As its name suggests, Resident Evil HD Remaster comes with plenty of history. You would expect nothing less of a remaster of a remake – technically this being the third iteration of this game to come out in the last two decades. While this feels like an adventure with one foot in the ’90s, it remains a captivating, and scary, tour through the Spencer Mansion.
Visually, this game is dripping with classic horror tropes – ranging from carefully placed lightning strikes to horrifically designed zombies ambling towards you. The fixed camera style allows each individual scene to be a mini-tableaux and, while the game is limited to the mansion and its grounds, there is enough variation to keep things interesting.
These visuals are just one element that creates an undeniably creepy atmosphere and a sense of tension from start to finish. The crash of windows as zombie dogs make their entrance known, the creaking and groaning of advancing zombies, and the hideous boss fights are all expertly executed and create a real sense of danger. The excellent and understated score plays its part as well. Very few moments are scarier than when the music unexpectedly stops and you are left standing in an unlit, silent, corridor unsure of what is about to happen. Fighting the undead hordes never gets old thanks to solid gunplay and the variety in both the weapons you use and the gruesome Umbrella’s experiments that you encounter. Crimson Heads, re-animated zombies that are quicker and deadlier than the standard stock, are in particular a welcome foe as they add a gruesome challenge to re-visiting areas you have already cleared.
The spookiest, and most interesting, aspects, however, can be found in the notes and letters that litter the mansion. Instructions from head office, or letters from dying scientists or confused family members, add a layer of tragedy and intrigue more effectively than any cut-scene could. As with the best game story-telling, this does not get in the way of your adventure (cut scenes are short and relatively few) but help to frame it and add depth to otherwise faceless zombies.
However, as a remake of the first game in a series that has defined, and redefined, the horror genre certain elements starkly display just how far the series – and gaming – has moved on. Even though the control scheme has been updated (you can revert to the original tank controls if you really feel the need to punish yourself) they still feel clunky and confusing, while the fixed camera results in scene changes that quickly send your character the wrong direction. Frustratingly a good portion of the puzzles require speed and precision movements, further highlighting these inadequacies. While the shambling zombies of the early stages can be easily out-manoeuvred, as you progress and faster enemies emerge you want a control scheme which feels on your side in a fight – which this one very much doesn’t.
There are other aspects which show their age too. Throughout your adventure, you will encounter ‘safe rooms’, which contain both a type-writer to save your game and an item box to manage your inventory. Inventory management is a key to your undead fighting, as you only have a set number of inventory slots (6 for Jill, 8 for Chris) and items are constantly needed to open doors, or place in the sockets of statues, or set fire to giant spiders. An item is sometimes needed for a very short period of time, but you still need an empty slot to pick it up just to be put down moments later. Equally, specific items and keys are needed multiple times, but you can’t always carry everything with you. This results in a good portion of this game being backtracking – getting to a door or a puzzle, realising you left what you need back in the safe room, fighting your way back and returning. Artificially this lengthens the game dramatically, but it can become tedious.
Ultimately, if you’re able to look past the dated designs, there is still a tremendous amount of fun to be had with the Resident Evil HD Remaster. Being able to play a (slightly) different adventure with Jill or Chris with multiple endings provides a fair bit of replayability, which goes some way to make up for the relatively brief campaign.
The clunky controls take some getting used to, and the inventory management can tread the line between strategic and frustrating, but these are easy to put to the back of your mind when blowing the head off a zombie with a shotgun.
The incredibly creepy atmosphere, the wonderfully told and surprisingly deep story, and most importantly the satisfying combat ensure that the 10-hour adventure will be a memorable one.