by Jed Pressgrove
Note: This is the sixth essay of a seven-part series on game remakes. Check out the rest of the series here.
The more I reflect on my experience with 2019’s Resident Evil 2, the less I consider the game a remake of the 1998 original and the more I think of it as a sequel to Resident Evil 4.
In a years-old tweet that is now unavailable, critic Zolani Stewart said, “Everything is Resident Evil 4.” Those words, perhaps sarcastic, have reverberated in my head since I read them. In cumulative terms, I have spent entire days playing through Resident Evil 4 on a variety of difficulty settings; topping my high scores on all four levels in The Mercenaries, the unlockable Resident Evil 4 mini game; running through the abysmal Resident Evil 5 with a variety of friends; and striving for the biggest combos, again with different friends, in Resident Evil 5’s The Mercenaries mode. Additionally, I have completed Leon’s quest in Resident Evil 6 and dabbled in the campaigns for Chris and Jake. On top of that, I have analyzed and tested countless third-person titles that mimic Resident Evil 4.
We are what we play. I’m now hardwired to be relaxed, confident, and comfortable when I play a game that evokes Resident Evil 4 and its innumerable children. 2019’s Resident Evil 2 was like getting on a bicycle. I shot, outmaneuvered, and outfoxed my various opponents with little trouble or fear. I was predestined to feel good about what I was doing. Resident Evil 2 doesn’t remake so much as reuse, rechew, reheat, reapply, reissue, retread, reemploy, recall, reecho, rebottle, recopy, reload, redeliver, recite, reacquaint, reiterate, recirculate, regurgitate, reduplicate, reexpose, reinsert, remanufacture, repackage, and resell.
Despite Resident Evil 2’s faithful dedication to the basic style of Resident Evil 4, not one moment in the game came close to generating the tension and shock of Resident Evil 4’s introductory village setpiece. Resident Evil 2 borrows from Resident Evil 4 without understanding why the latter was a show-stopper. An over-the-shoulder perspective and pinpoint aiming must come with pressure on the player. When he directed Resident Evil 4, Shinji Mikami grasped this simple concept and, in turn, threw everything and the kitchen sink at us. But when Capcom produced Resident Evil 2, the company lacked Mikami’s principle, and instead oversaw a pandering, slow-paced affair that wouldn’t intimidate a nincompoop.
In her review for Kotaku, Heather Alexandra senses this misstep. “It is easy—too easy—to feel powerful in Resident Evil 2, as both the cameras and controls encourage a confident push forward that the original did not always compel,” she writes. “While the Racoon Police Department is dark and foreboding it never feels as harrowing as it did in the original.” As Alexandra remembers, 1998’s Resident Evil 2 operates like a merciless vice grip, subverting the expectations of anyone who had conquered the first Resident Evil, crowding the screen with zombies. 2019’s Resident Evil 2 is more akin to a middle-aged creep with a thin mustache and deep pockets who sprints over to massage our egos. “You can do this, see?” the smarmy creep reassures us. “You’ve played Resident Evil 4 and a thousand other games like it. Why not one more, for old time’s sake?”
Later in her review, Alexandra loses me. She argues the expanded role of Mr. X in 2019’s Resident Evil 2 propels the remake into “brilliant and horrifying” territory:
Like getting chased by Jack Baker in Resident Evil 7 or enduring the ever-possible ambushes of Resident Evil 3’s titular Nemesis, there’s a great sense of disempowerment that comes from being plagued with an implacable foe. Resident Evil 2 almost uniformly empowers the player elsewhere, but that changes whenever Mr. X is around. Knowing that there is no safe spot, knowing that he will find you and you will need to deal with him is panic-inducing. While he sometimes can feel more like nuisance than menace—especially when you simply want to finish a puzzle—his inclusion and the execution therein helps elevate Resident Evil 2 to a genuinely terrifying experience. When it lands its punches, Resident Evil 2 hits like a champ.
The fact that one knows Mr. X will come ruins what made him notable in 1998. In the original Resident Evil 2, Mr. X inexplicably appears in a subsequent playthrough after the end credits roll. In 2019’s Resident Evil 2, he pops up in the initial playthrough like a fact of life. A surprise turns into a gimmick. That’s not hitting like a champ. That’s telegraphing like an amateur, especially when we don’t have to contend with awkward 1990s survival horror controls and shifting camera angles.
Mr. X never touched me in the new Resident Evil 2. And that’s because ideas like Mr. X don’t work in a game that strives to be Resident Evil 4 more than it wants to match or surpass 1998’s Resident Evil 2. We shouldn’t allow Capcom, which should face criminal charges for its commitment to unoriginality, to cheapen the meaning of remake.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested Shinji Mikami helped produce 2019’s Resident Evil 2. This error has been fixed.