• Biohazard ReMake Review - Nintendo Gamecube

    Time can be a funny thing. Almost an enigma in itself. On the one hand, it can present the past as if very recent, on the other, it can make only yesterday seem almost a lifetime ago. These may be weighty words but it is these kinds of thoughts I seem to have been consistently dwelling on since I began playing this updated edition of the survival horror classic. Biohazard (Resident Evil in the west) was released back in 1996, when people were hunting each other in Quake 2 or discovering the brave, new, three dimensional worlds that Mario 64 had to offer.

    Biohazard was something of a curiosity, a game featuring polygon modelled characters navigating a pre-rendered series of backdrops. Where it excelled, and (in the minds of some) has never been surpassed, is in the incredible atmosphere the title engendered.

    This edition of the game ushers in the graphical power available in the new millenium. Having gone from hi-res backdrops in the psx versions, then a greatly enhanced feel in Code Veronica, we now have photo-realistic textures and back grounds that move like real-time motion video. Mist drifts, bushes and trees sway gently and shadows flicker with a kind of realism only dreamt of a few years back. Digging out my copy of Code Veronica (1999), serves to highlight the idea that the artists and animators were even at that stage, tinkering with a technology that has now been fully implemented. Code Veronica now seems like just a dry run for this version. Without doubt, this updated Biohazard is the real deal.

    Having spent so much time with the original a few years ago, I now find myself exploring environments that have been so well updated, it is difficult to know if the area is brand new or an extravagant re-creation of an original. Have I seen these lonely places before? Maybe. As I said earlier, time can be a funny thing.

    I imagine for some people, the fact that the game still uses pre-rendered backgrounds will be something of an issue. After all, Capcom could have created a 3D world for the STARS members to explore, but I feel we are missing the point here. The reason Biohazard looks so incredible is that the designers understand the importance of paced, considered development. If one looks at the steady trickle of releases over the past few years, one can see that the game designers in Osaka have stuck to the same formula and slowly enhanced it in different ways. For this particular franchise at least, a radical departure could have spelt disaster.

    However, where advancements have been made with the graphical representation, there seems to be an unwillingness to tackle the issue of control. Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield still move in an un-natural manner that feels awkward and at odds with the surrounding beauty. There are occasions when you will find yourself crashing blindly into walls as you flee the zombies, but it isn't such a problem as to stop you wanting to play more. As with anything, time put in will reap rewards and I now find myself being able to move with commensurate ease down those fantastically detailed corridors. Players do have the ability to flip the characters 180 degrees which helps in combat. This is accomplished by simply moving the small control stick. I bet I'm not the only one with my finger hovering over the control stick every time I enter a new area.

    Another problem with the title is the cut-scenes. For whatever reason, they seem to freeze momentarily before moving on. Some reviewers have put this down to the GC hardware having problems loading in the next portion of data quickly enough. Others feel that Capcom just didn't have time to fix it before the release of the game. Whatever the reason, it is a minor annoyance and doesn't interfere with the actual gameplay itself in any way and I imagine this issue will be rectified before the next release anyway.

    Luckily, gameplay is just as addictive as in previous versions. The zombies now follow you up and down stairs and have the frightening ability to wake up when you were absolutely sure you had dispatched them properly. Others now chase you in a similar manner to Nemesis from Biohazard 3. Some of the puzzles are different too. Initally there are two difficulty options available. Normal and Hard. And a word of warning: Hard really means hard. On this setting, there is little health and ammo and survival means understanding the need for conservation, avoiding likely confrontations and shooting only through necessity. Another novel twist this time around is the defence items. When you are attacked, your character will automatically use a dagger or a stun pack (my personal favourite).

    Where Biohazard really shines is the way in which the game engine slowly debilitates your character. Suffering progressively disabling injuries and becoming low on ammo, you are left to contemplate a dark, doomy existential dread as you search for clues to the mystery of the mansion. To my mind, this is the essence of the game, and is probably its greatest strength. Mention must also be made of the audio. It features the now almost trademark style of apocalyptic, creepy synth chords and haunting choral samples that leave you in no doubt that there is something seriously evil around the next corner.

    Then there are the sound effects. The ticking clock in the dining room, the insistent tapping of zombies at the windows, the moaning wind out on the balconies and the spine-chilling groan of the undead. All this makes for an extremely unnerving experience. While you may want to piece together the events in the mansion and the surrounding environments, your mind is screaming for you to just get away as quickly as possible.

    For a remake, Biohazard has seduced me with its seemingly fresh feel and uncomfortable nostalgia. I hadn't paid a great deal of attention to the title this last year when news began cropping up on various sites. Maybe that was a good thing. In the two years since Code Veronica, I guess I must have forgotten the rather morbid pulling power of this series. The finished article has had more impact as a result and I am both pleased and surprised that a title dating back some six years still manages to scare me in a way other titles can only dream of.

    Times (and technology) may change, but mankind's most basic emotion remains the same.

    A review by Jason Newton