Archives by Day

Resident Evil

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: Jan. 20, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Resident Evil HD Remaster'

by Brian Dumlao on Jan. 20, 2015 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Resident Evil takes place in the now-notorious Raccoon City, where players take on the role of either S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) team member Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, who have been tasked with finding the missing Bravo team.

In 1996, the first Resident Evil game was released on the PlayStation and was a huge hit. It wasn't the first survival-horror game, but it was credited with resonating with the audience, so it appeared on other gaming platforms over the years. In 2002, the game was dramatically remade in gameplay and presentation for the Nintendo GameCube, where it wowed gamers again with a more serious revision. The remake didn't migrate to any other platform save for the Nintendo Wii, where it added a slight bump in resolution and not much else. For this reason alone, Resident Evil HD Remaster is a big deal because those who never had a Nintendo GameCube or Wii can finally experience the game. The question is whether the PC port was done well.

The story is unchanged from the original 1996 game in both setup and flow. In 1998, a rash of murders has occurred in the forest outside of Raccoon City. Due to the grisly nature of the murders, a special group in the police force, known as S.T.A.R.S., was sent to investigate. When that group failed to return, a second group was dispatched. Before a formal investigation could begin, the second group was attacked, and with their transport long gone, the remaining members fled into a mansion in the woods. With dangerous creatures on the outside and a lost member in the mansion, the team must split up to find remaining survivors and find a way home.

From there, the story takes different routes, depending on which character you choose. While the majority of the mansion is accessible regardless of your choice, some avenues are blocked, and the flow of the story also changes. Your companion character also changes depending on your choice, and with four different endings depending on your performance and actions, there's plenty of reason to play the game multiple times with different people.

For those whose experience with the Resident Evil series is limited to the fourth entry and beyond, the gameplay in HD Remaster is a vast departure from that. The most apparent change is that the game isn't presented from an over-the-shoulder perspective. Instead, the screens are framed in cinematic angles, and transitions from room to room are punctuated with first-person perspectives of doors opening, a technique used to hide loading screens in the past but used now for the sake of nostalgia.

The game is more concerned with puzzles over combat, and although there's a variety of monsters to kill — crows, decomposing dogs and zombie sharks, to name a few — you'll spend a lot of time figuring out how to obtain keys to unlock doors and read diary entries to get an idea of what happened. Some of the series' persistent traditions originated here. The use of herbs for healing was introduced here, as was the idea of combining herbs for more potent formulas. The storage crate is also here due to your limited personal storage capabilities, and the use of typewriters and typewriter ribbon for saving also came from this title.

For those who only experienced the first game, the remake offers a number of changes designed to make you second-guess some of the things you remember. Some of the camera angles are more dramatic, a few of them for the better since it gives you an easier view of what you should be doing. Cut scenes have been tweaked with different camera angles and modified dialogue to give the game a more serious tone. While most of the puzzle solutions remain the same, some of the events have been tweaked to move some of the jump scares to unexpected spots. Finally, the game introduces defensive items like daggers that are useable only once but give you a short window to get away.

Those choices were designed to ratchet up the tension of exploring the mansion, and it's still very effective. The angles do a great job of framing things in anticipation of something bad, and some of the encounters are surprising since you may hear the threat but can't see where it's coming from. The diminished focus on combat may mean that it doesn't happen that often, but the limited ammo count means that each fight is tense, since wasting ammo on easier monsters means not having it for more dangerous foes. As a result, running is a more viable option, but that can be hard to do when you're cornered in tight hallways. The limited save function also amplifies the tension since you really must struggle to survive because you can't save as often.

Of course, some players not used to some of the game's traditions may find fault with the design decisions. The inability to drop items in the field means you have to constantly go back and forth between storage chests to get an item that may only be needed once. The tedious traveling extends to the puzzles, which often have you darting from room to room in a multi-step process to obtain another trinket. With the combat not as refined as later entries, aiming at an enemy is a chore that requires practice, and the swapping of a formal targeting system in favor of one that aims in three general directions means some wasted shots since you don't know whether you'll even hit your target. Finally, even though it is a nostalgic nod to the original title, the door animation can feel like unnecessary padding.

Though HD Remaster remains an exact copy of the remake as far as gameplay goes, there was one change: the controls. While the buttons function the same as the original controls, there is now more direct movement with the analog stick. Instead of pausing to pivot around to your desired direction, you can push in that direction to begin moving. There's even analog sensitivity taken into account, so a full push in one direction equates to a run, so you don't need to combine an analog direction with a run modifier button. The constantly changing camera angles mean you can be tripped up if you release the stick just as the transition occurs, but overall, it is a welcome change since it frees up a run button and means you don't need a 180-degree turn button. It's also a more intuitive scheme for newer players. Those who prefer the keyboard and mouse will find the controls much more tolerable, but don't expect aiming to be better since only the mouse buttons are recognized and not mouse movement. For those who go the more traditional route, the classic Resident Evil controls are also at your disposal.

The PC version sports a decent number of graphical options. The game can be played in both widescreen 16:9 or 4:3, though it's a mystery why these options are separate from the other video options. The standard options, like resolution and different anti-aliasing modes, are there in addition to a selectable refresh rate, if your monitor supports it. Though the game is touted as running at 60fps and you can lock it, you also have the option to set up a 30fps lock. There's also a variable frame rate option for those who want to see how far they can push things.

There was an interesting issue found during the review period that could affect others. While playing on one machine, the game experienced some slowdown in random areas, and the sound played at normal speed while the graphics slowed down to a crawl. Trying to replicate this on another machine didn't work. It's difficult to determine whether this was because of the processor (1st gen i7 vs. 3rd gen i5), RAM (8GB vs 16GB), OS (Windows 8 vs. Windows 7) or even hard drive (SSD vs. mechanical HDD), since those were the differences between the rigs. Hopefully, it's something that will be patched soon.

Of interest to those who have played the GameCube original is whether the presentation has been improved. The biggest audio improvement is that there is proper surround sound now, and even though the remake came in at basic stereo, the additional audio channels greatly enhance the atmosphere. The atmosphere is created through the use of sound effects and relative silence to enhance the mood. Without much music to mask things, footsteps on surfaces and monster moans resonate more, and simple things, like glass cracking, have much more of an impact. The only case where this doesn't ring true is when you're opening doors, since turning knobs feels hollow and low fidelity when compared to everything else. The scenes with music are few and far between, but their appearance is appreciated since the score is still great at enhancing the terror. The voice acting is just as subpar now as it was when the remake first hit, in part because of the game's adherence to some awkward translation callbacks, but it is leagues better than the original game. It means that some of the charm of the original game is lost, but the overall tone doesn't suffer.

Graphically, HD Remaster has seen improvements in certain areas. The character models look better than ever at this resolution. The models have lots of individual moving parts, like eyes that aren't stuck in an eternal daze, and mouth movements look fine, if a little generic, since not much was done for lip sync. Textures are really impressive, so you can see individual stitches on cloth and engravings on guns. This is especially noticeable due to the many camera angles that seem designed to show off the models. This work also extends to enemies, who look much better but are restrained when compared to their contemporaries. Their texture work is also good, and other polygonal elements, such as some parts of the environment, look nicer even though their movements contain fewer frames. As a bonus, you can also choose between Chris and Jill's original remastered skins or the ones from the newer Resident Evil games, both of which also sport the same level of detail.

The environments are where things start to falter. The environments are still the same flat backgrounds that were meant to display an extraordinary amount of detail without taxing the system. There are instances when the scaling can be off, such as when your character ascends or descends stairs, and the footfalls seem to hit the space between steps. Woodwork and stone show off some compression artifacts, suggesting that the work on these elements wasn't cleaned up as thoroughly. The same thing is visible when you see areas with lots of bright light surrounded by spots of compression artifacts. Some scenes, while clean, also seem to have some disparaging quality issues when compared to the models to the point where the polygon models blatantly stick out against the background. It only seems to happen on character models, though, as other polygon-rendered elements, like pick-ups and storage chests, don't exhibit this issue.

Though imperfect, Resident Evil HD Remaster is a good update to a now-classic remake. The core game holds up rather well after more than a decade, and when compared to some of its contemporaries, it's still gripping in the action and scares. The improvements to the controls help greatly, and the various technical options ensure that just about everyone gets a near-perfect version of the remake. The compression artifacts are disappointing to see, especially when compared to the work done on the polygonal elements, and some of the sounds could have been done better. Those elements don't cripple the gameplay, and fans of survival-horror will be happy to experience this, especially if they didn't try it on the Nintendo consoles.

Score: 8.5/10

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