Their worst nightmare: the lessons Resident Evil 2 learned from what came after

As we’ve previously seen, a good 21 years elapsed between the 1998 release of the original PlayStation version of Resident Evil 2 and its remake for more modern systems.

21 years is a long time in the games industry — not only did simple technology move on a lot in that time period, but game design in general evolved, too. So today we’re going to look at some specific lessons that Resident Evil 2’s remake learned from games that appeared in those intervening 21 years — and how they used those lessons to re-imagine an established classic.

Darkness, my old friend

Resident Evil 2 remake

One of the clearest distinctions between the original Resident Evil 2 and the Resident Evil 2 remake is the use of lighting.

The PlayStation original varied up the lighting somewhat through its pre-rendered backdrops, with different rooms having obviously different colour schemes as a means of making them distinctive — and aiding navigation, too. But real-time 3D lighting tech was still in its relatively early days at the time, so there was nothing in the way of dynamic lighting — and no rooms that you could truly call “dark”.

Resident Evil 2’s remake, meanwhile, throws you into completely dark environments right from the outset. Thankfully, both Leon and Claire are equipped with a torch that they automatically whip out any time they enter a dark area. This often confines the action to a relatively small area on the screen, and requires you to stay constantly vigilant for threats hiding in the shadows. Many horror games have, as you might expect, toyed with this over the years, but one of the first was a series seen as Resident Evil’s main rival for a long time: Konami’s Silent Hill, whose second installment in particular helped to popularise real-time lighting and shadow effects that are commonplace in today’s horror games.

It’s about more than what you see

Resident Evil 2 remake

The series’ consistently excellent sound design takes on an all-new level of importance in the Resident Evil 2 remake’s dark areas: not only does each type of enemy make a distinctive, immediately recognisable sound, but the background music (or, in most cases, creepy ambient noise) varies with each type of enemy, too.

Not only can you identify what type of enemy is nearby from the sound of the backing track, you can also determine whether or not you’ve managed to safely defeat them once and for all, because the music will fade out. Just to keep you on your toes, the music fading out doesn’t necessarily mean the enemies won’t wake up again on a subsequent visit to the room, but it does provide an indication that you’re temporarily safe.

The use of music in this way can be traced back to a variety of games from over the years, and not necessarily just horror games. Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series has used dynamic music since Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64 to indicate when enemies are nearby, for example, and modern first-person shooters like the Halo series make use of relatively sparse musical cues to highlight important moments such as the beginning of action sequences.

Tread softly and carry a big gun

Resident Evil 2 remake

And if you can’t carry a big gun, just tread softly. Yes, Resident Evil 2’s remake incorporates some stealth elements that weren’t practical or perhaps even desirable to implement in the PlayStation original; while “stealth games” existed prior to the original release of Resident Evil 2, it wasn’t until Metal Gear Solid’s release in late 1998 that they really became popularised in the public consciousness.

Which is a shame, because the light stealth elements in Resident Evil 2’s remake make dealing with the Licker enemies much more fun than the potential roadblock to progression they were in the original. Canonically, Lickers are blind and so operate entirely on hearing; the trouble is that in the original Resident Evil 2 there wasn’t really a reliable way to move quietly, and in some versions of the game they could even detect the sound of the player entering the weapon-ready stance.

In Resident Evil 2’s remake, however, the excellent analogue controls mean that if you suspect — or know — that a Licker is nearby, you can cautiously sneak your way past until you’re better equipped to deal with them. That is, unless the Tyrant is chasing you, of course.

Chase scenes are good if used sparingly

Resident Evil 2 remake

In the original release of Resident Evil 2, the “Tyrant” enemy only showed up in the “B” scenarios — a run through the game with the character you didn’t pick first time around. In Resident Evil 2’s remake, however, he shows up in every playthrough — and initially you might think he’s a complete pain.

Tyrant is a powerful, gigantic enemy who can’t be defeated until the finale of Leon’s story, and for a significant proportion of your time exploring the Raccoon City Police Station — which is the majority of the game — he’ll be pursuing you in Resident Evil 2’s remake. If he gets near you, he has some absolutely devastating attacks, and the most you can do with your weapons is stun him for a moment. As such, your best bet if he’s in the same room as you is to run. It doesn’t matter where to, just put some distance between you and him, then be as quiet as you can.

You can probably see how this might seem particularly irritating if all you want to do is take a key item to its destination to solve a puzzle, but really, dealing with Tyrant is part of the overall puzzle too. As you progress around the police station, you’ll gradually start unlocking a variety of alternative routes and shortcuts from one area of the building to another — and it’s by having a solid knowledge of these that you’ll be able to outwit Tyrant, get to where you need to be and solve that puzzle without being turned into a fine paste.

In many ways, it’s similar to the “nightmare” sequences in Konami’s Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, though in that game typically all you had to do was find your way to an exit. You still had the opportunity to explore the environment in a relatively “safe” way before being thrown into a full-on chase, however.

Shooters aren’t all bad

Resident Evil 2 remake

While I don’t think anyone would argue that the gaming world as of 2021 is oversaturated with both first- and third-person shooters, the development and arguable mastery of those genres over the course of the last few decades means that other genres can draw from their lessons.

In particular, Resident Evil 2’s remake places a strong emphasis on locational damage, with most enemies having distinct weak spots that can be pinpointed with the vast majority of weapons. Indeed, several of the more powerful enemies and bosses throughout the game specifically have to be dealt with by systematically splattering their weak points rather than simply filling them with lead and/or explosives.

This level of locational damage simply wasn’t possible in the original Resident Evil 2 due to the camera perspective. Sure, you could aim upwards with a shotgun to blow a zombie’s head off, but that was about it. In the Resident Evil 2 remake, meanwhile, you can not only deliver headshots — which sometimes “critical” and cause the head to explode, even with a pistol — but you can also blast limbs off your enemies, hampering their movement and attack capabilities.

Not every triple-A trend needs to be followed

Resident Evil 2 remake

It would have been easy for Capcom to turn Resident Evil 2’s remake into a “cinematic experience” sort of game, but as we’ve seen with the previous games, the early titles in the series were never particularly strong on explicit narrative delivery through cutscenes. The focus has always been on the exploration, the puzzle-solving and the survival aspects. As such, attempting to pull a The Last of Us with Resident Evil 2’s remake would have felt immensely jarring to longstanding fans — and it simply wouldn’t have been a good remake.

As such, while Capcom clearly learned a lot from games developed over the course of the 21 years between the two versions of Resident Evil 2, they wisely looked as much at the things that wouldn’t work for the remake as well as things that would.

The result is a game that looks and feels like a triple-A production, but which remains remarkably true to its source material. Rather than simply paying lipservice to the original Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 2’s remake is a truly worthwhile successor — and a great way to experience this part of the series’ canon, regardless of whether or not you can stomach the more dated aspects of the PlayStation original!

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Pete Davison
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