The Resident Evil series is a franchise that has some pretty frightening moments in it, with games, films, books, and comics, that have some truly memorably frightening scares. But perhaps one of the most frightening things that I’ve only just come to realise is that the hugely popular 2002 remake of the original game came out only five years after the first game, but has now turned twenty years old. The franchise continues to frighten with simply the passage of time.
The original Resident Evil game was a huge success around the world, and many would argue that it was the true birth of the Survival Horror genre of games. Thanks to the popularity, it spawned a number of sequels over the next few years, with Resident Evil 2, and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis both joining the original on the Sony Playstation. There were also a few spin-off games, like Resident Evil: Survivor on the Playstation, and Resident Evil: Gaiden on the Gameboy Color. The series made a big jump in 2000 when Resident Evil: Code Veronica debut on the Dreamcast, with improved graphics and game-play. By now the series was well established and well loved.
When it was released in 2001, Nintendo announced that the Resident Evil games would be coming to their new console, the GameCube. And whilst it was initially planned that the first three games and Resident Evil: Code Veronica would be coming to the console as ports, Shinji Mikami, the designer and director of the original game, felt that the first game hadn’t aged well enough to be put onto the GameCube and that it could even put off new players. Instead, a bold new plan was devised: a completely new version of the game that would not only push the new consoles graphical capability, but would allow Mikami to make a game closer to his original vision.
The story for the game would largely remain the same; it would still star the characters of Jill Valentine (Heidi Anderson-Swan), Chris Redfield (Joe Whyte), Barry Burton (Ed Smaron), Rebecca Chambers (Hope Levy), and Albert Wesker (Peter Jessop) as they made their way through the vast Spencer Mansion, hidden deep within the Arklay Mountains. Having entered the surrounding area looking for their missing compatriots, the members of the Special Tactics and Rescue Squad (S.T.A.R.S.) end up running for their lives from monster dogs, taking refuge within a large mansion estate. However, inside they discover zombies, giant spiders, and other monstrous creatures created by a bio-weapon gone wrong.
Instead of simply recreating the original game with improved graphics, the programming team, which consisted of only four people, redesigned the game from the ground up. The Spencer Estate was given new areas for players to explore. The series’ iconic puzzles were included, but went through some drastic changes that would challenge even veteran players. As well as the new areas, story that was cut from the original was reintroduced in this game, introducing players to the character of Lisa Trevor for the first time.
These changes offered something new for returning players, and meant that even those who had completed the game dozens of times and knew the Spencer Estate like the back of their hand would be facing something of a challenge. The game also came with much improved performances from the voice actors. And whilst the original was well known for its bad acting and terrible dialogue (something that gave that game a lot of charm), the new game never ended up feeling ridiculous like that original did; and this helped to greatly increase the sense of horror.
To begin with the team tried to create the game using computer graphics animation, but soon realised that this would be too challenging for the new console. Instead, they went back to a similar approach to the original, where 3D models would be placed into environments with pre-rendered backgrounds, albeit ones with much better graphical quality. The game also kept the fixed camera style of the original, although there were parts where they camera was able to move in a more dynamic way, enhancing the game-play experience and helping to present a more movie like product.
The team also gave the combat system a bit of an overhaul, and added new weapons that would allow players to escape from enemies as they were being grabbed; this helped with the increased difficulty. The difficulty itself was something that took the team a while to perfect, as some wished to make the game tougher by adding invisible enemies, though this was deemed to be too hard on players. However, the game did introduce a new mechanic where if certain zombies were not burnt when killed they would mutate, and come back as faster, tougher, and more vicious creatures. The game also decreased the amount of ammo that could be found, and increased the number of enemies, forcing players to have to carefully consider when to fight and when to run.
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Upon its release the Resident Evil Remake, or REmake, received critical acclaim from most journalists and reviewers, and the improved graphics and tougher game-play quickly had the game being referred to as one of the scariest video games ever made. The new game not only showcased the graphical capabilities of the GameCube, but showed a vast difference in it and the original. Even now, twenty years on, the game is still held up as one of the most visually impressive entries in the series. Even though there are more powerful, and graphically superior games in the series, the quality of design, and the tight, claustrophobic nature of the game still keeps it looking great two decades later. Since its release the game has been re-released a number of times, with a version on the Wii, a HD remaster being released across several consoles in 2015, including the Playstation 3 &4, and the Xbox One, and most recently, a version on the Nintendo Switch.
Despite being twenty years old (cue internal screaming) this version of Resident Evil remains one of the high points of the franchise, and is often held up as one of the best horror games of all time. And for fans of the original, it offers a great alternative to the charming yet clunky game that started it all.