Resident Evil 2 (2019) Review

Ever since the announcement of Resident Evil 2 remake last year, I had been waiting for its release with great deal of angst. Then I shared my thoughts on why the Resident Evil 2 remake is the best survival horror yet.

Alas, the wait is no more. On 25 January 2019, the game was finally on the shelves of video game stores. I went to buy the game after work that Friday and couldn’t wait to start playing once I got home.

Now for the price tag of nearly $80, it does feel expensive considering that Resident Evil 2 was originally released back in 1998. But this is a remake and not a remaster. Capcom spent resources to re-create the whole game that not only gave it a fresh coat of graphics but also re-imagined what the game could be given the technological advances we have experienced since 1998.

After playing it over the weekend, I’ve got to say it’s definitely worth it.

It uses that 3rd-person, over-the-shoulder view pioneered with Resident Evil 4. That view make the whole gaming experience much closer and intimate while enabling you to see more of the world. The first-person view of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard though definitely increase the horror factor you experience because you can’t see what’s behind you, it doesn’t offer the same amount of tension. Just imagine what’s it like to see what’s coming at you but you can’t do shit about it because you ran out of ammunition for your weapons. Your only option was to run. In first-person mode, well, if you can’t see it, you aren’t scared of it.

To add to the tension is the game’s effective implementation of limited resources and require you to ration. There is no way you can shoot your way out of every situation. First, it takes a lot of bullet to take out a zombie. You can attempt to shoot out their limbs (looks like it takes a page out of the Dead Space playbook) to limit the zombie’s mobility but it takes up to five shots to take out a leg. Three to five head shots can take down a zombie but it doesn’t kill them. And it’s really down to chance if you can make a zombie head explode with just a single shot. For other enemies, it require a bigger weapon to take them down and ammunition for those weapon are actually even more limited. So you are better off running away.

The game also had great audio in terms of implementation and quality. Take Mr. X for example especially in the later part of the game. For those uninitiated, Mr. X is a humanoid bio-organic weapon whose sole purpose is to kill you in the game. Due to its size, every step it takes actually generate fear-inducing thump. And even if it is not in the same room as you, you can hear it moving around. There was this one situation where I’m in a room on the first floor and it is in the room directly above. I could hear the stomping sound and made me want to stay where I was, not wanting to go up for fear of encountering him. Not only that, you can also hear the groans and moans of zombies through the walls when they are hunting you. Furthermore, the music is done very well to shape the feelings you get as you move from a safe room to an open corridor.

As for the graphics, the RE engine has definitely allow for a much more realistic world. Now, the key to good graphics is lighting just like in photography. The placement of lights, how they reflect off surfaces and how they make objects look affect how you feel about a particular scene. In Resident Evil 2, the way lights are placed and how they light the world up actually make you feel like you are truly in a place where dangers lurk in every corner. If not that, they did a great job of setting the scene to make you feel like it’s a bad place to be in.

Not only that, weapon damage done to enemies are also visible and make you feel like you are making an effort to kill or injure your enemy. Let’s take this image of me having killed a zombie after dropping it to the ground with headshot and slicing it with the knife until it’s dead.

Look at the slashing damage on the body. Look at that arm. It has fallen off. This is the kind of realism that I look for in a game like Resident Evil 2. I want to feel like I’m doing something to my enemies.

Last but not least, the cutscenes are also well done in terms of fluidity, how it showcases their vulnerability and how well it transit from gameplay and back again. The characters’ voice actings are also pretty good by how they interact with each other and how they show that they are afraid in real time. There are quite a lot of times when the game character, Leon, was cursing and swearing as he tries to take down enemies or when he was being chased.

Even though I spent only a few hours on it, I’m glad that I was right that it’s definitely the survival horror game to play. There are so many times when I actually just want to put down my controller because it got all wet from my excessive sweat due to all the tension and anxiety. My heart was actually thumping pretty hard in certain area of the game and I lost count of how often I didn’t want to enter a new room because I’m not sure what I would expect. Yet, I still want to play the game despite my fears based on how often it’s hanging around in my mind. I’m always thinking about the game, having the urge to pick up the controller again even though I’ve put it aside to do other things.

My take on the future of gaming

Video games have come a long way in how they look, how they are delivered, where they are played and how they immerse players.

Let’s begin with a quick history lesson.

Initially, games released in 1950s had only simple 2D graphics that didn’t move across the screen and no sound. Those games were a novelty, not meant for consumers and ran on mainframe computers the size of rooms.

Then the 1960s and 1970s saw games developed that featured moving 2D monochrome graphics and basic sounds running on machines ranging from arcade-sized to home consoles no bigger than your modern day consoles. Games of that era are delivered via cartridges, which are clunky and prone to loading issues.

After that, games went from 8-bit colour 2D graphics to 16-bit colour 3D polygon graphics as the processors powering the game consoles and computers became more powerful and can support complex operations between 1980s to 1990s. At the same time, storage capabilities were also improving as games went from using cartridges to CD-ROM. That means games can be bigger, look better and sound better.

However, the handheld consoles didn’t progress as far. They used technology that were at least one generation behind. For example, the Nintendo GameBoy featured an 8-bit Sharp processor running at 4.19MHz with 8KB internal S-RAM whereas consoles like the Super NES featured a 16-bit CPU, a set of graphic processors called Picture Processors then and at least 64KB of main RAM. That mean the early handheld game consoles could only handle moving black/white 2D graphics. But that didn’t matter. The device was popular enough with consumers for at least a decade.

From 2000 to 2010, the gaming industry saw the release of sixth generation consoles and then the seventh generation with games using bigger disc size due to their better game assets, textures, and cinematic video. During this timeframe, the handheld market expanded. And those consoles featured better hardware that allowed games running on Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable to have the same graphics fidelity found in the yesteryear consoles like the original Playstation, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, etc., which were considered pretty good considering the small-form factor and the use of batteries.

With the arrival of the 2010s, smartphones and tablets joined the home game consoles, PC and handhelds as another viable gaming platform. Both of the smartphones and tablets soon establish themselves as the more compelling platforms than the handheld consoles because of their flexibility. They allow users to download games from the Internet via their respective App Stores. Not only that, users can also use the same device to watch video, listen to music and communicate with people. This meant that dedicated handheld gaming machines like the Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita would have a hard time on the market because they can’t do what the smartphone can.

To add salt to the injury, the rapid hardware improvement of the smartphone and tablet also meant that developers could now put in better looking game assets, implement complex game logic and gameplay and have better sound that were unheard of in a handheld console. Not only that, handheld consoles are like the home consoles where it could take a while before the software library grows big enough to entice consumers to buy, creating a chicken-and-egg problem. Smartphones, and to a lesser extend tablets, can see more triple-A games due to the open nature, proper SDK support, and larger market share. One good example of triple-A game for smartphone and tablet is Fortnite.

And that’s probably why the Playstation Vita didn’t quite achieve the same level of popularity as the original and the 3DS suffered lacklustre sales initially when they were released during that period.

But it didn’t stop Nintendo from releasing Switch in March 2017. Despite featuring hardware that was a couple of generations old when compared to iPhone 7 and the iPad Pro in terms of performance, it was successful because it can be used in handheld-mode and docked mode, making it the first of its kind. That means gamers can play their beloved games on the same console in either mode without much hassle. Not only that, it has a good support from game developers, which translates to better quantity and quality of games.

One thing to note is that while the game graphics on Switch don’t come close to what the Playstation 4 and Xbox One could do due to its hardware, it is good enough since its smaller resolution can free up more GPU resources to render the game world at a higher fidelity. And some examples of triple-A games that took advantage of that are Doom, Wolfenstein 2: The Colossal Order, Gear Club Unlimited.

While the Switch is the gaming console that run best in handheld mode, Apple’s iPhone and iPad can be argued as the best platforms for mobile AR gaming due to the power of their A-series SOC. Their latest A12X Bionic in the iPad Pro is as powerful as the processor found in a gaming console like the Xbox One while consuming a fraction of the power. With that kind of power, game developers can develop not only graphically intensive games like Infinity Blade 3 and Grid Autosport but also games like The Machines, ARZombi, and AR Dragon that could allow players to interact with overlaid 3D game assets displayed on their mobile devices, depending on where they point their devices, without needing extra equipment or add-ons.

Other than AR, VR is the other thing games took advantage of. Sony released the Playstation VR in 2016 that was well received. Multiple game developers are actively developing games for it which allow players to immerse themselves deeper into the game by having them wear a special headset that project the game world into their eyes and putting them at the center of the experience. A similar effort can also be found on the PC with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive but that require more powerful computer hardware that put them out of reach for most gamers.

As you can see, the gaming industry does seem to be heading into different directions based on the different platforms. But one thing is clear. Mobile gaming is here to stay. So is living-room gaming.

Then it begs the question, what’s next?

I believe the tenth generation of video game devices would ultimately converge into something that combine hybrid nature of Nintendo Switch with AR capabilities of the iPhone/iPad. The physical device won’t be much larger than the current Nintendo Switch because of fatigue when using as a handheld. It will also come with some kind of dual camera system that allow for correct depth processing and rendering of overlaid graphics.

In terms of technical specification, these game console would most likely have at least eight cores and 16GB of RAM providing to 1.2x the performance of the ninth generation consoles slanted to be released by Sony and Microsoft in the near future. With that, the default resolution of games running on such devices will be at minimum 1920 x 1080p. 4K gaming would also be a breeze for such devices.

Furthermore, VR will also be an integral part of the tenth generation consoles through the use of VR glasses, which will definitely be smaller as compared to the current generation of headset. And despite the advantages of a touchscreen, physical joysticks and buttons won’t go away since they offer better tactile feedback and control. The experience of playing a racing game using virtual joystick on a touchscreen vs a physical joystick is just completely different. If you have sweaty hands, chances are the game won’t register your actions very well.

On the software front, the devices will come with basic internet browsing and media playback/streaming capabilities. Games will be predominantly delivered via the App Store and disc versions probably would give way to the use of game card like what the Switch uses with storage capacity achieving at least 128GB.

Video games – Powerful tool and source of inspiration for you writers

Video games is one of the few entertainment mediums that actively immerse you into their world through the combination of graphics, audio, video, and your interaction with it. A well designed video game with properly crafted story, e.g. Horizon Zero Dawn, is a good complement if not the better option if you are looking for inspirations for your next piece of writing, especially if you are a fiction writer.

Fiction writing for me truly started during my secondary school days when I wrote fan fictions based on a video game franchise I played. It gave me a strong base to start from so that I only focus on telling a story with existing characters or elements. It allowed me to train myself to tell a story.

Through the act of playing video games and immersing yourself in them, you can picked up a lot of things subconsciously that included the theme of the game, environment designs, character designs and behaviors, and the message, if any, that it is trying to tell you.

It was those materials that enabled me to start a series of text-based role-playing games where I honed my planning and team work skills. The planning skill subsequently enabled me to create ideas for trilogies. Sad to say, those text-based role-playing games are no longer available online because the players, including myself, have moved on with more important things in life. But there were many important lessons learnt. Whether I can recall those lessons consciously is another matter.

Video games can also help you to discover yourself. One of it is teasing out your preferences or maybe even reinforce what you already know. In my case, after having played so many different titles, I found myself gravitating towards games that are either space opera, military actions, mystery, exploration, supernatural powers, or unconventional societies. Sometimes you can find games with a combination of those themes. Some examples are Mass Effect, Halo, and Starcraft. So when it comes to my fiction writing, you will also find aspects of those themes because I truly enjoy those. And playing those games help to expand your mind to the possibilities.

In addition, I also enjoy games that featured darker themes like extreme violence, torture, horror, and sexual references. Some examples of those games are Condemned: Criminal Origins, F.E.A.R, and Resident Evil. These days, my writing also contain those elements because I want the readers to feel concerned, worried or dreadful as they flipped the pages.

They can also help you to break through writer’s block by taking your mind away from writing. It’s no different from going out for a stroll in the park but with the added advantage of it could give you a sudden burst of ideas that you could subsequently used. There were times when I was running on empty, after playing a couple hours of video games, I found myself inspired or motivated to write more.

Recently, I stopped playing video games for two months and found myself practically running on empty again. What I already have in my head are ideas that I have long harbored but they aren’t useful in my current writing. I tried reading a fiction book written by someone but it don’t seem to do much to me. I suspect it was because of the style of writing and the overall direction of the story doesn’t really interest me. So it’s not the book’s fault.

I figured I probably should sign in to my Steam account and start getting some games to play to re-inspire me or re-motivate me again.

Now, I’m not going to pretend I’m Stephen King or any of those New York Times bestsellers. Who I am is a writer who needs a balance between creating and consuming. Video games just so happen to be powerful source of inspiration and entertainment for me. It’s so much better than watching a movie or a show on Netflix. Reading books is ranked second when it comes to source of inspiration and entertainment.