Playing Resident Evil HD Remaster is a palpable experience, least of all as it’s very much a product of its time. It’s hard to imagine, but back in 2002 upon its GameCube-exclusive launch, zombies had not yet become the ubiquitous video game fodder they are today, and Chris Redfield was certainly not able to duff up a massive boulder while withstanding the sweltering conditions of an active volcano. More than anything, it serves as a crucial reminder of how this venerable zombie-stomping series began, namely as a balls-to-the-walls survival horror epic, the hallmarks of which have all but become indiscernible in recent entries under a cloud of Hollywood-esque action and muscle-bound protagonists. Indeed, what was once the pioneer of the genre has slowly lost its identity and in many ways doesn’t know what it wants to be anymore—just look at the Frankenstein’s Monster that was RE6. Thankfully, that’s where the Resident Evil remake comes in, fresh on the scene with a 1080p coat of paint and a few other bits and bobs to spruce up its 13-year-old coffin dodgers.
Resident Evil HD does exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a prettier version of the seminal GameCube remake, colloquially dubbed by fans as ‘REmake or ‘REbirth,’ with a few extra bells and whistles thrown in. Once again, you control S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team operatives Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, as the pair investigate a creepy old mansion in Raccoon Forest, which is at the epicentre of some gruesome murders in the summer of 1998. As luck would have it, the place is infested with rotting zombies, mutant spiders, giant snakes, and other nightmarish beasts, kicking off a fright fest that is just as uncompromisingly tough and superbly-paced as it was over a decade ago. While the old tank controls are still in there for purists, those of you who don’t want to feel like you’re trying to park a Tesco’s delivery van can plump for the modern option. There’s no run button here, and Chris and Jill move how a contemporary third-person character would, making navigating the Spencer Mansion’s halls that more graceful. Even for an old timer like me, it’s a welcome addition and works great.
Apart from that, this is Resi as you love (or loathe) it. Creeping around the mansion and solving a variety of obtuse puzzles while battling shambling corpses and reptilian Hunters feels like slipping back into a comfy pair of slippers. Sure, the aiming is a firm step back from the precision-based antics of Leon and Chris’s plagas-popping escapades—you can only shoot forward, up, or down—but encounters are no less tense, thanks to limited ammunition and foes that can soak up an alarming amount of precious bullets. You also have to be mindful of zombies rising again as more fearsome Crimson Heads, which can only be prevented by decapitation or incineration. In other words, aiming your trusty boomstick at their noggin’ or turning them into crispy critters with a lighter and kerosene is the only way to stop them from dodging death a second time.
Resi HD balances action and head-scratching puzzles effortlessly, while its pacing never puts one decomposing foot out of place. Bouts of claustrophobic scraps with the undead are punctuated by lighter, stomach-knotting moments as you creep around corners exploring every nook and cranny of Spencer’s intricately-designed abode. Meanwhile, boss battles help shake up the backtracking and regular firefights as you’re forced to employ some of the more colourful tools in your arsenal to defeat them, ever mindful that one screw up on your part could result in a grisly death—better hope you’ve visited a typewriter to save your game, or its back to the title screen for you.
In fact, it’s Resi’s reluctance to hold your hand and eschew modern trappings such as checkpoints and tutorials that gives it such an addictive, tough quality. It’s a game that actually requires you to think about your actions, no matter how innocuous they appear. Do you cap that zombie blocking the hall, or save your precious ammo? Do you pick up that key or save the space for healing items? Item management is an intrinsic part of the classic Resi games, and it’s back here in full force. Even your inventory becomes an important component in puzzle solving, as many items require you to tinker around with them to uncover hidden secrets—something that adds to the overall pleasure of cracking a riddle when many games would simply give you the answer on a plate. Sure, some of Resi’s idiosyncrasies shuffle towards the more archaic side—aiming can be tough in pre-rendered environments, and the door-loading sequences are completely unnecessary in this day and age—but its absolutely brimming with atmosphere and quality design that you’ll put aside any grumblings with its 13-year-old paradigm.
Back in 2002 REmake’s visuals were a certified jaw-dropper, and even today, the pre-rendered backdrops are a stunning example of Capcom’s masterful artistic handiwork. The HD makeover really accentuates minute detail that was previously obscured in muddy 240p, while the use of real-time effects such as lighting, shadows, and mist helps conjure up that quintessential Resi atmosphere. Even though a few textures look a little dodgy in places, this is a beautiful game; from the moody glow of the mansion dining room, to the gloomy, mist-coated pathways of Raccoon Forest.
The fixed camera also allows for lovely, cinematic viewpoints, making even the most mundane of areas seem quite unique, and suitably pant-wetting when you can hear the not-too-distant moans of a lurking zombie just out of sight. Speaking of your shuffling foes, the zombies and other ghoulish enemies look great, oozing with dripping saliva, bloody wounds, and piercing eyes. Even the voice acting is serviceable, with not a ‘Master of Unlocking’ in sight, while the soundtrack is a master of spine-chilling subtlety, complementing the horrors of gaming’s worst summer house without becoming overbearing.
Resi HD is a game you’ll want to play more than once, thanks to multiple story paths to take, plus the chance to unlock hidden content along the way. There’s even the chance to play the game with invisible enemies if you fancy a crack at it, while Chris and Jill can both get their mitts on new clobber and infinite weapons. Long-time Resi fans will also be able to nab some Trophies for those saveless speed-runs, too, giving you more incentive to meticulously plan your steps through the Spencer Mansion.
Despite showing its age in places, Resident Evil HD still plays and looks remarkably brilliant. Yes, some of its design choices are a little creaky and will probably make the Call of Duty generation among you wince, but dig a little deeper, and there’s an immensely satisfying—not to mention genuinely creepy—pleasure to be had by experiencing survival horror’s defining title, not to mention one of Resi’s best outings in years.