Just in time for Halloween, I got to go hands on with the future of the Resident Evil series. And the past. The future-past of one of gaming's longest-running horror franchises. Capcom's got two Resident Evil games coming out soon--a re-remake of the original 1996 Resident Evil classic, and then Resident Evil: Revelations 2.
Revisiting Resident Evil
The original Resident Evil is eighteen years old, and before it heads off to college Capcom wants one last tearful moment with its sweet zombie baby. "Look at it, Bob! Look at our baby Resident Evil all grown up, with those fancy HD textures!"
You might recall that the original Resident Evil was already redone once, back during the Gamecube era. This new remake takes that Gamecube edition and retools it with high definition graphics and some new background elements. It is, essentially, a remake of a remake.
That being said, you'd hardly know this was an 18-year-old game by looking at it. The biggest giveaway is the menus, which are still very much PS1/PS2-era user interfaces. The graphics, though? Capcom's done a spiffy job of spit-shining these things to a polish. It's not the quality you'd expect from a brand-new game, but considering the source material I'm pretty impressed.
You can play in either 4:3 or widescreen, though widescreen introduces a strange pan-and-scan camera that somewhat impacts your ability to play the game. I noticed that long hallways in particular get a bit screwy--there could be a zombie at the other end, but until the camera pans up you won't be able to aim at them effectively. That might only be a second or two of downtime, but a second or two in a survival horror game could have dire consequences.
Capcom has rebuilt a lot of the environments in order to make them more dynamic, though. Objects that once were part of static backgrounds or (in the Gamecube remake) embedded in video files are now fully rendered 3D objects. It's a small change, maybe, but one that undoubtedly brings this upgraded Resident Evil in line with fans' memories of Resident Evil.
And to be honest, I think it's the opinion of longtime fans that will matter the most here. Capcom's tweaked the game to try and make it a bit more modern--namely, making it so you can play the game with the classic tank controls if you want but can also play with a friendlier "point the analogue stick and move in that direction" system.
You've also got all the updates and improvements made from the original game to the Gamecube remake. Both protagonists, Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, use body language to communicate their health levels and can pick up defensive weapons occasionally as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.
At the end of the day, however, this is still Resident Evil. The game is 18 years old, and it feels 18 years old to play. If you've got that nostalgia eating away at you, if you just want to make it through the mansion one more time, then good news: You will enjoy this remake. If Capcom's goal is to bring new players to the table, though? I don't know what to say. I don't think Resident Evil is a very fun game without those nostalgia glasses on. Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of my own blind spots in that regard--I still think Myst is a fantastic game, as is the Tron arcade cabinet, as is Gex.
But I think it's important to recognize that maybe--just maybe--these games haven't aged as well for a modern audience as much as our memories would have us believe. Resident Evil is a classic, but at a certain point,outside of some sort of nostalgia or scholarly fascination, perhaps it doesn't make sense to play.
Which brings us to Capcom's other upcoming title, Resident Evil: Revelations 2. In case you're losing track of subtitles, the Revelations series is a spin-off of the main numbered Resident Evil games. Where the core Resident Evil franchise has gotten increasingly action-heavy in the past few years, the Revelations games aim to revisit what originally made people fans--exploration, puzzles, and a real survival horror challenge.
The original Revelations took place between Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, and was originally built for the Nintendo 3DS before receiving a PC port. Revelations 2 advances the timeline, taking place between Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6. In addition, it's being built specifically for the PC and consoles and will be released episodically.
Revelations 2 stars fan favorite Claire Redfield, originally the protagonist of Resident Evil 2. As it's explained to me, she and Barry Burton's daughter Moira are abducted, awaking in a strange prison with no idea how they got there. I played about an hour of the opening chapter of the game, which is approximately half of the first episode (about comparable to an episodic Telltale adventure).
It's fairly standard horror fare. The denizens of said creepy prison aren't exactly too happy to have Claire and Moira running around, solving puzzles and such. They try to kill you. A lot. Claire fulfills the main combat role, being handy with a pistol, so I played most of my demo as her. Moira has her own set of skills though, both wielding a flashlight to find hidden items and hitting enemies in the head with an oversized crowbar.
Honestly, Revelations is about the closest you can get to melding the original Resident Evil's survival horror feel with modern game design. I wouldn't say it's the scariest game, but it nails a certain sort of desperation that resonates. It's easier than the original Resident Evil--scrounging for items in every dark corner left me with a sizeable arsenal at the end of my demo--but I'd say that's to be expected from modern games. There's a reason I don't think people who've never played the original Resident Evil would especially enjoy it nowadays.
And there's something refreshing about a survival horror game where the pacing is balanced between "Ratcheted tension" and "Wandering around solving puzzles." At least in the early section I played, there were quite a few moments where I could tell I was at least somewhat safe. That made the parts where I was in danger all the sweeter.
I hit a few glitches while playing (particularly when it came to interacting with my AI companion) and I think the checkpoint save system needs some fine-tuning, but overall I was pretty impressed with what I saw of Revelations 2. I'm by no means a huge Resident Evil fan, but it got me way more interested than anything 5 or 6 did. If your interest is similarly piqued, look for Episode One sometime in early 2015.