Saturday, January 11, 2020

Console Corner: Review of Resident Evil 2 (2019 Remake)

Resident Evil on the first Playstation is one of my favorite games of all time.  I still recall the darkened-room play sessions with a friend, trying to solve the puzzles while not getting chewed on by a zombie.  I still recall the wonder of unlocking and exploring a new part of the mansion.  I still recall with some fear the spiders dropping from the ceiling, the eerie footsteps, the shark chase, and those damn dogs jumping through the window.  And I recall the satisfaction of finishing the game without one hint or clue save teamwork.  Video games exiting my life after that year (for whatever reason), I never played Resident Evil 2.  Thus in my return to video gaming it was something of a surprise to learn that Jill’s tale in Raccoon City had spawned not only a sequel, but a whole series.  And not only a series, but a remastered version of my beloved original.  Apparently a popular item, it motivated Sony to commission the remaster of the second Resident Evil title.  Some people cite it as the best of all the games in the series, so let’s see how it stands up.

Resident Evil 2 opens on a scene with a truck driver mawing on a hamburger, driving down a road in the pouring rain.  His face oily, the ketchup squirting, droplets of water visible on the windshield, it’s quickly apparent this is not a PS1 game, graphically.  Accidentally running over a woman, the driver gets out to check on her, and—you guessed it—gets mawed on by a zombie.  Enter Leon and Claire, a policeman and bystander, respectively, who have stopped at a nearby gas station, only to discover the same as the truck driver: the dead in fact live.  Ramping up events of the original Resident Evil, the virus has spread to Raccoon City, and Leon and Claire are in a fight for their lives to escape.

At the beginning of Resident Evil 2, players must choose whether they want to play as Leon or Claire.  The game different depending on the choice, after completing the chosen character’s storyline, a modified version of the second character’s storyline comes available.  Not entirely the same and not entirely different, the second character’s storyline must also be beaten for players to unlock the game’s true ending.  More later on this unusual setup.

Regardless whether the player chooses Leon or Claire, both storylines follow roughly the same pattern of events.  Like the mansion of the first Resident Evil game, Leon and Claire must find their way through a police station overrun with zombies to get into the sewers, and get to the bottom of the virus which is causing the wave of undead hunger.  The police station (conveniently) the site of a former museum, players must find keys, open valves, discover items, and activate gadgets to get through the station, all the while surviving the zombies who lurk around corners, behind doors, and (hatefully) hang from the ceilings.  

The layout is different, the puzzles are different, and the enemies are different, but the concept remains entirely the same as the first Resident Evil.  If you like burritos, why not tacos Capcom asks?  Find this to put there, learn the combination to open lock here, get the crowbar to lift the bookshelf to access new area there, find the X shaped key to open appropriate doors and claim the rewards you can see through the windows, etc.  It’s a collection of interlocked puzzles as the game starts, and a (satisfying) domino effect of puzzle solving as the game moves closer to its end.

A remake (not a remaster) of the original game, Resident Evil 2 looks absolutely fantastic on the Playstation 4.  Graphically, everything pops at a level of detail I wish I could have played Resident Evil at on the first Playstation.  Heightening the sense of reality with each dark corridors and creaking door, there is an added degree of terror not present in the original.  Walking the sewers is both a horrifying and disgusting thing—a testament to developers devotion to detail.

One of the (rightful) orginal complaints about the first Resident Evil game is the voice-over acting.  It was terrible to the point of Mystery Science Theater 3000—real C or D movie stuff.  With Resident Evil 2 on the Playstation 4, the situation is entirely opposite: the voice-overs hit every point.  The issue now is that the story can’t keep up with the dialogue.  Romance-horror with (ahem) limited motivation, it’s difficult to buy in to the underlying plot with several cheap scenes.  But I suppose emotional realism has never been a goal of cheap horror.

Further troubling the player’s ability to suspend disbelief are elements of the puzzles.  As mentioned, roughly half the game occurs inside a police station.  Rather than creating puzzles relevant to such a facility, Capcom chose to use an old museum that has been converted into a police station in order to play up with the mythical side of puzzle solving.  Lion, unicorn, and other such statues—things one does not associate with a police station—must be solved in order to progress.  In the sewers, players must chase down certain chess pieces in order to plug into electrical panels.  Chess pieces as switches?  This worked in the Resident Evil’s haunted house motif, but in this the sequel, it doesn’t so often. There are other puzzles which do nicely complement the game’s environments, but there are enough which don’t to break the mood.  One thing that cannot be said, however, is that designers haphazardly threw this game together.   It’s clear, regardless whether certain elements fit a scene or not, that a huge amount of love and attention went into designing every little detail.

My one other complaint about storytelling is how developers tried to tell two independent stories at one time without ever committing themselves to telling two independent stories at one time.  As mentioned, the player chooses Leon or Claire to start the game, and upon completing that storyline have the option to run through a modified version of the other character’s storyline, and must if they want to see the game’s true ending.  As mentioned, this works and doesn’t work.  The unique elements of each’s storyline work.  There are certain rooms in the police station that only Leon can unlock, and vice versa, which makes for nice intrigue.  At the same time, there are some enemies and puzzles which must be beaten/solved twice.  For example, one of the bosses is fought twice, killed twice, in the exact same arena.  It really feels as though developers wanted to create two separate games, but just didn’t have the something needed (time? money? resources? disk space?) to do it properly so the two character’s stories complemented all the time, rather than being redundant some of the time.  My second run through with Claire was nowhere near as interesting as my first with Leon—despite the true ending, which did at least provide some consolation.

I complain, but Resident Evil 2 remains an excellent game.  The mix of action and puzzles is something that few games have been able capture as effectively.  Cementing the formula of the first Resident Evil game, this second offers a whole new playground of mysteries to unlock, zombie enemies to take down, and conspiracy storyline to uncover.  The success of the other elements (plot and parallel storylines) will be up to the player whether they think Capcom have succeeded.

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