The zombie remake first confounded Matt in his Resident Evil 2 review, before winning him over with its survival horror. Since then, two RPS folk who remember the 1998 original have had time to confront the undead. So what's our final verdict?
Brendan: Oh hello, Matt. Hi, Dave. Fancy meeting you two here, among these burning ambulances and smashed-up lamp posts. Raccoon City definitely isn’t what they advertised on the brochure, is it?
Matt: "Raccoon City" is a ridiculous name and time has somehow made you all forget this.
Dave: It could have had a more appropriate name, but then it wouldn’t be Resident Evil without the B-Movie schlock.
Matt: Right, so, this is one thing I’m curious about. Does the schlock actually work for you? It probably wasn’t helped by me going in without expecting any, but I definitely thought it undercut the horror at crucial moments.
Dave: I’m a big fan of the George Romero style of zombie horror, and any camp B-Movie where the actors try just a bit too hard. It’s always more of a giggle to me than scary. Does it feel out of place here? Maybe, considering that the remake definitely makes regular zombies far scarier, but the important thing is that it relieves some tension.
Brendan: It’s very dumb. At first, I was offended when your review called it “schlock” because my loyalty to Leon Kennedy kicked in. But on closer inspection, it is tripe, yes. It undercuts the scariness of the premise (a city full of zombies) but it hasn’t undercut the moment-to-moment horror for me (a big fella in a hat is walking after me with an angry expression).
Matt: It’s schlockier than Schwarzenegger urging people onto a helicopter. Every time Leon or Claire yells “you bastard” I cringe and forget about the undead jaws around my neck.
Dave: I agree with you there. I would have preferred it if they were more exasperated, “c’mon, really?”, as that would sell the desperation a little more.
Brendan: Well, I like it when Leon says “fuck you” to the zombie he’s just killed. It soothes me spiritually. There’s also an excellent bit later on, when Ada whips out a magical hacking device and says: “It’s secret weapon time!” And this made me do a bark laugh.
Matt: Oh wow, that section is awful. Are we agreed that section is awful? Bark laughs aside?
Dave: I’ve just started my "Leon B" playthrough after finishing Claire’s story first, so only just met up with Ada. I've seen it in action though, and it doesn’t fill me with confidence.
Brendan: I’m still in the middle of that bit. I refuse to commit to an opinion.
Matt: Fair enough. I should really stop whingeing, because on the whole I had a really good time. It’s a shame that despite me using words like ‘love’ and ‘brilliant’ in my review so many people seem to think I was down on it.
Dave: That comes with the fact that this is the remake of a beloved game. People will inevitably have rose-tinted glasses when comparing it to the original. It’s undoubtedly a more ambitious remake than the first Resident Evil had, but I’d argue that it achieved so much more, while at the same time making some missteps.
Brendan: I think your criticisms are valid, even as someone who loved the 1998 one. I’m also glad we got you to review it as a newcomer. If I’d written it, I would have spent half the review complaining that the typewriter makes the wrong noise when you save.
Dave: If you have the retro sounds pack, it makes the correct noise, and plays the correct music.
Brendan: Amazing! There's a zombie behind you.
Dave: [shoots it]
Matt: Oh god, “the retro sounds pack”. How did Graham get me to play a game with a retro sounds pack.
Brendan: He doesn’t understand, Dave. He wasn’t there.
Dave: That old music walking through the police station for the first time. Still gives me chills.
Brendan: Matt, one of your complaints was about the puzzles. But listen, no listen, it’s a police station which used to be an art museum in which all the door locks correspond to different suits in a deck of cards. Honestly, what’s the problem?
Matt: Adventure game logic! Right there! The logic isn’t as intractable as the worst crimes of that genre, but it cuts close enough that I’m never going to gel with it. People seem to revere these puzzles about finding objects until you find the other object you need to use it on, or twizzling blocks around until you find the right pattern. Those are just roadblocks between me and the fun scary zombies!
Brendan: Look, everyone knows that old red books need to be put into a statue’s hands so you can get a sceptre so you can get a ruby so you can unlock a jewel box. Everyone knows that.
Dave: Some puzzles do take some logic to work out, but the clues are at least there. The statue hand-and-book puzzle is hinted at with photos you develop in the police station dark room. That said, having to find keyboard keys so you can press the right buttons on a security keypad? That I just cannot understand. You can clearly press the plastic in. It’s like Capcom don’t know how keyboards work.
Brendan: You could also just pluck the “2” key off the pad and use it as a “3” key. It’s very stupid.
Matt: I complained about that one in the office. Loudly.
Dave: I believe there was also a lot of arm flailing.
Matt: It’s part of a broader problem I had, where the game didn’t seem that interested in convincing me it was part of a believable world. I found nonsense books about magic herbs, parents who seemed psychopathically disinterested in their children’s safety. Zombies in hats.
Dave: But that’s the beauty of it. The tutorials are in books that you find. You don’t find the book about the herbs? You won’t know that combining blue herbs with green herbs and red herbs makes a fully healing item.
Brendan: I think the remake does expect the legacy of its 1998 release to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to puzzle logic. But it’s hard to know how much lifting from the perspective of a “rememberer”. Anyway, let’s stop talking about the puzzles, it’s infuriating Matt and we have to get off the streets. Let’s talk about Mr. Hat.
Matt: Yes! I’ve been whingeing again. Mr. Hat was excellent.
Dave: Clearly the best improvement. He was a jackass in the original, but he really makes a big entrance in the remake and is a constant presence you need to be aware of. If I had one thing I’d add, there isn’t a constant playing of DMX’s “X Gon Give It To Ya” when he’s nearby that gets louder the closer he is. I’d play that mod.
Brendan: This is where the remake really flips you up if you’re an old school Resi 2 player though. I did not expect him to be so persistent. I thought he’d leave you alone after running away for a bit, like the xenomorph in Alien: Isolation. But he follows you around for aaages. It’s properly unsettling. You just have to keep playing as you were before, but with big angry footstomps constantly reminding you to hurry up.
Matt: I love how he’s both avoidable and inevitable. It’s a flavour of dread I haven’t quite encountered before, a menace that can be outrun but never stopped.
Dave: He can even walk into the lobby of the police station. That took me by surprise.
Brendan: I know! I like how the lobby acts as a big obstacle course for him though. If you want to get around him nice and leisurely, you just lure him into the lobby. It’s the tight corridors I hate. Especially when those corridors have lickers in them too.
Matt: *obligatory link to Matthew’s video*
Brendan: Okay, that’s the most important thing. If the game frightened us all, if it made us run away from Mr. Hat, whimpering like children, I think it has done its job well. Remake or not.
Matt: Absolutely. That’s not the only clever way it finds of frightening you, either.
Dave: I’d argue the regular zombies and the corpse falling out of the locker early in the game were scarier. I wasn’t expecting just how claustrophobic the corridors feel. Every corner could have a new zombie that grabs you. It’s very well done, and more organic than a staged scare in a cutscene.
Brendan: There are a lot of jump scares as you play, yeah. Normally, I’m not into that. But I think again the legacy of Resi is making me more forgiving.
Matt: Hmmm. See, that’s not really what I had in mind - that’s standard horror game fare. I’m thinking of the way you never know how many bullets are going to take down a regular zombie, which means you can rarely look at a room and go ‘oh, I’ve got this, I’m safe’.
Brendan: A very good point. The bullets-to-death ratio is a great touch. You’re always worrying about your ammo. Did you guys board up lots of windows? Or did you just ignore that? I was CRAZY for boards. I am a big window board proponent.
Dave: Oh, consistently! I really didn’t want to waste the bullets on caving another zomble's head in. Besides, dealing with the limbs is a more effective use of ammunition.
Matt: Really? I never shot a limb. And I think I boarded up one window then stopped carrying them for lack of space.
Brendan: WHAT. But the windows, Matt!
Matt: Fresh air is the best cure for the C virus. Or whatever it was.
Dave: The reason limbs are a good thing to shoot is that zombies then can’t grab you or walk towards you, meaning they’re easier to walk around and avoid damage. It doesn’t deal with the problem completely, but it uses far fewer rounds. Only works on the zombies though - lickers are just horrible enough to warrant killing. Oh, zombie ahead.
Matt: [shoots it in the leg]
Dave: See what I mean?
Brendan: Okay, well, I’m the only one among us who hasn’t seen it through to the end. So, how much does it change between scenarios? Like, how much is different between Claire and Leon? And there are other scenarios, right? Is it “wow, that’s very different!” or “wow, that is barely different”.
Matt: Largely the latter.
Dave: Going through Leon’s story now, it does go through similar sequences, but the stories deviate enough. Claire has a sub-story about protecting a little girl, while Leon tags along with Ada Wong - the FBI agent with the aforementioned electric gadget. On top of that, each story has a Side A and Side B variant, though I don’t know how they differ in the remake.
Matt: Iiiiiiif you care about the story. I wanted different enemies, different levels - and the closest to that is the Ada naffness.
Dave: Aside from that, there is a bunch of unlockable modes, including “The Fourth Survivor” which has you do a speed-run as an Umbrella Operative named Hunk, as well as the infamous “Tofu Survivor”...
Brendan: See, Matt? A sensible piece of tofu. This isn’t schlock.
Matt: Hrmph. I saw this chat as an opportunity to go ‘hey, I actually really liked Resident Evil 2’, but I’ve just entrenched the idea that I loathe it. And I do loathe bits of it. The problem is those bits are easy to describe and talk about, but what really matters - the fear - is a feeling that can’t properly be conveyed.
Brendan: How much of that fear is also a fear of messing up your save? I have about 10 different save files. I’m so worried I’ll lose too many bullets and be unable to progress.
Matt: Hah, I just charged ahead, confident I could wing it. Maybe that was a scarier possibility in the original?
Dave: I once ran out of bullets during a boss fight, with only a knife to defend myself. Nothing’s more terrifying than that.
Brendan: Did you win?
Dave: God no.
Brendan: Matt would have won. He doesn’t even use window boards. The man is a rock. Anyway, I think we’ve gabbed enough about it to give our final yays and nays. So far, I am a big yay. I love the way it tickles your memories as a player of the original. There’s one door in an alley, the door to a boiler room. In the 1998 game, you go to open it. And instead of getting the nice, safe door animation like usual, two zombies come piling through. It caught you totally off guard. In the remake, the developers know they can't pull that surprise, but those two zombies are still there, and this time they’re loudly banging on the door. I know they’re waiting, and I love that. The police station is a wonderful setting, and so well-remembered.
Matt: I’m also a big yay, but my yaying gets eclipsed by that of people who see old-fashioned design as part of the charm. Though that playing-with-your-memories thing does sound super neat.
Dave: It looks like a hat-trick, as I’m also a big yay. I loved how they changed certain things like having zombies break through doors, as well as a more persistent Mr. Hat, but the way it made the third-person perspective tense and claustrophobic, rather than rely on camera transitions to hide zombies from view, is immensely clever. The puzzles are hit and miss, but then they always were.
Brendan: And the way it--
Matt: What's that noise?
Dave: Uh oh, I think they heard us. I knew we shouldn’t have talked too long.
Brendan: You know what to do, boys.
In unison: It’s secret weapon time!