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A Design Examination on Resident Evil 2 Remake

My written and video thoughts on the Resident Evil 2 Remastered and how it applies both action-horror and survival horror game design.

Following the critical praise of Resident Evil 7 for revitalizing the on again/off again franchise, many people were left wondering what will become of the new virus, the new Umbrella, and of course the new Resident Evil. When it was announced that we were not going to get answers to those questions any time soon, but were returning to the past, a lot of people were left confused. With Resident Evil 2 back again in the public eye, we once again have a horror franchise being dragged into the modern era…with some baggage along for the ride.

Resident Redo:

RE 2 from a story point of view is a retelling of the original; with the new RE engine providing some HD fidelity and visceral displays. As before, you can play as either Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield as they are stuck in Raccoon City following an outbreak of the G virus. You are free to pick either character to start playing, and there is a second play through unlocked for the other upon completion.

The controls have been given an upgrade compared to the original’s tank-like gameplay. You now control your character from a behind the back style and have full 360 degrees of movement. Aiming is now done over the shoulder like in RE 4, 5, and 6. If you were hoping for a first person system like in RE 7 that is not available without mods. With that said, the game features the same menu UI as RE 7.

The main reason to return to Raccoon City however is the gameplay, as Capcom has completely rebuilt the game from top to bottom.

A New Evil:

RE 2 may have the same story as the original version, but everything else is different. The amount of changes is too many to list here, but I want to touch on some of the big ones.

  • Knifes and grenades are now considered defense weapons, and can be used to avoid damage from an enemy at the expense of the item. Playing on the game’s hardest difficulty (hardcore), this can mean the difference between life or death
  • Instead of finding tons of ammo, you will have to use gunpowder to create new rounds similar to the crafting system of RE 7
  • All item placements are now different, and all puzzles have been redesigned
  • Weapons can be upgraded, and there are more of them here

The point that I want to talk about further are the enemy redesigns, and how the game features arguably some of the best enemies in a horror title.

The Bullet Sponge Dead:

It has been far too long since I’ve played the original RE 2, but from what I’ve seen every enemy type makes a return, but with some modifications.

For the first time in the franchise, zombies are at their most terrifying and hardest to fight. Every zombie moves at a different pace and gait at you: speeding up or slowing down depending on damage. Previously, head shots were a way to do bonus damage; now they are almost required to kill.

Zombies are a lot more durable compared to previous games. Any zombie that goes down may get back up at the worse time. The only way to make sure that they are dead is to destroy the head by any means necessary. It’s no longer just shooting them in the head: you need to aim straight between the eyes to do the most damage.

 Your handgun has what appears to be a random chance at popping the head off, with a greater chance for precise hits, and the shotgun is more reliable. Zombies will now go between rooms to track you down, with exception to save room or plot areas.

Specialty enemies like the lickers and Cerberus return to make your life difficult. The new aiming system means that damage is now proximity-based; forcing you to make every shot count. Near the end of the game, you are introduced to ivy enemies who are a one hit kill if you don’t have a defense item on hand.

All the boss fights have also been redesigned to take advantage of the new systems, but of course, there is still one feature we need to talk about.

The X Factor:

Mr.X has now been redesigned to be featured in all play throughs of RE 2. After a certain event, Mr.X will stalk you throughout the police station, with threats of punches and slams. Similar to the xenomorph of Alien Isolation, he will actively track you at specific parts of the game, and seems to know where you generally are at all times.

You cannot kill him with any weapon, but you can slow him down. The idea of Mr.X being an alpha antagonist is perhaps the most talked about part of RE 2 (and I have more thoughts about it here).

With that said however, he does represent one of the issues I have with RE 2 and how it sometimes feels more like a haunted house than a horror game.

The Mechanical Dead:

Resident Evil 2 is perhaps one of the best horror games I’ve played when it comes to sustaining horror throughout a play. This is thanks to the overall threat levels of the various enemy types. On a casual play, each run of the game should be around four hours when you don’t know what you’re doing.

The problem that Resident Evil 2 has is that most of this fear comes from scripted events instead of emergent gameplay. One of the best parts of Alien Isolation was how the xenomorph was always an active threat once introduced. It added unpredictability to the game, and helped give it that horror feel.

Resident Evil 2 relies too much in my opinion on scripting enemy spawns and encounters; making it very easy to break the game once you know what you’re doing. Specific events will always trigger enemies to become active or appear in once peaceful sections. There is no RNG here: when you do X, it will always spawn enemy Y.

With that knowledge, the game loses a lot of its bite (no pun intended) on subsequent play throughs. Speaking of, I was hoping for a little more differentiation between the A and B routes through the game. The B routes keep the same bosses and puzzles, but mixes up item placements and puzzle solutions.

The actual layouts of the police station, sewers, and lab, were all well done and provide multiple routes for the player to figure out. I honestly think that the game could have used a “random” mode to shuffle more things around to test people.

Another mechanical side of the game is knowing that there are some rooms that the enemies will never cross into. This can lead to some unintentional hilarity of Mr. X doing his best to give it to you, but stuck by an invisible wall.

Even though Resident Evil 2 is based on survival horror, it still feels very much like an action-horror game.

Action-Horror or Horror Action?

The Resident Evil franchise has had an identity crisis since Resident Evil 4. You had fans wanting to go back to the slower-pace of the originals, and those liking the combat-heavy later entries. Resident Evil 7 tried to bring things back to the adventure game roots of the franchise, but still felt action-heavy. With Resident Evil 2, you are still going to be fighting a lot of enemies and bosses with brute force.

I do really like the positional damage and how it can be used for advanced tactics, but despite being a horror game, your body count is going to be really high. This is further seen in the game’s bonus modes that are all action-heavy fights with crowds of enemies at a time. Half the challenge of the game is knowing where enemies are going to appear and saving the right weapon or item for the job.

The boss fights to me felt like the weakest parts of the game. Without spoiling things, each boss is more about dodging and attacking critical points than it is about survival. You will either be ammo-starved to the point where you can’t kill them, or a walking armory who can blast them down without much effort.

Resident Evil Returns:

With all that said, Resident Evil 2 is an amazing remake, and between it and 7, Capcom seems to be on a horror win. I do hope that they take lessons from both games if/when we see a Resident Evil 3 remake or a Resident Evil 8.

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