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'Resident Evil HD' review: Time-tested scares

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Resident Evil

Resident Evil HD proves that the series has endured for as long as it has thanks to its strong roots. The remake of the first game in the Resident Evil series still delivers a number of solid scares and engaging puzzles, standing the test of time even when some of its aspects—like hokey dialogue and frustrating design choices—would have been better off left in the last century.

It’s a shame, then, that this reintroduction to a seminal game gets so much right—but only goes so far toward properly modernizing the game.

The original Resident Evil debuted all the way back in 1996 and received a gorgeous update six years later. This refresh of that update keeps the 2002 game’s experience largely intact, with a few adjustments that keep players who never experienced the original’s mechanics from feeling trapped in the past.

The game’s setup involves a familiar horror staple—a labyrinthine, abandoned mansion on a dark and stormy night. Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, and the rest of their S.T.A.R.S. task force are investigating the scene after the disappearance of their team members. Their search brings them to a sprawling estate infested with zombies and other mutated creatures. Players, controlling either Chris or Jill, work to unlock the secrets of this mansion to save whoever may be left alive.

The brilliant centerpiece pf Resident Evil‘s design is that mansion, a mystery box where answers to puzzles beget more puzzles. Weaving through the posh hallways and lavish but eerie rooms, the early hours of Resident Evil craft a continuing sense of success coupled with the dawning realization that mysteries wait to be solved around each corner.

But that design loses its way as the game progresses, with obscure solutions required to overcome roadblocks. The experience falters especially any time the game trades in its puzzles for pure combat—but even so, I was startled by how well many of its ideas stand the test of time. Sure, the game is hindered by a few antiquated elements—for example, Chris can only hold six items total, including weapons, ammo, and healing items. This limitation is a smart way to ratchet up the tension, but when particular puzzles require the use of half that inventory, the game becomes an exercise in roaming the mansion’s halls for an inventory chest.

But there are still plenty of great ideas mixed in with the outdated ones, ensuring that even for a first-timer, the inaugural Resident Evil remains a memorable adventure. And the game retains its horror despite some old-fashioned graphics. I’ll admit to jumping during the infamous attack by an undead dog, and anyone suffering arachnophobia may have some difficulty—but the game’s actual zombies are less frightening in 2015 than they likely were in 2002 or 1996.

Instead, I regularly found myself empathizing with these poor, shambling zombies. They’re confined to particular rooms, where all they do is wander in circles, destined to spend the rest of their unlives alone and hungry. What kind of existence is that?

Oh, right: I’m supposed to be opening a door in the east wing with a key I found in a book that was locked away in a crypt. I should probably get back to that.

Aside from these existential tangents, Resident Evil does throw enough clever and tense moments to maintain a sense of urgency. Boss battles—shootouts that require no brains, just ammo, ammo, and a little luck—momentarily disrupt that momentum, as well as puzzles that require the player to thoroughly search every inch of every room. A missing puzzle piece can send you into a senseless and prolonged scavenger hunt.

The game’s age can excuse those choices. Less excusable is the occasional glaring reminder that despite the effort put into the remake, some elements have gone completely unattended. Occasional cutscenes look like blown-up, poorly running YouTube videos, and inconveniences like a few-seconds loading time in between every single room break up the pacing. These elements are relics of an earlier age; at times, they make the remake feel like an unfinished project.

Even so, Resident Evil HD can induce more than a few nightmares—and the occasional digression into what it must be like as a zombie.

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