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‘Resident Evil’ HD Review: There and Back Again

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The beloved Resident Evil remake that first arrived on the GameCube in 2002 would not have been at the top of my list of games that need some attention — that spot is reserved for Resident Evil 2 — but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. It benefits from a low bar, too, as a majority of the “HD remasters” we’ve seen during the last few years haven’t been what I would call substantial.

Resident Evil 4, Code: Veronica X, Devil May Cry — Capcom clearly isn’t afraid to gift their older games some much-needed attention, even if it rarely equates to much more than crisper visuals and a few new features.

Next up is the Resident Evil HD remaster, which releases tomorrow for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. This is an important game, as its reception — that’s critical and sales, but mostly sales — will likely help determine where the series goes next. So that leaves us with a very important question, and it’s one I’ll try and answer for you today.

Is this Jill Sandwich worth returning to for another nostalgic mouthful, or has the decade and change since its initial release left it stale?

The short answer to that question is a resounding yes. I’ve spent enough time with the game now to easily recommend it, even if that recommendation comes with a few caveats.

I can’t imagine there are many people out there who aren’t familiar with the Resident Evil storyline, but it’s been awhile for all of us, so here goes…

In 1998, a squad of super cops called S.T.A.R.S. is sent to a mansion in the woods outside Raccoon City to investigate a string of brutal murders. They disappear, so another team is sent to find out what’s going on. The rest of the S.T.A.R.S end up getting trapped in the mansion their comrades were meant to investigate, and that’s where the game begins.

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Among the surviving S.T.A.R.S. members are fan favorites Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield. Both are playable with their own unique stories and objectives. There was significant replay value in the original and that hasn’t changed. Each campaign is lengthy, even if you don’t spend as much time as I do obsessively managing inventories and seeking out every hidden item.

Much of that is old news, I’m sure. The story hasn’t been changed, but almost everything else has. That includes the static environments, which have been vastly improved so scouring every inch of the Spencer Estate is that much easier. Anyone who played it on the GameCube first ought to appreciate what Capcom has done to update the game for a new audience.

The environments look ridiculously good, even for a remaster of a remake that released in 2002. There’s a number of factors to thank for this, but the introduction of animated models and higher resolution images makes the biggest difference. It’s been ages since I played the original version, but I think some substantial tweaks were also made to the lighting.

It sounds like such a small thing until you see bloom effects in a now 13 year-old game.

The remaster brings with it some new features, too. Widescreen support shows off more of those new-and-improved environments, but purists are free to stick with the standard option, if they wish. The display can even be switched in-game so no time or precious ink ribbons are wasted by those who wish to experiment.

To this day, the Resident Evil remake still has one of the best video game soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s atmospheric, haunting and one of my personal favorites. This makes me a wee bit jealous of first-timers since they’ll be able to hear it, possibly for the first time, in super high quality.

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Also worth mentioning if you’re planning on using this to pop your old school Resident Evil cherry is the addition of a slightly more modern control scheme. It’s still decidedly Resident Evil, but choosing it will make getting around those labyrinthine halls a lot less frustrating.

Otherwise, the classic layout is still very much available and ready for veterans of the genre, and like the display mode, the control layout can be changed without having to leave the game.

There’s not much in terms of brand new stuff, unless you count the addition of small things like Chris and Jill’s costumes from Resident Evil 5, both of which are unlocked from the very beginning. Before you get disappointed, I’ll remind you that this game wasalready jam-packed full of content that more than justifies its totally manageable $20 price tag.

This really is a stellar remaster. Saying it’s one of the best doesn’t mean a whole lot when you look at what we’ve had shoveled on us before, but I’ll say it anyway because it’s true. In a sea of remasters that were barely worth the modicum of effort that went into re-releasing them (Code: Veronica X HD) and others that simply didn’t work (Silent Hill HD Collection), the Resident Evil remaster stands tall.

The last few years have taught me to look at every remaster we get with a wary eye and wonder if more effort could’ve been invested into them. Most of the time, they’re really only worth it for fans of the series or for those who may have been looking for a reason to play a game they missed the first time around. Whichever group you fall under, this is worth checking out.

If you fell in love with this remake in 2002, get ready to fall for it all over again. I know I did.

The Final Word: Capcom has raised the bar for HD remasters with this necessary update of a beloved survival horror classic. Dig in, because this Jill Sandwich is itchy tasty.

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