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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Daily Cardinal video games columnist Marty Forbeck compares and contrasts the newly released remake of "Resident Evil 2" to the cherished 1998 original.

'Resident Evil 2' remake is all of original and much more

“Resident Evil 2” made a lot of waves back in 1998, but looking back at it now, it’s hard to believe anyone was scared by it. Don’t get me wrong, it still has its charm, and if testimonials are anything to go off of, there were plenty of kids and young adults who were outright traumatized by it in its heyday. But even by the standards of its contemporaries, there’s a lot of shortcomings in the original “Resident Evil 2.” 

There was innovation in “RE2” relevant in particular to the “Resident Evil” series, but not much in terms of the gaming industry as a whole. It looked and played nicer than the original “Resident Evil,” and that was more or less all it was meant to do. The voice acting was still B-movie grade. The gameplay still boiled down to a mess of blurry character models fighting on pre-rendered backdrops. For reference, “Half-Life” and “Metal Gear Solid” also came out in ‘98.

The cover of the original "Resident Evil 2" (1998) videogame released for the Playstation game console.

What “RE2” really represented was the perfect midpoint for the “Resident Evil” series. A time before technology was so advanced the series decided it had to innovate by making full-scale action games like “RE4,” but after technology had advanced to a point where the games could look like more than complete visual nonsense. “RE2” represents this brief period where the “RE” games seemed like they might even be able to innovate in their own field.

This was a period that lasted all of a year until “Silent Hill” came out with a psychological take that blew everything else in survival horror away — but for its brief and fleeting promise, “RE2” is still frequently pointed to as one of the greatest horror games of all time.

When Capcom set out to remake the thing, they were not exactly playing it safe. What charm remains in the original “RE2” largely exists in the parts that don’t work — the goofy line deliveries, the fact that you heal yourself by eating plants, the vague sense that the game takes itself completely seriously as a horror story, even when you’re shotgunning a giant mutant into a pit of lava in an underground laboratory run by a pharmaceutical corporation.

In 2019, if you wanted even a small percentage of the original game’s premise to be taken seriously, you’d have to burn most of the game down and start over from the ground up. 

And so that's what they have done.

The cover for the newly released remake - this for the Playstation 4 game console.

Besides some semblances of imagery and plot, very little of what a series purist might consider to be “RE2” exists in this remake. And it’s fantastic. Without giving the whole ball game away, they expanded upon everything that worked in the original, and even later entries in the “Resident Evil” series, and cut the rest.

It’s still married to the paper-thin characters and premises from which it was born, so don’t expect it to blow you away with its deep and complex protagonists, but there are some sections of the game with genuinely clever and compelling storytelling. The different quips each character blurts out when they pull up their weapons actually help define them as people. 

The game’s two protagonists show up at the central hub of the game at different times, so depending on which one you’re playing, different support characters will be alive or dead, which is some really smart narrative design stuff.

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Of course the award for biggest innovation and/or most improved upon idea has to go to the Tyrant — and if you’re really antsy about gameplay spoilers, maybe just stop reading now and go pick up the game. 

It’s worth your money and time, and even though it’s only February, I’ve got a feeling this game is going to show up on a lot of "game of the year" lists come January 2020. 

If you’ve never played an “RE” game before, have no fear, this may just be the most accessible the series has even been, and I mean that in every sense of the word. There are subtitles on everything and the option to turn on aim assist for people who have trouble with the controls.

So, the Tyrant. In the original “RE2,” the developers had an idea for a mechanic to spice up the second playthrough, required to get the game’s “true ending.” Every once in a while, usually right after you’ve completed a puzzle for the second time, a giant man in a suit called the Tyrant will bust through a wall, Kool-Aid Man style, and try to punch you to death. 

It was a way to break up the monotony of a repeated play-through, to try and threaten the player with the idea that not everything would be the same this time around. Most horrifyingly, the Tyrant would break the game's pre-established rules for humanoid monsters. He was fast. He’d pursue you down multiple corridors. However, he wouldn’t follow you through most loading zones, and with a well-timed dodge, you could usually get rid of him in about 30 seconds.

The Tyrant in “Remake” shows up and ruins your entire day. He pursues you “It Follows”-style at a slightly-faster-than-walking speed throughout the entire game map, even into normally inaccessible safe zones. He will do this, persistently, for upwards of an hour or longer, however long it takes for you to solve the puzzles that will take you out of his reach. His arrival changes the way you navigate the entire game, forcing you down circular corridors, while also turning the game into something of a speed-run. 

He’s outright the most compelling thing in the entire game, and every time he showed up I could not put my controller down until I knew my character had escaped from his tall, muscly grasp. He might just be the thing the exploratory gameplay of classic “Resident Evil” was always missing — a recurring, pursuant threat to put an end to all the player’s carefully laid plans. 

So yeah, on the whole I guess you could say the game is pretty all right.

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