The original Resident Evil must be one of the most re-released and re-made games ever. Originally released for the Playstation over 20 years ago, back in 1996, it has since been ported to everything from the Sega Saturn to PC to the Nintendo DS. The first version I played was what’s often referred to by fans as the “REmake”, when Capcom released a new version of the game with vastly improved graphics for the Nintendo Gamecube in 2002. That version has since been remastered, and a HD version was released on a host of recent consoles a couple of years ago. Capcom seem to be aiming for total Resident Evil saturation.
As far as graphics and production goes, the HD version of RE on PS4 is pretty much perfect. The HD version has a widescreen display that shows off the pre-rendered backgrounds and environments to great advantage. While other games might boast superior or even photorealistic visuals, few can match the consistent visual atmosphere achieved here. You have no control over the camera, and every scene is shot from a fixed angle, with your character moving in relation to the camera. This limits the visual information available to you, and game director Shinji Mikami and his team create some of the most effective and memorable jump scares in gaming. Resident Evil established the survival horror franchise at a stroke, and it’s not hard to see why. This is an outstanding horror experience. Of course, the lack of camera control is a trade-off, and occasionally you’ll find that an abrupt change of camera angle causes your character to run into the clutches of a monster or something. This is an inevitable result of a conscious design choice, and most players will agree it’s worth it: Resident Evil is a uniquely framed experience.
The sound design is also commendable. The largely minimalist and ambient “soundtrack” often just consists of silence punctuated by wind, dogs howling, or the creaking of the old manor in which most of the game is set, but it does a great job of establishing atmosphere and is often very unsettling. One of the first games to feature a decent amount of voice acting, Resident Evil was somewhat notorious for its corny script and the hammy performances of its cast. Recent versions of the game have toned this down a bit, but the dialogue and acting can still raise a laugh. Characters often act in a way that’s hard to credit, and use redundant phrases and bizarre intonation (“We have to get a GRIP… on the situation”; “I used him for my personal purposes.”) But it’s in keeping with the B-Movie inspired plot, and the rest of the series has largely shared this game’s slightly camp, tongue-in-cheek tone.
Resident Evil allows you to play through the campaign as either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, although you’re strongly encouraged to play through it more than once. Both are series stalwarts, having appeared in multiple games at this point, so it’s nice to go back and see where they started. Jill has always been an awesome and widely, er, admired character, but Chris is quite likable here–though they’re both a bit dimwitted. In recent games, an older version of Chris has become a super-serious steroid junky with a puffy face, so this was a welcome return to a more relatable version of the character. The game is slightly easier if you play as Jill, because she can carry more stuff, has a lockpick, and has access to a powerful weapon Chris doesn’t get.
There are a few storyline as well as gameplay differences depending on who you choose. Moreover, Resident Evil is a game where you really have to learn the layout, item locations, and puzzle solutions, especially if you are playing on one of the higher difficulties. Even on Normal difficulty, Resident Evil can be very difficult and punishing for new players: ammunition and health are in short supply, and your ability to save your progress is strictly limited by the number of ink ribbons you can find. You’re often best advised to run away from monsters, avoid engaging and hope they don’t outrun or grab you. The tension is normally just right, and for the most part it’s expertly balanced to be challenging without being unfair. Nevertheless, this kind of experience is quite different to the more frustration-free gaming diet most of us expect these days.
Many Resident Evil fans went ballistic after the release of Resident Evil 6, which was seen by many as an abandonment of the survival horror roots of the franchise. I must say that playing Resident Evil now, even the HD version, limiting mechanics like the tiny inventory and restricted saves can be a pain in the ass, and this style of game is not a growth market. It’s pleasing, therefore, that Resident Evil 7 seems to have largely impressed people so far by re-interpreting traditional “survival horror” in a contemporary context. That said, I’m studiously avoiding reading any reviews. Zombies don’t scare me any more, but I live in fear of spoilers. Let’s hope that some of those new to the series are inspired to check out where it all started.