Originally Released: March 2002
Original Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
Also Available For: GameCube, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Xbox 360
I mean…you’ve heard of Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996), right? It was one of the seminal titles for Sony’s burgeoning PlayStation and, through its atmospheric horror and stringent emphasis on conserving resources, practically invented (if not massively popularised) the “survival-horror” subgenre. Yet, for everything the game does right, it can’t be denied that the original Resident Evil has seen better days; graphics that were once groundbreaking and innovative have since become embarrassingly blocky and clunky, to say nothing of the dodgy, B-/porn-movie level voice acting peppered through the original release. Thus, in 2002, Capcom developed a complete remake of their iconic horror title as part of a deal to release new Resident Evil titles exclusively on the GameCube. This remake overhauled the graphics and voice acting considerably but also added a whole bunch of new areas to explore and enemies to encounter.
Yet, despite improving on its predecessor (and many of its sequels) in almost every way, being one of the most atmospheric and terrifying entries in the series, and being critically praised upon its release, the Resident Evil remake sold comparatively poorly and was one of the many reasons why Capcom would go on to adopt a more action-orientated approach to their popular franchise. I never owned a PlayStation back in the day, though I do recall playing the original Resident Evil here and there, so my first real exposure to the franchise was the amazing port of Resident Evil 2 (Capcom, 1998) for the Nintendo 64. After opting for a GameCube over the PlayStation 2, I went out of my way to pick up the Resident Evil remake and loved it but, at the time, couldn’t really give it the focus and attention such an immersive game required. However, sometime before I reviewed pretty much every single Resident Evil title for the Xbox One, I was gifted the Resident Evil: Origins Collection (ibid, 2016) and put a lot of time into this under-rated remake. I recently returned to the game to sweep up some missing Achievements and decided to make up for not posting a review of it then.
When a series of mysterious and violent deaths occur in the Arklay Mountains outside of Raccoon City, the Special Tactics and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.) Bravo team are dispatched to investigate. However, when all contact with Bravo team is lost, Alpha team heads in to find them, only to be attacked by mutated dogs and driven into a sinister mansion where they are soon separated and attacked by hoards of flesh-eating zombies!
Resident Evil is a traditional survival-horror videogame that sees players choosing between two playable characters: Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield. While both ostensibly play the same, they do have specific strengths and weaknesses (Jill can carry more items but Chris can take more damage, for example; Jill can also open certain doors and drawers with her lock pick while Chris always carries a lighter to solve certain puzzles) and encounter different characters and use different weapons over the course of the game.
Like all mainline Resident Evil titles at the time, Resident Evil employs a restrictive control scheme; however, the “tank controls” of the original game have, thankfully, been tweaked so that characters can freely explore their fully-rendered surroundings with far more freedom of movement. Your perspective is still limited by a series of dynamic and atmospheric camera angles, meaning that you won’t see any two areas from the same viewpoint; this is great for building tension and enabling the game’s jump scares but somewhat intrusive when, in the heat of desperately trying to escape from an enemy, the camera perspective suddenly switches on you and your controls become effectively reversed, meaning that it’s always best to plan ahead for a possible escape route.
This foresight is most emphasised in the game’s stringent inventory system; as was the standard for Resident Evil titles at the time, characters can only carry a certain number of items before their inventory is maxed out and learning how best to manage your inventory is the key to your survival. Many items (herbs, mostly) can be combined together to take up less inventory space while others must be examined to find another item (usually an elaborate key of some kind). If your inventory is full, you can deposit your items into one of the many fourth-dimensional Item Boxes scattered throughout the game’s many locations to be retrieved at a later date. To help you navigate the game’s maze-like areas, you can also find a series of maps that helpfully display locked doors, whether areas have any items you need, and where typewriters and Item Boxes are located. You can also pick-up defensive items (daggers, tasers, and flash grenades) that will either instantly kill or severely incapacitate any zombie that tries to take a bite out of you and also use your fuel canteen and lighter to ignite corpses and stop them returning as Crimson Heads. Story is a huge part of Resident Evil; as you progress, cutscenes will reveal more of the mysteries behind the mansion and Umbrella but you’ll also pick up files and documents as you play that further flesh out the story, the history of the mansion, the specifics of Umbrella’s bizarre experiments, and even provide hints towards the game’s puzzles.
Combat in the remake is smoother than in the original but still far chunkier and restrictive compared to the Capcom’s more action-orientated titles, primarily because tackling foes head on is generally discouraged even if you do have ample supplies of ammo. Zombies (and the other Bio-Organic Weapons (BOWs) created by the malevolent Umbrella Corporation) absorb your bullets like a sponge and, even if they do go down for the count, will return after a certain amount of in-game time has elapsed faster and stronger than ever. Even if this doesn’t happen, they are largely replaced by the deadly Hunters later in the game that will require more than your standard pistol ammo to put down so conserving your resources is paramount to your ability to survive. When attacked, your character’s health and current status is displayed through an EKG-like display. When it turns yellow or red, falling into “Caution” or “Danger” status, or a blue-purple for the “Poisoned” status, your odds of survival will decrease dramatically; your character will begin to limp and hobble around, severely reducing your mobility, and it is highly advised that you make use of the herbs and first-aid sprays to replenish your health and return your status to “Fine”. In keeping with the style of the series at the time, your progress can only be saved by using an Ink Ribbon at one of the many typewriters you’ll find across the game’s locations; if you die, you’ll have to re-load your last save point and try again but be warned because your final score takes into consideration how many saves you make across a playthrough so, if you want the best results, it’s encouraged that you limit your saves.
Some enemies deal more damage than others, some are even capable of killing you in one swipe of their claws, and the game’s many environments are also filled with instant-death traps that require you to solve puzzles in a certain way or make certain choices so that you can be saved by one of the game’s supporting characters. These characters will also provide you with better weapons and helpful items; one, Rebecca Chambers, even becomes playable at a key moment to help Chris synthesis concoctions that normally only Jill can produce. Rebecca, and Barry Burton, also help out by solving puzzles and defeating certain bosses for you if you make the right decisions, which can be extremely useful for conserving your resources and aiding a speedrun. Resident Evil is chock full of puzzles, traps, and elaborate areas to explore; the bulk of your game time is spent exploring the disturbing Spencer Mansion, whose doors are locked behind themed keys and rooms are filled with ornate statues and lavish decorations, but you’ll also explore a neighbouring graveyard, an underwater passageway, an Aqua Ring, and, of course, a high-tech laboratory filled with Umbrella’s bizarre experiments. In each area, you’ll have to solve puzzles either by interacting with them or bringing items with you; these may be a key, or a battery to power a lift, or intricate medallions to access hidden walkways, meaning that no item you find will ever be completely useless.
Graphics and Sound:
Even now, some twenty years after it was originally released for the GameCube, the Resident Evil remake holds up fantastically well; while the original became dated very quickly, the remake still looks gorgeous and up to the standards of even Capcom’s recent efforts. Environments are fully-rendered and bathed in a variety of lighting; most areas are swamped in shadow or lit only by the suitably dramatic lightning from outside the mansion, while others are fully lit so you can bask in the ornate decorations and Gothic aesthetic of your surroundings.
As you explore further, you’ll venture out into the wind- and rain-swept areas outside of the mansion, explore a creepy, dilapidated cabin and a disgusting semi-flooded passageway beneath it, and even a dank tomb reminiscent of something out of a Bram Stoker novel. These elaborate locations are offset by the more clinical, high-tech areas created by Umbrella; the Aqua Ring and laboratory have been wrecked by the corporation’s experiments, juxtaposing Umbrella’s fiendish modern technology with the lavish, almost supernatural qualities of the mansion and its surroundings.
Unlike the original, which spliced cringe-worthy live-action sequences in with its equally cringey dialogue, the remake opts for fully-rendered computer-generated cutscenes to tell its story (which, thankfully, is just as over-the-top as ever). The script has been entirely overhauled, meaning that the game makes far more sense and the narrative is played far more seriously this time around, which only adds to the feeling of dread inspired as you skulk around the dark, tight, winding corridors of the mansion. Music is sparse and used (or omitted) to create tension or inform the player that they are in a safe (or dangerous) area; subdued and melancholy, you’re far more likely to hear the rustling of footsteps, the chattering shrieks of some unseen creature, or the soft moans of a zombie waiting just off-screen than anything else. When the jump-scares happen, they are often punctuated by the sudden introduction of a heart-pounding tune that keeps you constantly on edge even when revisiting areas you know have been cleared of enemies.
Enemies and Bosses:
The main obstacle you’ll encounter in your desperate fight to survive will be the many zombies that populate your surroundings; the most common enemy, zombies will slowly shuffle towards you, moaning and groaning, and will try to take a bite out of you at any opportunity. A few well-placed shots will put them down but, to destroy them for good, it’s best to whip out the shotgun and tilt your aim towards their heads, blow them to pieces with the grenade launcher, or hope that your pistol gets a lucky headshot. You’ll also encounter one of the most annoying reoccurring enemies in the entire franchise, the zombified dogs known as Cerberus. These little bastards are fast and agile, leaping at you, pinning you down, and chomping at your arm and are always a bastard to get a good shot at. Ravenous crows can also be found in certain areas but these will generally just sit there, cawing ominously, and won’t attack you unless provoked. To mix things up a bit in the remake and add even more tension to your gameplay, the developers introduced a mechanic whereby any zombie that hasn’t had its head blown off or burned to a charred corpse will return to undead life as a faster, far more vicious and deadly Crimson Head after enough time has passed. This adds another layer to the game as you must choose between dodging the slower, weaker zombies or taking the time to burn up their corpses rather than risking your health and ammo on their supped-up evolution.
As you venture outside of the mansion, you’ll also have to contend with snakes dropping on you and hissing at your feet, giant spiders that can poison you, and voracious mutated sharks just waiting to chomp you in two. Once you return from this side quest, most of the zombies in the mansion will have been replaced with the ferocious Hunters; these dangerous frog-like creatures leap and run at you, swiping with their claws, can kill you in one hit, and you’ll even encounter a sturdier variant that can also poison you. Once you delve into Umbrella’s secret laboratory, you’ll also have to battle the nightmarish Chimera creatures, weird little human/insect hybrids that skitter along the floors and ceilings just waiting to take your head off!
Umbrella’s experiments also give birth to some gigantic and horrific bosses; you’ll encounter the giant snake, Yawn, a couple of times, a monstrous tarantula, a colossal acid-spewing plant, and the prototype of the Crimson Heads down in a tomb. Interestingly, a lot of these bosses can either be avoided entirely or destroyed by solving a puzzle or the intervention of a supporting character. Plant 42, for example, can be destroyed by mixing a chemical compound to kill its roots; the aforementioned giant tarantula can be avoided entirely and you destroy the massive shark in the Aqua Ring by electrocuting it with a nearby control panel. The remake introduces a new recurring boss to the story as well, the immortal and unkillable Lisa Trevor. As the prototype for many of Umbrella’s later, more monstrous experiments, Lisa is a deformed, shambling mess who is completely resistant to all forms of gunfire. When you hear the rattling of hear chains and the low, despairing moans, all you can do is run and desperately try to avoid her incredibly powerful blows. Unlike Mr. X or Nemesis, Lisa doesn’t stalk you around the mansion, which is helpful, and your encounters with her pretty much all take place in an area that allows you to easily dodge past her and stay out of her reach. When the time comes to finally confront her, Barry or Albert Wesker will provide cover fire, allowing you to push four stones down a pit, uncovering the corpse of Lisa’s mother and driving the poor girl to leap to her death.
After exploring the length and breadth of Umbrella’s hidden laboratory, Wesker, your commander in chief, reveals himself to be a traitor and unleashes Umbrella’s most powerful BOW: the grotesque Tyrant, which quickly skewers Wesker and seemingly ending his threat forever. You’re then left to deal with the Tyrant yourself, which can be tricky given the creature’s massive reach and damage-inducing claws but, thanks to the layout of the laboratory, you can easily run circles around it, shooting at it whenever you can, and putting it down through a mixture of perseverance and patience. Depending on how you played the game and which characters have survived, you may have to battle the Tyrant once more as the now-obligatory self-destruct countdown takes place and you wait to be rescued from a helipad. This time, the Tyrant is much faster, dashing at you from afar and stabbing and slashing at you with its claws but, after enough damage has been dealt and/or time has past, you’ll soon acquire a rocket launcher to blow the creature to smithereens and make your dramatic escape.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike later Resident Evil titles, there’s no way for you to increase your inventory capacity or upgrade your weapons or ammo with add-ons and elaborate combinations. However, as you explore your surroundings, you will find better and more powerful weapons, some of which are exclusive to each character; Chris, for example, gets his hands on a good, old-fashioned shotgun while Jill opts for a grenade launcher.
To get the game’s most powerful weapons, though, you’ll need to solve certain puzzles, meet certain criteria, or beat the game within a certain time limit on different difficulty settings. Bring a certain medallion with you on the way to Lisa’s cabin or allow Barry to die at Lisa’s hands, for example, and you can acquire a super-powerful Magnum and the way that you handle fellow S.T.A.R.S. agent Richard Aiken can net you a powerful assault shotgun.
As you might expect, the Xbox One version of the game has quite a few Achievements linked to it that you can get. Most of these are story-based and therefore unmissable but others test your skills in increasingly challenging ways; there’s Achievements tied to saving (or not saving) your fellow S.T.A.R.S. team mates, one for finding 100% of the items across the game’s many locations, two tied to speed runs, one for acquiring every weapon, and even one that asks you to beat the game using only a knife to kill enemies and bosses.
Beating the game allows you to option to replay it on one of four difficulties, ranging from “Very Easy” to “Hard”, each of which places different items, amounts of ammo and Ink Ribbons, and even enemies across the game. As is the style of Resident Evil titles, you are rewarded for how fast you complete the game, how many saves and deaths you have, and for finishing the game on higher difficulty levels. Beating the game quickly enough or “Normal” or higher can net you the Samurai Edge or even the infinite rocket launcher, both of which will make subsequent playthroughs and absolute breeze. You can also unlock different costumes for your characters, allowing you to play using skins from later Resident Evil titles, and even a couple of new game modes. “Real Survival” is basically Hard mode but you can no longer access all of your items from every Item Box, “Invisible Enemy” mode turns all of the game’s enemies invisible, and beating the game with both characters on “Normal” finds you hounded throughout every subsequent playthrough by one dangerous zombie strapped with game-ending grenades!
The Resident Evil remake is still a fantastic gaming experience; it took everything that worked from its blocky, cringe-inducing original and ramped it up to eleven. Arguably, Resident Evil has never looked better thanks to the game’s gorgeously-rendered environments, atmospheric use of lighting, and impressive in-game cutscenes and this remake still stands as the last true example of a traditional survival-horror Resident Evil title thanks to the way it incorporates the restrictive controls and camera angles of the franchise’s early days but tweaks and refines them with a more modern finish. Honestly, back when this game came out, I fully expected Capcom to use the same engine to remake Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (ibid, 1999) and I would have perfectly happy with that given how well this worked for not only the remake but also Resident Evil Zero (ibid, 2002). They didn’t, of course, and the closest we’ve gotten to something akin to the Resident Evil remake was Resident Evil 5’s (ibid, 2009) “Lost in Nightmares” downloadable content. As much as I like the remakes Capcom have produced and the way the franchise is heading back towards creepy, atmospheric, almost claustrophobic horror, I can’t help but be saddened that they don’t continue to tweak and refine the game engine they crafted for this remake as it really does deliver the definitive version of Resident Evil.
What did you think of the Resident Evil remake? How do you think it compares to the remakes Capcom have recently produced, or even to the original? Do you prefer the original over the remake? Would you have liked to see more Resident Evil titles adopt the game engine used here or do you prefer the more action-orientated style of even the recent remakes? Either way, feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.