Capcom certainly didn’t cut any corners with its remake of Resident Evil 2. It’s a re-imagination that exudes quality in every aspect of its design, from the polish of its graphical engine to the dozens of small but clever changes to its overall composition.
As the practice of repackaging once-popular games with fancy new graphics looks set to become an industry staple, Resident Evil 2 stands as perhaps the finest example of the trend so far.
OK, it doesn’t really have much competition, but it’s still a weighty compliment considering how impressive games like Shadow of the Colossus, Crash N. Sane Trilogy, and the Spyro Reignited collection are. Perhaps the big point of difference is that the scale of the challenge was substantially harder for Capcom.
Remakes exist where developers can rely on the appetite of gamers to re-consume beloved brands. Resident Evil 2 ticks that box, certainly, but leaning on brand power alone was never going to be enough for Capcom to make it a global success capable of transcending audiences old and new.
The original game needed a huge amount of work to make it palatable in 2019 –far too much to simply focus on updating aesthetics and controls. Of course, Capcom could have just opted for another remake-style overhaul of the graphics, using the same game design as the original, but that would have left too many newcomers isolated.
The scale of the task would have been daunting, certainly, but doubly so given that the PS1 Resident Evil 2 heavily relied on antiquated mechanics to actually create its survival horror experience.
Unfortunately, fixed camera angles, tank controls, and limited saves just aren’t acceptable design features in contemporary video games. And the scarcity of ammunition, emphasis on inventory management, and the obtuse nature of Resident Evil puzzles aren’t familiar to contemporary video game players.
In conceptualizing a full remake, then, Capcom risked diluting Resident Evil 2, and the entire notion of 90s survival horror was arguably incompatible with conventions that govern modern game design video in 2019.
But they’ve handled it brilliantly, answering both of those concerns in emphatic fashion.
Not only did Capcom find a way to replicate the sense of oppression caused as a byproduct of the original’s wonky controls and old-fashioned design, I think the positive reception to Resident Evil 2 serves to highlight some misguided conclusions about the sort of games players in 2019 are attracted to.
I’m a huge fan of the way darkness is used in the remake. The original Resident Evil 2 was a terrifying game, but with the games’ controls and its confusing map fighting you at every step, there was no need for dull lighting. Outdoor alleyways, dingy sewers, and even the cold hallways of Umbrella’s lab were lit up like a Christmas tree.
But introducing that darkness to the equation doesn’t just make the game spookier, it serves to translate the way in which the fixed camera angles of the original obscured player vision. It’s equally disorienting but feels totally slick and modern.
In combination with the game’s tight corridors and the necessity to score headshots on zombies, any advantage of the over-the-shoulder camera and smooth shooting mechanics in the remake is taken away from the player. The tension is created without removing agency from the player in this simple but effective way.
Puzzles have been revamped in the remake; they’re much simpler now and rightly so. Even a diehard Resident Evil 2 fan can admit the obtuse nature of the original puzzles was too much back in 1998, let alone 2019. And yet, they too were part of the equation in creating this sense of disorientation and confusion that was such a mainstay of the PS1 trilogy.
But here, too, Capcom has been clever in finding a way to create that same dynamic to the gameplay in a modern way. The Tyrant, who I’ve seen many lamenting on social media for being too relentless, functions as a way of making puzzles and navigation harder without having to bamboozle players with overly complex solutions.
On the one hand, the puzzles are simplified, but executing them is just as exhausting by adding this new element to the mix.
But perhaps my biggest takeaway from the buzz around Resident Evil 2 is just how successful this largely abandoned style game design has proven in 2019. In an industry swamped with sandbox games, endless questing, and plenty of waypoints to hold our hands, I hope other developers take heed of both the interest among gamers in this sort of gameplay package and the potential it still has to offer.
Resident Evil 2 isn’t just exciting because it’s a revamped version of a hugely popular game. It’s exciting because it’s the sort of gaming experience we don’t get any more, where every gameplay session means forward progress and something new to discover and unlock.
Forty-minute play sessions of Resident Evil 2 produce more memorable moments than three or four-hour sessions of many modern games. There’s something about its dynamic, between the inventory management and exploration, that mitigates repetition from the gameplay loop.
It certainly helps that the game is only seven hours long, of course. But my hope is that other developers take heed of not just how well Capcom have remade Resident Evil 2 but how well some of its older, inherent design features seem to have been received. Perhaps it’s time to look to the past to help move the industry forward.
You can check out our review of Resident Evil 2 for more detailed impressions of its gameplay.