Resident Evil HD review: Digging up old graves

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At a Glance
  • Capcom Resident Evil HD

I'm going to go ahead and split my review of Resident Evil HD into two reviews—one for those who are really nostalgic about either the 1996 or 2002 versions of the original Resident Evil, and one review for those who've never played before.

If you're really nostalgic for Resident Evil, here's your review: This remake is everything you wanted, with (mostly) HD textures, the ability to play in widescreen, and the ability to use classic or modern controls. It's all slapped on top of the same ol' mansion-roaming game you loved nineteen years ago. Oh, and it runs no-hassle on a modern system so you don't need to futz with digging out your GameCube or old-school PlayStation.

Resident Evil HD

For those who've never played Resident Evil before? Your review is a little bit longer. Okay, a lot longer.

Digging up graves

There are certain games from my past that I hold very dear and would love to see remade, warts and all. If you told me tomorrow, for instance, that Bethesda was releasing a graphically-updated-but-otherwise-unchanged version of Morrowind, I would be overjoyed—even knowing that not a single person who missed Morrowind the first time around would understand the appeal now.

"Too much reading," some would say. "No quest markers," others would complain. And I would nod and say "Yeah, exactly," and then put another three-hundred hours into the game because hot damn have I mentioned how much I love Morrowind?

So I understand when people speak of Resident Evil with the same reverence. For people who played it at release, who played it at a very pivotal moment in their past, it is understandably a Very Important Game.

Resident Evil HD

I am not one of those people. I don't have any nostalgia for Resident Evil and I never will. Which is why this review is split between something for the people who do have that nostalgia—you already know you want to play it, as long as the game runs smoothly (it does), so just go buy it and play it already—and those who don't.

You people who missed Resident Evil in 1996, what draw is there to play a game from nineteen years ago aside from historical curiosity? Does Resident Evil hold up as a game you'd want to play as someone two decades late to the party?

To which I respond with a resolute "Maybe."

First off, Capcom does make some concessions to you, the person who's never played Resident Evil before. You can, as I mentioned, play in either widescreen or the original 4:3 aspect ratio, you can disable the game's original tank controls in favor of a more modern "point the stick where you want to go" system, and there's a difficulty mode that's so easy it was basically designed for babies.

So far, so good.

Resident Evil HD

Capcom's done a fantastic job on the graphics overhaul, too. There are a few blurry textures, but they only stand out because 95 percent of the game is rendered in such beautiful detail you'd never guess this game originally came out in 1996. Not from looking at it, at least.

Playing Resident Evil HD is a different matter. It is quite obviously a game from a specific time—from the fixed camera angles to the limited inventory to the three-second door-open transitions (originally used to mask load times) to the amount of hand-holding the game does (none), this game could only have been made when it was originally made.

And some of what made Resident Evil a classic worthy of an HD update twenty years later is still apparent.

Resident Evil HD

The occasional low-res texture (sign on the wall) stands out a lot more now that everything else looks better.

The iconic mansion is a treat. Unlocking new rooms, slowly uncovering the mysteries of the mansion and its past—this holds up wonderfully. Few modern games come close to reaching the same sense of atmosphere as Resident Evil, and remember I'm saying this as someone who'd never completed the game before this week. This isn't nostalgia talking. It's simply that good. Not scary, per se, but still wonderfully creepy.

But uncovering the mansion (let alone the rest of the game) is an exercise in decoding obtuse puzzles, the solutions of which are undoubtedly hidden in some item you don't realize is a thing you can interact with and not just part of the background.

I enjoy linear games. I enjoy open-world games. Both present manners of play that are very different, and yet both effectively guide the player through their structure. Linear games do it by simply moving the player forward, while open-world games let the player choose what to do at any moment and thus present infinite opportunity.

Resident Evil HD

What I don't especially like is a linear game masquerading as an open-world game, which is basically what Resident Evil does. It presents you with a wide-open world, but there's really only one thing you should be doing at any given moment to progress. Other paths lead to dead ends.

Every person I know who really loves Resident Evil either hasn't played it since release and thus is speaking solely from a place of nostalgia, or has played it many, many times. I expect this is because Resident Evil is much more enjoyable a second or even third time through, once you've memorized the path you're supposed to take through the game and minimized your own frustration.

The first time through Resident Evil, you will be frustrated. A lot. Nearly every puzzle requires a specific item to progress. You can only carry eight items at a time. Excess items must be stored in boxes that are neither convenient nor accessible when you need them, resulting in a lot of backtracking because you "forgot" some stupid thing you didn't even know you needed.

Resident Evil HD

And then there'll inevitably come a point where you're stuck and simply don't know what you need to do. Like any adventure game, these times are absolutely infuriating. You wander around in circles desperately hoping some clue will stand out. "Do I need the broken shotgun for this part? Is it something to do with these herb things? Does this bookcase move?"

The difference is that in a typical adventure game, "being stuck" costs you nothing. In Resident Evil, every circuit through the mansion means potentially more ammo wasted, or more kerosene burned, or more herbs consumed. You're slowly but surely burning through your already-limited supplies and still can't figure out the solution.

It's a game from 1996, okay? It's unfair, and it knows it's unfair. It's designed to be unfair. There's something extremely satisfying about Resident Evil for that very reason—feeling like the odds are stacked against you, and you're trapped in a mansion with no idea what to do or where to go. The traps are very real. The confusion is very real. It's almost like a simulation, in that regard.

Does that sound fun to you? Great! Go ahead and pick up Resident Evil HD. It's beautiful (for its age) and the modernized controls at least lower the barrier to entry.

I'd also understand if you don't think it sounds fun at all, though.

Resident Evil HD

Despite this industry's reputation for being forward-focused, gamers are secretly a community obsessed with the past. "What? You never played [insert classic game]?" It's a common refrain with this pastime, and while it's not the friendliest way to phrase that concept I think it's done with the best interests at heart. It's not necessarily "Wow, I think I'm better than you," and more, "That sucks you missed out. Hopefully you get to experience that game some day."

But as some of these games come up on twenty, thirty, or even forty years, I think it's perfectly acceptable for people to start saying, "I don't get the appeal."

It can be simple. "Why are these three-second door transitions in between every section? They really ruin the pacing." You could explain that it's because the transitions originally masked lengthy PlayStation loading times, but do they make the game better? Or do they just feel right because they were there the first time you played Resident Evil and taking them out would be like making Greedo shoot first?

Bottom line

If you're a fan of the Resident Evil franchise, or if you picked up the series at Resident Evil 4 and always wanted to go back and see what the original was all about, or if you're just generally interested in the history of video games—go play Resident Evil HD. Capcom's done a brilliant job updating the graphics and making sure everything runs smoothly on modern PCs.

For the uninitiated, know what you're getting yourself into. I'll freely admit I played entire (long) sections of the game with a walkthrough after getting tired of wandering in circles. Was it still enjoyable? Yes, but in a very particular way that's hard to recommend to a general audience in 2015.

Good luck. And try not to become a Jill sandwich.

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At a Glance
  • Resident Evil HD is a great remake, provided you contain the nostalgia to enjoy it.


    • It's exactly what fans would want from an HD Resident Evil remake
    • Setting is still high on creepy atmosphere, even in 2015


    • Outdated design will aggravate newcomers
    • Occasional blurry textures mar otherwise beautiful graphics update
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