E3 2018 Quick Asides: Resident Evil 2 Remake
Revisiting Familiar Survival Horror with Style
Resident Evil 2 for the PS1 was the first “survival horror” game I ever played. I remember this experience distinctly as some friends (Allan M. and Danny K.) and I rented it and tried playing it the way we had all been trained to play games up to that point in history: kill everything, then advance. Of course, this is a one way road to a permanent game over and after multiple runs of barely making it to the police station with zero ammo or health items, we learned that running away, around and through zombie opposition was the preferred method of advancing mostly because resource management was the true challenge of this game. If you haven’t been playing conservatively by engaging in combat only when absolutely necessary, the game will effectively end your run by blocking you with boss creatures you won’t be able to eliminate because you had to use all those shotgun shells exploding meaningless zombie heads.
The Resident Evil or Biohazard franchise has undergone quite a few mutations over the years through various sequels, spin offs and a quality remake of the first game. Despite all of those efforts and a somewhat pandering shift towards more action based gameplay, RE2 remained a fan favorite for so many years that the gaming community has been demanding a remake with updated graphics and gameplay mechanics ever since the technology was available to do so. Well, we finally got it at E3 2018. Thank you Capcom for the impressive gameplay demo with some cut scenes and a release date of January 25th 2019. It was a long wait, but now the potential has been teased and it looks so good that I can’t help but share some thoughts.
First, the graphical upgrades look pretty good overall with some slight misses when it comes to character models. The biggest single visual upgrade has got to be the gore both in proper gameplay (accumulating bites and other gashes on Leon’s body) and in slight camera push-ins to semi-cinematic transitions (the first licker victim Leon runs across, ew!). Environments look beautiful while featuring far more dynamic uses of light sources from the outside through windows, dwindling sources from within the police station and of course, Leon’s trusty flashlight. Zombies look good, but they look even better when they take a few rounds of your preferred weapon. The battle damage they display all over their bodies is graphic, cumulative and by no means an accurate threat assessment. Even chopped up and bloodied zombies are capable of chewing your face off. Human survivors seem all right, but they look like a slightly lower resolution and level of detail than the rest of the environment. Leon looks like a decent recreation. Claire looks like she needs a digital makeover.
Gameplay has also seen an upgrade starting with the ability to move and shoot while aiming which has been brought over from RE6, the first time it was implemented in the series. I know that forcing the player to choose between shooting and moving added a sense of tension in the original games, but it also isn’t very realistic or practical in the context of a zombie apocalypse scenario. Shooting or running shouldn’t be the only 2 options in dealing with the undead. They could be pushed or punched or kicked or smashed. Speaking of melee, do any of you remember the all but useless combat knife from the original? It has made a bit of a comeback, not necessarily with a vengeance, more like with relevance. While you can aim and slash at zombies with the knife for minimal damage, it can also be deployed as a quick time trigger event to prevent a zombie lunge and bite much in the same way that using daggers and tasers worked in the remake of Resident Evil 1. But now you can retrieve and reuse the knife once the zombie has been felled because of course you should be able to. Knives don’t dissolve even if zombies do. Another neat little mechanic which was introduced during demo was picking up boards that you can blockade vulnerable windows where more zombies could potentially ambush you from the outside. In the original RE2 you could acquire electrical wiring to reactivate security shutters that accomplished the same thing so we’ll see what new future hazards can be avoided if blockades can be more strategically dispersed at the player’s whims. Also, closed doors are no longer impenetrable shields keeping that room of zombies you just ran past completely pacified until you reenter that room later. The one time loading screens were useful for gameplay and it no longer exists.
I truly appreciated Capcom’s effort to keep the game familiar, while clearly being new and improved. Nothing demonstrates this better than the level design. Some hallways, statues and rooms are all but exactly the same, but with new hallways, stairwells and back rooms they are connected with, giving the player more incentive to explore everything. There also seems to be more items available to reward you with exploring which may be thanks to a lower difficulty level creating more ammo and item spawns to show off for the demo. I can’t wait to see how else the RE2 remake remixes familiarity with brand new threats and traps along with story beats that further expand upon the mythology at that point in the story.
However, as brilliant and ambitious as this remake looks thus far, it still happens to be a reboot; an unapologetic mulligan to deliver, ostensibly, the same but with more flair and updated tech. The very principal of the reboot/remake in the film industry infuriates me, but has yet to elevate beyond a minor annoyance in video games because, in general, they have delivered different products which have improved upon their original iterations. The RE2 remake seems to be continuing that trend. Yet I can’t help but wonder if we, the consumers are rewarding the bad habits of copy/paste entertainment just for that pure, but fleeting hit of nostalgia? I like to see progression in fiction; moving ahead to show what comes next at all costs and if that’s no longer an option, stop and start something new. Revisiting the old is nice for the memories every once in a while, but we should beware of the industry using it as a crutch for predictable profits rather than true innovation.
For instance, what if Capcom were to have taken all of the refined mechanics and graphics they poured into the RE2 remake and instead made RE8: Return to Raccoon City? What if the player had to return to a city wide crypt formerly annihilated by a nuclear strike that’s still irradiated, only partly reconstructed and housing even more fearful and deadly mutations because the T and G viruses are that damn hard to kill? At the center of it all is the police station in shambles revealing even more mysteries and horrors buried beneath it. Something like this could still happen in the future, it’s just too bad we won’t be getting it sooner because Capcom would rather reminisce than pioneer.