In the far-off past of 2002 — fully a decade before the deluge of remakes and remasters we know today began— Capcom saw an opportunity to remake the premier version of their 1996 bestseller. The initial Resident Evil title (Biohazard in Japan) was a smash hit in the United States and abroad, selling over four million units, and not only bringing a sub-genre into the mainstream but dragging zombies into the popular zeitgeist of both game and film. Inspired by the 1989 title Sweet Home (and initially conceived as a remake of that title), Resident Evil spawned the Resident Evil remake (lovingly called REmake by fans), which existed for years as a GameCube exclusive.
Fast forward to 2015, and REmake is ported to many modern and next-gen systems, including the PlayStation 4. As a mostly casual Resident Evil fan (yes, my entry to the series was Resident Evil 4), I decided to purchase the title on the PlayStation Network and dive into the original master of survival horror.
The majority of Resident Evil takes place in and around the Spencer Mansion, where a team of Racoon City special forces members (Special Tactics And Rescue Service or S.T.A.R.S.) is sent in to investigate a series of bizarre murders. After losing contact with their helicopter pilot and barely surviving an attack from monstrous killer dogs, Alpha Team (made up of Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Albert Wesker, and Barry Burton) take refuge in the nearby mansion (where, in true horror fashion, they inexplicably and immediately split up).
As I started up my Resident Evil file in 2015 and readied myself for the horror awaiting me in the mansion, I took control of Jill and was immediately thrown off by the double-whammy of forced camera angles and itemized saves (save points in the Resident Evil series prior to the fourth game required Ink Ribbons to save — yes, you need a limited inventory item to save your progress). Finding Barry in a nearby room, I passed over the typewriter save point, certain that I would be able to progress a little without using up one of my precious Ink Ribbons.
Leaving the dining room, I stepped into a dark and moonlit hallway. To my right were a series of doors I could not open, and to my left was my first short cutscene — and my first zombie. Gun in hand, I pulled the trigger a couple of times only to have the bullets sink into the meat of the zombie with little effect. It raised its arms, and I moved away only to have the undead creature grapple me and inflict Jill with a terrible bite. Seeing that Jill was not the superhero that Leon was in Resident Evil 4, I attempted to make some space between Jill and the zombie, only to be bitten again.
One last, terrible bite, and I was granted that notorious screen — YOU ARE DEAD.
Wait, I hadn’t saved! Convinced that I would be able to safely explore a bit of the mansion first, I hadn’t used one of the precious Ink Ribbons. With no autosave and no file to load, I had effectively made no progress. I had to start a new file.
Okay. I made another attempt, intent on not allowing Resident Evil to best me. I had played Dark Souls, I had played Mega Man, there was no reason to think this REmake was too much for me to handle. After entering the mansion (again) and directing Jill past Barry (again), I made it a little farther. Instead of wasting my bullets on the shambling dead, I directed Jill further into the mansion where she found herself in a narrow room containing a singular key on a pedestal and twin suits of armor — one that carried a shield where a wide array of deadly looking thorns protruded. Looking at the key, which I knew I needed for some of the nearby doors, I figured it for a puzzle.
Misunderstanding that the entirety of Spencer Mansion was one huge puzzle, and that the game’s puzzles were not specifically located to room set pieces, I directed Jill to grab the key — and was promptly greeted by another YOU ARE DEAD.
I put my controller down, incredulous. This time I had used one of the Ink Ribbons, but I essentially had to go back to the beginning of the game for the third time. I wasn’t being given any direction whatsoever — I didn’t know what rooms to explore, or where to go. REmake was so different from what I had come to expect after playing Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, and fully frustrated, I didn’t continue.
Fast forward six years, to 2021, and the Resident Evil series is enjoying a resurgence of popularity. Since my attempt (and failure) to play REmake I’ve played and beaten Resident Evil VII, Resident Evil 2 Remake, and Resident Evil 3 Remake. I adored every single one of the games but still couldn’t consider myself much of a Resident Evil fan. Something was missing. I’m a huge fan of horror, recently falling in love with survival horror titles such as Silent Hill 3 and Fatal Frame. So, armed with my own determination and the knowledge that so many people consider REmake the best remake of a video game ever made, I decided to delve back in.
Four times I had to restart the game, skip the opening few scenes, and run past Barry. Overwhelmed and frustrated, I messaged a friend of mine on Twitter who is also a huge survival horror fan and lifelong Resident Evil player. After venting a few of my frustrations, I pushed through one more time.
Suddenly — beautifully — everything clicked.
Pushing past that initial struggle of the first rooms, with the (seemingly) inescapable zombies, my lack of ammo, and no healing items, I started to make progress. I found a dagger. I found a map. I found a shotgun. Then, and most satisfying of all, I found a real save room — complete with a typewriter, healing items, and an inventory box. My adrenaline pumping with the joy of progress, I directed Jill further through the East Wing of the Spencer Mansion and began amassing my collection of ammunition, Green Herbs, and precious keys.
Then I saw Resident Evil for what it really was, what it had been, what it was meant to be. It wasn’t just a tough-as-nails survival horror experience but a deep, interlinked Metroidvania where the entirety of the mansion was one interlocking puzzle. The backtracking and exploration in REmake are deeply satisfying. I started to remember rooms and the positions of the zombies. I started to unlock more and more doors and find more and more items. I located my first Death Mask and wondered what exactly was hidden in the bloody coffin down in the crypt. I was doing it.
Then the Crimson Heads came alive.
REmake is not intent on letting the player get comfortable. Even after figuring out how to deal with the horrifying and quick Crimson Heads, the game presents the Hunters who are fast and powerful and can cause instant death. Never once did I feel safe, the mansion packed with traps and creatures that were intent on killing me and ending my game. Still, I persevered.
Last night, I finally beat Resident Evil, and I have to say it was such a sublime and enjoyable experience that I almost want to start a fresh file right now and experience the game with Chris. Now I understand that when fans of the survival horror genre and describing what they love about it, it’s REmake that’s on their mind. The sustained difficulty, the satisfying sense of progress, the ingenious puzzles, the labyrinthine backtracking — all of this culminates in a survival horror experience that feels elevated above all others, including the various copycats that have been made in the past two decades.
REmake sought to not just make a 1:1 facelift of the source material but to add new content on top of what made the original Resident Evil so great. Remixing item locations, adding new rooms and keys, and including additional dialogue (especially the previously cut subplot of the tragic Lisa) created a remake that stands head and shoulder above most other video game remakes. While I profoundly enjoyed both Resident Evil 2 Remake and Resident Evil 3 Remake, I sympathize with the long time series fans who grieve the cut content or how these games don’t quite feel as satisfying as the originals. Upon finishing REmake, I think what has been missing from some of these later entries is the jubilation of finally unlocking that door you’ve passed by again and again, or saving your grenade launcher ammunition so that you can just absolutely tear through the upcoming boss. Very much modern games, the recent remakes were missing just a touch of that struggle.
While I have endless praise for REmake, there are a few quality of life updates that I feel wouldn’t hinder the overall experience but would further modernize the titular entry for younger gamers (please, long time Resident Evil fans, don’t blow my head off):
The (optional) removal of Ink Ribbons — I don’t feel this is a meaningful or interesting aspect of the game. Instead add bonuses akin to what later Resident Evil games have added, such as if you save fewer than X times you unlock a weapon or skin.
Uncompressed cutscenes — while REmake HD Remaster looks really good, the cutscenes are blurry to the point where much of the time I couldn’t tell what was going on.
Removal of the door cutscenes (optional) — speedrunners already mod these out, and aside from nostalgia they don’t add anything to the game and get frustrating to watch after a while.
Modernized controls that can follow the player through the fixed camera angles.
Despite a few of these issues, I have no major gripes with REmake and none of these things impacted my overall enjoyment of the game. I found myself fully addicted to exploring the mansion and pushing through zombie dogs, Crimson Heads, Hunters, snakes, spiders, and sharks. I enjoyed exploring the initial moments of the Resident Evil saga and reading through lore bits that I’d never seen. The tragedy of Lisa was terrifying and well done, and I had a blast seeing Wesker’s smarmy and traitorous beginnings. The dialogue in this game is especially hilarious and somehow captures 90s translation issues and the utterly inhumane way that people often speak in horror films. Despite dying, again and again, I no longer resented my loss of progress but viewed reloading my files as a way to streamline my runs — could I save that dagger or not use my ammo?
Ever since I was a kid reading Electronic Gaming Monthly, I wanted to experience Resident Evil. After years as a casual fan, I am so happy that I was able to find enjoyment in REmake, and it’s obvious to me now why fans rave about this special game. While currently accessible on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and a host of other systems, there is a part of me that hopes that with the current surge of Resident Evil popularity we might see a newer version of REmake with some of these optional quality of life updates. I want everyone I know to explore the mansion and fight the Tyrant and experience the opening evils of the Umbrella saga — this game is a classic and absolutely deserves its place as one of the best survival horror games ever made.
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