Are you afraid of the dark? Well, if you are – and, come to think of it, even if you're not – I’ve got good news: the remake of Resident Evil 2 has loads of the stuff. We Resident Evil fans are a strange bunch – solitary and sedentary, mouldering in seclusion with the most ornate of opinions on wonky controls and stiff mechanics. Faced with the prospect of this rabid horde scratching at the doors should the remake fail to deliver, the sensible souls at Capcom did the decent thing: they turned out the lights.
The strangest thing about this new Resident Evil 2 – a game with no shortage of strangeness – is that the dark isn’t just there to scare. It’s something of a safety blanket. After 20 years, the real monster is the thing that goes bump mapping in the night – the shiny new hardware that sees your nostalgia scoured with steel wool, scrubbed of its distant haze and rendered with heartbreaking fidelity. What if they get it wrong? What if it doesn’t match the memory? No, no, no. Better to dust the thing with darkness and keep the dream alive.
I’ve spent the last few nights poking and prodding the murk with a flashlight, as a janitor might inspect a growth in the third floor toilet. On the one hand, I’m trying to figure out where on earth I should be going (a heady undertaking given the Raccoon City Police Department building’s habit of playing Three-card Monte with its club, heart, and spade-themed door keys). On the other, I’m looking at where I had been, years ago.
The charm of Resident Evil 2 is that its richest treasures aren’t the trinkets but the sights and sounds that signal the past. I feel as if I, too, am being prodded. As the corridors are shrouded in shadow, they give out only the ghosts of colours – the cream paint, the polished wood, and the blood, which appears black. It seems as if Capcom understands that long before its designers and artists added a single ghoul, the place came pre-haunted, old scares staining the new wallpaper like ectoplasm.
It’s ironic, all this gloom, given that the coup of the original was in shaking off the Gothic chills of the brooding mansion, deep in the forest, and heading to the city – a place, traditionally, where you might seek solace from the monsters in the bustle. It was in the wreckage of the early street scenes, where your panic was backlit by a hellfire glow, that you discovered no such comfort was on the cards.
Not that the remake is all blackness and doom; on the contrary, its bright spots have me grinning like a moron. Where there are working light switches, there are portholes into 1998: ashtrays, wood-panelled vending machines, and beige computers with keyboards that clack. There’s also nothing like the relief of the soft drizzle of bronzy light that falls into focus as you enter the main hall. These subtle touches are indicative of a wider approach; all round the fanfare is smartly muted, shorn of its woolly-brained excesses and presented to people without a day to while away on a wiki.
I also can’t help but smirk at how fitting it is that the restrained style of the remake, with its dynamic lighting and particle effects, is one made possible by technology – the very limitations of which have borne some of video game horror’s most powerful flourishes: loading screens tucked behind door animations, limited draw distance cloaked in fog. This new style is one solely of Capcom’s choosing, and, for the obsessives like me, it’s one that makes the imagination clamour toward conspiracies.
Is *this* Leon the same one that would jet set to Spain in a few years? If not, does he go to the same barber? What does the old Spencer place look like in *this* world, calling to me from beyond the bounds of the Arklay Forest? Where, as ever, is Rebecca Chambers?
And does the Barry of *this* world still have a big long gun? Perhaps these things are best left unanswered. It’s a rare thing that a studio understands not just the power of understatement but the perils and pitfalls of fanfare. The old lives on in the new, and despite the bright burn of my questions, I’m happy to be left in the dark.
And come Friday, you will be too.