The Return of the (REmake) King

Dogs smashing through glass windows in a tight corridor. That campy FMV intro. Jill Sandwiches. All these memories and more came flooding back to gamers when it was announced that Capcom would be re-visiting Resident Evil, Shinji Mikami’s seminal survival-horror hit that took the foundations of Alone in the Dark and also spawned a dozen imitators. Naturally, for a company that is not exactly unknown for milking its properties for profit, the announcement was met with cynical comments along the line of “A remake of a remake?” and “Porting PSOne games now?? lolol”.

It’s not that at all, though. What Capcom actually announced was an HD port of the 2002 GameCube release of Resident Evil, which in itself was a complete remake of the 1996 PlayStation/Saturn/PC original. The confusion is understandable, though; in an age of HD Collections, handheld ports, and “remastered” cross-gen releases, what exactly constitutes a true remake?

I thought Tomb Raider (2013) was an excellent game, but like fellow Ready Up-er Kirsten, I wasn’t so sure it was a great Tomb Raider game.

HD Collections and ports can vary wildly in quality (from the excellent Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and The Last of Us: Remastered, to the bug-filled disaster that was Silent Hill’s HD treatment), but are generally the very same games that they were originally, albeit with a resolution bump, some new textures and possibly an improved framerate.

More complete undertakings, like Tomb Raider (2013), undoubtedly lean more in the direction of “re-imagining” than spiritual remake, with a gameplay experience that is (ironically) more Nathan Drake than Lara Croft. Likewise, Metroid: Zero Mission did an amazing job of updating Samus’ first journey into the depths of Planet Zebes, but sacrificed something of its original spirit in exchange for a game closer to (the admittedly masterful) Super Metroid. Even Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, which utilised many of the same assets from the original game, found it difficult to combine the tone of existing content with a new OST and over-the-top cut-scenes.

If a true remake needs to achieve the perfect balance of old and new, then I would posit that the GameCube version of Resident Evil, known affectionately to its fans as “REmake”, is the definitive example. If Resident Evil 4 is considered Mikami’s action masterpiece, then REmake is arguably the peak of his particular brand of classic survival-horror.

Before re-visiting the original Resident Evil, Capcom produced a number of sequels, including 2, 3 and Code: Veronica (pictured).

Not that I want to downplay the tweaks that each sequel have made to the base Resident Evil formula. Resident Evil 2, which understandably remains a high-point on many fans’ “Classic Resident Evil” lists, not only introduced a layered campaign that allowed you to experience the whole adventure from multiple perspectives and play-throughs, but it also expanded the scope of the experience significantly with a much larger location in Raccoon City.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, on the other hand, pushed proceedings into a slightly more action-oriented direction, giving protagonist Jill Valentine combat dodges and counters, and also introduced the titular stalker Nemesis, who would hunt players down throughout the game and force some tenuous decisions. Dreamcast entry Code: Veronica (and its updated “X” PS2 port), meanwhile, offered a multi-character adventure that focused on a more dramatic narrative (with hints of a love story), playing up the threat of the Umbrella Corporation and series antagonist, Albert Wesker, in preparation for later Resident Evil games.

With the original released in 1996 and REmake hitting 2002, the amount of progress that was made in less than six years is still sort of stunning.
With the original released in 1996 and REmake hitting 2002, the amount of progress that was made in less than six years is still sort of stunning.

But despite these advances, it’s REmake that acts as Shinji Mikami’s true love letter to the dying genre he helped build; it combines the most relevant traits from the history of Resident Evil (and its contemporaries Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill), retaining the integrity of the original concept while advancing the gameplay through the addition of new mechanics.

Not only was the look of the now-legendary Spencer Mansion completely overhauled – with the Art Deco-esque decoration ditched in favour of some truly atmospheric light and shadow – but so was its content. While the basic layout of the mansion remained roughly the same, it was stuffed with all-new puzzles, traps and unlockables. Even locations cut from the original production – like the backdoor graveyard and the kitchen – made a triumphant return.

“Hey, didn’t I get rid of you earli- OH MY GOD”

Of course, no overview of REmake could be complete without talking about one of its most ingenious gameplay ideas, the V-Act. Dubbed the “Crimson Head” in-game by the scientists of the Spencer Mansion, Crimson Heads add another layer of difficulty and resource management to an already tense experience. Should a player defeat a human zombie but fail to decapitate its head or dispose of its body by other means, it will eventually reanimate into a more powerful secondary state, a Crimson Head, a nerve-wracking creature somewhere between a zombie and Resident Evil 2’s infamous Lickers.

Finally, Mikami used this opportunity to tie together the series lore in meaningful ways by introducing “Wesker’s Report II” and the Lisa Trevor sub-plot, the latter being a heart-breaking piece of exposition that (ultimately) explains the G-Virus of Resident Evil 2, while also providing a terrifying new boss.

The main hallway is ominous, but grows to have a serene sort of quality…

Is REmake perfect? Well, no, but only in that it still adheres to the flaws of the original game. Many will find the “tank controls” unwieldy these days (although the new HD port aims to address this), and it’s certainly one of the hardest Resident Evil titles, even on the easier “Hiking” difficulty. The voice acting has also been upgraded from “camptacular yet charming” to “semi-serious” to match the new mood, though it wouldn’t be Biohazard without some cheese (a particular highlight: “S.T.A.R.S. were Umbrella’s – no, my – little piggies!”).

While smart and accessible updates such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012) and Punch-Out!! (2009) have been damn close, when it comes the king of remakes, REmake still holds its crown after 12 long years. Long may it reign.


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