I haven’t played the recent reamake of Resident Evil 3… I probably will, but for now it’s not too high on my ‘to-play’ list. What I do know about it is that it looks visually stunning and gameplay reports have generally been good, but it is nonetheless still receiving a mixed response from the community. For me, the more action heavy focus has dampened my enthusiasm. What I have played recently is the REMake (AKA the Remake of ‘Resident Evil’ that was originally released for the Gamecube) in HD on Switch. It’s a game that I’ve played before, but a little while back it was on sale and I really just wanted to jump in to something familiar. Despite its age, the gradual journey through the Spencer estate has never looked so good and as a game it still holds up after all these years. It’s also one of the few remakes that’s almost unanimously considered to be an improvement over the original release. It almost seems as thought Capcom did the impossible with it, they took a classic, a genre-defining classic no-less, and only a few short years later remade it in to something better than the original outing, so maybe they could learn a few things from themselves in how to go about pulling this off.
The source material was really the first thing they had in their favour. That first zombie infested romp was really the purest form of ‘the idea’, and the REMake does nothing to deviate from the form. Pacing and gameplay are largely unchanged; ammo supply is tight, health is a premium (although maybe a little generous at times), and the environment is as much of an enemy as any of the infected creatures that the Alpha team encounter. The REMake even sticks to the highly detailed pre-rendered backgrounds of the original as a means to sidestep the technological limitations of the time although vastly improves their variety, richness, and detail. Fixed camera gameplay allows for the same cinematic framing that characterised the original although tank controls have been updated to a more modern scheme (which isn’t without its own problems, but is generally considered to have been a good move). Being a gaming generation further on meant that the 3D models for characters and enemies also had a significant facelift and improved lighting effects mean that they blend much better in to those pre-rendered environments.
So far so good right, it’s pretty much a visual facelift… right?
Well, no. The REMake also adds a little to the original mansion’s map, including a new boss character, Lisa Trevor, who’s mournful shuffling occupy a substantial amount of that new space in the form of tunnels and outbuildings. Puzzles have been augmented or updated, and there are some welcome additions alongside that core gameplay formula. Zombies now have the ability to return to … life?… in the form of fast moving crimson heads and characters can equip counterattack weapons. There are also a number of unlockable difficulties and game modes once you’ve proven your worth in the main campaign.
Of course for fans of the series, none of this is news, but it’s worth noting what Capcom did and didn’t change about this solid remake. They didn’t touch the core gameplay, they didn’t touch the fundamental map layout, rather added sections to it, and they didn’t mess with key events, characters, or lore. The aforementioned Lisa Trevor (and associated locations) is arguably the biggest addition and, for me at least, represents some of the weaker parts of the experience. Her sad story feels slightly out of place in the narritive and at least some of what she brings to the game is yet more underground tunnels which (I’m going to take a punt here) aren’t anyone’s favourite parts of Resident Evil. The other thing that the REMake had on its side is time; released just six years and one console generation after the original the rose tinted nostalgiavision of core fans of the series hadn’t yet blocked out the huge flaws in the beloved first game; in short Capcom landed the REMake in that sweet spot where gamers were ready for a remake, but hadn’t yet developed their unyielding view of the original as perfect.
Fast forward to last year’s hugely successful Resident Evil 2 Remake; it’s a game that I certainly enjoyed, but had some issues with. I loved how Capcom recaptured the feel of the RPD police station and the pacing of the original in that opening half of the game whilst adding in modern quality of life improvements; in short exactly the things that Capcom got right with the REMake. Where my views wavered however were where things strayed too far from content or feel of the source material and even in places where I felt Capcom had removed certain key subtle facets of the Resident evil 2 ’98 experience. In my defence however, everything I said was said with the caveat that “I’m a huuuuggee fan of the original Resident Evil 2 and so I’m likely to be the Re2make’s harshest critic”.
Jump forward another year and we’ve just seen the Resident Evil 3 Reamake (RE3Make?) hit the stores with similar noises coming from the community: ‘the plot was changed too much’, ‘it’s too much of an action game‘ whereas players who are new to the series seem to be hung up on how short the experience is. Capcom are struggling to please everyone; those new to the game aren’t appreciating the things it’s taken from the source material and those who love the source feel as though too much has been changed. Don’t get me wrong these complaints are in a minority, but it’s worth noting that they’re more visible than any criticism of the RE2make. The other problem is that the original Resident Evil 3 just isn’t such an interesting game from a plot point of view; even with fond memories my revisiting of it not that long ago highlighted how story isn’t among its strengths. Nemesis is the most interesting feature which seems to have been amped-up in the RE3Make and provides the unique selling point.
… worth mentioning once again that my feelings here are based on community reaction to RE3Make as I haven’t played the game yet…
We’re now faced with Capcom considering remakes of Code: Veronica and Resident Evil 4, both of which have their own potential problems. I reminded myself last year that RE:CV may be the ‘true sequel’ to Resident Evil 2, but really doesn’t hold up so well after all these years. Conversely Resident Evil 4, which is a game that historically I don’t get on with, is still being ported to current generation consoles so the chance for direct comparison of this fan favourite with a remake will be even more prominent. It’s only going to get harder and harder for Capcom to meet expectations of new and old fans with these remakes, and all the while Capcom are missing the opportunity to tell new stories. If they wanted to revisit Raccoon City then there’s plenty of that urban sprawl still unexplored and I’m sure many tales still untold.
The more promising news is the Resident Evil 8 is on the horizon. Resident Evil VII was an excellent game that took the series back to its survival horror roots and managed to be both fresh but also somehow classic Resident Evil all wrapped up once again in an isolated house out in the wilderness. My hope is that Resident Evil 8 will continue along the same path and bring yet another classic to the world of survival horror. I love the early games, but maybe it’s time to leave them as they are, let them age, rerelease them in best-of-bundles from times to time if you want to make that quick Capcom-cash-grab, but leave the 90’s S.T.A.R.S. and Co. back in the 90’s where they belong.