Resident Evil 2 (2019) – A Retrospective
As Resident Evil Village fast approaches, Ross is going to be revisiting some of his favourite titles from a series that has undergone many permutations since 1996—from survival horror to white-knuckle third-person action—reinventing itself whenever the formula became too staid, to varying levels of success. But when it works, it really works.
“Find a way out, Leon – before it’s too late.”
Remakes are complicated.
I’m not instinctively interested in them, primarily because I’ll usually gravitate towards the original game. There’s just an element of the original article that’s more compelling, right? In spite of the antiquated looks or cumbersome control schemes, I’d prefer to engage directly with the game as it was first conceived.
Games don’t diminish with time, even as technological progress widens the gap. We don’t need to always be yanking the past into the present with its classics (beyond strictly commercial reasons, I guess).
One of the defining features of the remake, graphics quality, has never acted as an impediment to immersion for me. Indeed, there’s been occasions where the visual makeover acts as a counteragent to that immersion. In such cases I find myself less absorbed in a game’s setting, not more.
But I understand that for newer players the original appearance is the impediment, so I’m glad the remake is there to serve them.
It has other purposes, though, and I think one such remake exemplifies them in every respect. If you read yesterday’s piece, you will know that game is Resident Evil (2002).
It’s the perfect Resi game in so many ways, radically improving the original whilst remaining true to its essential essence. If you put Resident Evil and Resident Evil (2002) in front of me, I’d opt to play the latter—a rare circumstance for me. It’s distinguished by the fact that their creator, Shinji Mikami, oversaw both titles.
2019’s Resident Evil 2 is not Resident Evil (2002), which is to say it does not surpass its 1998 progenitor… But it comes very close. And that is wild, because the 1998 version is one of the best games ever made.
In a major shift, Resident Evil 2 switches out the fixed camera for an over-the-shoulder third person perspective. That doesn’t mean that the journey through Raccoon City’s police department is closer to Resident Evil 4 than 2, though.
This remake is a genuinely frightening game, in which the radically updated visuals bring the zombie-infested police station new (un)life. The stunning use of light and grunge work to its advantage. It doesn’t have the same ambient strengths as the original, which didn’t much need the dark to elicit fear, but that’s okay—what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for in efficacy.
This is a gorgeous game that works as a startling piece of video game horror.
Its most successful feature is Mr. X. He was strictly a scripted terror in the original game, but here he roams the police station in search of you. What an incredibly brilliant piece of design his presence is, too. He changes the way in which you approach navigation, requiring you to listen closely to the environment so as to avoid a costly encounter should he prove too close.
It’s astounding to me that the follow-up, Resident Evil 3 (2020), dropped the ball so badly in expanding this concept to Nemesis himself. Instead of being an evolution on the roaming terror of Mr. X, Nemesis was reduced to a series of uninspired boss fights. But then the Resident Evil series has often taken one step forward, two steps back (see Resident Evil 4 and 5).
I think this game drops in quality a bit once you leave the police station, which I’d argue wasn’t necessarily the case before. But that might just be because high-tech laboratories are less interesting (and more predictable!) settings.
With this Resident Evil 2 we also see the shift from earnest, so-bad-it’s-good writing to the slick-but-mediocre writing that started in Resident Evil 7. It’s very much like watching a competent but substandard horror, where the characters are dull, the writing boring, and the performances predictable.
I’m not going to argue Resident Evil should be more like it “used to be”, because the writing was terrible. But you can’t deny it had an identity of its own. Does Resident Evil 2 (2019) have such an identity, despite largely staying true to the original? I don’t think it does, at least not as a piece of narrative, and that’s kind of weird. Like I said, though…
…remakes are complicated.
This one works best if you set aside the original. They are two different experiences. Here you have a high quality journey all of its own that compliments its past, rather than seek to usurp it. It can’t really be the original and nor should it, instead setting out to adapt the concept for modern audiences.
And why not, right? Again, it’s without its own singular brilliance in that modernity has rendered its narrative content bland, but I’m willing to forgive that when it plays this damn well.
I won’t pick Resident Evil 2 (2019) over 1998’s masterpiece, but I remind myself that I don’t have to. I’ll visit this rendition of Raccoon City for its visceral horror, its sinister Mr. X, and its refinement of style, both in play as well as appearance.
If only all remakes were this good. I might find myself enjoying more of them.
One thought on “Resident Evil 2 (2019) – A Retrospective”
After all the praise this received at launch, I actually did dive in and loved it. I’d tried one of the more action oriented REs at one point in the past, but had avoided the originals (wimp see) as a kid. But this was phenomenal, especially as a newcomer.
Running like mad to escape Mr X had my heart racing all too often, and even on the original PS4 it looked fantastic.
Having not played 3 originally, I do think I need to give that remake a whirl, despite the negative reaction it had.