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.

Medievil (2019 remake)

Sometimes I feel like I’m doomed to retred the corridors of youth and a litany of remakes in every conceivable format isn’t helping. Like Gary King in The World’s End, every so often I crave debauchery – in my case sitting on my tod playing computer games. I was so cool. Still am.

Medievil (1998 original) opening.

This latest in a long line of rehashing the past sees one (literally) bone-headed knight ‘Sir Daniel Fortesque’ resurrected once more in a remake of the 1998 PSX smash Medievil which criminally only spawned one equally awesome sequel in the form of Medievil 2, two years later. I stand by that one of the best things mum ever did was to encourage me to buy Medievil over Tomb Raider 3 with my birthday cash, which though good couldn’t touch Medievil’s imagination and humour.

Medievil sees Sir Dan as the “hero of Gallowmere” having defeated Zarok the sorceror and his evil army of the dead. Dan’s praised in history books, while he did in fact die from an arrow-to-the-eye at the battle’s first charge. One hundred years later and Zarok has returned to raise the dead and possess the good people of Gallowmere (who you meet in the “Sleeping Village”, a level later in the game).

The game’s world map of “Gallowmere”

Back in those days (twenty or so years ago – eek!) I only had my pocket money and relied on birthdays and christmases or saving up in order to buy games. Demo discs with the Official Playstation Magazine got played to death while I prayed to possess the full length games one day. For a long time, I could only dream of what came beyond Medievil’s graveyard-based first few levels.

The levels, it turns out, are varied and iconic, making it hard to pick a favourite from the twenty or so stages across the world of Gallowmere. To begin with you’re treated to Dan’s Crypt and the graveyard levels and then you scale “Cemetary Hill” to “The Hilltop Mausoleum” and the first of the game’s notable boss battles. The enemies like the locations, are varied, interesting and a ton of fun. Evil scarecrows line the corn fields and pumpkin monsters shamble through the gorge. Rooks and demons prey on “The Enchanted Earth” and there’s even a galleon complete with skeleton crew, which sails across the clouds en route to “Zarok’s Lair”.

A great retrospective video on the first two games and the PSP remake of the original, which I never had the chance to play, but may watch through as a Youtube gameplay video (assuming there is one). The few lines of dialogue they included in this video made me laugh out loud on the bus to work!

There are puzzle elements, stand-outs being the game’s wacky floating brain monster, cog and giant eyeball infested penultimate level “The Time Machine” and Jack of the Green’s fiendish riddles in the “The Asylum Grounds”. This in turn takes you to the bonkers innards of the asylum, and like “The Gallow’s Gauntlet”, provides for one of the game’s fightier levels.

There’s a wonderfully kooky and creepy score to accompany the game’s vibe and inspirations – a heedy combination of Monthy Python, Tim Burton (particularly A Nightmare Before Christmas) and old video game Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts.

Why everyone’s so excited about Medievil and the return of Sir Dan!

Medievil’s voice acting is also superb and very funny, with regional and posh english accents galore: particular favourites being cockney fairies in “The Ant Caves” (a claustrophobic level where you’re shrunk to their size) and a Sean Connery-esque dragon in “The Crystal Caves”, a small but beautiful level filled with subteranian traps and a rainbow of colour. Should you be clever enough to grab a chalice during a level, you’ll be treated with a trip to “The Hall of Heroes”; in which you’ll get to talk to a statue who’ll first mock your past failings, and secondly gift you with something (weaponry, health, etc) to help you in your quest. Much of the voice acting talent happens in this hall, giving you good reason to discover secrets on levels and revisit to complete them at a later stage.

Great insight into the Devs/creators and what they’ve done with things, hinting also that the remake will expand upon the original. It sounds like they’ve taken a lot of care over it, and it’s certainly looking lush!

Another awesome thing is that original co-creators Jason Wilson and Chris Sorrell have made what looks to be a rather splendid graphic novel “Medievil”, AKA “MediEvil: Fate’s Arrow”, which as detailed in the above retrospective video, covers the period before and after the original title with Sir Dan and the Princess using the time machine at the end of Medievil 2 to go back and fix things. This was to become the third entry in the franchise, but sadly never came to be. Hopefully the remake will do well, which will hopefully mean they’re up for a MediEvil 2 remake (a fantastic Victorian London-based romp and both harder and longer than the original). It would also be fantastic if there was a sequel and the comic book was not a final farewell.

I’m praying the game is bloody brilliant, of course, and that they don’t change it from the original too much. It’d be great if they added in some extra content, and perhaps the fabled Jabberwocky chase from the original (see a list of cut levels from the original). If “The Lake” doesn’t have the dreamy underwater tunnel section complete with swimming elephants, I riot!

Medievil will be released on PS4 on October 25th 2019. Just in time for Halloween!

Steampunky Games Part 1: Shadow Man

I thought I’d kick off a little series of video game articles with one that is very close to my heart – Shadow Man, a 1998 cross-platform horror game.

 

Shadow Man centers around a man named Michael LeRoi, who becomes a walker-between-worlds – Liveside, the land of the living and Deadside, the land of the dead. LeRoi/Shadow Man must stop Legion, the embodiment of evil in his race to aquire all of the “dark souls” scattered across both Liveside and Deadside. He plans to use them to power a great engine at the heart of a place called Aslyum, enabling him to inflict his undead followers on the people of Earth.

 

Asylum – an impressive structure devised by Jack the Ripper himself, is based on a painting of The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel (http://bit.ly/LXxA1R). For anyone who doesn’t know, the Tower of Babel was a biblical tower the people of Shinar part-constructed to get a better look at God and heaven. The big man got a little hot and bothered about this and so scattered the peoples of Shinar across the world, giving them (our forefathers, if you believe that), all different spoken languages.

 

Shadow Man not only features a vast building filled with steam, metal and fiendish traps, but also spooky Victorian trains and even London’s Down Street Station – a disused London underground station (http://bit.ly/XOtku – a great website on these).

You may also like to check out “London By Tube” by David Revill , a brilliant book explaining all of the London tube stations and their origins (http://amzn.to/N6BaGG).

 

As a PC game but also a Playstation 1 and N64 title, Shaodw Man looks pretty decrepit by today’s standards, but for plot, scope and level design, it still holds its own. I think any deserning urban fantasy, horror or steampunk fan would find it difficult not to appreciate the fiendish world Acclaim Teeside created.