Resident Evil HD Remaster Review
The PlayStation-era of games is often criticized as a generation that has aged poorly, thanks to muddy 3D visuals and controls. The 2002 GameCube remake of 1996's Resident Evil fixed the former, but some still found the infamous tank controls cumbersome. This new remastered HD iteration frees the game from its sluggish shackles like a doberman freed from its winter booties.
The visuals have received an impressive overhaul, from the exquisitely detailed backgrounds to the 3D character models. You can even play as Jill or Chris as they appear in RE 5 - it's a fun treat seeing these alternate appearances in cutscenes. Some vignettes are still terribly graining, like draining the courtyard pool or the end credits, but for the most part the mansion looks appropriately creepy and worn in. I did notice some minor graphical issues, like limbs or shadows clipping through bookcases or doors, but they're rare enough that they don't distract for long.
The new widescreen view is great as well. The zoomed-in 16:9 perspective sacrifices some of the vertical screenspace from the original 4:3 view, but at the benefit of a wider horizontal axis. The changes, including the subtle camera panning, are subtle and it's become the way I prefer to play.
Speaking of preferred play styles, the biggest changes involve the new control scheme and easier difficulty option. The modern control scheme allows players to move in the direction they point the analog stick, opposed to the classic tank controls. The result is a liberating, intuitive, and immediately satisfying. Unfortunately some of the enemy AI can't compensate for the S.T.A.R.S. team's newfound agility, trivializing certain battles. For instance, I can now safely slash a single zombie to death with a knife and run circles around the giant snake boss. However, the game still retains its rewarding difficulty when players are faced with multiple threats. Unfair challenges sometimes flare up due to quick camera angle transitions where the view wigs out, occasionally leading to a few frustrating zombie chomps. These instances were very rare, however.
Watch the producer of RE HD pick apart how the game has been remade
It's difficult to understate just how initially bizarre it is to play a classic Resident Evil title with this updated control scheme. I've played the 2002 remake and other early entries dozens of times since its initial release, and was worried the more hyperactive character motions would taint some of the deliberate combat and trepidatious exploration. The minor hit to those elements of the formula is well worth the exchange. Having a character that simply moves in the direction of your analog stick means that's one less thing to think about, freeing players to enjoy this amazing horror game more directly.
These new controls, along with a new easy mode that boosts ammo and health and makes enemies far weaker, present the perfect jumping-on point for RE fans that've been hesitant to try out the classics that solidified the genre's legacy. Purists can stick to the original controls and aspect ratio, but I doubt I'll be going back after shedding the clunky mechanics. I'd love to see Capcom remake the entire catalog of early titles in this style.
Note: This review pertains to the PlayStation 4 version of the game. It is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.