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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.