The Resident Evil 2 remake is out and it is all that one could have hoped for in 2019 remake of a PlayStation One title. Zombies continue to pose a threat, tension still exists around every corner, and the general atmosphere provides the much-needed facelift to bring us back to the same way we all felt back in 1998. But through all those changes, one of the most important aspects of the original titles has been transformed; replaced if you will, with something else—that being the puzzles.
Resident Evil 2 makes a lot of changes to compensate for the new way it plays compared to the original. Take for example doors, in the original game they acted as both as a loading screen and a stopping point for whatever was happening on the other side (most of the time). In the remake, doors no longer serve as a break but rather something that only impedes the progression of whatever is attempting to break through. A change like this requires game mechanics and design to compensate for how this now new mechanic functions when compared to the original. The same can be said for the new perspective introduced in the remake, ditching the old ‘tank controls’ and instead adopted a modern third-person over the shoulder view. Again, with a change in mechanics, the design of the game must compensate from the original to be successfully adopted in the remake.
These represent design changes that are based on mechanical requirements, for modern third-person over the shoulder aiming to work, zombies need to respond and act in a way that both take advantage of this new method but also forces the player to master the new mechanic as well. In short, if you want to achieve success with X, then Y needs to change to allow X to work well. Conversely, design choices like the existence or shape and form of puzzles don’t follow such a stringent requirement; their inclusion doesn’t impact how the game mechanics function nearly to the same degree, thus changing them makes them more of a design decision rather than more of a requirement.
So it is with the Resident Evil 2 remake that we find ourselves, a faithful rendition of the original, with the exception of puzzles. For the original entries in the Resident Evil series, puzzles served as an important break to the combat and regularly as the main reason you need to go and explore. But they also served a more important function, they forced the player to look inward towards themselves. The best example of this exists with Resident Evil 3:
Resident Evil 3 provides the best example in which three paintings are on one end of a room displaying the world at different stages of its life with god standing next to it. Once again this does not impart fear, it imparts an uneasiness due to the implications involved in the puzzles. The last painting displays god as nearly dead with the world in the same state. The goal of the puzzle is to set the clocks at the same time to represent the life span of the entire world at the time of the painting (Midnight, Noon, and Midnight). The implication here is that it forces the player for a brief moment to contemplate not only their own mortality but also the universe’s. It’s not a scary notion, it’s one that leaves the player uneasy and throws them off balance forcing them to look inwards rather then just focusing on the game.
In the case of Resident Evil 2, this doesn’t exist. None of the puzzles impose any sense of self-dread, instead, they break down into two straightforward categories: roadblocks and bonuses. As one might easily conclude, these two types of puzzles in the Resident Evil 2 remake serve two main purposes, to give you additional resources or unlock further areas to explore. In the example of roadblocks, take the Chess plug puzzle that takes place in the sewers. After finding all the chess plugs the player needs to place them in the right sockets to unlock the door that will lead them further, however, the order they need to be placed in is slightly cryptic and requires some deduction to move forward; once the puzzle is solved the player can move forward. For those that provide additional resources, these puzzles tend to be even easier, largely focusing on simple lock combinations that require the player to find the combination and deduce which locker it actually applies to. For Resident Evil 2, those that pose as roadblocks are few and far between and thus, puzzles have become less a requirement.
There are fewer opportunities to be spooked in the same method that the original’s posed. No moment to look inward, or to slow things down for just a moment and let the dread set in. Instead, Resident Evil 2 takes advantage of its new mechanics and game design and swaps these moments out by keeping the pressure continually on the player to force its own kind of horror that the original entry couldn’t provide.
As mentioned before, Resident Evil 2 changed some major mechanics when compared to the original for the sake of modernization. Doors no longer serve as loading screens or impenetrable walls and the gameplay is based on modern third-person controls. Overall, this gives the game a more action-like feel as opposed to its 1998 counterpart, and with keeping that theme, the horror is now centered around these changes by applying pressure at all time with zombies, lickers, and Mr.X himself. In the original Resident Evil titles, this was something that was usually reserved for the zombie dogs that would appear in the middle of the game. Unlike zombies, zombie dogs always contained an element of surprise and speed, making them the perfect ambush enemy. They could break through glass windows and run you down a hallway at a moment’s notice, and because of that potential, kept the player on edge whenever there was an environment that could produce them; rooms once thought safe no longer once they were introduced. Other enemies served different purposes, zombies were treated as obstacles, lickers, and hunters as powerful foes and Mr. X as something to be avoided. Yes, they all provided their own form of pressure, but none were to the same extent as zombie dogs.
In Resident Evil 2, this is no longer the case. Instead of slowing down the player with puzzles in hopes of providing tension or extensional dread, the pressure remains on as the primary driver of tension and horror. Zombies, dogs, lickers, Mr. X, and everything else all function to provide the same level of tension in their own unique way: zombies, thanks to their numbers and their ability to absorb bullets, dogs as rapid attackers, lickers with their powerful strength but lack of sight, and Mr. X and his ability to now follow you to great lengths throughout the police station, all provide an equal amount of tension. These enemies before served their own roles, and while they still do in the remake, the method of which they do is to keep the player tense at all time and apply pressure in this more action focused remake. They all attack in different ways but all provide the same outcome for the player, keeping them on edge in different ways by providing a consistent amount of pressure. None take you out of the game for a moment or force the player to look inward, instead, its the opposite approach, requiring constant vigilance and observation with a few rare moments of calm to make their tension provision effect all the greater.
The remake of Resident Evil 2 shifts the horror of the original from something slower to a faster pace with great success. While the loss of many puzzles is certainly something to be mourned, the Resident Evil 2 remake made changes that better adhered to the new design and carved its own new type of horror to match this modernized version of Resident Evil. Puzzles will always play an important element in horror games, but they are far from required to build tension. Puzzles traditionally served as a way of forcing the player to revisit areas previously explored, usually unlocking or changing something that wasn’t there originally to play off of the false sense of security that the player gained when doing everything they could in an area before. However now, this doesn’t need to be the only case, and for Resident Evil 2 and other more action focused survival horrors (e.g. Dead Space), providing a continuous amount of pressure can provide a similar level of tension with a faster paced setting for its own blend of top-notch survival horror.