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The Visceral Horror of ‘Resident Evil 2 Remake’

I didn’t know I wanted a “Resident Evil 2” remake. After spending almost an hour with it at this year’s E3, it’s one of my games of the show.

The thing that “Resident Evil 2 Remake’s” trailer doesn’t properly convey is the oppressive stress of the entire experience, at least with the demo that Capcom had on hand. When I first entered the police department, I was suspicious, but the lights were on, and there was ammo on the reception desk. But in an item-gated environment, where tools or keys are required to explore most areas of the current space, the only path open to me was accessed by … squeezing under a jammed metal emergency shutter into a darkened hallway.

If you’re already saying no thank you, then “Resident Evil 2 Remake” really won’t be for you.

The emergency lights were out, there was several inches of water from an overflowing toilet that had clearly been running for days, and in the pitch blackness, what little I could see was covered with thick, blackening blood. The atmosphere is so thick, and so oppressive, that I was practically crawling through the game before any zombies showed up.

In this way, “Resident Evil 2 Remake” owes a real debt to “Resident Evil 7.” It seems obvious that the hard pivot in 2017 to take the series back to its survival horror roots – and away from the action horror direction of “Resident Evil 4” and every other game in the series that came after – has been reverberated through this remake’s development. In “Resident Evil 7,” the tension was almost overwhelming, and here, that same sensibility is in effect, despite the fact that as Leon Kennedy, I had a gun right away, and what I thought was a decent amount of ammunition.

It was not, it turns out, enough ammunition.

I didn’t find that out until after “Resident Evil 2 Remake” made one more statement explaining exactly what kind of game it was. After hearing another officer shouting for help, I ran to another emergency shutter jammed open, grabbing his arms and attempting to pull him through. But those shouts quickly turned to screams, and the ripping and tearing sounds I heard on the other side of the breach were cut short as I pulled the officer through – minus everything below the belly button.

I had a moment to “appreciate” “Resident Evil 2 Remake’s” considerably upgraded gore – there was little left to the imagination as the camera deliberated on the officer’s ruined body, viscera and organs exposed a la George Romero’s most savage work – before my own encounter with Remake’s take on the series’ staple zombies.

These new zombies will likely end up as the series’ best. To go along with the upgrades in visuals and gore, there’s a revamped dismemberment and damage system in place. But the thing that stands out most right now is that headshots aren’t instant kills.

This could change in the final game, as I understand that the version of the demo that I played had increased difficulty over the time-limited version most attendees played. The most obvious result in my playthrough was the sense of betrayal and terror I felt when, after landing a solid headshot on an officer zombie and walking away from the now-still corpse, I heard a shuffling about ten seconds later as it got back up.

As I frantically plugged more shots into that zombie, another started banging on a window, and as I ran down the hallway I had just come from, and from around every corner more zombies emerged.

By the way, Leon also suffers visible wounds from attacks – if you get jumped by a zombie that takes a bite out his neck, you’ll see raw, bloody teethmarks there, even in cutscenes, until you you heal yourself with a first aid spray, or the series’ trademark green herbs.

It’s details like this that suggest that “Resident Evil 2 Remake” isn’t rewriting the series history, which has remained surprisingly intact over the course of more than 20 years. For example, “Resident Evil 2 Remake” still looks like it’s set in the mid ’90s, just like the original. The police station is full of CRT monitors and fuzzy CCTV cameras, and even the fashion seems period specific. This provides a cohesive visual idea for the game in a way that the series has occasionally struggled with. It helps the Raccoon City PD building feel more like a place.

Whether it feels more believable than the original game is hard to say through the veil of two decades of history, but maybe that’s ok. Talking to “Resident Evil 2 Remake” producers Yoshiaki Hirabayashi and Tsuyoshi Kanda, they stressed to Variety that they want to recapture the feeling of playing through the original game, which, ironically, requires changing some things about it. There’s a clear effort on display to figure out what “Resident Evil 2” made players feel and why, and, in turn, figuring out how to do that.

In some places that will require changing the game, streamlining some aspects or conforming gameplay to modern expectations – hence the third person, over the shoulder perspective for the game and the updated, properly responsive controls and shooting. Other changes make sense, but are noticeable nonetheless. Doors in the station are no longer static buffers between one space and another, there to disguise load screens. Instead, they’re opened in real time and as a motion, adding a new kind of suspense to “Resident Evil 2” – it’s hard to know for sure what will be behind them.  

“RE2 Remake” is a strange confluence of “Resident Evil” trends – the remake, the camera angle, the visual style, but, somehow, it appears to be a perfect marriage. Things will be clearer when “Resident Evil 2 Remake” arrives for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on January 25 2019.

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