Earlier this week, Capcom announced that they are working on a remake of Resident Evil 2. This survival horror game was first released on the Playstation 1, all the way back in 1998. Considering that Resident Evil 1 was first remade in 2002 just six years after the original was released, fans of the series probably thought that the window had closed on a remake for Resident Evil 2 by now.
However, Capcom received plenty of encouragement over the course of 2015. A HD remaster of the Resident Evil 1 remake was released in January, and was extremely successful. Later in the year, a remake of another PS1 classic was announced at E3; the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake has generated a lot of positive press and attention. In this kind of environment, it’s easy to see why Capcom decided to remake another Resident Evil title.
Not a lot of information has been revealed about the remake at this point, so there’s plenty to consider and discuss here. How faithful will the remake be to the original? How faithful should it be? And is a remake of the game even really necessary at this point?
Before I really get into things, I had better put my cards on the table: I was a big fan of the original Resident Evil titles for the PS1. The Gamecube remake of Resident Evil 1 is one of my favourite games. I consider it the finest survival horror game ever made. And the finest video game remake ever made, for that matter.
Meanwhile, though I consider Resident Evil 4 an enjoyable game, I was disappointed by the change of direction when it was released. The franchise was moving away from horror. This became abundantly clear with the abysmal Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6. These games featured even less horror elements. There was a move from claustrophobic areas to wide open spaces. Small numbers of difficult to kill monsters were replaced by hordes of weak enemies. Capcom went from being a market leader in the survival horror genre to an also-ran in the action/shooter genre.
With all of this considered, many of my opinions on the Resident Evil 2 remake will not come as any surprise. When it comes to this particular franchise, I’m a traditionalist. This remake is interesting to me for that reason. But I’m also a little concerned about what they might change.
When news of the remake surfaced online, and old debate resurfaced with it: should they stick with the fixed camera angles and tank controls or move to something more modern? I’ve seen so many arguments on both sides that I’m really not sure which is the more popular opinion. Personally I’m very much in favour of fixed camera angles. They add a cinematic quality to the game, and up the horror element by obscuring certain areas and making it harder to know what’s lurking around the next corner.
However, I’m more flexible on the tank controls. I’ve never had a problem with them, but they could be off-putting to someone who has never played the original games. The remastered version of Resident Evil 1 that came out earlier this year found a nice compromise in giving the player a choice between tank controls and more modern controls. I’d like to see something similar for the Resident Evil 2 remake, but if they absolutely need to choose just one then they should probably go for the more modern scheme. Fans of the old games will be more willing to adapt than newer players.
While people might argue most over the camera and the control scheme, there are other systems used in the original games that some critics tend to complain about. There’s the inventory system, that only allows the player to hold a limited number of items at a time. Then there’s the ink ribbon saving system, which requires players to locate a typewriter on the map while holding an ink ribbon in one of their item slots in order to save their progress.
These systems are considered outdated by some, but in my mind they’re integral to recreating the kind of horror that these games should be all about. The inventory system adds tension by forcing the player to make strategic decisions. Should you bring extra ammo, or are healing items more important? Should you leave an open item slot in case you come across an important item, or should you bring that key that you haven’t found a use for yet?
I also see no need to change the save system. A system allowing players to save whenever they wished would almost negate every other attempt at creating tension. If the player isn’t worried about getting killed, then why bother making it a horror game at all?
One of my fondest gaming moments came when playing Resident Evil 2 for the very first time with my brothers. After an hour of playing, we realised that our memory card was full and we couldn’t save the game. So we played all night, realising that just one mistake would wipe out all our progress. We barely finished the game, with no remaining health items and almost no ammo. If new players can feel even a fraction of that level of tension, then this remake will be a success.
If they do decide to remake the game in more of the Resident Evil 4 style, it will be less scary automatically. It would be novel to explore the Resident Evil 2 maps with an over the shoulder camera, but I worry about what the knock on effect would be. If the developers felt that the enemies were now too easy to kill or avoid, they might add more. Then they’d add more ammo to accommodate this decision, and before long it’s turned into an action game. The game would still be more of a survival horror than the last few Resident Evil releases, simply based on the story and the environments, but ultimately I don’t think it’s the right decision.
So what changes should be made? The biggest change to the original game will obviously be the graphics/visuals. The 2002 remake of the first Resident Evil transformed the game from a bright, clunky-looking horror, to one of the most gorgeous and atmospheric games ever made. The prospect of giving Resident Evil 2 a similar facelift two generations later is mouth-watering. It also goes without saying that the voice acting should be updated, as the voice acting in the original titles was infamously corny and over-the-top.
But I think Capcom should take it further than that. The first Resident Evil remake was so great because it kept many of the systems of the first game in place, but altered enough to keep old players on their toes. The layout of the map was changed, preserving all of the iconic locations, but also rearranging certain areas and adding entirely new ones. Puzzles were updated and item locations were moved. This is exactly what I want to see with the Resident Evil 2 remake. I’ll certainly get a kick out of reliving some of the game’s iconic moments, but I also want that sensation of unfamiliarity that is so crucial to horror.
I would also expect the upcoming remake to include ‘Crimson Heads’. This was the 2002 remake’s greatest invention: defeated zombies could come back as faster and more dangerous enemies later in the game, unless their heads had been blown off or their corpses burned. This made back-tracking across older areas a lot more intense, and made the game more strategic. It would be a great addition to Resident Evil 2.
So is Resident Evil 2 a game worth remaking? It’s a difficult question for me to answer. My opinion on remakes in other forms of media (film, etc.) has typically been that it’s lazy, and that creating something new is always the preferable option. But it’s a little different with video games …
Our technical capabilities have changed substantially since the release of the original game, so the potential is there to create something that genuinely surpasses the 1998 version by leaps and bounds. And while it’s easy for us to watch the original versions of classic films, older video games cannot be played on modern systems. Remakes of this kind are a way of preserving history, and making the classics accessible to new fans. Personally, I dislike the modern tendency to release ‘HD remasters’ of games that came out a year ago and expecting fans to pay for them all over again. But recreating games from several generations ago can be genuinely exciting.
That being said, if you asked me if I’d prefer to play a Resident Evil 2 remake or a brand new survival horror title using that style, I’d probably opt for the latter. Outdated though it may be in some respects, the PS1 game is still there for older fans to enjoy. And most of us would really enjoy a new title that focused on the horror elements that made the old games work.
Unfortunately, the chances of Capcom deciding to make new survival horror games in the current climate are low. It would be considered a risk, and the video game industry is extremely risk averse at the moment. However, a survival horror remake comes with a built in fan base. And the speculation around the game will create a level of hype for its release that isn’t entirely dependent on the size of the marketing budget.
So am I excited about the Resident Evil 2 remake announcement? Hell yeah, I am. It might not be the ideal way for me to get my survival horror fix, but at this point I’ll take what I can get. It turns out that when it comes to the horror genre, they really don’t make them like they used to.
But maybe they can remake them like they used to. Hopefully with a little something extra.
Steve Hanley is an editor and co-founder of NovaCritic.com.