Capcom has fully committed to Resident Evil. After the decidedly mixed reception of 2012’s Resident Evil 6, the franchise’s erosion of tense horror in favour of bombastic action finally hit a wall. Since then, Capcom has returned the series to its horror roots, with five major releases between 2012 and 2021: Resident Evil Revelations 2, Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil 2 Remake, Resident Evil 3 Remake, and Resident Evil: Village. The remakes in particular have helped introduce a whole new generation of gamers to this iconic franchise.
Yet despite RE2 and RE3 Remake selling millions of units and receiving generally positive reviews, they also highlight an issue that makes the idea of future remakes an ominous proposition: by attempting to make the remakes more consistent with current games, they’re also draining the original titles of what made them unique.
Police Station Desolation
At the beginning of RE2 Remake, the player is asked if they want to play the game as either Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield. This choice was also present in the original PS1 game, where the player had two discs, one for each character. While the general layout of the game’s environments and structure is the same for both protagonists, their stories, supporting characters, and even some enemy encounters, such as final boss fights, are different. This gives the player the feeling of getting two games in one, and the “dual protagonists” element was a huge part of what made the original game and the remake a success.
Except Leon and Claire don’t feel like dual protagonists in the remake. Sure, they’re both on the box art, and you can play through the game as either one. But many of the scenes where the two characters cooperate in the original were removed in the remake, where they barely interact aside from the opening and closing cutscenes. The original’s A and B Scenarios offered unique plot points and cutscenes, which have been distilled into one unified canon story, diluting replayability. While creating one canon story isn’t necessarily a bad decision in itself, this mandate seems strange when Leon and Claire’s stories clearly contradict each other, with the most blatant example of this being Annette Birkin somehow dying after both Leon and Claire’s fights against Birkin’s third G-Virus form in Umbrella’s underground lab.
The “zapping system” that offered choices made by one character in the A Scenario that affected the other in their B Scenario is gone. The B Scenarios have been replaced with 2nd Run mode, which doesn’t change the plot, instead only affecting gameplay by rearranging the solutions to certain puzzles, providing alternate weapons and increasing the difficulty of enemy encounters. While only a 2nd Run player can fight Birkin’s final G-Virus form, the other G-Virus forms that were exclusive to B Scenario boss fights have been removed, and it’s now impossible for Claire to fight Mr. X’s final form, which is exclusive to Leon. To be clear, the issue here isn’t that changes were made in the remake, but what these changes as a whole represent: a shift away from the dual protagonist system that was a defining attribute of the original game. Leon and Claire used to feel like partners. Now, they barely feel like acquaintances.
Punch Clock Nemesis
The original release of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis turned the eponymous monster into one of the most recognizable villains in gaming history. His importance to the game was so paramount that he was even included in its title. Nemesis was essentially the game’s co-star, taking centre stage alongside player character Jill Valentine, in a remarkable rivalry that saw the player being pursued by the unstoppable creature for what felt like the game’s entire runtime. While Nemesis’ main encounters were mostly scripted, if avoided he could chase you into unexpected areas, even through the doorways that used to be a reliable way to escape enemies in previous installments. There was genuine tension in wondering exactly when he would show up next, a pervasive feeling of never quite being safe.
This feeling is not replicated in the Resident Evil 3 remake. Although Nemesis does show up at regular intervals to fight the player, only one of his eight encounters has him dynamically stalking the player through the environment in the same way Mr. X did in the RE2 remake. The rest of his encounters are scripted sequences or boss fights, and while they’re technically impressive and visually spectacular, their predictability sands the edges off Nemesis’ menacing aura. Weirdly enough, not allowing Nemesis any leeway to surprise the player by appearing in unexpected locations means he can come to represent safety instead of danger; the player becomes secure in the knowledge that Nemesis won’t inconvenience their exploration, and that any battles with him will take place in sealed off arenas.
Nemesis isn’t the only element of the original game that’s been shortchanged. The clock tower, the Grave Digger boss fight, and the Mercenaries mode didn’t make the final cut. The Live Selection feature, a choose your own adventure type choice system that included multiple endings, was completely excised. The Dead Factory, an environment unique to RE3, was replaced with what appears to be reused assets from RE2 remake’s lab. None of this makes the game bad, necessarily, but it does feel like a lot of what made the original game special was removed for the sake of ensuring the game would be released in short order after the RE2 remake became such a huge hit. Instead of being a full reinvention of Jill’s final escape, it feels more like a roller coaster abbreviation of it.
Was This Really Necessary?
The obvious counterpoint to everything said here is that things change in adaptation. But the issue goes beyond making changes to an old game with an updated release; these remakes have become the new default interpretation of what these games are. The last time the original versions of RE2 and RE3 were released was via PlayStation Network for PS3 back in 2009. There has been no way to play them on two subsequent generations of consoles, so unless new players happen to have access to a PS3 or feel like hunting down a PS1, Dreamcast or GameCube copy on the used collector market (provided they also have one of those old consoles in working condition), then the remakes are the only way to experience these games.
Compare what happened here to the Resident Evil 1 Remake originally released for GameCube in 2002. Not only has that game been rereleased as recently as 2015 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows, and again in 2019 for Nintendo Switch, but the RE1 Remake didn’t cut anything from the original game. Instead, it only sought to add: new enemies, new areas, even new plot points. It was the definitive version of the game, and made the PS1 original redundant. More so than perhaps any other remake in gaming history, the RE1 remake shows how to take a classic but clunky game and fully recreate it for a new generation.
The RE2 and RE3 remakes, on the other hand, feel more like compromised visions. Taken on their own and removed from all outside context, they’re fun, well-designed survival horror experiences that are some of the most gorgeous games ever released on a console. But as remakes of older games, they are half-measures, and seem to indicate that any future Resident Evil remakes will follow a similar path. Both remakes remove elements of their respective entry’s design that are critical to their identity, meaning that they have failed to become the definitive versions of these games.
It’s nice that the past few Resident Evil games have returned to being a proper survival horror series. I just wish that, if they continue to return to older entries, Capcom keeps more of what made them unique, rather than allowing them to become more generic.