Resident Evil Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
Long before it was adapted into a dubious series of films, the video game Resident Evil was critically acclaimed for its power to shock and scare. Since then it has become a true franchise, inspiring numerous sequels, novels, comics and, of course, those dubious films. Originally released in 1996, it has already received several rereleases and now another one has come along, this time in HD. This version, all these many years later, proves that Resident Evil is still a heavyweight in the survival-horror genre despite its outmoded gameplay and threadbare story.
As in the original game, Resident Evil begins by giving you the choice of playing as Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, as they investigate an abandoned mansion and the mystery of the undead who lurk within. Each character has a marginally different storyline to play through and has a different skillset – for example, Jill has more inventory slots and can pick locks, while Chris is more resilient and can take more damage. Much of the difference between them is superficial, but there’s enough that isn’t to double your time with a game that otherwise takes a reasonable ten to twelve hours to complete.
Of course, it should be noted that this is not actually a re-release of the 1996 Resident Evil, but the 2002 remastered version originally released on the Nintendo GameCube. The result is that there are various tweaks and changes to the game, some of which are barely noticeable and some of which are impossible to miss. One such change is the improvement to the story, with much of the dialogue rewritten and re-recorded; several embarrassing lines and scenes, including the notorious “master of unlocking” cutscene, have been scrubbed in favour of much better content. The story itself is rather simple, and told sparingly, but does a decent enough job of stringing events together.
Yet the greatest improvement to the game by far is to its visuals. The graphical quality is superb, a significant leap forward from the original, and helps generate a truly creepy atmosphere. Characters might not look as good as if they had been natively made in HD but they are plentifully convincing and, unlike in the original 1996 game, actually look like people rather than clumsy collections of blocks. The environments are even more stunning, however, having been beautifully created and redrawn; they are rich and engaging, and are some of the best you’ll see in the horror genre.
Keeping in mind that we live in a post-Dead Space world, the bar is now set pretty high for video games when it comes to causing fright. If you’re worried that Resident Evil won’t be able to keep up, you’ll soon find that it has no such problems – largely thanks to the visuals, helped along by the fixed camera angles it employs. While fixed cameras have largely gone out of fashion due to their impracticality, Resident Evil uses them to good effect, composing shots as carefully as any movie would (or indeed better, if the film adaptation is anything to go by). Whether it’s through clever lighting, reflections, or a shadow cast on a wall, this is a game which never struggles to manufacture tension.
Unfortunately, the same fixed camera angles which are one of Resident Evil’s greatest strengths are also one of its greatest weaknesses. Combat becomes awkward when taking place near the join between two cameras; you might be trying to flee a zombie, only for the camera to change unexpectedly and send you running straight back into its arms. Or at other times you might know that a zombie is lurking along the corridor, and the character you’re controlling might be looking straight at it, but you’ll be unable to see it yourself or assess the situation.
As frustrating as this is, the gameplay already comes across as old-fashioned before you even get to the issue. You’ll do most of your fighting with a variety of guns, ranging from a basic handgun to shotgun and grenade launcher, and from a third-person perspective. However, you have very little control over aiming; instead, the character will automatically lock onto the nearest enemy, and aim for the torso. You can make them aim up or down, but unless an enemy is standing directly in front of them – literally about to attack them – they’ll end up firing uselessly into the floor or the air.
These controls are where Resident Evil really starts to show its age. It’s not merely annoying to see Jill and Chris fail to use their guns properly but, as they are supposedly able soldiers, is unrealistic as well. Occasionally they fail to properly lock on to targets, too, and you’ll have to watch as they unload rounds into nothingness as a zombie stumbles around right in front of them. The result – in combination with the camera issues – means that the game sometimes seems to conspire against you, leaving you stranded as a whole host of things go wrong all at once.
When you’re not awkwardly fighting off zombies, you’ll be exploring the mansion and solving all the puzzles it contains. Some of these are simpler than others, but on the whole they are engrossing enough without ever becoming so mind-bogglingly difficult that you’ll throw your controller across the room. The game is less linear than most are these days, allowing for greater exploration and requiring greater initiative to progress, but once you become used to the lack of clear objectives, you’ll enjoy putting your brain to use.
Of course, the purpose of a horror game is to scare, and Resident Evil achieves that with some considerable aplomb. It lacks the pulse-pounding terror of Dead Space but creates an eerie, haunting aura that will leave you feeling uneasy long after you’ve put it down. The mansion is a twisted, evil setting that seems hostile in every way, with dangers lurking around every corner. Zombies come back more dangerous than before if not burned or killed by a headshot, and even some of the puzzles can kill you. All of this will set you perfectly on edge, and leave you poised there until the next shock causes your heart to leap.
Ultimately, Resident Evil is let down by its awkward combat and somewhat barebones plot. If the story were fleshed out a little more, and if it were possible to fight zombies a little less clumsily, it would still be able to hold its own against the very best of this day and age. Thirteen years is a long time in gaming, though, and the game does show its age a bit. The combat and some other elements, of course, hail from even further back in the 1996 original. As it is, it is merely a great horror game brought to the screen in high definition for the first time, and an absolute must for fans of the genre. Most importantly, it still has the power to inspire fear – and that alone makes it worth the price of admission.