The New Face of Old Evil
The Resident Evil series has a long and storied history featuring dozens of releases consisting of several different styles over the last couple of decades. This release looks at the last 20 years of experimenting and iterating, takes the best bits of each, and puts them together to build a beautiful Frankenstein of survival horror action. It takes the free aiming of the faster paced action era (RE4-6), gives you free camera control, and mashes it with the slower more methodical puzzles, inventory/resource management, and hard to kill enemies of the classic "survival horror" (1-3 & Code Veronica) era. These components come together to create a gameplay experience that is truly special.
Once you fire up the game, you're given a couple of choices to make before starting the campaign. First you choose between rookie cop Leon or cop’s sister Claire as your main character. Overall the two characters play out fairly similarly with some differences in weapon options, encounters, environments and scenarios. However, the plot and supporting characters vary more radically. Second, and more importantly, is the difficulty options. You have assisted which is billed to be a much breezier experience with health regen and aim assist. You have standard mode which has a scaling difficulty, autosaving/checkpoints, and unlimited saves. And finally, you have Hardcore mode which aims to give a more classic Resident Evil experience with limited saves in the form of ink ribbons, no autosaving, and stronger sturdier foes. Personally, I chose hardcore for my first playthrough and felt it gave a satisfyingly brutal and terrifying experience; however, I would recommend starting out in standard unless you're either well versed in classic Resident Evils or prepared to feel resource starved and willing to occasionally lose progress (I believe this to meaningfully add to the tension but your mileage may vary).
Once you've made your decisions the game kicks off with some beautiful cinematics before putting you in the shoes of your selected character arriving at a gas station on the outskirts of Raccoon City in the middle of the night. Believe it or not, this doesn't end up being just your average pit stop. Upon entering you find the place in a bit of disarray and an injured clerk points you to the back room. You travel down a dimly lit hallway to find a hungry zombie helping himself to a human snack. You take aim at him and run through most of your limited ammo to put the sucker down before making a hectic escape. This encounter and the following run through the zombie-infested streets to the police station (where the majority of the game takes place) immediately reinforces the old school Resident Evil philosophy of conserving resources by avoiding conflicts and choosing your battles carefully as the zombies tend to sway around and move very erratically making it hard to get a bead on them. This coupled with the fact that it can take several rounds to put down a zombie even if your landing headshots means you need to think carefully before expending those valuable bullets. A neat touch to the gunplay in this game is that by staying still and lining up your aim before each shot the cursor will close in and tighten up signifying an increase in damage and a higher chance of a critical hit (blowing off the head or limbs).
Once you arrive at the police station the game truly begins. Your first objective will be to look around for any survivors you can find. After exploring the large bright lobby and some dimly lit hallways you'll eventually come upon injured officer Marvin. While present in the original release, Marvin's role here is somewhat expanded to excellent effect due, in no small part, to the amazing animation and voice acting that permeates throughout the game and most of its characters. Marvin will put you onto your next lead; a secret passage out of the police department that's under a statue in the lobby that requires three medallions as keys (the station used to be an art museum so this makes total sense). From here you start schlepping around collecting items, solving puzzles, and gathering supplies. True to form you'll have to carefully manage your inventory to ensure you have the appropriate supplies to defend and heal yourself, solve puzzles, and also collect anything else you may find. Thankfully, the game alleviates a lot of potential headaches by providing occasional inventory upgrades (with more available on easier difficulties) and a highly detailed map that makes note of locked doors and uncollected items.
As you progress further into the game you'll gather more firepower, encounter bigger baddies, and solve more arcane puzzles as you explore additional areas and unravel the conspiracy of the zombie outbreak (y'know, your typical Resident Evil survival horror fare). You can expect to see your traditional firearms such as a shotgun, magnum, and an smg; as well as, some additional surprises. There is also the inclusion of sub-weapons that work like a mixture of the self-defense items found in the remake of the first Resident Evil and the equipment found in the later RE games. These include knives, frag grenades, and flash grenades. You can choose to use them by either manually slashing/throwing them at your enemies or spend them to defend yourself when grabbed by an assailant.
However, the game really throws a wrench into your relaxing jaunt through zombie terror land when it decides to introduce you to the lovely Mr. X partway through the game. Mr. X is a giant of a man zombie thing (technical term) that stalks you around the station and tries to use you as a punching bag to practice his sinister right hooks. As mentioned, Mr. X is a big guy, with big shoes, and that means big stomps. Generally, the game makes great use of quiet and ambient noises; most of the sounds punctuating the game is comprised of footsteps, zombie groans, windows breaking, doors opening, etc. So when you start to hear those loud stomps pierce through the relative silence, you know it's time to get your butt in gear. This simple, yet clever, use of sound goes a long way to add to the tension and overall atmosphere of the game. While Mr. X exemplifies this excellent sound design these considerations are present throughout the game.
Now, those familiar with the original release might be (rightfully) confused by Mr. X’s presence in the initial playthrough, because he only appeared in the original’s “B” scenarios which were unlocked for the opposite character after completing an “A” scenario. That is to say, after completing the story with Leon A would unlock Claire B and vice versa. These B scenarios were meant to show the other playable character experienced while you were doing the first playthrough. At the time this was a really interesting and novel concept as decisions made and items collected in the A scenario had an impact on the B scenario and lead to two largely different experiences. The remake (largely) does away with this concept in favor of merging these two narratives into one experience. This leads to one hell of an action packed, tense rollercoaster ride at the expense of these additional playthroughs. The second scenario isn’t done away with entirely; it IS present in the game albeit in a less impressive form. After completing the game once you unlock the other characters “2nd run” which is once again framed as what the other character experienced while you were running through the game with the first. This playthrough expedites the early game as your second character starts the game in a different spot, some items are shuffled around, and you also get heavy fire power and encounter the tougher enemies sooner. However, the plot you experience is largely the same as what you would see in that character’s “1st run” anyway. Additionally, you end up solving a lot of the same puzzles and encountering the same situations that you just had with the other character. What’s even more perplexing is that you’ll occasionally find a note left behind by the other protagonist implying they’ve already passed through the area meaning that these puzzles should be solved and perhaps some of these enemies and supplies should be missing. This means that these two narrative experiences never quite line up logically. This can take the player out of the game somewhat if you’re expecting the two campaigns to fit together like a clever puzzle rather than feeling like one block taped to another block that’s red instead of blue. This is honestly a bit disappointing; however, I think the benefit to beefing up that first campaign is worth it (ideally we would have the best of both worlds, but oh well).
Overall this game is the epitome of a remake. The game looks simply incredible (and the PC version gives you a vast array of graphical options and outlines exactly how it will affect performance). The sounds, the animations, the voice acting are all top notch. The controls feel fresh and responsive. The difficulty options cater to multiple play experiences. Yet the game still perfectly encapsulates the identity of the original release with the inclusion of the puzzles, resource management, and the tension. The handling of the multiple scenarios might be a bit of a bummer to some but overall I find to be a very small blemish on this otherwise masterpiece of a game.