Back in 2002 I was overjoyed to have the chance to replay one of my favourite games with new shiny bells and whistles. I’d already played the original from 1996 and it had earned its place as one of my favourite games. And a further 13 years have passed and I’m excited to be playing it again, although this time with the added bells and whistles in HD.
It’s generally considered among fans that the original Resi remake for the GameCube is Resi at its best and I firmly agree that Resi has never been better, although 2 and 4 come close at times. Despite the pre-rendered backgrounds and voice acting so bad it’s funny, in its day it was one of the best looking and atmospheric games around. It’s an art that’s largely lost in modern games which so often favour action over consideration and jump scares over tension.
Almost everything has been left alone from the GameCube remake. The puzzles and areas are exactly as I remember them, and I remember them well. There is a joy to revisiting a place you haven’t been to in over a decade and having an almost photographic memory of every corner and object. For those who haven’t visited the Spencer Estate before it is likely the place will be quite overwhelming. Rooms and corridors are anything but uniform and it will take some time before you have an adequate working knowledge of the mansion and its secrets.
The Puzzles are classically over the top and often totally inexplicable. Examining an emblem that was hidden in a particularly vicious dog’s collar reveals it to be an imitation of a key that you place inside a socket after removing the real key to stop the suit of armour on tracks from crushing/stabbing you to death in a stone hallway. The Spencer’s really believed in strong security. Having so many object results in a sort of constant trading of items back and forth. The dog whistle I used to attract that particular dog is now useless and I can discard it, saving a valuable inventory slot for the new key it allows me to collect.
In fact a large part of solving puzzles, and progressing generally, relies on solid inventory management. Luckily there are ‘magic boxes’ to help you which allow you to store a colossal amount of items that can then be accessed from any other magic box. Even so it’s all to easy when exploring to find a few pieces of a puzzle you’re not even aware of yet and some healing herbs and end up totally full and unable to carry any more items. Making more trips than you need to is not a good idea in this house.
Also returning from the original and the remake are fixed cameras. And with them come two control schemes; the original ‘tank controls’ (with a button to ‘accelerate’ and buttons to turn like Heavy Rain) and the new scheme that uses the left analogue stick like conventional modern third person titles.
The new scheme is far better for giving enemies the slip ensuring it’s your error that gets you into trouble and not awkward controls. Although they don’t make you untouchable and back in the day I was just as good at dodging the undead with the tank controls as I am now with the new scheme. But the updated controls make it far easier to get playing considering we’re all used to similar schemes – I can imagine many players will never have even used tank controls.
The only time I felt they let me down were on a few transitions when the camera changed and my character was spinning backwards and forwards cutting the camera repeatedly. Almost all transitions worked with absolutely no problems, but when it went wrong it was somehow even worse than it used to be with the old scheme. Out of hundreds of transitions only two or three don’t work but when it happens it’s bad. Throw in the need to dodge an enemy in such an area and it’s all over.
Other than the very rare problems I actually found myself enjoying the fixed cameras. They’re restrictive and claustrophobic. Time and time again I just wanted to rotate the camera to check around the corner. Hearing the shuffling of a zombie that you can’t see creates a tense game of hide and seek that gets the heart going. So much of Resi’s atmosphere comes from the camera angles and I’m glad to have them back. They may have originated from technical limitations but in this arena they excel.
The fixed shooting style also returns and makes for a slow and calculated combat style. Forget about Leon Kennedy’s ability to kick zombies to death or suplex their heads into the ground. You will stop, aim and fire. If you want, or need, to kill something it will have to be thoughtful. If you wait until you need to react it’s unlikely you will have enough time – unless you use some of the rarer ammo. It may be out of place compared with many modern games but again it adds to Resi’s unique atmosphere.
One of the biggest challenges visually comes from working with Resi’s pre-rendered backgrounds. Without a fully realised 3D environment improving elements is difficult, especially when modern lighting models are concerned as they rely on the environment being 3D. But the remaster looks incredibly good throughout. Certain environments are improved more than others, the main hall stands out as an example of one of the best, but nothing looks like it’s from 2002, or even close. To get everything in a 16:9 aspect the top and bottom was cut from the original 4:3 which is a pretty crude technique but at no point did I notice anything missing. Capcom really have done an amazing job getting a 13 year old game to look modern(ish) on a PS4.
Limited saves, elaborate puzzles, punishing difficulties, cheesy voice acting and door animations all make their glorious return and I couldn’t be happier. The visual overhaul is nothing short of amazing. Areas have been cleaned up and overhauled so they look refreshed and the Dolby 5.1 further rejuvenates Resi into the current gen. The ‘96 original was one of my favourite games until the 2002 remake came out and know there’s the 2015 remaster. That brilliant little GameCube disk remained one of (if not) my favourite game for over a decade. Now that it’s back I’m glad to say this opportunity wasn’t wasted.
It’s great to have a proper survival game back at its best. The only problems are a few iffy camera transitions, some aging that can’t be hidden (i.e. the voice acting) and the knowledge that this is the best Resident Evil in a long time, and it’s only this good because it hasn’t changed. The Resident Evil franchise is so far off track that I can’t ever see it returning to this kind of legendary game. So while I love playing this Resi remaster it’s hard not to play it knowing this is the ultimate version of the long dead glory days of the Resident Evil franchise. I’m so glad I am able to enjoy Resident Evil once again, but it’s extremely unlikely there’ll be another one as good as this. It’s not a negative mark against this game but it is sad to know this is highly likely to be the last time I will play, and love, this truly amazing, genre defining game.