On Black Friday 2019 I purchased a PS4 and a stack of games. I had been playing almost entirely indie games for the past ten years with several exceptions: Blizzard games, a few Nintendo games, Tomb Raider, Mass Effect 3, and Fallout 4. Many modern AAA franchises never interested me, or lost my interest when I heard about how long, repetitive, and/or homogeneous they often were. Still, I knew I had missed some great games over the years, so my goal now is to play through some recent AAA games that interest me and to write about each of them. Assume there are spoilers and enjoy!
I still distinctly remember the opening cut scene to Resident Evil for the PS1. I remember exactly where I was when I saw it and who I was with. It completely blew my mind. Even though it was cheesy as hell (something maybe 1% of my child brain recognized at the time) that was overwhelmed by the fact that I had never played a game that was genuinely scary before. I had never even remotely seen anything like the first few hours of that game. I was completely sucked in and for the next ten years or so I played every single Resident Evil game I could.
Resident Evil 2 stays true to the original game to a surprising degree. In gaming there have been tons of remasters and reboots but not truly a lot of remakes and nothing that compares to the depth of the Resident Evil 2 remake. How closely it stays true to the original game, while still managing to update so many features, is pretty incredible. It walks a carefully and lovingly crafted line that keeps everything great about the original while dropping everything dated.
Prior to this game I’d never even been interested in remakes. I’m very critical of how media uses nostalgia to boost sales for mediocre products. I wasn’t particularly interested in Resident Evil 2 at all but the continued insistence by fans that it was great finally sucked me in and it was well worth it. Resident Evil 2 probably is the best remake ever and should be the standard by which other remakes are now held against. Hopefully the quality of Resident Evil 2 will push game corporations to think twice before making a bad remake just to cash in on memories from our gaming childhoods.
The biggest change to Resident Evil 2 is probably the change from static 3rd person to the over the shoulder camera. I still love the static angles (as janky as they can sometimes be) because they created such a great horror aesthetic while playing. I was also worried that, since over the shoulder camera angels are the standard now that it would make the game feel a lot more generic. Thankfully the game is so well made and there’s just so much Resident Evil love in it that it ends up feeling like a smart modernization decision.
The old game design is still there - the game is short, and by the time you beat it it will feel downright tiny compared to other AAA games. There’s a police station with a few floors, a lab, and that’s really about it. I remember when I first played the original it felt unbelievably huge, but the remake showed just how much the design of AAA games has changed. However, therein lies what is so interesting about the game - it’s still great. That Capcom chose to make such an accurate remake is, in of itself, pretty amazing given the push for larger, bigger games. This decision to expertly recreate a game that was once huge and is now small is tangible proof that AAA games do not need to follow the same homogeneous scope they tend to fall into. This isn’t something devs need to know, but it is something corporations need to see be a viable alternative before ever considering making something like it.
I was really excited to play the extra mini episodes - it felt like the perfect little extra bite sized Resident Evil treats after the main game. I tried one and...was absolutely destroyed in minutes. I looked online and found out that these mini episodes were all extremely hard and require near-mastery of the game mechanics to make it through.
I’ve noticed this trend in past Resident Evil games, where extra modes like those in Revelations 1 and 2 tried to force Resident Evil into this competitive shooter-esque area. I can appreciate some extra difficulty for those who want it, but not having the option in these extra episodes to play on easy made them feel immediately awful to me and I gave up instantly. Resident Evil games have never had the same quality of design as shooters so I don’t really understand why people want to compete for scores or play hard modes, but hey if that’s your thing that’s fine, I just don’t want content to be locked behind that difficulty.
Resident Evil 2 proves that another kind of AAA game is possible and that we only need to look to our past for inspiration. I really hope companies take notice of this game and its success. There are many styles of game design that have died out over the years, and Resident Evil 2 is a reminder that just because something is old it doesn’t mean every part of the game, or even the core idea, is bad. I would love shorter AAA games that focus more on replayability than length. I’d love to see more games do interesting things with multiple routes through the game depending on characters, and more interacting between those characters. There’s a lot to draw from in Resident Evil 2 and as a long time fan I’m really glad I played it.
I’m writing this last section almost a month after I finished writing this article. I was planning on posting it at the end of January but got a bit busy and then everything went to shit with the spread of coronavirus. It’s...weird looking back on this game now with everything that’s going on. Obviously the game is wildly different from the reality of coronavirus but the spread of a scary virus, the indifference/ineptitude of corporate leaders/Umbrella, and the destruction of Raccoon City and the empty streets of New York City where I live - all this combines into an odd feeling of similarity. The culture critique is definitely one of the things I always appreciated in Resident Evil games. The quick collapse of normality in the game and in real life exemplifies how wildly unprepared our supposedly “advanced” society is. When our focus is on making money, instead of improving health and building infrastructure, we’re always one virus away from total collapse.