Resident Evil 2 (2019) and the trouble with awesome remakes

TL;WR: The Resident Evil 2 remake is a literal triumph both in contemporising a story and from the ground up ensuring it is visually and technically dazzling whilst staying true to its roots and going some to prove that good level design does not age. HOWEVER, I am a narky bastard who loves the crap acting and B-movie monsters of the original. Bah!

Twenty years ago (probably eighteen by the time I played it), I shat my pants playing Resident Evil 2 on the original Playstation. In January they released the remake and I shat myself all over again (but rest assured and don’t you worry (girlie), I’ve changed my undergarments more than once in the last two decades).

The Resi 2 remake trailer: One’s pants have never been wetter, if you’ll pardon the French.

The opening of the remake sets the scene perfectly. We find ourselves on the outskirts of Racoon city at a petrol station, which provides for an (albeit prompt and linear) introduction to the zombies and acts as a means to unhinge you. A trial-by-fire of sudden and overwhelming enemy numbers and a lesson in how little impact a handgun and handful of bullets have on them. This new environment expands the world of the original, while giving you that pre-zombie moment to catch your breath and learn how to handle Leon or Claire before it all goes bonkers on the city streets. It also gives you time to appreciate how far things have come in terms of technology. Backdrops are no longer flat and static and characters are fluid with moving lips and postures that don’t suggest they’re all divas or constantly handing out or flaunting key cards (check out the ’98 version of Marv the cop aka the bloke who says: “here… take this keycard”). It feels pretty real, which makes it all the more scary. The original game immediately threw you into the burning wreckage-strewn street surrounded by zombies which felt kinda harsh, but I suppose you couldn’t argue with its reasoning; it is after all, survival horror.

Scenario: you make it to the police station. Just. The younger, thinner, less-wrinkly you from 20 years ago says “oh thank god,” the wisened, greyer “now” you recalls all the shit and terror that’s to come and says “this is only the beginning.”. It may be Leon Kennedy’s (seemingly perpetual) first day on the job but it’s certainly not your first zombie rodeo. You sip strong tea, or something stronger. Swallow hard. Maybe let off a little depending on your bowl stability under stress. “Shit just got real,” you may well find yourself saying. Only it’s scarier than twenty years ago – you can’t see what’s coming. It’s familiar enough for you to think it is but it’s not the same. The lights are more atmospheric, you can’t tell which of the zombies on the floor is dead and which is going to take a chunk out of your ankle (they no longer move their heads about while lying unconvincingly against a painted 2D backdrop), and when Mr X goes down, he just catches his breath and then keeps on coming. You try to do the library puzzle while outrunning him. You hear his footsteps through the walls. You remember what terror feels like when he squares up to you from around a corner. That fear you felt before you became desensitized by all the horror films you’ve seen over the years suddenly falls away. You almost pass an organ when the Licker tries to take off your head in the corridor you’ve been avoiding since the first time you visited, but now need to cos you’ve now got the stinking bleedin’ thingemy key and can access the sodding whatsit room. You can now collect and strategically plank up windows to keep the ghouls out – a really nice touch that works well until you run out and they spill through in their hordes. And so on and so forth. It’s ruddy brilliant.

The spiders were flippin’scary, but nowhere to be seen in the remake.

Scenario: You catch your breath and run into a gun shop (a “Kendo” gunshop, no less), “But don’t you worry girlie!” pervy, shifty, poorly-acted, podge of a gunshop owner isn’t in. Instead it is some paranoid bloke who was just looking after his daughter, who’s been zombified and …well… not a lot was added by adding this, really (99.9% of Youtube comments do not agree woth me). Part of me wanted a remake shitty acting and all. I suppose that’s the less fashionable approach, mind. Also: why isn’t this at the start? Where’s the chubbin’ basketball court? Why don’t I sod off and play the 1998 original? All valid questions.

“Spaced”: Resident Evil 2, this episode, and Edgar and co’s love for monster-movies became the inspiration for Shaun of the Dead

I’m heartened that not long after this you’re tearing through the sewers and being chased by a giant crocodile. I’d have rioted if the crocodile had not been included. Of course I would have, we need to stand up for justice and his or her omission would have been the final straw (“down with this sort of thing!” to quote the Father Ted placard). So if they keep anything in, it should be Mr/Mrs/Mx Crocodillo. What about the giant moth, though? And the terror I felt at knowing I’d exited the Police Station and evaded Tyrant (for now) only to be confronted by giant spiders in the sewers! Wait. WHAT. CLUCKING. SPIDERS?! To be honest I didn’t at first notice the missing creatures and supposed they may even crop up later after Birkin pippets some of the virus in a sachet of spiders he keeps in his pocket and chucks them into the sewer because he’s a prick like that. I also considered there may simply be different enemies in the Claire scenario. Then I read there weren’t any frikkin’ spiders or moths and they were axed as they were deemed too B-movie-ish. Boo.

Original Resi 2: The giant moth, bless her.

Smelly bin-juice zombies and giant eye puddings, that’s all we got in the sewers, making this section slightly less memorable. Wait – giant eye Puddings?!* Aren’t THEY** a bit B-movie-ish? The Lab/facility bits were extremely atmospheric and in many, many ways the Resident Evil 2 remake surpasses the original in this respect (though this may be doing a bit of a disservice to an original that’s two decades old). However, I missed the “Ivy” Triffid-like enemies that look like mini Plant 42’s from the first, mansion-bound game rather than belching plant-men lifted from the Girl with all the Gifts/Stranger Things/Annihilation/The Last of Us/something else from the past decade. Slow, powerful plant monsters in this fast world of ours should all be Triffids, in my opinion. I am, of course, a classic case of Bah humbug, and the developers worked hard to bring enough of the original but make some new stuff – and probably stuff that works better for today. I only wish there’d been a couple of new/vintage enemy types near the end instead of more Lickers and zombies. Mr X/Tyrant and Birkin are lush, but in many of their forms they’re pretty much both big, angry (near-)unkillable bipedals.

This is probably more what I was aiming for, or praps I should truck off and play the ’98 version. I clearly can’t move on.

I also felt a little let down that the constraints of the original were still there – for instance, once you’re in the police station there’s no going back outside, and once you take the train that’s it too. It would’ve been a bold and elegant move if you could literally retrace your steps to the beginning of the game and back, as it is all pretty much linked anyway. I know the level designers would argue that this would take out the challenge of only having one chance at a collectable, but must I replay the same game over and over to be considered any good at the game, when I’m clearly too busy wetting myself? twenty years ago I had that sort of free time. These days sadly I have considerably less of it. The cynic inside me says they ran out of time/inclination to create giant spiders, moths and crows for a game that by today’s standards is relatively short, which I imagine is reflected in the price. I realise Capcom are intetested in exploring more remakes, so perhaps they’ll expand on Resi 3, which was more city-based and I’d imagine less well remembered, though I played it to death.

More “Spaced”: I couldn’t find the exact scene with David Walliam’s “Vulva”, but there’s a point where after eating Twiglets Tim punches him/her before uttering Leon’s immortal line from Resident Evil 2: “There’s no reason for us to stay any longer than we have to. Let’s split up look for any survivors and get out of here.”. Advice you should obviously never take in a zombie breakout. Also a line that sadly did not make the Resi 2 remake, and to someone who hadn’t watched Spaced back in the day, these lines would be completely lost if not for the direct video game clip earlier in the episode. Bless the writers and their forward thinking.

Arguably there’s even worse acting in this, the original game (and by that I refer to Resident Evil err 1). There’s a much longer version of this out there I watch sometimes when I’m down as it makes me laugh lots.

I know, I know, this is a remake, not a remaster, but I can’t help feeling a teeny bit short changed on nostalgia for the cutting of enemy types rather than keeping them in or even additions. This and some location quibbles aside -which let’s face it, won’t affect you unless you played the original and even then you may still not be bothered by- the game is incredibly compelling and I’ve not felt so scared in many years.

* Possibly not their official title
** I hate it when people type in all-caps on the Tinternet, don’t you?

Other remakes what I’ve played: I’m sure the correct answer is “a few”, but my memory can be lousy. Tomb Raider Anniversary springs to mind, which was good in my opinion, but not great. For me, too much was changed and the bosses were reduced to mashing the right buttons in the right places, taking much of the fun out of fighting them. That was a really poor decision. Abe’s Oddysee: New and Tasty is brill in both looks and playability, and the only reason I couldn’t play past the first level (I will pick it up again someday) is because I realised I’d killed a bunch of workers by leaving an area I couldn’t then get back to. These days I can’t handle that sort of thing. At least from what I can remember it’s almost a carbon-copy of the game I played back when we first got a PSX for Christmas, but with updated graphics, music, etc (we traded in The Lost World: Jurassic Park for Abe as it was difficult to the point of being impossible to enjoy). I’m obviously stoked about the Medievil remake coming for Halloween and I’m genuinely interested to see what happens with Resident Evil – remakes and otherwise, in the future.

Castlevania (2017-)

I must admit I’m guilty of noticing Castlevania a couple of times while listlessly swiping around Netflix’s carousels and thinking – I bet that will be shit. Which is a shame, because if it was great, well, that’d be really great. And then I found something else to watch. Turns out, it is really great, and I’m so glad I eventually took a punt. I didn’t even Google it beforehand, which was quite refreshing. I know you should give everything a chance, but if it’s been particularly derisive and only in the end picked up a score of nineteen percent from an aggregate of everyone ever, I guess it’s wholly possible it could actually be pants and not worth one’s time.

The fab season one trailer.

See I grew up watching my brother play Super Castlevania IV on the SNES and then playing the incredible Symphony of the Night on the first Playstation (this entry along with 1994’s still-fantastic “Super Metroid” spawned the “MetroidVania” sub-genre of games). I subsequently played some of the other Castlevania entries. Apparently the Netflix story loosely follows Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989). I’ve never bothered to learn the Castlevania chronology as (and I fully expect to be lynched by villagers with pitchforks/angry fans for saying so) the story has never been the high point of the series. The voice acting in Symphony, for example, is quite simply tripe. It’s funny in the way that the original Resident Evil 1 and 2 dialogue is funny. OK, OK, so the newer entries may be bloody fantastic for all I know, but –

“YOUR WORDS ARE AS EMPTY AS YOUR SOUL!”

Thankfully the Netflix show does not follow this trend. For me, the humour works really well, to accompany the already stellar voice performances – particularly from the three leads: Trevor Belmont (voiced brilliantly by Richard Armitage of Spooks and The Hobbit fame), Dracula (Graham McTavish), Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso) and later on Alucard (James Callis) joins the fun.

For instance, we meet an exceedingly grumbly and drunk Trevor Belmont, “I’m Trevor fucking Belmont and I’ve never lost a fight to man nor fucking beast!”, he brags, before being hit over the head by a drunk in a bar and effictively taken out. We then have a hungover, beaten and in-need-of-breakfast version of Trevor Belmont attempting to infiltrate Gresit – a shithole not improved by Dracula’s dark forces, who appear when a certain priest goes a step to far against the man himself. Ourkid Vlad is a superb ball of burning anger and fragility, and despite the simplicity of him going all evil evil bad bad and wanting everyone dead, he has a definate likability and vulnerability, particulaly exercised in the scenes with his wife Lisa Tepes, voiced by Emily Swallow. She is an excellent addition to the cast as a calming voice of reason, along with Sypha, who kicks more booty than the rest of them put together and in season two we are introduced to the fantastically cruel and manipulative vampiress Carmilla. Another major noteworthy character is the castle itself, which looks and feels staggeringly beautiful, and as if it holds many secrets yet to be revealed.

Both the visuals and animation are excellent, and one of the really cool things is that the writer Warren Ellis doesn’t constantly shoehorn boss fights or nods to the video games. They do crop up, but when they do they fit, and they feel rewarding rather than forced.

While the first season has only four swift episodes, the second coming from 2018 is twice as long. A third season, apparently greenlit before the second appeared on Netflix, will be ten episodes in length.

The second series builds on the first, with my only criticism being that some of the characters spend rather a lot of time in a (albiet pretty cool) library. Otherwise, compulsive viewing.

Keep an eye on the cast, air date, etc of season 3 (spoilerlicious).

The Shelter: part 1

I figured it was high time I posted something story-related, but given that I’m just trying to output this year rather than worry too much about what “it” is, I’m not going to beat myself up too much. I’ve told myself I’ll have a big old break until after I’ve moved (hopefully within the next two months).

Colour palette
Shelter assets
Digital assets from my project – “The Shelter”, which is in its early stages.

I’ve been concentrating in a big way on integrating the things I love into the job I love; that being motion graphics, animation and storytelling. One of my big passion projects (and I’m allowed to work on for training purposes at work which is amazing) is “The Shelter” – something I started a couple of years back. It’s basically a highly-detailed visual created in Adobe Illustrator that takes you through an artist’s impression of one of my story’s key environments (the artist being “Jack Knife”, the titular character from the first book). Things need tweaking and some textures adding, but the groundwork is done. The plan is to develop this into a full-blown animation, in a classic 2D video game sort of way, which fits the vibe of the story and it’s electronic elements, including the popular music genre of the setting: ‘Victronica’.

The Shelter 2
More assets from “The Shelter”. These items make up the characters rooms and areas of the wider world.

I’ll update here as the project progresses.