Not having a GameCube meant that I unfortunately missed out on some pretty high-quality games. Probably the most notable ones were Eternal Darkness and the remake of Resident Evil, neither of which, by itself, was enough to sell me on a console. I've since been able to play through a friend's copy of Eternal Darkness, and I had started on Resident Evil, but never got around to finishing it. When the HD remaster showed up on PSN, I was hesitant to buy it, since I knew that I could just play it on my friend's GameCube eventually.
Best of both worlds at the tip of your thumb
However, something in the previews really intrigued me. And that was the compromise that Capcom found for the never-ending conflict between the tank-style controls of the original PSX game and the analog control of newer games. Since I grew up with Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and other survival horror and similar adventure games, I've never had a problem with tank controls. They tend to be the lesser evil when dealing with static camera angles that change unpredictably (as in Resident Evil), and they are perfectly serviceable for behind-the-back or overhead cameras (as in the outdoor areas of Silent Hill). This ensures that the controls remain consistent during camera angle changes, since they are always relevant to the character rather than the camera.
But apparently, some people hate that control paradigm. They criticize it for making the characters feel too slow and lumbering, and that it lacks precision. The controls have oft been cited as one of the reasons for Resident Evil's declining popularity after Resident Evil 2, and supposedly ditching them was a major factor in the "renaissance" that was [supposedly] Resident Evil 4. But let me remind you that Resident Evil 4 had the exact same controls, and the character was just as slow and lumbering (if not moreso). The only difference was that the camera was moved to behind-the-back, and the gameplay switched to an action shooter rather than a more adventure-puzzle kind of game. So really, your problem was never with the controls...
The original Resident Evil was criticized for how its controls and camera lead to frequent blind corners,
wasted ammunition, and cheap kills. The critics were right, but it wasn't game-breaking...
Regardless, analog control has its own baggage train of problems. Pressing the stick in one direction can cause the character to make sudden changes of direction if the camera suddenly changes. This can be mostly avoided by locking the character's movement as long as the player doesn't release or rotate the stick - and the HD Remaster does implement this. But this still leads to sudden turn-arounds when the player needs to move the character around a corner, since you sometimes have to move the stick to the exact opposite direction that you were pressing. And in cases in which the camera angle changes at the point where a change of direction is required to go around a corner or navigate an obstacle (which happens often), then the character can easily get lost in a cycle of spinning around between the two camera zones.
So there is no perfect solution to the problem of static cameras, but I tend to prefer the tank method due to its guarantee of consistency - even at the cost of some slow turning speeds. In any case, advocates of either paradigm should find exactly what they want in this remaster, since both configurations are implemented in the remastered game's default control scheme! Capcom's clever (and elegant) solution was to simply map the tank controls to the directional pad, while leaving the free analog movement on the analog stick. Players are, thus, free to alternate between whichever control they prefer without even having to go into a menu to change it. You can even alternate between them, on the fly, in the heat of the action if the situation warrants it, because I can definitely see how the analog movement could work well in some of the [rare] larger, open areas of the map (particularly for boss fights).
It's OK to hate these red-headed step-zombies
Most of the changes introduced in the GameCube remake serve to add further challenge. The most prominent display of this is the new "Crimson Head" zombie mechanic. If you kill a zombie and didn't manage to get lucky enough to blow its head off, you must burn its body in order to prevent it from resurrecting later in the game as a more dangerous "Crimson Head". These red-headed zombies are faster and more damaging than their precursor form. They can rapidly run across a room and grab you before you even realize they are there. They are also very well-tutorialized, since most players will probably encounter their first Crimson Head while attempting to retrieve the Armor Key from the hallway trapped with suits of armor on rails. The previous hallway includes a dead body that (if you didn't go out of your way to burn previously) will resurrect at this time. This hall has a system of mirrors in place that allow a tremendous degree of visibility from virtually every camera angle, meaning that whichever door you enter from, you'll have an opportunity to see the Crimson Head coming after you. It's a frantic and frightening moment!
Bodies that you don't burn will resurrect as faster, more deadly "Crimson Heads"
that are difficult to avoid and require a second investment in resources to defeat.
Almost any zombie in the game can potentially turn into this more dangerous form. Destroying their head with a lucky shot or burning their bodies are the only ways to permanently ensure that they can't attack you. Zombies that have been permanently dispelled in such a manner will actually disappear when you leave the room (they decompose, I guess?); whereas, potential Crimson Heads will remain where you initially dispatched them as a constant reminder that they are still a threat. While some weapons do fire damage and can burn the bodies of zombies, the most common way to deal with them is to use the new kerosene flask item that was added in the GameCube remake. This flask can be used to ignite the zombies (assuming you also have the lighter), which prevents them from turning into Crimson Heads later. Your flask can only hold two doses of kerosene at any given time though, and refills canisters (scattered in various rooms) are few and far between, and have limited use.
The obvious effect of this mechanic is to add some extra challenge to the game's logistical puzzle that makes up the fundamental challenge of the game. Ammo and healing herbs aren't your only finite resources anymore. It also helps to alleviate the boredom that may come from the game's reliance on backtracking. The original game could get very tedious if the player doesn't know where to go and has to backtrack through every empty room and hallway of the mansion trying to find the next puzzle item or key. Now, there's the chance that the enemies in a particular hallway or room might regenerate and be even harder to fight. this can create tension, but with proper planning, the player can nearly neutralize this possibility.
This is where the Crimson Head mechanic becomes a more subtle improvement to the game. It adds a greater sense of consequence for the player's actions (or inaction), and forces the player into a cost-benefit analysis with each and every zombie. It dramatically expands the "fight or flight" response that was always present to a small degree in Resident Evil, and brings it to the forefront of your decision-making and emotional process. Since your supply of kerosene is so much more limited than your supply of ammunition, you have to be much more careful about which zombies you chose to fight and under what conditions.
Burning defeated zombie bodies with your limited kerosene is a critical element of long-term strategy.
Killing a zombie in a frequently-traveled hallway would seem like a no-brainer in the original PSX game (assuming you have the ammunition for it). But now, if you lack the kerosene to properly dispose of it, then you might find yourself trying to dodge the zombie instead of killing it, or using an alternate route altogether. For me, hallways or rooms with more than two zombies are to be avoided at all cost because the player can only carry two doses of kerosene at a time. There were even a few rare cases in which I would shoot one or two shots at a zombie in order to stun it so that I could run past - a tactic that I would never do in the original game, since it would feel like a waste of bullets. If I spent so much as one bullet on a zombie in the original PSX game, you bet I'd go ahead and finish it off so that the one bullet would not have been in vain. But now, it doesn't seem like as much of a waste, since avoiding killing the zombie spares me a use of precious kerosene, and also avoids the appearance of a Crimson Head later. All this reinforces the "survival" element of the game by making avoiding conflict a much more important element of your tactics and overall strategy.
Fortunately, the game isn't cruel enough to throw any more dramatic resurrecting enemies at you. Only normal zombies will resurrect as Crimson Heads. Dogs, spiders, and other monsters don't resurrect, nor will a killed dog mutate into a licker, or an unburned Crimson Head mutate into a Tyrant, or anything as crazy as that. Doing your best to burn as many bodies as you can early in the game pays off dividends at the end when you have to run back through the mansion.
Remember this room? Neither do I
The second way that the remake added challenge to the game was by completely redesigning parts of the map. Much of the basic structure of the original game's architecture is still present. You'll see all the same rooms from the original game, but some new rooms have also been added. Again, the game is very good at introducing this fact to the player right off the bat. The foyer that you start in has multiple new doors that weren't in the original game. While this does disrupt the elegant aesthetic of the main hall a bit (in my opinion), it does serve to immediately remind the player that this isn't the exact same game from 1998.
A whole new puzzle was added to the beginning of the game in order to
introduce new concepts and a larger, overarching new puzzle.
While you still start the game by going through the dining room to the first zombie encounter, the opening act is actually slowed down a bit by the inclusion of a whole extra puzzle that wasn't in the game originally. This introduces you to a major new long-term puzzle almost immediately, as well as serving to introduce you to other new mechanics. One such new mechanic is a set of defensive weapons. These items have their own dedicated inventory slot and can be used to escape attacks from enemies. It's a little bit of a bone that the developers threw in to offset the extra difficulty of the Crimson Heads and overall tougher logistics.
In addition to the new puzzles, many of the existing puzzles have also been changed. Many puzzle items have been rearranged so that people who speed-ran the original game will have to re-learn the new one. An example of a very good, but simple change, is that the hand crank for draining the water in the courtyard now requires some exploration to find - into a new area of the game, with a new (but simple) puzzle, and a new boss - rather than being virtually un-missable and on the path to where it is used in the original PSX game.
Some of the puzzles themselves have also been changed. Some of these are good changes, others are puzzlingly bad. I particularly dislike the new painting gallery puzzle. This puzzle, and a couple others like it, make the mansion feel too "game-y" and artificial, and less like a real, lived-in place. Or at least, it makes it feel less like the operators of the mansion made an effort to conceal it's nature as a front for a top-secret laboratory. Despite the booby traps and strange puzzle-locked doors, the original mansion was still organic enough in its outward appearance that the weirdness served to build a growing sense of intrigue as rooms became locked by more and more sophisticated puzzles. Now, the mansion feels like a super villain's lair the moment you get the first glimpse of the foyer.
Some environment and puzzle redesigns (such as the painting gallery) really look and feel "game-y",
which detracts from the immersive, deceptively lived-in quality of the original mansion.
There's also a few interesting subversions of expectations in places where a particular jump scare has been adjusted, delayed, or removed entirely. This combines with the new rooms and rearranged item-placement to enhance the feeling of uncertainty about the game world, since the scripted events don't always play out as they did in the original 1998 game. Some people might dislike changes to some of the iconic moments simply because they're "different", but I think that Capcom did an excellent job with most of these changes, and I applaud them for having the courage to do so.
In stark contrast to the more "game-y" puzzles, some of the iconic scares and set-piece moments that are retained have had some subtle adjustments that generally help to build up a more believable game world. A simple example is the infamous falling ceiling trap in Jill's scenario. The door to the room now opens out, and the choreography of the characters (and the door-opening "load screen") have been adjusted accordingly. In addition, if Jill is rescued by Barry, she is pulled out of the room while prone (rather than walking out upright), which is a subtle change that really ups the tension of the scene. Another quick example is that opening the front door in the foyer now allows a dog to jump through into the room, forcing the player into combat. It's punishment for your irresponsible action and disobedience, and it's very appropriate.
More serious tone, but still indisputably Resident Evil
There is a great deal of care in keeping the gameplay consistent with its original vision. It does lose its way a little bit in its presentation though. The original game had a very self-aware silliness about the way that it mimicked B-grade horror movies. In many ways, it felt like a bit of a joke; a lampooning of the film style from which it was inspired. I don't now whether this was deliberate, but I'm guessing that it wasn't, since over time, the Resident Evil franchise has been taking itself more and more seriously. This started with the Director's Cut of the original game that was released on the PSX and carried on to the sequels and movies. Unfortunately, this serious tone has also been coupled with an increasing detachment from reality that has made the later games too stupid and unplayable for me.
The remake's serious tone doesn't fit as well with the campy, tongue-in-cheek script of the original.
Crappy dialogue stands out more as bad rather than funny or charming.
So it's not like the more serious tone of this game is a departure from the franchise, even if it isn't necessarily representative of the tone of the original game. Despite the obvious efforts to take the game more seriously, the dialogue and line delivery is still laughably bad. But now that the game lacks the self-aware humor that the original projected, the bad dialogue has lost much of its campy "so bad, it's good" quality. Instead, the plot and cutscenes now feel very bland and the game's personality falls flat.
Despite these changes, the game remains, indisputably Resident Evil. The plot still hits all of the same points with all of the same characters. More importantly, the remake maintains the same slow-building pace and tension. It controls and plays virtually the same. Most of the rooms are instantly recognizable to anyone who has played the original. Most of the jump scares and insta-death traps are preserved. And starting the game as Chris is still basically an unlabeled "hard" mode due to his reduced inventory capacity and lack of helping hands. Maybe if he grew a pair of bouncing tits like Jill, then he'd have Barry following him around bailing him out of life-threatening situations and giving him free ammo too.
The remake also doesn't do anything to undermine the genius of the classic save system. There are no autosaves or checkpoints in this game. Because of this, the tension becomes so much more palpable because you know that you can die at any moment. Every blind corner, every suspicious puzzle item or switch, and every seemingly-dead body contributes to this ever-increasing tension by reminding you of your vulnerability and forcing you to second-guess your decisions. Death isn't just a minor inconvenience in this game; you don't just restart at the specific point that you died. Dying ends the game and sends you back to the main menu. You have to reload from your last save - whether that be two minutes ago, or two hours ago!
A straight port that neglects common sense improvements
The knife is still the most useless thing ever.
So, while the developers of the GameCube remake weren't afraid of changing the original source in order to improve it, the HD version is a more strict port without the courage to further refine the product beyond what the GameCube game offered. Much like with the Silent Hill HD release, Resident Evil HD neglects a golden opportunity to make some common sense improvements.
All your favorite inventory-management woes
Most of the opportunities for improvement lie in the obtuse inventory system. Many of the same annoyances and frustrations that encouraged developers to move away from this sort of inventory still persist with little or no effort to address them. I can understand why the original GameCube remake developers didn't get around to making such changes, because they were redesigning the map and introducing whole new game systems. But if Capcom wants to charge people for the game again, and they had the time to make some small changes to controls and the camera, then they can at least have taken a stab at some of these inventory annoyances.
First and foremost is that the stupid, useless knife still takes up a whole inventory slot. Everybody drops the knife in the first item box that they find, and only the most dedicated hardcore players ever both to use it as anything other than an absolute last resort. Items like the lockpick (for Jill) or lighter (for Chris) and the defensive daggers have their own special inventory slot that doesn't take up space in the player's main inventory. Why couldn't the combat knife have been given its own dedicated slot as well - preferably with its own dedicated attack button, so that you don't have to go to the inventory menu in order to use it? This is one of the things that Resident Evil 4 got very right.
The HD remake misses some opportunities for improvement, especially in inventory management.
Most of the other issues involve your inventory being full. You still can't use items directly when you pick them up from the environment. So if I pick up a green herb, and my health is low, but my inventory is full, I can't just use the herb right there. Instead, I get a message saying "You can't carry any more items." I don't want to carry it! I want to use it! Similarly, you can't combine items that you pick up from the environment with items already in your inventory (or with other items from the environment). So if my inventory is full, and I find a red herb, I can't just combine it with a green herb that I already have in my inventory. And if there's a green herb and a red herb already sitting next to each other on the floor, I can't combine them either unless they both go into my inventory first. Fortunately, bullets and ink ribbons are automatically grouped together with any other of the same item already in your inventory, but the game always did that, so it isn't an improvement.
These wouldn't be such bad issues if I could just drop items from my inventory, but that also isn't allowed (except in the few instances in which a key or puzzle item is removed after use). So if you filled your inventory with junk like the knife and ink ribbons then you might not be able to pick up more useful items like herbs or new weapons when you come across them. This is annoying for the handful of decoy puzzle items in the game (such as the broken shotgun and the decoy armor key). You can't swap the item itself with the decoy in your inventory without first picking up the real item (which requires that you leave an extra inventory slot open).
You must take Ink Ribbons out of the box to save, then place them back in the box when done.
The item box is also a consistent source of nagging annoyances. You can't combine items while accessing the item box. So if you want to combine a green herb in your inventory with a red herb from the item box, you have to shuffle a bunch of inventory items around. Ink ribbons also have other nagging annoyances all of their own. If you want to save in a room with both an item box and a typewriter, you have to explicitly place the ink ribbons in your inventory, use them on the typewriter, and then put them back in the item box (and make sure you remember to drop them in the box if you reload from that save). If the typewriter is in the same room as the item box, then why can't it just let me save at the typewriter using an ink ribbon from the box?
The map is only half competent
My last few nitpicky complaints have to deal with the in-game map. I've been terribly spoiled by the exemplary map systems of the PS2-era Silent Hill games, in which virtually every piece of information that you could possibly want is rendered on the map in an ad-hoc, hand-drawn manner, as if the character is actively charting the game world. Since most of the locations in Silent Hill were urban buildings such as hospitals and apartments, the individual rooms are labeled with titles or numbers, making it easier to remember what was where and get your bearings. Locked or broken doors were labeled as such, and doors you've been through are also labeled with a little arrow. When the player encountered a puzzle or key object in the world, he or she would circle and label its location on the map, and when the puzzle was solved he or she would check it off. There were even cases in which the actual different additional geometry was drawn in for areas that weren't accurately depicted on the map. It was all brilliant! The only thing it lacked was the ability to place a custom waypoint marker.
Resident Evil's map is borderline worthless by comparison, and the GameCube remake and HD port only made small improvements. The updated maps throw some bones to the player, but they're always only minimally useful or neglect important details. There's some color-coding for whether a room has been completely explored or whether there are still outstanding items to collect or puzzles to solve. It's handy, but only minimally so. Individual rooms aren't labeled in any way, so you have to memorize which room is which and which puzzle is in which room. Good luck remembering where you were supposed to take those silly tiger eye gems.
Resident Evil [LEFT] could have learned a lot from Silent Hill [RIGHT] about making informative, immersive maps.
While the map does differentiate between doors that are locked, unlocked, or already opened, it doesn't bother telling you which emblem key is required to unlock a locked door, which locked doors can be unlocked by your current key(s)), or which locks could be picked; nor does it give any indication if a knob is breaking (which limits the number of times that you can pass through a particular door). So planning exploration or backtracking routes can be annoying, since you can still easily run into a dead end or, be foiled by a blocked passage, or run off chasing a red herring.
The locations of typewriters and item boxes are marked (as in the original PSX game), but the remake or HD developers didn't bother to label the location of kerosene canisters, which is a really important part of the redesigned game! Huge oversight! And there's also no custom waypoint, so if you do want to mark an important location or item (such as a kerosene canister, or the shotgun hanging on the booby-trapped wall that you can't collect yet, or the next room that you want to explore when you come back from a lunch break), then you'll have to draw your own damned map, or keep an online wiki or walkthrough open for reference (which defeats the purpose of playing a game whose entire appeal is its open-ended exploration and logistical challenges).
Oh, and last - but not least - you can't skip the cutscenes of doors being opened. In the original game, I think these were designed to mask a loading screen, but these environments are so small that I can't imagine a modern console or PC having any trouble loading them within a second. No load screen should be necessary. At least going up or down stairs is seamless and no longer requires such a cutscene.
An excellent port of an excellent remake
My nitpicky complaints don't ruin the game by any stretch. This is an excellent port of what was an excellent remake of a classic game. It's exactly what a remake should be. The developers may have botched a few of the puzzle designs, but they managed to maintain the pacing and feel of the original PlayStation game while improving upon its clumsy mechanics and amping up the challenge and difficulty. The designers of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories should pay close attention! The HD remastering takes that excellent remake, makes it prettier and cleaner to play, and opens it up to a wider audience.
The fact that Capcom is still remastering and releasing the original game, and the fact that people still shell out the money for it, should be a testament to how much better it is than any of the more recent Resident Evils. And I would hope that it serves as a reminder to publishers that there is still a market for traditional survival horror, with its slow, cerebral, and logistical gameplay. If Capcom decides to give this same treatment to Resident Evil 2, then I'll definitely be playing that game as well, since I never completed the original game on the PlayStation.
Prepare to enter the survival horror.