When I first heard of Capcom's plans to bring the 2002 GameCube Resident Evil remake (often known simply as "REmake") into the world of HD, I had my doubts. It's a game that primarily relies on pre-rendered assets developed for 480p displays, so bringing these visual resources up to modern standards of graphical fidelity—and doing it convincingly—seemed like an impossible task. (And let's not forget a lot of Japanese developers rarely bothered to archive their work back in the early aughts.)
That said, it only took an hour-long, hands-on session with REmake HD to calm my fears. Capcom could have easily made it a slapdash port with the most minimal effort, but the work put into this newest edition of Resident Evil can't be called anything but reverent. The game's original 2002 GameCube version stands as the ultimate expression of Resident Evil's first phase, and my time with the game made it clear Capcom understands this remake's place in history.
If you're a stickler like me, you'll be happy to know this port lets you play the game as its creators intended—so if you want a 4:3 presentation and PlayStation-era "tank" controls, they haven't gone anywhere. But if you'd like to play a more modernized version of Resident Evil, REmake HD features a few thoughtful alterations to make the experience less dated. Widescreen mode puts the original's 4:3 display in a 16:9 format, though it doesn't artlessly crop out visual information on the top and bottom of the screen. Similar to the old pan and scan VHS formatting, Resident Evil does just that: The camera pans up and down, when necessary (compared to its static nature in the GameCube version), to reveal areas obscured by the widescreen aspect ratio. It's an extremely subtle effect—and one that's tailored on a room-by-room basis—but it works well, and the game feels very natural in 16:9, despite being developed years before this format became the standard.
Another completely optional change—one that may seem like sacrilege to some fans—can be found in this version's inclusion of analog controls. Despite my skepticism going in, these controls feel extremely comfortable, even if they may contradict the intentionally awkward feeling of classic Resident Evil. Admittedly, this modern setup makes the game measurably easier, since characters can now turn on a dime instead of first having to slowly pivot in the direction they want to move. I stuck with these improved controls throughout my session, and while I completely understand why the original developers stuck with the series' traditional "tank" controls, they're extremely hard to go back to after steering Chris and Jill around like human beings instead of boxy vehicles. Both visual and control options can be changed on the fly as well, so you're free to experiment after starting a new game—and since the d-pad is permanently assigned to "tank" controls, you can switch between modern and classic input instantly without having to visit the options menu.
Resident Evil remains one of the best-looking games of its generation, and, thankfully, it's aged incredibly well. Its polygonal models have received the most improvements, and while I didn't have the original version on-hand to compare how much they've changed, Chris, Jill, and the rest of the S.T.A.R.S. team look like characters ripped straight from a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 game. The backgrounds, too, offer some improvements, and their low-res roots definitely didn't show on the large, HD display I stared at during my session. Many of the backgrounds that once existed as looping movies have had their pre-rendered assets changed into real-time, polygonal ones, and they still look great. Though you'll never confuse this version of Resident Evil with an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 release, it's honestly hard to believe the original resources came from a game that just had its twelfth birthday this past spring.
Even though I've only seen an hour's worth of Resident Evil's HD treatment, I'm extremely grateful Capcom went to such lengths to include the original version, rather than making their improvements mandatory. In this case, though, the changes make for a more accessible game, even if they might conflict with director Shinji Mikami's vision. It's becoming increasingly rare to see so much attention given to bringing older experiences to the HD era—and few games deserve this treatment more than 2002's Resident Evil. If you missed on the original due to its Nintendo exclusivity, early 2015 will be your chance to see why fans of old-school survival horror haven't stopped talking about it for over a decade.