It’s no secret that the holidays are a booming time for video games. As a former Kmart employee (rest in peace, blue light specials), this would be about the time I’d get slammed for games, consoles, accessories and everything in between. This year, the craze seems to be very cowboy-shaped thanks to Red Dead Redemption 2. However, when all of this holiday fare dies down, one of the best games of all time is getting a fresh set of paint in the form of Resident Evil 2. Originally released in 1998, Resident Evil 2 arguably launched the survival horror genre into the spotlight of the gaming industry. The remake, while great looking, seems like it might lack the particular magic from the original. Here’s why you should dust off that PSX, break out the Dualshock, and get ready to take on the pixelated undead hordes.
1. Pre-Rendered Backgrounds
Game’s these days build almost all of their assets out of 3D models. Modeling has not only become easier than it used to be, but these days technology is able to handle extremely detailed models in high volumes. In DICE’s latest game, Battlefield V, the landscape alone is made out of a higher variety of shapes than I have seen in almost any other game out right now. That isn’t even including the player models, guns, vehicles and fortifications in the game. The engine handles it reasonably well, with combat and movement flowing smoothly across all these different models and sprite work. Obviously, that had not always the case. Back in the 90s, the gaming industry was pushing the idea of utilizing a three-dimensional space. Jumping Flash! in 1995 was one of the first games on the Sony Playstation to put players into a fully rendered 3D environment, with Tomb Raider and Crash Bandicoot coming out the following year. These games took 3D objects, layered a “skin” on top of them, then placed them into the game world. However, there was a catch to this: these objects took up a lot of memory. So much so, that developers had to find a way around the limitations of the Playstation. Some, like Team Silent of Silent Hill fame, used this as an opportunity to get creative, covering the town of Silent Hill in an oppressive fog, limiting the amount of objects on screen at any one time. Naughty Dog used creative camera angles, polygon occlusion and actual hacking to give the Crash Bandicoot series a unique and interesting look without destroying the Playstation’s memory. By the time 1998 rolled around, several developers had found their own way to overcome the limits that the Playstation presented. Capcom, however, used a method that a lot of developers had been using since the late 80s in the PC scene, and that’s pre-rendered backgrounds. Pre-rendered backgrounds works like this: an artist or designer would create the background and foreground, usually a section of a level from a fixed camera perspective. Then, after the background and foreground were placed into the engine, the rest of the team would add collision geometry (to make it feel like it was a 3D world). The end result is a game that can do a lot more with its sprite works and 3D models, while allowing for a detailed environment that wouldn’t hog the system memory. Even to this day, pre-rendered backgrounds look absolutely beautiful, with notable entries being the Resident Evil franchise. Resident Evil 2, and the series as a whole, still possesses some of the best pre-rendered work in all of gaming history. Navigating the world is akin to wandering through a deadly painting. Better still, the backgrounds from Resident Evil 2 have recently been retouched for use with the Dolphin emulator.
2. Tank Controls
Part of the territory with pre-rendered backgrounds is a modified control scheme. Using a traditional control scheme runs the risk of requiring players to shift their direction when the camera angle switches from one fixed angle to another (the Devil May Cry series is particularly guilty of this). This can (and will) lead to cheap hits, deaths and frustration. At the same time, a traditional control method would allow players to exploit especially slow enemies, like zombies. Resident Evil 2 used a “tank control” style system in place of this. With a tank control scheme, you have to imagine your perspective from the direction the character is facing. Up and down are always move forward; left and right will always be relevant to left and right. This gives the player a reliable direction to travel in when switching scenes, ensuring they will always move in the direction pressed. At the same time, it offers a bit of a constraint on movement; your character literally moves like a tank. They cannot take tight turns or maneuver as quickly as your Bayonettas or your 2Bs; instead you have to plan your route through a path of enemies methodically, or you risk getting caught in a group of them. One of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever experienced is attempting to escape a group of zombies while being new to tank controls. In the HD remasters of Resident Evil and Resident Evil:Zero, Capcom gave players the ability to try a more traditional control method. This totally breaks the game, and for some (like me) defeats part of the point. Seeing as the remake has shifted to a Resident Evil 4 style camera, there is still a reason to revisit the original, if only to get that old school feel. As a final note on this, for the love of the almighty use controller type C; you can thank me later.
3. Monster Design
Resident Evil monster design has always sat with me. Could it be due to the exposure I had to these things when I was a child? Maybe, but I think it goes a bit deeper than that. The zombies in the Resident Evil universe aren’t the most original version of the undead, but they sure are tenacious in that old school, Romero-esque way. What made more of an impression on me were the various BOWs (Bio-Organic Weapons) found in the game. One of the most notorious enemies in the entire franchise is the iconic “Licker,” which makes its memorable debut here. Sporting no skin, an exposed brain and a long, slashing tongue, the Licker is a sizable threat at close and long range. Others include the ever changing “G”; a scientist injected with the “G-Virus,” the resulting creature transforming each and every time you face it. Of course, the game contains one of the most memorable Resident Evil threats: Mr. X. Every enemy in the series up to this point can be defeated by either pumping it full of lead or running into another room. Mr.X doesn’t just attack you once then leave; it (he?) is relentless, kind of like a tornado or a hailstorm. It doesn’t matter if you run to another room; it’s going to follow you, that is even if he lets you past him. Approaching Mr.X is like going toe-to-toe with Mike Tyson in his prime. Your only option is to face the beast down and hope you can drop him before he rips you in half. An honorable mention to the giant alligator BOW; that thing scared the daylights out of me the first time I squared off against it.
4. The Zapping System
Video games get a lot of grief these days when it comes to level design; if there’s even a hint of backtracking littered into the game without some kind of huge change to the area, it gets harped on. Something about re-exploring areas really gets to people these days. However, all was not so back in the day of 1998. In fact, most of the games that I personally played had some form of backtracking built in (Symphony of the Night comes to mind immediately). Backtracking is not only something that’s done in the entire Resident Evil series; it’s encouraged to the point of being a gameplay mechanic. Enter the “zapping” system; the brainchild of Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya. The zapping system starts with two scenarios, “A” and “B.” These scenarios can be played with either Leon or Claire, with the first scenario being “A” regardless of which character you start out as. Both scenarios play through almost the exact same areas (some deviation in the middle and end sections), but both have different enemy placement, item placement and enemies in general. First time players should play through “A” with Claire, and “B” with Leon, due to the nature of the enemies (“A” has the Frankenstein-esque “G” as the main antagonist, while “B” has the unstoppable Mr. X) and the “true” order of the story. Mixing the order up is fun, and it’s a bit like getting four games in one (if you don’t mind replaying sections a bit). Furthermore, the two extra characters get their own objectives and spaces within the game as an added treat.
Okay, I’m a huge sucker for video game weaponry, so long as it’s done right. If the Borderlands series has shown me anything, it’s that all the craziest weapons in the universe don’t mean spit if they sound like a light gun from Target. Resident Evil weapons have a punch behind them, even on the lowest end of the power spectrum. Take either character’s starting handgun; weak, small and unimpressive. However, shooting an enemy just feels good. A quick, sharp crack; a glorious spray of blood. Your enemies are still coming, but you know they were hit, and better still, you believe they were hit. Further down the line, weapons like the shotgun and the grenade launcher smash enemies to bits. Interestingly, Claire and Leon also get their own quirks with weapons. Claire’s high end weapon is the grenade launcher, but she can switch the ammo type to suit her needs. Leon can upgrade his pistol into the Matilda; a three-round burst pistol of death, and the shotgun into a much more powerful variant that literally blows enemies apart. Sure, it’s not a super deep customization system, but it’s simple and fun.
I could continue, adding even more reasons to play all the games from this wonderful series, but I think that gives you a taste of what to expect. I’m sure that, at a later date, I will continue writing about this series and this style of game as a whole. Finally, any version of Resident Evil 2 should be able to service you; the “Dual Shock” edition fixes some audio issues as well as adds support for the Playstation analog sticks. The GameCube version looks the best and works with the recently finished re-texture project. Any way you slice it, you’re in for quite the ride.