount of kerosene to do so, forcing you to save burnings for the more frequented pathways. Resident Evil still has some of the most nonsensical lock-and-key mechanisms every created in fiction, but at least it'll keep you on the edge of your seat while you're trying to solve the house's massive puzzles. With some unforgettable boss fights (Yawn and Plant 42 in particular), Resident Evil lays its sense of dread on thick, providing a ton of suspense as you never really know what's around the next corner.
Resident Evil is an excellent, successful resurrection of a timeless classic. While there may not be enough content to satiate those familiar with the 13-year-old remake, things still felt fresh, in a rotted, unsettling sort of way. There's a sense of dread you never get used to whenever you enter a new room with RE's limited camera perspectives. Throw in the sounds of an unseen monster, and Resident Evil's showcases a formula of horror that helped define this series for almost two decades. Optimized for 2015, Resident Evil is even scarier when it has a fresh coat of blood. Unfortunately, there's not much new added to the HD remaster other than the 16:9 ratio, new controls, Japanese dialogue, improved graphics/audio and the added mockumentary, Wesker's Report (which is almost the same as it was when it was featured in Resident Evil Code: Veronica X). Since we've visited the Spencer Mansion so many times over the years, the biggest problem that lies within Resident Evil is we're now jonesing for Resident Evil 2 to get its own remake.
This review was based on a purchased, digital copy of Resident Evil for PlayStation 4.