I’m probably one of the few people in the world who grew up around the era of the PlayStation that has never played a Resident Evil game all the way through. As such, we were offered all three of the games which recently came to the Nintendo Switch in order to review them, so I decided it was time I sat down and actually saw what the fuss was all about. My colleagues have reviewed both Resident Evil Zero and Resident Evil 4, leaving me with the game which started it all, the remake of the original 1996 survival horror classic, Resident Evil.
For those who are unaware, the game originally came out on multiple platforms in 1996 but it was remade for the GameCube in 2002 – a transition that gave the game a makeover both in terms of the visuals and some of the mechanics as well. This was ported to the Wii in 2004 and then subsequently remastered and released onto the PS4, Xbox One and PC back in 2015. The Nintendo Switch version is essentially the PS4 era edition, only optimised and adapted for Nintendo’s hybrid console.
As a first-timer to the series, and someone who gets extremely jumpy at anything horror-related, what did I think of the game? Let’s find out…
As with a few titles which have released within the Resident Evil series, you have the choice of playing one of two characters, Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield. Choosing either protagonist will alter the narrative slightly but you’ll ultimately be playing through the same overall experience. You’ve been sent to investigate the disappearance of the S.T.A.R.S Bravo Team in the Arklay Mountains, a team of highly trained ex-military personnel who have been formed to work under the Raccoon City Police Department. However, upon investigating, the Alpha team come across a mysterious mansion in which they are forced to seek refuge as something evil chases them in the darkness outside.
Trapped within the confines of the mansion, the three surviving members decided to explore their surroundings in an effort to see if there is any connection to the horrific things which happened to their colleagues outside. It doesn’t take long for our protagonists to stumble upon another person, albeit whilst in the middle of eating their way through one of the Bravo team members! Without hesitation, you take ‘it’ out and return to the others to report the insane situation you just experienced, only the rest of your team have now gone. Are they exploring the mansion or has something taken them?
Considering it’s not safe to go outside, your only option is to find your colleagues, uncover the mystery of the mansion, work out what’s going on and get the hell out of there!
As this version of Resident Evil is almost a direct port of the PS4 version, a lot of the new mechanics and options which were present within that game are also present here as well. For example, the original 1996 and the 2002 GameCube remake versions both force you to use ‘tank controls’. This is aptly named as you move very slowly and awkwardly as you push forward to move forward with left and right making you spin on the spot. However, this new remake now lets you use the ‘alternative controls’ – this is basically the mode all newcomers to the game should use as it gives you more modernised controls where your character moves in the direction you push on the control stick, not the direction based on the way your character is facing.
However, because the game is essentially a bunch of static backdrops which have set camera angles that alternate as you walk through them, the game wasn’t really created for non-tank controls. Basically, if you’re pushing up to walk through a corridor and the camera changes, it may now position the way you just came from as the exit to the top, thus having your character returning to the room they just came from. Tank controls wouldn’t trigger this mistake as pushing forwards would always move you forwards in relation to where our protagonist is facing. It’s not a big issue, but it can get annoying if it happens a lot (like it did for me).
Another option, which I don’t recall seeing many years ago when I briefly played it on the GameCube, is the difficulty selection screen. It doesn’t simply say Easy, Medium and Hard, it gives you a few statements and asks you to pick which one best describes your play style. For example, do you want to breeze through the game and enjoy the story, or do you like a challenging experience. Personally, I played through the game on Easy and I have no regrets. I’m not a massive fan of survival horror games as they always stress me out, especially when health and save items are limited, so having more of them appear within the game helped keep me happy throughout.
One of the other things which have come over from the PS4 version, which you may not expect, is the trophies. Sure, Nintendo hasn’t bothered to implement it’s own trophy system yet – why Nintendo, why?! – but Resident Evil still tracks everything you do and unlocks them as you go along, as you would on any other platform. The existence of trophies and achievements usually causes some debate as some people like them and some don’t, which is fair enough. For me, I love trophies as they help prolong a game by giving you alternative ways to do things, making you aware of things to look out for and collect, or simply push you to participate in things you usually wouldn’t do, like multiplayer. Speaking of, the game also has leaderboards so that you can see how your completion time compares to people around the world. I never would have thought that Resident Evil would have an online leaderboard…
Okay, one thing I’d heard of, but never seen before, were the puzzles and cryptic nature of the original Resident Evil. I was advised to play through the game with a walkthrough if I wanted to get through it easily, but I decided not to. I usually only resort to any form of walkthrough or guide if I’m really stuck, or I’m on my second playthrough looking for things I missed. A lot of the puzzles within the game weren’t too bad, if I’m being honest, it just involves a lot of backtracking as your inventory is so small! I’m used to games where the protagonist can fit every single item in a house, including the kitchen sink, down their pants and then pull them out when they need them. Having to work with a very strict and limited inventory, which demanded you use or throw away items in order to make room for others, was rather stressful and called for much more strategic thinking than I would usually use in a game like this.
I felt the balance between puzzles, horror moments, and exploration was done really well as I never felt bored or like I was running around with nothing to do – I always had a goal, be it finding an item to unlock a door, figuring out how to not get killed when I retrieve a key, or fighting the undead when they inevitably try and eat my face off. The one thing I didn’t like was the cruel and unforgiving nature of the death traps. I regularly found myself triggering sequences that were about to end in certain death (which they did, many times) and what made matters worse was the fact I hadn’t saved recently. Once you die, it’s back to the title screen with only a ‘load’ option if you wish to continue. You have no idea how many times I felt like giving up and not playing any more of the game simply because I had lost hours of gameplay just because I didn’t use a damn typewriter.
Although, I can see why people deem this as one of the first, and best, survival horror games. There certainly is a lot of moments where one wrong move will result in a situation that seems like everything’s going to be okay, but it really isn’t, it’s just delaying the inevitable. My dislike of the mechanics shouldn’t be seen as a negative, it’s these restrictions that boosts the atmosphere and the intensity of the situation.
The atmosphere and technical points
I have to agree with my colleague Kieran in his Resident Evil Zero review, playing the game in handheld mode, especially whilst I was out and about, the suspense and terror were almost washed out of the game. It became more akin to a puzzle game which occasionally threw a deathtrap or zombie at me. However, playing it at home with the Switch docked to my TV with the lights off and the surround sound turned up (I wish the Joycons had a headphone port), the atmosphere was greatly increased and I felt almost as scared and jumpy as I did when playing Layers of Fear 2. The only thing that game had, which Resident Evil doesn’t, was much more realistic visuals and a creepy sense of terror within the unknown which created much more of an impact than this nineteen-year-old game.
One thing I’ve not mentioned, in regards to the visuals, is the two aspect ratios you can play within. You can either play through the whole game in its original 4:3 ratio, which shows you the whole scene as you move around, or the anamorphic 16:9 widescreen which was achieved by the developers trimming the top and bottom of the screen to make it fit the full-frame. As the game is all pre-drawn backdrops, they can’t just enable 16:9 and show you more image as there isn’t any more image outside of the 4:3 masters.
The atmosphere isn’t all about the visuals though, the sound plays a major part of it as well. Sure, Resident Evil is well known for its corny vocals and average narrative – Jill Sandwich anyone (albeit changed slightly in the remaster)? However, the subtle music, the groaning of the zombies, the feedback from your weapons, and the ambient noises within the mansion all help to create a rather suspenseful and unnerving experience.
That being said, even with the slightly dated visuals, annoying controls, terrible resource management, and often corny vocals, I thoroughly enjoyed playing through this edition of the original classic. The Nintendo Switch version looks really good on both the smaller screen and when blown up to the bigger screen, it also performs great with no obvious dips in framerate or performance throughout. One thing which was a disappointment is the loading times. Moving from room to room (as you will do a lot) results in a longer loading time than previous consoles by a few seconds. There has been an update that reduced this, but some rooms do still take a while to load.
I’m glad I finally got around to playing Resident Evil, a lot of mechanics still hold up and the overall experience was challenging and suspenseful. Despite the issues I had with nineteen-year-old mechanics not adapting very well to modern games, such as pre-rendered backdrops with set camera angles, a very limited item stash, and awkward combat, I enjoyed the experience. With options for both new and old fans of the series, Capcom has adapted to everyone without altering the core gameplay of the original game – Difficulty settings, visual ratio and prefered control methods will allow everyone to play the game whichever way they feel the most comfortable.
Is Resident Evil a classic? Yes. Will it be for everyone? No. As one of, if not THE first survival horror games, don’t expect the refinement and optimisations we see in modern games within the same genre. However, expect to see lots of cryptic puzzles, deathtraps, limited save items, and flesh-eating zombies. You already know if you want this game or not – Personally, the price is a little high at almost double the price of the PS4 version, but if you add it to your wishlist, Nintendo will let you know when it’s in a sale.
- - Lots of puzzles to solve throughout the mansion
- - Some great moments of horror and suspense
- - Nothing has been sacrificed from the PS4/Xbox One versions
- - Online leaderboards to compete with people around the world
- - Looks great both on the TV and in portable mode
- - The controls aren't the best - either clunky tank controls or standard analogue which can have you going places you don't want to go
- - The visuals look great but they are a bit dated as your sharp character walks around a slightly blurry backdrop
- - The loading times are a bit slower than previous consoles, thus making the game feel much longer than it is
- - Seems a bit pricey as it's asking double the price of the PS4 and Xbox One editions