Resident Evil 2 – Fan Expectations and the Challenge of Remaking a Classic
When the Resident Evil 2 remake was officially announced by Capcom to be heading into production, it was difficult to believe even with that formal announcement right in front of me. After all these years and the weird directions Resident Evil has gone in, all I could think was ‘are they really so bold to attempt a remake of arguably the most beloved game in the franchise?’ Trying to satisfy an already divided and multigenerational fanbase is a monumental task, and the development team has surely already considered every possible direction the project can go in. The most important thing for Capcom and the fans to consider is just what is it that made Resident Evil 2 special in the first place.
Going into Resident Evil 7, I thought for certain that I was going to loathe it. The prior entry, Resident Evil 6, left a bad taste in my mouth due to its focus on action, which was the opposite appeal of what I’d come to love about Resident Evil to begin with. The prolific horror series was now one that chased the coattails of the likes of Call of Duty — or whatever trend in gaming was most popular at the time. From a distance, I assumed with Resident Evil 7, this time Capcom was going after the audience that enjoys watching over enthusiastic YouTube personalities screaming over every little jump scare on camera.
Never have I eaten crow quite as hard as when the credits finally rolled on Resident Evil 7; I was elated. It well and truly felt like one of the classic Resident Evil games, and even now I can’t quite wrap my head around how Capcom knocked it out of the park. From systematic level design, ammo conservation, appropriately disempowering the player character, right down to save rooms; Resident Evil was back. It was like when your favorite band puts out a few mediocre albums and you start to lose faith in them, then suddenly they rebound with an excellent album that reminds you why you were a fan to begin with.
The thing is, though, that there are plenty of people that enjoy those experimental ‘mediocre’ albums. The longer the band is around, the more different kinds of fans they can cultivate. Resident Evil is old enough to have several generations of fans: those that grew up looking for the helmet key in the Spencer Mansion and those that grew up punching boulders in the mouth of a volcano. Despite my clear preference for the former, horror isn’t inherently better than action and vice versa. They do clash heavily in the sort of emotional response they elicit from the audience, though. Horror is all about disempowerment, while action is all about ultimate empowerment.
Just like how I was disappointed in the action-heavy direction the series went after Resident Evil 4, a new generation of fans are disappointed with Resident Evil 7’s focus on survival horror. History is repeating itself, just with a different fan backlash than the one that preceded it.
This is where the fan expectations for the Resident Evil 2 remake show just what a monumental task the development team faces. There’s the old guard that insist it must adhere to the original release to a tee, and there are newer fans that want it to be more ‘modernized’ to be more in line with what they’ve come to expect in recent entries in the franchise. In a post-Resident Evil 7 world, there’s probably no clear goal post for Capcom to reach.
The way to approach this dilemma is to consider ‘what should this remake actually be and what is it people liked about Resident Evil 2 in the first place?’ For me, Resident Evil 2 was special because so many little aspects came together to make something magnificent. The silence of the police station suddenly shattered by a zombie’s arm bursting through a boarded-up window. Solving the art-room puzzle and having a key item you desperately need finally revealed before you. Replaying the B-scenario(s) and seeing a different side of the story from the one you saw the first time around. These are the sort of things that resonate with me when I think about Resident Evil 2. It’s a tight, small, highly replayable horror game with phenomenal pacing that balances tension better than most of its contemporaries.
This is what really set Resident Evil 2 apart not only from its genre but from its own series. The only entry that matches this careful balancing act is the 2002 remake of the original Resident Evil. The big reason why fans have wanted a remake of Resident Evil 2 for so long is due to just how much of a giant improvement the 2002 remake is over the original Resident Evil. The hope has always been that the same can be done for the already stellar sequel. Thing is, the Resident Evil 2 remake is coming out in a much different era than the 2002 remake of the original did.
When the first remake came out, there was only one kind of Resident Evil fan. With 2005’s Resident Evil 4, the emphasis on action brought in a whole new generation of fans that love Resident Evil for third-person action. Furthermore, traditional survival horror games with tank controls just are not going to be greenlit these days when development budgets are catastrophically high. Capcom is going to have to make concessions on the game’s design regardless of how faithful the remake ends up being due to these factors. So already this new remake will more than likely not be exactly what old school fans want from it.
There’s a lot of people that float the notion of combining the best of both worlds. Take Resident Evil 2’s setting and characters and retrofit them into Resident Evil 4-style gameplay. The thing about this idea is that the game would have to be drastically different to accompany this. Resident Evil 4 works because its environments are large enough to allow enemies to surround you; the whole game is built around the idea of the player getting swarmed by a crowd. Meanwhile, in Resident Evil 2, the vast majority of places you visit are narrow hallways with very few exceptions. It’s hard to get surrounded in a hallway barely wide enough for two people, so the level design and look of the police station would have to be much different to accompany this. In Resident Evil 2, you’re mostly dealing with brain-dead zombies that just shamble forward, while in Resident Evil 4 you’re facing villagers that are still sentient. You can’t simply combine the two gameplay styles without drastically altering what Resident Evil 2 is, and if you change it enough it loses the essence that makes the game great in the first place.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Resident Evil 7’s design. The fixed camera angles and tank controls of classic Resident Evil games is obviously much different from the first-person view in Resident Evil 7, but the way the player interacts with the world is very much the same. You explore, solve puzzles, choose enemy engagements based on resources at the times, get a reprieve in save rooms, and slowly expand and unlock hidden-away areas of a large structure. The move to first-person allowed Capcom to take a control scheme most people are comfortable with without dissolving the existing formula. First-person even added to the tension in several ways, as you are never quite sure just what’s behind you. It’s a perfect example of a game design decision made for the sake of accessibility, without being a concession that hinders the gameplay.
For the Resident Evil 2 remake, a similar approach probably will be made. It’s doubtful that it’ll feature a first-person camera as one of the things people love about the game is the protagonists Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, so they should be represented front and center with an in-game model. Of course, tank controls and fixed camera angles are unlikely, so an over-the-shoulder camera is probably ideal here. The characters are still at the forefront, it creates a control scheme that players are already familiar with, and it would not alter the gameplay if done right.
These ideas might seem like sacrilege to long-time fans, but as a long-time fan myself, I just can’t see the Resident Evil 2 remake being exactly what we want it to be. The dream of a new static-camera-angle-with-tank-controls Resident Evil game vanished the moment Resident Evil 4 hit the scene. That style of game is from a bygone era, and the industry has long since moved on whether we like it or not. Thing is, with Resident Evil 7, we now know the essence of those classic games can be retained all the while not alienating new fans. It’s all about making smart concessions that don’t hurt the core experience.
No matter how the Resident Evil 2 remake turns out, it’s important to remember that the original game will always be there for us. The reason this remake is even happening in the first place is because of the adoration Resident Evil 2 has garnered and how that love endured after all these years. Think less about bullet points as to what the remake should be, and more on what it is you truly like about the game and want to be represented in a remake. Capcom is not going to be able to please everyone, but a the very least, Resident Evil 2 deserves the greatest of care taken.