Spoiler Warning & a Disclaimer: This article contains discussion of Resident Evil 2 (Remake, 2019) including plot spoilers… it also contains the uninhibited ramblings of my Original Resident Evil 2 fanboy brain compartment. Please note that I do consider the remake to be a darn fine game and excellent re-imagining of the original.
The Resident Evil 2 Remake…
Henceforth known as the Re2Make… not to be confused with the REMake referring to the GameCube version of the original, or the HD remaster of that game the REMakeHD….
… is excellent!
It handles the original content with the care that such a widely beloved title deserves whilst managing to be an enriched journey back to that RPD Police Station. I have been captivated by the new experience; to see these locations brought back to life in such chilling ways, to see the characters grown though excellent writing and acting, and to see the genre of survival horror so clearly the core of the gameplay has been a delight. It’s difficult to shortlist highpoints of the experience as such a fan of the original: That first rainsoaked approach to the Police Station was jaw dropping, the Lickers (undoubtedly my favourite enemy in the series) are terrifying, The original locations that have been recreated are full to the brim with detail and atmosphere are beautiful…. yes, it’s quite the experience all round. As a full package it does something I almost thought impossible; it pleases old fans, new fans, and total newcomers.
Unfortunately this leaves me with a couple of problems. Firstly reviewing the RE2Make is a hard task as I need to keep coming up with positive words to say about all the different facets of the game and secondly everywhere else is raving about it too and doing a much better job of the review process.
With all this in mind I’ve decided to go in a different… even dangerous… and controversial direction. I’ve decided to let that part of my brain that irrationally loves the original incarnation of Resident Evil 2 take charge of the typing and pick a few points of criticism for the RE2Make from the perspective of the original… trust me, it’s just something I gotta do.
To Summarise: These are not rational criticisms of the game; they are the whiny niggles that the Resident Evil 2 obsessed part of my brain managed to flag up whilst I was playing.
One of the enchanting parts of the original was its almost “point-n-click” attitude to puzzles and exploration; in the best tradition of those early adventure games very little direction is provided. In essence the entire game is one long puzzle: how do I move forward? and how do I survive? The RE2Make takes a modern approach by pinging up handy objectives at key points in the game: “Find Three Medals”, “Escape the Facility”, “Lead Mr. X on a merry dance around the Police Station” (I may have invented that last one). This “Current Objective” reminder is a construct designed for modern 80+ hour open-world behemoths like the Fallout’s and the Skyrim’s of this world, and in that setting they serve the essential function of keeping the player on task as they meander across whatever landscape adorns the box-art.
The problem is that the RE2Make is neither open-world or 80+ hours; objective markers just aren’t necessary here and I’d argue remove some of the exploration joy to be had in that first playthrough.
You Appear to be Human, Would You Like to Switch to Easy Mode?
I have no problem with easy modes being included in games; I’ve used them on a few occasions and their increasing presence allows a wider audience to appreciate games. What I didn’t appreciate was being asked if I wanted to switch to easy mode after only failing a section twice! Yes, twice!
Oh, I’m sorry RE2Make that I didn’t nail the psychic alligator escape in the first two runs!
The annoyance was amplified when it didn’t stop asking in subsequent sections; I would have preferred a small note on the game over screen letting the player know that it is a game option that can be switched on at any time. Sure, maybe my veteran Resi-status should have steered me better through those boss encounters, but I also enjoy the struggle and having some chunks of flesh delicately removed by William Birkin is all part of that.
Just like… 5% of Mr. X…
The way Mr. X (or the Tyrant) has been re-imagined for the RE2Make is almost flawless and in many ways has completed a pleasing loop of this type of relentless perusing entity. The original saw ol’ trenchcoat-features popping up periodically through the B-scenario at unexpected moments and this inspired the more aggressive pursuit by Nemesis in the third game. I’ve mentioned before that I felt as though some of those elements inspired Jack Baker’s relentless pursuit in Resident Evil VII and to see that kind of ever present menace making it back to the RE2Make puts a smile on my face. Like so many players, I found myself heart-racing trying to complete a puzzle as I heard him in the next corridor or blindly running through rooms trying to make some distance between us (usually straight in to the claws of a licker). He is undoubtedly a success….
… like 95% of the time…
That final 5% he’s just an annoyance. Those moments where knocking him to his knees just doesn’t give you quite enough time to gather all the objects in the room so you let out a sigh and burn through a load of ammo to do it again, or where he just waits patiently for you to politely finish getting mauled by a group of zombies before he clobbers you across the room. It is such a fine line, but when a scary entity becomes annoying then it needs to be reeled in.
Ada Wong’s Magic Hacking Gun
Whilst it’s set in 1998, I’ve always felt Resident Evil 2 occupied something of an alternative history timeline; the typewriters, this Gothic police station, dark wood furnishings, and banker’s lamps. The RE2Make once again captures that feel in the police station superbly and I’m overjoyed that the characters didn’t unexpectedly pull out a smartphone at any point.
…. Side note here, the ‘Noir’ version of the game (if you have access to it) might very well be the best way to play. The character costumes and B&W filter just.. works… in this setting.
Walking proudly hand-in-hand with this is the clunky mechanical feel to the puzzles including wooden gears, cranks, valve handles, and that satisfying thunk as some piece of a mechanism falls in to place.
… and this is why the inclusion of Ada Wong’s magical hacking gun feels so out of place. This sci-fi doohickey visualises cables and electrical boxes through walls and lets her “hack” them to do… ‘something’… usually reroute power or activate a device. It feels too convenient and somehow ‘lazy’, like the designers couldn’t come up with anything better than a far-fetched sci-fi tool. I understand she’s supposed to be a well kitted-out spy, but having to follow rusted cable trunking to find a control box, ripping off a metal front panel, and twisting wires together would have just been so much more in keeping with the tone of the game.
Lack of A & B Scenario Inter-Connectivity
The idea of the A & B scenarios in the original Resident Evil 2 struck me as one of the great narrative tools used to tell the complete story. Some things didn’t make sense in the A scenario until you played the B scenario to see the story from the other’s viewpoint (this is most apparent in the closing scenes of the game). Likewise your route through the game changed a certain amount; for example in the B-scenario you enter & leave the lab via a different route. There are also physical effects of the A scenario visible in the B scenario: damage to the train on the freight elevator from the A scenario Birkin encounter, the need to recall the freight elevator as it’s already been lowered, and even one moment where you need to decide in the A-scenario which item to leave for the character in the B-scenario. It wasn’t perfect, there were still many puzzles that you needed to solve in both scenarios and it’s never quite explained why you don’t bump in to the other character more often, but in general Capcom made a good attempt at having interwoven stories where one wasn’t complete without the other.
I was hoping to see that taken to the next level in the RE2Make, but I was disappointed. The B-scenario is a slightly shortened version of the A with a different entry point to the police station and ramped-up difficulty (mostly due to Mr. X being in residence from the start). Of course each character has their own plot differences (due to their designated ‘partner’) and some variation in route around the latter half of the police station, but there’s very little evidence of the threads being interwoven and far too many blatantly nonsensical moments. To give a small handful of examples: In both A and B scenarios there are major battles with William Birkin in the same three locations and, despite these all being highly destructive, there is no evidence of the A-scenario fight during the B-scenario encounter in the same arena; Mr. X appears fully intact late in Leon’s scenario despite having his trenchcoat and most of his guts ripped out much earlier in Clarie’s scenario; oh, and how could I forget, we see Annette Birkin die in two entirely separate locations under two entirely different circumstances. The only real link are a couple of flimsy notes that the first character leaves the second (that we don’t see them write) and it feels like a missed opportunity given the way the original set this idea in motion so well.
The RE2Make does something pretty clever around the point the protagonists leave the Police Station: It takes a boss enemy from the original game, gross-ifies it even more, and turns it into an imposing standard enemy. The “Lesser-G’s” as they’re (sort of) known are the modern day take on the G-Imago boss from the original and it comes packaged with a little more explanation that we ever got back in ’98; the game clarifies that they are formed when a G-Virus monster tries to infect a human with incompatible DNA. The lesser-G’s play around in the sewer water, always ready to pounce, poison, release their spawn, and just generally be terrifying underground entities…
… hang on, isn’t this stepping on the toes of the giant spiders who also hang out in the sewer sections of Resident Evil 2 and poison wayward travellers?…
Well, it would be… if the RE2Make had any spiders in it! Yes, the lesser G’s have entirely replaced the spiders in the sewer sections and, no matter how good the replacement, as one of the iconic enemies from those early games I can’t help but be disappointed that the gentle tell-tale low-frequency thumping of our eight-legged friends isn’t echoing around the sewers in the latest version of the game.
Locations After the Police Station
The RPD police station is the iconic location in the original game and (as I’ve mentioned) I can’t fault its re-imagining in the RE2Make. Turning to the locations after the police station however (sewers, lab) it does feel as though the relationship with the core material is less rigid and I think the RE2Make may have missed a few great locales because of this. The only directly identifiable sewer location in the RE2Make is that weird hydraulic bridge, but given its puzzle solving potential I was disappointed to see it relegated to a simple “flick switch, lower bridge” type of use. I had at least expected to see the door behind the waterfall make the cut.
Moving on from the sewer section, the RE2Make combines the suspended cable car and the cargo lift in to a single inclined cable car as the descent method to the lab which also eliminates the original’s short, but memorable, factory section. Losing the factory may not seem like a big deal, but it’s both distinctive and crops up in Resident Evil Zero (although I enjoyed how the cargo elevator was re-purposed in the closing stages of Claire’s scenario).
Finally the lab takes on a new “hyper-clean-space-station” sort of vibe which I guess I’m fine with, but misses out the moth-room and the fingerprint-room (another missed A & B scenario interaction) which are two of my favourite lab locations.
I give Capcom credit for trying to pull the RE2Make in to different territories in these latter stages, it’s as though they’re saying “Ok, you’ve had your fanservice helping in the police station, now we’re going to mix it up”, but my fanboy side doesn’t entirely support the decision.
I guess there are going to be people out there who agree with me and those who disagree and honestly the point here is really to point out one thing: When it comes to the RE2Make it’s not so about trying to work out which version is “better”, but to appreciate that Capcom have made it a different game to the original – and that’s a good thing. There are so many reasons that I love the original and I’ve demonstrated that I can use that to easily pick out faults when I hold the RE2Make up to the impossible nostalgia-vision-ideals of how I perceive the original. Likewise I could just as easily spin-on-a-dime and reel off just as many aspects of the RE2Make that put the original to shame. My biggest worry with this release is not that it would be a failure, but that its success would overshadow the original …
… maybe that’s why I felt it necessary to devote most of this article to picking holes in it…
With that itch unsubtly scratched I’ve been thrilled to see the reactions to this new game all over social media. It deserves the praise it’s been getting and I can relax in the knowledge that it’ll undoubtedly introduce a new generation of gamers to Raccoon City and that special brand of Survival Horror.
… oh, and if anyone from Capcom is reading this please please please… make “Resident Evil Noir”