shinji mikami

Resident Evil 2: Faking the Remake

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 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.

Game Bias’ 15 Greatest Shooters List — #5-1

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: Here’s the introduction, #15-11, and #10-6 of the list.

5. Blazing Lazers (1989)

Building on the groundwork laid by Gradius, this vertical shooter, released on the elusive TurboGrafx16 console, suggests power-up management is an art form of choices and consequences. Four primary weapons can be leveled up by collecting orbs, and each weapon enables different play styles, whether it’s shooting smaller bullets in front of, behind, and to both sides of you simultaneously for extra defense or unleashing blue lightning that cuts through machinery like butter. Provocatively, a level-three weapon can be more effective than a higher-level weapon depending on the situation, so having to avoid orbs to maintain your bullet expression can put you into some dicey situations with enemies. Your style can be further augmented by secondary power-ups like floating drones that shoot with your ship, a shield, and homing missiles, but unlike the case in Gradius, you can’t activate all of these options at the same time. You must make a decision and live and die with it until another power-up, going back and forth like a pendulum, tempts you to change plans.

4. Resident Evil 4 (2005)

No one could have guessed the fourth installment of a franchise known for survival horror, a subgenre notorious for inexact controls and awkward action, would be one of the most exhilarating shooters ever made. Given Resident Evil 4’s incalculable influence on all sorts of 3-D third-person titles, it might be difficult for some to remember how this Shinji Mikami-directed game energized the very idea of aiming: one button press pulls the weapon up and zooms the camera closer to the shoulder of Leon (the pretty boy with enough cheesy lines for two games). This visual trick, copied shamelessly since, focuses one’s eyes even more on the target (a kinetic proxy of the lining-up process in real life), and every firearm having a red laser ensures something close to fetishization of the aim. How much fun it was, then, to find a favorite pistol and slowly improve its bullet capacity, sturdiness, power, and so on until zombie shooting became a sport that it had never been before. This unique pleasure was only surpassed by the unlockable The Mercenaries mode, which, if the world were just, would have its own arcade machine. If you must, complain about the fact that you can’t shoot while moving; almost anyone who has gone to a shooting range will tell you that freestanding target practice, which Resident Evil 4 beautifully simulates and demands, has a distinct intimacy and discipline to it.

3. Metroid Prime (2002)

Like Doom, Metroid Prime is full of shooting and areas to explore. But this Nintendo game, directed by Mark Pacini, tops its gorier first-person predecessor by calling attention to the beauty and importance of perspective itself. The way Metroid Prime reintroduces the morph ball from Metroid is the most obvious illustration of this point: the shift from first- to third-person when you ball up is a treat every time due to the natural-feeling transition. More importantly, the game’s different visors transcend the cliched detective modes of modern gaming, offering not one but three new ways of seeing the world and unearthing its mysteries. Metroid Prime’s radical design shines in its final action-packed stretch, which has you shaking off life-draining metroids via the perspective-changing morph ball and trying not to fall while scaling small platforms; surgically dispatching a giant spider with every major blaster (each with its own quirks and eye candy); and swapping to the right visor during the final boss battle so that you can actually see where to shoot.

2. Missile Command (1980)

In most shooters, skill leads to relatively instant gratification. Line up, fire, and know soon whether your target is wounded or destroyed. With Missile Command, Dave Theurer rejects this pattern as too comfortable, requiring the player to anticipate the trajectories of enemy missiles and deftly catch them in explosions that gradually widen and shrink back down. As great as Missile Command is on any platform (I first played it on a collection of Atari-produced games for PC), the arcade experience is essential, as the roller ball and stylized three buttons make players feel like they are part of a station that stands between obliteration and everyday homes. With this full package, Missile Command stands as a testament to the anxiety of the Cold War era.

1. Galaga (1981)

Shigeru Yokoyama’s Galaga is the most straightforward shooter on this list, and it’s that simplicity that magnifies the appeal of every detail of the game, whether it’s the sounds different enemies make when you land hits; the “Challenging Stage,” which grants you both respite from the “real” game and stress due to its special emphasis on accuracy and timing; the excitement of annihilating almost every enemy before they can line up and begin their malevolent swoops toward your ship that can only move left or right; the unforgettable little tune that plays when one of your ships gets sucked into a tractor beam and the reprise when you save it; the almost hollow-sounding explosion — a fitting complement for the disappointment in your gut — when you lose an extra ship. This Namco classic renders its ancestors, including Space Invaders, almost irrelevant in my mind. That’s what a true masterpiece does; it is the high bar, making otherwise good games seem like stuff made by shortsighted amateurs. I play the arcade machine every chance I get to remind myself of what game design is capable of, how razor sharp it can be with every aspect.