(Warning: This blog post doesn’t contain scenes of explicit violence and gore…..but it may contain spoilers)
It was the Summer of 1998……and I had it all planned out. I was 18 years old and I’d recently finished my A Levels so I was rejoicing in the fact that I no longer had to trek across the Black Country each day to attend a stuffy Sixth Form College in Stourbridge. My Part Time job in a sports shop in the Merryhill Centre suddenly became a Full Time one, which meant I had loads of money all of a sudden. My friends and I had a holiday booked on a Mediterranean island. This, along with England winning the 1998 World Cup in France meant that everything was going to consist of bright lights, bright sights and true delights. As I was soon to discover, not everything we hope for in life comes to fruition. The holiday went ahead as planned but no, England didn’t win the World Cup.
I stood there, motionless like a zombie in my local pub at the end of the England vs Argentina game and I felt my bottom jaw start to tremble as David Batty missed our last penalty. The eyes of all the grown men around me wearing flags and war paint began to permeate. An enclosed room of alpha male sweat and tears was about to come tumbling down. Bright thoughts became encapsulated in a void of darkness that not even the females in the pub could console. They wandered off in their usual feline groups to the toilets with their all too familiar “its only a game babe” eyes and revealed their hidden relief that yes, another World Cup was over. As they did, the children of St George slammed down their pints of Stella in anger. Someone was to blame for this World Cup defeat and in perfect unison, every bar room jury across England came to a unanimous verdict; it was quite simply David Beckhams fault.
I’ve often wondered since what life would have been like for Beckham if social media had been around then. Life was different back in 1998. This thing called the internet was still considered alien and a bit of a hassle. And we all had new technological house bricks wedged in our pockets called mobile phones. DVD was unheard of and Playstations needed memory cards in order to save games. The idea of Wi-Fi and tablets would have been scoffed at.
I slumbered through the fire exit door to take my mind off Englands loss. A shot glass of fresh air hit me and I gained a moment of clarity that provided sustenance for my memory. As I watched the contents of my local pub disperse, my sadness turned to smiles as I remembered my latest purchase from HMV earlier that day. 1998 had been a great year for video games. There was Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid to name two, but tucked away in a fresh plastic bag beside my Playstation at home was a copy of another one that had been on my must play list for months. It was a game that would become regarded as one of the best sequels in video game history and would plant an even bigger seed for future dark gruesome horror games. And now in 2019 I’m experiencing the dark enjoyment all over again. I mentioned last month that January is dull and lack lustre but thanks to a recent game release, January 2019 became even darker. A survival horror remake of that same memorable game from Capcom I played throughout the Summer of 1998………Resident Evil 2.
In all honesty I don’t usually get excited about remakes. They’re usually just money spinners and there’s a sense of revisiting well-trodden ground. It also breeds a trail of thought that there could be a lack of new fresh ideas, especially when we’re dealing with a remake of a sequel. On the flip side we also need to remember that video game sequels shouldn’t be held in the same regard as Hollywood movie sequels. Quite often in the world of films, sequels aren’t usually as good as the original but in video games, its usually the opposite; sequels usually are significantly better than the original, for many reasons. Nevertheless, when it was first announced that Capcom were remaking Resident Evil 2, I had a smile on my face wider than a Cheshire Cat that had just “done the deed” with the sexiest tomcat on the block. Resident Evil 2, for many people, was not just one of the best games of its generation but it was a very important one for the genre that it represents. It re affirmed a desire worldwide for more survival horror games. I dare say that it was so good that people who weren’t gamers suddenly became gamers. Fans of horror movies for example. More adults would be going out and buying consoles, not for their kids but for themselves. There was a huge market for adult games and this sequel tapped into this niche and gave birth to not only a bona fide classic but also a highly successful franchise that’s spawned further successful sequels.
There was always something about the second game that struck a chord with fans though wasn’t there? It came with two discs for the choice of two characters, who were both new along with the environment, Racoon City. The fact that this took place in a city would have resonated instantly with most fans, since most gamers back then (and still are) working class people who live in urban towns and cities. This was a game that was no longer taking place in a mansion on some mountain retreat like its predecessor but in the places where we live and frequent such as the streets and the shops. We were thrown into a maze of abandoned vehicles, streets full of former humans from various professions staggering towards us upon sight, some with arms or legs missing, with their vocal chords slowly vibrating, mouths open ready to feed upon fresh meat.
Indeed, as a movie fan, this was one of the games I’d been waiting for my whole life. Survival horror had transferred itself from the B movies found on video rental shop shelves into the visions projected on TV from our consoles. As gamers we could now be in control of one of the main protagonists in one of the darkest nights in video game history. George A Romeros Dawn of the Dead may aswell have been placed in the same hands that now held our joypads. Its no surprise that fans had been crying out for Capcom to remake this for many years. What would it look like now, in a modern graphics engine?
For those of you who have never ever played the original, Resident Evil 2 is the story of new rookie police officer Leon S. Kennedy who is reporting in on his first day on the job, only to discover the whole city has been infected with some kind of ‘epidemic’ for want of a better word. He bumps into an out of towner called Claire Redfield who is in town looking for her brother Chris from the first game. The game takes us on a journey to not only escape the city but to find out what caused this unleashed bio hazard. The pair get split up at the start of the game and we follow their separate stories through (and under) the zombie infested city.
The decision to use a police officer as one of the main characters was a clever choice by Capcom. This gave them the perfect excuse to use a police station as the main setting of the game……. but why would that be important? Why not a hospital or a fire station? Or a college? What is it about the setting of a police station that made this game more memorable? What’s the significance? Well firstly, it wasn’t an ordinary police station. It had the guise of an official Government building with its double doors and long dark and almost gothic labyrinthian corridors. We discover in the recent remake, it’s a former museum that had recently been converted into a police station which nicely explains the old statues and the clocktower…………but secondly and more importantly, the sight of a torn apart police station instantly projects a sense of loss and desperation. A police station of any typical US town would be the last bastion of hope and sanctuary for any community in society……but there we are, as the player, exploring with a sense of trepidation, the desolated defeat of Racoon City’s first line of armed defence. The discovery of mortally wounded armed police officers promotes an intrinsic sense of no hope or any chance of survival. A sense of futile hopelessness and dread without any sense of sanctuary. A sense of isolation begging one question, “is help on the way?”
One of the greatest changes made to this game is the fact that any sense of safety has been greatly reduced and you always find yourself two steps away from being cornered. Whilst its easier now to navigate and walk around due to the loss of tank style controls, this is offset by the fact that the walking dead now have the ability to follow you into the next room. In the original game you always felt a sense of the outside world being shut out but this time around it’s a different. The zombies outside constantly remind you that they’re there and if the window isn’t boarded up they will climb through. They all have unique faces and features, different injuries and swaggers. If there’s a desk in the room between you, they won’t walk around, they will crawl over it towards you. They will mindlessly hoist themselves over stair banisters and fall down stair wells. Sometimes more than one will attack you simultaneously, taking off twice your health. They will trip over one other and their heads will sway from side to side making headshots more difficult to execute. But that’s the catch…..
Unlike other games, this remake is not quite as rewarding for those who make the effort with their accuracy. Most players will have a primordial instinct to go for the headshots in order to put a zombie out of commission but this time round you will have less luck. You can sometimes empty a whole clip of bullets into their head but they will still get back up a carry on coming at you. This gives the player a sense of helplessness and forces them to change their game. (I love the fact that Claire and Leon now spout out expletives and swear their heads off when this happens). The use of stealth becomes more important along with a change of tactics. It doesn’t take long for the penny to drop for most players…….I can’t help but echo the words of Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. “Go for the legs, its our only chance of stopping them”
That’s right, it’s safer to take out their ability to walk and then if you can, finish them off with your knife. The secondary weapons in this game are vital for survival and I include the flash grenades there. The flash grenades are sometimes ignored by players since they inflict no damage but don’t be fooled. They not only blind zombies but also the mutated boss fight who are ruthless. So ruthless in fact that the player is forced to save any bullets for them rather than use them on the zombies. The irony here is that the first boss fight can be defeated by only using a few knives with out firing a single shot.
Another huge difference with the remake is that the station is darker. It’s very easy to miss things in the corner of your eye whilst playing this remake since most of the players’ journey through the station requires use of a flashlight. For the remake (and maybe the original) I can’t help but guess that someone at Capcom must have visited US Police stations and had a guided tour through some of them to assist them with the conceptual art during preproduction. It kind of reminded me of the set used in John Carpenters Assault on Precinct 13. The attention to detail is a sharp as the teeth of the zombies. The reception desks, vending machines, the armoury, the back office white boards with case notes scribbled on them, the press room, the dog kennels for the canine unit….. I could go on. There are even spare sets of handcuffs lined up against the walls of one of the corridors. There’s the feeling of a sudden unscheduled abandonment during a normal hectic working day life and all that we’re left with is scribbled clues and gore ridden aftermath of the stations last stand. Its inhabitants now transformed and replaced with the walking ….and lying dead. We see the last remnants of the stations last attempts to barricade survivors of Umbrellas plague, be it chairs wedged under door handles or electrical components deliberately removed to jam shutters down. A futile struggle against a new unexpected and horrific enemy. Look carefully and you will see bullet holes in the walls and long claw marks along doors. During the heat of battle it’s even easy to miss the more blatant objects. During my first play through I completely missed the “Welcome Leon” banners hanging from the ceiling in his new departments’ office. One thing I did cotton onto however was the old style fat backed computer monitors. Although this was a 2019 remake, Capcom had chosen to keep the setting of the game in 1998 along with other elements of the original such Marvin, Ada Wong, Sherry, Chief Irons, the medallions and of course……. a valve handle. We can’t have a Resident Evil game without the appearance of a valve handle now can we? Oh, one thing I didn’t miss was the way that Leon and Claire rest the flashlight on their shoulders whilst reloading their weapons. That’s kind of cool.
The real star of the show in this remake is Mr X. He creates an unwanted tension in an already confined and claustrophobic setting. Whilst running away from him you can sometimes lose your bearings and stumble into a dead-end or into a group of zombies. The new up dated music has a respiratory feel to it whenever he appears. The style and speed of this music becomes synchronized with your increased anxiety as it appears to mimic his breathing as he ruthlessly pushes zombies aside in order to pummel you to death. In fact one could argue that the deliberate menacing design of the game reaches its climax where Mr X chases the player once the Lickers have also emerged in the game. The Lickers are blind and only react to sound. This forces you to stop running and try to walk around them…..but with the heavy footsteps of Mr X getting closer and closer behind you, what do you do? Once more, new tactics are called for and it delivers a totally new sense of survival horror never felt before.
The boss music along with the Mr X music is unfortunately the only good music in the game. All other instrumental music in the game is nothing to shout to the rafters about. This was done deliberately I feel, since Capcom gives the player the option to switch from the new music to the music used in the original 1998 version. (at a small cost) Does it work though? Can old music still work in a modern remake? Hell yes….. like nails in a coffin. The lobby music, the Stars Office theme and oh of course, the Save Room music. That’s right, after all these years, the original music is still effective. Another simple reminder of how great the original game was.
The sewer section of the game can be as quick or lengthy as you like depending upon how slick your inventory skills are. You can sometimes find yourself over encumbered with items and have to travel backwards and forwards to the save boxes. It’s a little tedious but that’s part of the challenge of the game. It’s vital therefore to collect the hipbags to increase your capacity. I must confess here however that I preferred Claires playthroughs since it gave the player more engagement with the streets, back alleys and parking lots which is something I believe this game could have done with more of. I thought that the orphanage section of the game was downright unnerving and creepy rather than dark and gory. This was a different kind of evil that meddled with corporate corruption fused with human abductions. And a human doll? What’s that all about? In Leons play though there was also the emotive cut scene with the gun shop owner and his daughter which is a back story that could be explored further. I would have liked to have seen more usage of the city streets and back alleyways and shops but instead we’re down in the dreary sewers and then doing a U turn back up to the station again.
The game utilises the new RE Engine and the graphics are state of the art with outstanding sound effects. It’s a carefully thought out and mostly flawless game. Whilst I would agree that this is one of the best remakes ever made, there were still a few bugbears. Resident Evil games have not been great with scripts over the years and I would have thought that this would have been a perfect opportunity to refresh its script and dialogue throughout the game. There were cheesy one liners which could have been discarded perhaps and maybe it would have been better to have seen more scenes and gameplay where Leon and Claire meet and fight cooperatively side by side. It’s almost as if the two characters forget about each other until the end .Then again the same can be said for the original and I guess Capcom wanted to stick to those roots. There were times where I thought Claires emotions and dialogue was out of synch with what was going on in the game. She would sometimes be all teeth and smiles rather than radiate any sense of fear. I thought that Ada Wongs costume design also made little practical sense. Why would she be wearing an evening dress and stiletto heels on a mission? The sunglasses didn’t work for me either. How would she be able to see in the dark? I also felt her segment in the game was a little boring.
Whilst I thought the Lickers in the remake were a vast improvement I can’t say the same for the dogs. They offered little challenge and at times their motion and animation was terrible. There were a few bugs with their AI too I felt. Often I would see some of them running against walls on the spot. I’m not a fan of the recently released DLC either. It doesn’t really add more to the story of the game. Its kind of like an added Arcade mode that’s just been thrown in there but maybe I shouldn’t moan, since it was free after all. I thought the alligator scene was a waste of time and just like the original I’m not a huge fan of the sewer section. By this point in the game the zombies have become less ubiquitous so we’re introduced to underwater mutations known as ‘G’ or at least that what I think they’re called. They look like unimaginative blobs with one eye but at least we didn’t get tarantulas.
I enjoyed the NEST sequence. It was the discovery of a new hidden world and again the feeling of a failed last stand as we see the remains of a final struggle. We discover the back story to William Birkin and his cold and miserable scientist wife. Again I found that Claires bosses were more enjoyable because we’re gifted the Minigun. Leons gun fight against the Mr X, err Tyrant, or whatever his name is, is just boring.
Could I look someone in the eye and recommend they buy this game? Yes, definitely. Its with out a doubt the best remake I’ve played and we need to remember that one of the main reasons this game was remade is because the fans asked for it. There’s a feeling that this was the game that Capcom always wanted to make back in 1998 but were technologically restricted. There’s definitely more focus on the survival rather than the horror though…..I would rather have seen more jumpy moments but you can’t have everything. (If you want more scares I would suggest to play the first Outlast game). I would advise players to try and obtain the “Infinite Knife” prior to attempting Hardcore mode. You can unlock this by shooting all the Mr Racoon bobble head toys found throughout the game, across both scenarios. You can’t say you’ve completed the game unless you’ve done it on Hardcore mode. Dem da rules innit?
But heres a thought…….I wonder if this remake will ever be released in VR? Oh Jeez……..
Thanks for reading!
An English Centrist – March 2019