The original Resident Evil, released in 1996, not only kickstarted one of Capcom’s most successful and enduring franchises, it also cemented years worth of survival horror genre conventions. Twenty five years later, the series is still going strong, but those early entries haven’t aged as gracefully as their sterling reputations. For those who have a harder time adapting to the standards of the PlayStation 1 era, Capcom has been remaking the mainline games with modern technology for a while now, to varying degrees of success.
Over the years, Capcom has taken the Resident Evil series in many directions. From the methodical, tense experience of the original to the high-octane chaos of Resident Evil 4, the games have never shied away from reinventing the formula. Recently, with Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 8, the series has been returning to the slow-paced tension of its past, but the games have occupied every end of the spectrum. As is true with almost any long-running franchise, fans are split when it comes to deciding which approach is best, forcing Capcom to either find the best middle ground or adopt its extremes with each entry.
This dichotomy has presented the Resident Evil remakes with an interesting problem: how do developers modernize something so uniquely of its time without sacrificing what makes it unique in the first place? The approach taken to answering this question in each outing is what defines the overall feel of each remake game so far.
The original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis introduced some action-focused mechanics like dodging and quick turning, but it largely retained what made its predecessors so excellent: a focus on desperate, scrappy survival in a hostile and claustrophobic environment. The 2020 remake is a beautiful reimagining of its img material, but its deviations dampen the experience a bit in comparison. Where the original Resident Evil 3 included enhanced action, the remake shifts its focus onto the action almost entirely, gutting the sense of tension present in the original.
Here, ammo is plentiful, combat is explosive and forgiving, and the weapons only scale up as the story continues. While nothing is wrong with great action, it seems less fitting when applied to a remake of a game with different priorities. Furthermore, several memorable locations from the original Resident Evil 3, like the Clock Tower and the City Hall, were cut for the sake of streamlining an already quite short experience.
That being said, Resident Evil 3 is a well-made game that, at times, achieves greatness. The game’s recreation of Raccoon City, in all its rain soaked neon, is nothing short of gorgeous, and Jill Valentine is more believable than ever before; its just not as impressive as the other remakes that preceded it.
The original Resident Evil 2 built upon the first game’s foundations to great effect, and remains one of the best games in the series. In replacing the pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed angles of the original with an over the shoulder third-person camera, Capcom’s 2020 remake took a gamble by not adhering strictly to the classic game’s blueprint, but it paid off.
The ground-up recreation of the Racoon City Police Department, a Gothic-revival building which formerly housed a museum, is a masterclass in environmental design and lighting, and its cramped hallways retain all of the horror lost in Resident Evil 3 remake’s wide-open city avenues. On top of that, the survival horror mechanics of the original trilogy were adapted into the modern era for the first time. The shooting and movement are more complex and varied than the original, but steps were taken to ensure the extra finesse afforded by modern control schemes did not infringe on the sense of desperation and tension conveyed by the original game.
While the story was well received in the original Resident Evil 2, parts of it have aged without grace. In the remake, protagonists Leon and Claire are written with a much more subtle, realistic touch, and the story lands with an emotional resonance previously not present. Resident Evil 2 also introduced a new generation of players to Mr. X, a huge lumbering enemy who stalks unwitting players around the game. The unpredictability of his attacks add a layer of anxiety onto an already tense experience. Like the xenomorph in Alien: Isolation, he seems to always have the upper hand on the player and often throws a wrench into the best laid plans.
Resident Evil 2 is the rare case of a remake neither straying too far from its img material or adhering too closely to it. It is a new product, but one that fully communicates the rich experience of its ancestor.
Though it may not be as flashy as Resident Evil 2 or 3, the 2002 remake of the original Resident Evil is a tightly-designed, definitive upgrade to the game that birthed its genre. Unlike Capcom’s later remakes, Resident Evil opted to return to the original’s pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles, making it effectively a 1 for 1 remake of its img material instead of a ground-up recreation.
The effect is powerful: the hardware of the seventh generation allowed the art team to create backgrounds that could stand alone as framed art if one desired, and the resulting game remains one of the GameCube’s most visually impressive titles. The Spencer Mansion, hokey and reminiscent of haunted house B-movies in 1996, becomes in 2002 a foreboding, terrifying labyrinth.
Where the later remakes altered their formulas for modern tastes, Resident Evil instead made use of minor tweaks and quality of life upgrades. Legacy mechanics like tank controls, ink ribbon saving, and limited inventory space were kept. Rather than feeling dated, the light touches allow the game to feel like a window into the series’ past without its blemishes. Mechanics that, in the original, explored new territory a bit clumsily, return here as tools in a master’s repertoire.
While the remake of Resident Evil 2 is the poster child for reimagining a work, the original Resident Evil remake stands the test of time as one of the few remakes to completely supplant its original. It is the definitive version of Resident Evil as well as the high-water mark for the series as a whole.