As far as classic survival horror is concerned, it rarely gets any better than the original Resident Evil. The haunting atmosphere, terrifying enemies and cringe-worthy dialogue defined the genre when the original was released way back in 1996.
The legacy it crafted in its wake has been well deserved, even if the series has faltered in recent years with an overemphasis on action and a distinct lack of the suspenseful horror that defined the original.
Knowing how far the franchise has come since its inception makes visiting this particular remaster a nostalgic joy. Granted the mechanics show their age, but changes have been made to modernise the control scheme for newcomers whilst still maintaining what hardcore fans loved about the original. Even after almost two decades this is still one of the best survival horror titles ever made, and this may be the best way to experience it.
You play as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, two members of an elite unit known as S.T.A.R.S. Whilst searching for your missing colleagues on the outskirts of Raccoon City you are ambushed by carnivorous dogs, who proceed to chase you into an incredibly convoluted mansion.
It also happens that this mansion is host to a number of biological experiments including zombies, giant spiders and SHARKS! If the initial setup sounds ridiculous; that’s because it is. Fortunately the characters and setting remain convincing enough throughout, investing you in the story until its iconic conclusion. This is bolstered further by the staggering environmental detail of the setting you explore.
The mansion itself is a character you will come to love, memorising its layout as more intertwining pathways open themselves up to you. What begins as a dense concentration of corridors and locked doors becomes a cohesive achievement in immaculate level design.
The opening hours may warrant frustration as you clumsily find your feet, or wrestle with the archaic inventory system and control scheme. But each and every mechanic feels purposely crafted to ramp up the tension, forcing you to make split second decisions when faced with daunting obstacles.
The weapons at your disposal grow simultaneously with your confidence against the horrors you encounter, but you are always one stupid choice away from a quick death. If you attempt to dispatch every enemy you come across, then ammo will remain sparse, but strategically avoiding conflict when you can is best. You will come to remember where threats lie, and equip yourself specifically for each situation.
Your items are stored in cases across the map, and to solve puzzles and defeat enemies you will have to be holding the right items at the right time. Combat is tense yet ultimately simplistic. Pointing and shooting is the ideal way to succeed, but downed zombies will soon return to life in an even faster and more ferocious form.
This means that precision is vital, or later sections will be an exercise in pain and frustration. Reliving such an unforgiving experience is a breath of fresh air in comparison to the linearity of today’s horror titles, but also bittersweet that we may never see something of this caliber in the series again.
The visual upgrade in this particular version may not be as game changing as some may be hoping, but it does spruce up an already gorgeous visual experience.
The pre-rendered backdrops of each room you explore have received improved lighting features and significant texture upgrades which emphasis the smaller details of each individual area, exposing more than ever before. This also means that textures that were already low quality ten years ago now look absolutely dreadful on a modern console.
There are only a miniscule number of instances where this is noticeable, so it hardly detracts from the overall experience. Character models look excellent, and have aged much better than anticipated, even if certain enemies could have done with an alternate skin or two. The inclusion of additional costumes for each playable character is a great feature, paying subtle homage to other entries in the series.
Resident Evil HD is a commendable improvement over an already masterful survival horror experience. Capcom have acknowledged that fans are still in love with what the series used to be, and perhaps this is the first sign in a long awaited resurgence of the series. That may be wishful thinking, but recapturing the near perfect combination of suspense, horror and design seen here would be no easy task for any developer. You are unlikely to catch lightning in a bottle a second time round, but we can all dream of where Resident Evil will end up next. Hopefully somewhere spooky.
Available now for PC, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One and Xbox 360.