For those old enough to have played Resident Evil 2 the first time around (or perhaps later in one of its numerous ports), there will be a lot about Capcom’s ground-up remaster that will feel familiar. There will also be a lot that is wholly new. In updating a twenty year old game for a new generation, there were certain things that had to give. All of these things were design choices that were the hallmarks of designing a horror game in the late 90’s — the fixed camera angles, zombie movement, the cumbersome aiming. These things were for many representative of what made early entries in the series special.
The updated Resident Evil 2 has more in common with Resident Evil 4, I think. The camera is thrown over protagonist Leon Kennedy’s right shoulder and is adjustable with the right stick. Shooting is controlled in the manner of most third-person shooters. Doors simply open and close, there’s no stopping for a dramatic first-person shot of the door opening while the game loads the next hallway. Even the zombies seem to have gotten a bit of an upgrade — their animations, and particularly their facial expressions, are genuinely unnerving. When they look at you its with something that feels wholly inhuman. After years of being saturated by their presence in modern popular culture, what a novel thing to scared of the humble zombie again. That it took Resident Evil 2 to do it is somehow fitting.
This is not to suggest that everything has recieved a fresh coat of paint. There are elements of Resident Evil 2 that have not been updated. Leon remains the world’s okayest marksman even at close range. You still only have eight inventory slots and the larger storage containers around the Racoon City Police Dept. building are not universal. I didn’t get to try it on my demo build, but it looked like you still needed to find typewriter ribbons to save your game.
I’m glad to see all of these things make the cut because they’re all examples genuinely good horror design. They serve to ratchet tension and force the player to think seriously about their resources. In the original Resident Evil 2 on the PSOne, running for your life was always a valid option and a great way to preserve the minuscule amount of available bullets in your pocket. Unless you got yourself stuck in a boss fight you hadn’t adequately prepared for, you never had to stick around if a situation got too hairy.
Visually, Resident Evil 2‘s remaster already looks like a thing of beauty. Current-gen hardware has been very kind to the game, its environmental design, lighting and sound all already above reproach. Rather than looking a bit deserted as it did in the PSOne original, the Raccoon City Police Dept. now looks as though the cops on duty during the outbreak put up a hell of a fight. One they lost, certainly, but not before turning their building into a barbarous zombie obstacle course.
My view of Raccoon City was only a short one, only 20 minutes or so, but it was more than enough to whet my appetite for more. I look forward to a full return trip when the game launches in January.
Resident Evil 2 is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC on January 29, 2019. Many thanks to Capcom Australia and Turn Left Distribution for having us by the booth.