E3 2018: Resident Evil 2 Remake Hands-on Preview: REvitalized

A mashup of modern graphics and a control scheme that promotes intuitive play as well as tension made Capcom's 'RE2make' my most anticipated game of 2019.

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Besides finishing Dark Souls 2 using nothing but a broken spoon, completing Resident Evil 2 in less than 90 minutes, without using first aid sprays or saving my progress, is my greatest video game accomplishment. (That took a lot of practice, but it turns out skipping classes frees up a lot of time.)

Consider that, and the fact that the Resident Evil "REmake" on GameCube is one of my favorite games ever, and you'll understand why I've been waiting impatiently for my first glimpse of Capcom's Resident Evil 2 remake since the company coyly announced its development in August of 2015 and then went dark for nearly three years.

I got hands-on time with "RE2make" at E3, and came away more excited than ever. The game isn't the Resident Evil 2 I played obsessively in college. It's the game as I remember it. Let me explain.

Ever since the franchise's heyday, series creator Shinji Mikami has peddled the pronouncement/excuse that the tank controls used in the classic games are supposed to feel awkward because they represent the terror-stricken bumbling we'd all commit on the off-chance a virus caused 99% of the world's population to die and rise again as zombies. As a proponent of those controls, I get where Mikami is coming from, but I still respectfully disagreed. While "push up to move forward no matter which way you're facing" makes sense in a game where every camera angle is predetermined and, thus, will never be oriented exactly as players want it, I sympathized with anyone who found the tank controls and static angles too frustrating to overcome.

My concern going into Resident Evil 2 circa 2019 was that changing the camera from static angles to a behind-the-shoulder view introduced in 2005's Resident Evil 4 would cause a cascade effect of changes. If Leon and Claire can aim in first-person, RE2's slow, shambling, stupid zombies will be too easy to pick off, which means Capcom would likely have to increase their speed to give them a fighting chance, which would introduce more action into the game's slow, creeping tension—and so on. Before you know it, you're left with a reinvention of Resident Evil 2 that plays more like Resident Evil 6.

Terrible, I know.

When I saw Capcom's gameplay trailer at E3 that confirmed an RE4-style camera, I wasn't worried. I was more excited than the G-virus-infected rat (whose name is Kevin, according to various sources) we saw in RE2make's first trailer. At that point, all I wanted was confirmation that the project existed and was proceeding apace. I got it. Later, I wondered. Would RE2make still feel like Resident Evil 2?

Emphatically: Yes.

Resident Evil 2 Remake does away with tank controls for real-time 3D movement. Tilt a stick in a direction, and Leon (Claire was not playable at E3) will head that way, with the camera floating above and behind his shoulder. Yet zombies are still a threat even though you have pixel-perfect aim, because your aim isn't always pixel perfect.

While standing still, Leon's targeting reticule narrows to a fine point, communicating to players that they'll fire with a high degree of accuracy. You can move while aiming and firing, but doing so widens your targeting reticule, dramatically reducing your accuracy. Zombies won't stand still and let you blast them to bits. Land too many headshots, and the game's adaptive AI kicks in, allowing them to move more erratically, such as weaving out of your line of sight and then lunging to grab Leon and take a bite off his health bar. A single zombie now poses a significant threat, while facing down a mob of three or more is optimism at its most foolish.

In this way, RE2make feels awkward and bumbling in a good way, the way I think Mikami intended but couldn't deliver on due to the technology of the time. Implementing fair drawbacks to actions like moving while aiming, as well as zombies that refuse to be cannon fodder, make survival an even greater challenge than it was back in 1998, appealing to diehards, but with the benefit of fluid, intuitive controls that should appeal to casual players who found the old control scheme off-putting.

RE2make looks as great as it plays. It's being developed on the RE engine, Capcom's proprietary tech engineered for 2017's Resident Evil 7, and it shows. Character models are suitably gorgeous while at the same time making you wince with disgust every time you encounter blood-splattered zombies with missing limbs, caved-in skulls, and unhinged jaws. You can add to the carnage by shooting off limbs and chunks of flesh. When a zombie lurched to get out of my line of sight, I ended up shooting off half his arm, leaving a hand hanging from sinew.

Resident Evil-style survival is nothing without a good dose of horror, and RE2make is satisfyingly terrifying. Foyers are dilapidated. Corridors are dimly lit, with some flooded from gushing toilets and choked with corpses and debris. RE2make takes place in the Racoon Police Department you know and fear, but with architectural changes that extend organically from the 1998 rendition, much like the additional wings, floors, and courtyards present in 2000's Resident Evil remake. My chest tightened every time I had to press through a darkened hallway. Leon takes out a flashlight to cut through the darkness, and fortunately you can aim—with the handgun, at least; I imagine two-handed weapons such as the shotgun will be a different story—and hold your flashlight at the same time.

The remake sets the scene in more ways than through visuals. Leon's story, remember, is that he's a rookie cop forced to survive a zombie outbreak straight out of a B-horror movie on his first day on the job. Naturally, he's a bit nervous, and the game puts you into his shoes through dynamic comments. He psyches himself up by whispering "You got this" through chattering teeth the first time he sets foot in a dark hallway, and even screamed "Get the fuck off!" when a zombie sank its teeth into my neck.

When Leon sprints, the camera doesn't zoom in and shake as it does in more action-heavy third-person shooters like Gears of War. It pans out to show your character moving at a quick hustle rather than a sprint. Leon isn't Doomguy, able to race across terrain at 30+ miles an hour. He's a rookie. He's scared out of his mind. He's human.

Once, he yelled "This isn't funny" when a zombie kept coming after three, four, five direct hits. At first I found the line cheesy—but that's classic Resident Evil to a T(-Virus), and, really, people do and say strange things when the impossible manifests before their eyes and shuffles forward to kill them.

Capcom set the gold standard for remakes when it reimagined Resident Evil on GameCube. Resident Evil 2 looks to build on that reputation. A combination of morbidly stunning graphics, tight controls that should appeal to veteran and new players alike, and a brilliant retooling of the tropes and challenges that made the 1998 original an instant classic, left me even more ecstatic to play the full game when it drops on January 25, 2019.

Contributing Editor

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