Resident Evil 2 (2019): My first day in Raccoon City
Who composed this piece of music and how was he punished?
The Resident Evil series (much like many a classic gaming IP) has passed me by until now. I always knew they were the force that popularized the Survival Horror genre. But with the added caveat that they were full of meme-worthy voice acting, dialogue, and music choices. It also didn't help that (asides from RE4) the recent ones were either mediocre (RE5) or reportedly crap (RE6). I only started taking note of the series around RE7 and started taking notice when RE2 Remake happened. So here we are, my first Resident Evil game. The awesome remake that continues Capcom's remarkable tracks record.
The story follows the original pretty closely. Rookie cop Leon Kennedy finds himself stuck, in a zombie-infested city while on his first day at work, and Claire Redfield is looking for her missing brother. The two uncover the mystery behind the zombie outbreak while trying to survive. Each crosses over with each with little subplots. I cannot say how much it improves upon the original in regards to the individual story arcs.
As I have not played the original. I am not able to tell you if the relationship between Claire and Sherry is any better (or worse) then the original. I only have access to the plot summary. Now that we have that out of the way, I will say that narrative is very strong if intentionally silly. There is an air of camp amidst the serious tone and gore. But the camp does not damage the horror nor does it to the camp.
It's pretty stupid when you think about it
Why does Ada Wong look like she stepped off a 1998 fashion catalog? Why is she wearing high heels in a situation where she would have to run often for long periods? Mad Scientists injecting themselves with bioweapons that turn themselves and other people into monsters is perfectly rational and has no means of backfiring in any way. Why doesn't Claire just call Chris? Cell phones existed in 1998 (while not cheap) and would cost less than just turning up at her brother's place of work. She could have just called the police station and asked.
All of these aspects of RE2's story suggest an element of fun to the narrative. None of these would make any sense in a realistic story. There was no self-awareness (like the originals) RE2 would have been laughed out of the room. But with a quiet hint of knowing absurdity, it works to the story's advantage. It makes perfect sense that the police station was formerly a museum. And the emergency exit can be opened by finding three seals scattered around the police station.
Despite all of RE2's excellent tension, great characters, and masterful plotting, it understands the inherent absurdism in zombie fiction and runs with it. Creating a world that is slightly stupid, just a little bit silly. There is room for realistic Survival Horror narratives featuring zombies (Last of Us springs to mind), but there is room for absurdism, for enjoyably scary games in larger than life settings.
Claire and Sherry
I love the relationship these two have. Children characters (even more so in Survival Horror) are often relegated to McGuffins or worst yet, escort quests (ew). Sherry is not a brat who whines incessantly about everything but rather a scared little girl, ignored by her parents and trapped in a zombie hellscape. She is helpless in the way one expects a child to be helpless in a time of crisis. But she doesn't just scream and die, but rather tries to escape. Such as in the section where she tries to escape her captor. She also helps Claire out of the engine room after the first boss. She treats Claire with the respect a child would give to a friendly adult. A lot of the likeability comes through with the voice acting and the physical performances.
Claire's visible anger at Annett's neglect and callous disregard towards her daughter's life is potent. Sherry looks up to Claire and repeatedly thanks her for giving a damn about a strange little girl. I have to admit that by the end of the game, I wanted Claire to adopt Sherry (but it turns out at least for now that doesn't happen). Sherry and Claire's friendship through adversity and lost parents not only engages the player but also offers some relief to an otherwise violent and terrifying game. Sherry becomes the motivation for Claire without sacrificing character.
Terror of the inevitable
There is a theme embedded in the monsters, namely MR. X and the zombies, they will always keep coming. You might evade MR. X for now but he will always keep coming back, the zombies will always replace themselves sooner or later. As a result (among many other reasons) RE2 delivers a terrifying experience, it reminds you that you are never safe, that the threat cannot be stopped but only delayed.
In keeping with zombie fiction, the Undead, William Birkin, and Mr. X all personify the theme of the inevitable. Nothing ever stays dead or defeated, they will always keep coming back, and shooting them will only delay the inevitable. The zombies will eventually swarm the rest of America, all one can do, is slow it down. Like any good story with zombies, the horror is not the monster itself but the sheer endless, relentless march of death, wearing the visage of friends and loved ones. A reminder that death comes for everyone sooner or later.
The different paths
Admittedly I do wish Leon and Claire crossed paths more frequently than they did in the end product. There is some contrivance to that both Leon and Claire keep going to the same places at the around about the same time and yet always miss each other. There is a missed opportunity for the two to explore a dynamic through adversity. I understand that having the two keep together would have hurt the tension. And required some poor sod at Capcom to come up with an AI for Leon/Claire. But then again having Claire go to the same places as Leon for roughly the same motivations as him...seems off, contrived dare I say. But then again, having Claire go on an entirely different journey to Leon would have required Capcom to build an entirely new area and story which (given how closely it keeps to the original) was unlikely to happen.
There are three gameplay loops in RE2, the main being exploration, and backtracking. The second is the combat and the third are the puzzles. I will be looking at all of these (and also Mr. X). They are all good and complement each other wonderfully.
Good old clunky shooting
RE2's combat (as is RE4's pioneer design of third-person shooters) is clunky as all hell. Your ability to move is severely limited when aiming and zombies are deceptively fast. But, much like RE4, the chunkiness works in creating a sense of vulnerability and tension. You can't just go in guns blazing as the game forces you to slow down and put yourself in a possible noshing range of zombies. Coupled with the limited ammo, sometimes it is just best to dodge horrors instead of engaging them.
Because all too often you will find yourself just scraping by, all too often munched on because you misjudged the distance between yourself and the zombie. RE2 would have been less effective as a survival horror if it allowed the player to move freely while shooting. Because you are in control of the situation. By restricting movement and POV, RE2 turns one of its three gameplay loops into a stressful game of risk and reward, and the reward is something short-lived.
Going back and forth
RE2 is split into several large areas that have to be traversed often to collect the pieces required to solve puzzles. To the player, it might seem like a bit of a daunting task. As you have no idea where anything is and are panicking thought of encountering more bloody zombies. But through repeated backtracking (and finding the map), the player gradually becomes familiar with their environment, where the short cuts are what puzzles need to be solved.
The player soon becomes intimate with their surroundings, how to save time and avoid the worst. Considering your limited inventory space you will most likely have to go back anyway. RE2's level design embraces the best kind of backtracking. The sort that doesn't waste the player time but works as a puzzle in of itself, one that the player has to solve through repeated interaction. The player has to learn the map layout, to learn how to reach their destination without getting into trouble.
Mr. X is a bloody terrifying, I wish I had a better means of expressing how I felt about this hulking trench coat and fedora man who desperately wants me dead. He is what the Nemesis will become in RE3 with a key difference. Once Mr. X spawns he will patrol the Raccoon City Police Department instead of spawning at key events. As a result, the player is forced to keep on their toes, they cannot stay in one place for too long or they will get punished. Due to this, the player is forced to learn the map layout and solve the puzzles fast to keep one step ahead of Mr. X. Unlike Lickers or Zombies, which can be killed, Mr. X cannot die.
Not only does this adds to RE2's stressful atmosphere and enables the player to feel more helpless. Mr X enhances the exploration gameplay loop by forcing the player to maximize their efficiency and prevents the backtracking from becoming boring thanks to the continual threat. He also enhances the puzzle loop by placing a timer on the amount of time given to the player. Puzzles such as moving the bookcases in the library to make an upstairs platform are transformed into high stakes games of dexterity thanks to the thundering footsteps forewarning Mr. X's arrival.
The other two characters
Leon and Claire both get a secondary character in their campaigns. Ada Wong and Sherry Berkins both get their gameplay sections. Ada Wong has her nifty hacking gadget which can be used to open up passageways and locked doors. It's a pretty cool mechanic that befits Wong's status as a spy. Sherry enjoys a full stealth section (she is a kid there is only so much she can do). Where you have to avoid a madman and escape an orphanage.
My main complaint is that they are too short, too contained, and do not have the time to get fully fleshed out. When Ada Wong's gadgetry starts to get interesting (with the inclusion of Mr. X) it ends. Just as the tension and the terror of not getting caught get to its peak it just stops. I would have loved to have spent more time trying to sneak around the orphanage. Or solved more complex puzzles under pressure.
Art style and graphics:
RE2 is utterly beautiful to look at. From the texturing to the lighting to the modeling, RE2 is stunning to behold. I have nothing negative to say about this game in terms of its graphics or art style.
Please note that this has to do with my PC and not the game.
I had stuttering and frame rate drops. However, I am aware that this is my PC's shortcomings and it will not affect the grade too severely.
Resident Evil 2 (2019) is a well designed, terrifying remake that updates and improves on the originals potential shortcomings. I had a complete blast and am looking forward to doing RE3 sometime. The story is rather stupid, but it is the good kind of stupid. The sort that maintains its scare factor without losing any of the campy charms.