It’s not often that we get to relive bits and pieces of our childhood, that feeling of nostalgia that grips us usually only lasts a moment or two. The nostalgic sense is also particularly elusive, too, because it’s something different for every one of us and can be tough to explain why someone has such a strong affinity to a particular experience, and only tends to last a few moments. We all remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for instance, but we each had our favorite mutant amphibian, our favorite villain and of course our favorite episode; that one thing that encompassed what a show meant to you as a viewer. It always feels good to find a person who shares a vivid memory of the same characters, the same dialogue and the same action. Nostalgia is also a double-edged sword. Most, if not all of us know the feeling of seeing something years later that we loved as a kid, just to discover that it doesn’t hold up like it used to. A loss of that fond memory and the feeling that it gave you thinking back on it becomes replaced with the realization that it had its time and place, but now it’s gone, a memory you sacrificed ignorantly without having the understanding that it should have stayed a fond memory. The real travesty comes from knowing only too late that, that is in fact where the experience belonged, in your memory. With movies being remade or “reimagined,” it is inevitable that something comes along to tarnish what we had put on a pedestal. This same experience seems to have caught on in gaming, too. First with the upscaled textures and high-resolution upgrades of original games, with very little change, but now we appear to be seeing a new brand of re-releases. Resident Evil 2 was recently released, again and with it brought a completely different experience.
Resident Evil 2’s release showed Capcom that there’s a market for some of their older games that they can bank on from long-time fans, but has also attracted gamers who never played the original, or in some instances, may not have even been alive for the original release. There’s the expected familiarity in the remake of RE2. Leon, Claire, Ada. They’re all here, and when they first show up on screen, players versed in the RE series instantly know who they are. The game hits players with that excitement, dread, and nostalgia of being chased from room-to-room by the Tyrant, or having the hell scared out of them by their first run-in with a Licker with their long, proboscis-like tongue, flicking through the air as it peeks out through the sharpened teeth that drip with thick saliva. Players could still have this very same experience with the older game, but chances are they’re also going to feel the sting of dated game mechanics. The scares and B- rated horror movie dialogue doesn’t seem to land like it all used to, not only because the player’s experienced them all before but because the dated mechanics of the game just won’t hit home like it used to.
Let’s take a look at the very opening of the game. The gas station sequence, when Leon (or Claire) has the player getting out of their car to have a look around. The original station is closed off, claustrophobic and there’s not a whole lot to explore. It’s a sequence that’s really meant to simply introduce the players and their chosen characters to their first zombies. It worked fine for the time. Now when we look at the gas station though, it’s still all of those things, it’s claustrophobic, dark and foreboding. What’s different here is now you’ve got room to explore and really take in the scenery. The atmosphere isn’t passively working on the player and making paranoid, well, it is, but that’s a foregone conclusion at this point. Now, the player’s given room to actually help the game exploit their fears and anxiety. The details, the slow, methodical pace of the character moving through the tight shelves and debris in the way. Players can stop and look at their surroundings right up until they run into their first zombie and only then is it time to make a quick escape back to your car. The presentation is also much more organic, the way Leon and Claire meet and are almost immediately separated, the additional dialogue that hooks the player much more quickly. All of this was built from the very same premise but expanded to give players something entirely new that we weren’t expecting.
Players will also see the gruesome detail that Capcom took the time to add. The damage that players can dish out to the face, chest, and neck of a zombie or other horrifically mutated creature is incredible. Instead of merely seeing a half rotten or eaten zombie that indicates being shot by swaying slightly off balance and faint mists of blood with each bullet impact, players are now given an incredible and frankly unexpected visceral looking bullet wound to act as a violent accessory to an already hideous looking corpse. If the zombie’s wearing a hat, the player can shoot it off their head. If a zombie gets too close, players can plunge a knife into the enemy. It will buy them time but at the expense of losing a melee weapon. The shuffling corpse will still have the blade firmly lodged in it as well, and if the player can successfully kill it, the blade can be retrieved. All these little things expand on the original experience, stacking the updated combat and atmosphere on top of classic puzzles that gamers don’t see a lot of in games anymore.
Further improvements can be seen in the character models, not of just the zombies, but the player characters themselves. There are alert and nervous qualities of Leon and his design. His eyes dart around, he’s often in a defensive stance, seemingly ready to bolt at any moment and just the overall body language of him as a character is something we would never have seen in the original Resident Evil 2. The technology just wasn’t there at the time. While this advance in technology is very pleasing to the eye, it delivers far more than a simple, visual enhancement. Leon’s body language helps tell the story; it helps sell the suspense and nervous energy that later games in the series are known. The exciting thing about this is the persona changes from character to character. When it’s time for the player to take over Ada Wong, for instance, she has an entirely different body language to her. She has a confident, almost cocky presentation to her. The movements seem more deliberate, and sure of herself than her counterpart, Leon. She is more familiar with the virus, she understands what it can do, and she’s more prepared for it. This confidence shows up in the character’s movement, which passively helps tell the story, much better than the original experience and this same presentation that also helps to illustrate the missteps of the character as she moves through her portion of the story.
Gamers have grown and experienced other, more modern horror and more suspenseful action as gaming has progressed — plenty of which within the Resident Evil franchise. As players grew, so did their expectations and this what has made the Resident Evil 2 remake something special. It takes the familiar and does more than update the graphics it improves the whole experience. It’s a game packed with nostalgia, yet feels entirely new. The RE2 remake has all the trappings of the original while giving players something new. The experience carries with it the familiarity that players want from a remake while being able to deliver on something that the technology of the time of the original could not produce. Remakes like RE2, show that there are ideas still worth exploring outside the game’s initial release.
Cynics would call this a nostalgia cash-in, but that seems like an over-simplification of Capcom has managed to accomplish. Yes, I am sure Capcom was well aware of the money they were going to make on this release. Considering how popular the franchise is worldwide as both Resident Evil and the Biohazard names in the West and Asian, remaking this game with an approach to quality and actually including new content was sure to sell well. Resident Evil 2 is still considered a hallmark of the Survival Horror genre and had helped to put a lot of other great horror games on the right path it also helped to define what needed to change in the series. From Capcom’s response about how well the remake has sold, they didn’t seem to realize that they’d managed to touch on the type of a remake that people have always wanted, but have not had yet. Not just the retelling of a story, but a chance to explore what is now a classic survival horror setting, in a modern gaming world, and at least for this particular remake, seems to have struck very particular chords with gamers. Capcom even went as far as to release a demo for the game to entice players to give them a taste of things to come, something that we don’t see all that much of these days. It seems that even the marketing team was thinking of classic ways to promote the new experience because we sure don’t see too many game demos these days.
Resident Evil 2 has shown that not only are there large markets for remakes with a significant facelift, but there are also improvements to be made from the original experience. Even for gamers who have already enjoyed the original titles, there’s something to be said about re-visiting an adventure like RE2, especially after it’s had a chance to mature and grow. In the case of RE2, the game went from a fun, but clunky control experience, with a decent, but noticeable cheese-factor, to an experience that’s much more cinematic and manages to add suspense and expand on the characters we’ve already grown to love. There’s still a market for older games, people are willing to go back and play things that they played years earlier, which will keep a company like Capcom in the good graces of gamers for years to come, but the company’s also shown that there’s a demand for old games with a fresh face. With rumblings of a Final Fantasy VII remake coming from Square Enix, we may have a resurgence of classic games that have been remade from the ground up to give us a recognizable, but the fresh take on something that we thought had long since come and gone.