Resident Evil 2 Remake

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The recent remake of the Capcom classic Resident Evil 2 is a perfect mix of material coming from its vintage version and all the technical and visual advantages of contemporary gaming development technology. Matching this with a smart and flowing gameplay system and its legendary character cast, the game might be one of the finest Resident Evil titles, while at the same time being already a cult masterpiece although it was released only a few months ago, as it incorporates characteristic elements of classic cinematography and literature.

Environment and atmosphere wise, the remake is magnificent, starting with the lush vintage feast that is the revamped Racoon Police Department. From the original already, the main setting of the game that was the interior of the police station was depicted as a labyrinthine network of rooms and corridors set within a huge building with a complex architecture of past times, that used to be a museum. Now we see the huge, imposing building in all its glory; with vast halls, antique items, exquisite decorations and paintings; with complex puzzles, mysterious locked doors that open with iconic keys, secret rooms, spooky corridors and dusty storage areas. Zombies lurk behind every corner, burst through windows, wake up from their dead state ready to devour any living creature. Hideous monsters hang from the ceiling, crawl on the walls, jump out from the ducts. The sole ally that shows up is already bitten, and becomes a zombie soon after.

The RPD is imposing and ominous

This environment itself sets the mood right from the start, giving off a vague feeling that once inside, the protagonists are lost in time. The notion of a character being trapped in a huge, hostile building was introduced in the Resident Evil world with the first installment of the series (back then it was the Spencer mansion - another classic setting), and is a situation that we can trace, with variationσ, both in folk fairy tales and in thriller movies.

The ever-present in zombie stories gas station appears in the remake right at the beginning; it is where Leon and Claire first meet and are attacked by a horde of zombies. Set in the darkness of the small hours, the scene depicts the gas station as a dark and ominous place, lit only by the headlights of a parked police car which looks like it was abandoned there in a hurry as its doors were left open. There are traces of blood on the ground, but the interior of the building is silent, although the door signs reads "open" on the outside.

The gas station looks sparsely lit and gloomy

That scene, a reminiscent of and tribute to a memorable sequence from The Night Of The Living Dead, offers only a very small taste of what will follow, being a prelude to a progressive zombie nightmare.

A major feature in the remake is the way it integrates the development of its characters in the plot in a most effective and realistic way. This goes for both the good and the evil heroes, as both sides push the plot forward with their actions and decisions. Claire arrives at Raccoon City to find her disappeared brother, but when she comes across Sherry who is obviously in need of help, she doesn't lose time and is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the little girl is safe and sound. Leon shows up as a rookie police officer, determined to stay faithful to his oath to serve and protect the citizens, but he finds himself entangled in a much more complicated case where the immediate threats are anything but human. Regardless, he turns out to be more than capable to deal with all this, proving that both he and Claire are true survivors. Ada, on the other hand, being constantly on the margin between good and evil, finds out that she is not the cold spy that she thought she was, since her unexpected feelings for Leon messed with her judgement, leaving her vulnerable in the most unfortunate turn of her mission. 

Claire has always been one of the most popular characters in the Resident Evil universe, and rightly so. A combination of bravery, smartness and capability, Claire seems to be the fair counterpart of her brother, Chris. Being introduced in the series right after him, she fortifies her place in the saga by being part of the iconic game that was the original Resident Evil 2 and now that her character has returned via its remake with such dynamics, all those elements that made her stand out in the first place are intensified.

Claire is Sherry's guardian angel

Leon has been redesigned with features that combine both his Resident Evil 4 younger version and his Resident Evil 6 more mature self. Several traits of his character and physique have been emphasized or altered to match the literary prototype of the young, innocent hero with the big heart, like Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby, Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and Herman Melville's Billy Budd. Just like those characters, Leon is an extraordinarily beautiful, blooming young man who has no malice in his heart and is always ready to offer his help to whomever needs it. Unlike the three of them, however, who were noted for their charming naivety, Leon is highly intelligent and capable of consciously using whatever means to battle injustice.

Leon shares many elements with the brave young heroes of classic literature

Like Billy, Nicholas and Tom, Leon trusts people thanks to his guileless heart, but he also has a strong instinct that holds him from giving too much. Which is why he goes all the trouble to help Ada, but he is never fully convinced of her sincerity. There is one scene close to the end where Ada is threatening to kill him, yet Leon seems pretty confident that she is unable to do it. Ada then lowers her gun, proving him right. This hints (or maybe even shows directly) that Leon was totally aware of Ada's feelings towards him, and he somehow managed to take advantage of it and trap her into giving up. Remember, in Ada's own words, Leon is a genious.

Nicholas Nickleby (Charlie Hunnam), Tom Jones (Albert Finney), Billy Budd (Terence Stamp)

Leon's backstory has also been changed, completely leaving out the detail about him breaking up with his girlfriend then getting drunk at a motel therefore arriving late in Raccoon City the day of the outbreak, which was the scenario in the original game. In this new version of the story, Leon simply receives a call telling him to get to his post later than the predetermined date, which is why he was not present at the time of the outbreak. This, combined with the fact that, when Ada kisses him in the cable car, he does not look particularly thrilled, not only hints that he never lets his heart mess with his duty, but also implies that the respective Krauser-related fandom may be marginally canon.

Ada is mysterious as always

Although Ada's character goes along the lines of her original version, in the remake she is shaped with much more detail, referencing the femme fatale stereotype from the classic film noir universe. Even so, Ada does not remain the typical femme fatale until the end of the story. She makes her first impressive appearance as a mysterious spy, with her high heels, her trench coat and dark glasses, but after befriending Leon, she gradually exposes herself more and more, both literally and metaphorically, a development that symbolizes her inner urge to open up to him and show more of her true self.
 
Ada seems to allude to several characters of the femme fatale genre, both classic and contemporary. She is wrapped in mystery and ambiguity, like the intimidating yet charming ladies that Lauren Bacal used to portray, but she also finds herself in a quite perplexed situation when she falls in love with the man whom she tries to take advantage of, resulting in her putting her own life at stake, like Asia Argento's Beatrice in B. Monkey.

Lauren Bacal in The Big Sleep and Asia Argento in B Monkey

Sherry's part is pure cult material in the remake, for a variety of reasons. It takes place in a dark, spooky orphanage, the atmosphere of which is loaded with the memory of the children who once lived there and were used in experiments. There are toys, drawings and children's furniture everywhere, yet there seems to be nothing cozy nor welcoming about this place. The rooms are gloomy and dimly lit, creating a chilling atmosphere of terrifying seclusion and nausea.

View of the orphanage's main hall

There are vintage photographs and paintings on the walls, while a gramophone can be heard playing an aria from Valkyrie by Wagner as Sherry gets closer and closer to the Chief's twisted secret: the private lab where he exercises his hobby of embalming all kinds of creatures, including the ill-fated daughter of the city's Mayor. This section features many elements of classic novels and films: the mysterious building that is lost in time, the crazy scientist with the extravagant lab, the beautiful innocent girl who becomes the victim of a psycho, the little child who is trapped by a maniac and attempts to escape; but most prominently, the orphanage with the sick administration, a theme that is present in quite a few novels, the most memorable of them being in Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby.

Vintage illustration depicting the orphanage from Nicholas Nickleby

Unlike Leon's story, which has pretty much the same layout as the original, Claire's story sees a few very important and notable modifications. First of all, the meeting with Chief Irons is transformed into one dramatic, epic scene. In the original, Claire meets Chief Irons for the first time in his secret office while looking for Sherry. In the remake, she bumps onto him in the parking lot, moments after she crosses paths with the little girl. Tension builds up slowly as the Chief emerges from the shadows just before he points a gun at the girls and forces Sherry to tie Claire's hands behind her back. After being attacked twice by Irons, Claire manages to free herself but not before the Chief runs away with Sherry.

Claire and Sherry meet the evil Chief Irons

This scene is very crucial for the story, but it is even more important for Claire: first of all, we realize that the Chief must have sensed that she is a considerable enemy (otherwise why would he want to neutralize her?), which further establishes Claire as a fearless, badass heroine. Secondly, by the end of the scene Claire is back on her feet yelling at the Chief, showing him that she is not afraid and at the same time showing us that she will not rest until she finds Sherry, sealing her role as a protector and an avenger.

While the game itself is not very long - you can even complete it in under two hours, or even less when you get to know it well enough and are willing to take shortcuts - it has a very distinct replay value. You find yourself wanting to play it again so as to get that same immersive feeling which was there during your very first playthrough and which will never go away no matter how many your replays may be. This alone says something about the quality of the remake, both as an impeccable game and a work of art with timeless value.

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