The Resident Evil series and I go a long way back. I started playing the series with Resident Evil 2, skipping the first because I don’t think we had a PlayStation until long after it was out (we were a Nintendo household, dagnabit). For some reason though the series stuck with my brother and I, the game getting numerous replays as we sought to master its every aspect. I even remember going as far as doing a no-save run, a feat which saw me playing through until midnight, netting me the infinite ammo gatling gun. However after Resident Evil 3 (which I am very much looking forward to seeing a remake of now) my interest in the series waned I went to greener gaming pastures. It was impossible to ignore the wide critical acclaim that the remake was receiving though and, after being prompted to play it by my brother, I found myself back in the zombie infested world of Racoon City. Suffice to say if all remakes were done this way I think we’d all be far more welcoming of developers pillaging old classics.
You play as either Claire Redfield or Leon S. Kennedy, both of whom are venturing into Racoon City for their own reasons. The story starts when both of you stumble into a petrol station on the outskirts of the city, seemingly abandoned with no signs of any humans around. It quickly becomes apparent though that everyone here has turned into zombies and thankfully you bump into each other before making your escape into the town proper. As you journey towards the police station, in hopes of finding shelter and help there, you become separated and so your journey begins to escape Racoon City and, possibly, save a few others along the way.
Resident Evil 2 is based on the same RE Engine that powered Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and the visuals have definitely improved since then. The level of detail has improved significantly, the game no longer relying on the dark setting to hide away the lack of detail in certain areas. Some of this is out of necessity, given that a lot of the areas are a lot more open and bright than they were in 7. There’s also a lot of nice visual touches like the animations that play when you’re using an item and the subtle changes in colour temperature for different rooms that are lit by different sources (moon light vs incandescent lights, for example). The cutscenes are probably the only sections that highlight some of the lesser graphical aspects, the animations sometimes getting out of sync with the sounds or even the animations themselves not being quite right. Overall though I’m glad that Capcom made a concerted effort to improve upon what they delivered previously with this engine.
Capcom was vehement that this was a remake, not a remaster, and that’s certainly true of the game’s core gameplay. Gone are the fixed cameras (thank goodness) replaced instead with a third person, over the shoulder view. This in of itself is a major change to how the game plays out, no longer are you limited to small, awkwardly framed sections that made even the most benign task a challenge. Instead you now have this almost open world in front of you, one that’s littered with many of the same challenges that the original had. Beyond that the game sticks to its survival horror roots, giving you precious little ammo to take on the numerous zombies that will be coming your way. This makes choosing your path through the world critical as you won’t be able to simply blast your way through everything. Stacked on top of this is a heavy focus on item management, forcing you to make decisions about what to take with you and what to leave behind. Lastly there’s a rudimentary crafting system, adding a another layer of complexity in deciding how you’ll tackle the problems at hand. All of these mechanics are, in the truest sense, the essence of what made the Resident Evil series great back in the day and their modernisation some 20 years later has proven the formula can still be successful.
Combat is, as it always is in survival horror games, a frustrating affair of never being sure if you have enough to make it through to the next stage. Zombies never really reliably go down, often just falling over and getting back up at some later stage (save for a few weapons which guarantee kills like the magnum). You’ll also be faced with situations that will make you panic and drain your reserves rapidly, leaving you with few options but to try and run past whatever is trying to kill you. Realistically the only thing in common it has with other third person shooters is the perspective you play from, everything else is more a game of strategy to minimise the use of your consumables whilst maximising the amount of distance you can cover. So whilst it might be a frustrating, seemingly random system there are a number of things you can do to increase your odds of getting through unscathed and with only a few bullets loosed.
If you’re playing on anything but the easiest mode you’ll also have to deal with the health system which retains the originals Fine/Caution/Danger levels which roughly translate to how many zombie bites you can sustain. Other things seemingly do part damage, like some boss attacks or other smaller sources of damage, but they won’t register on the inventory screen. Similarly healing items seem to indicate that they’ll have varying levels of effectiveness but they all seem to be roughly the same, either repairing you 1 level or 2. I’m sure there’s some deeper level to it, probably one that speedrunners are intimately familiar with, but for your average player there doesn’t seem to be more subtly to it than that.
The inventory system is one of the game’s core mechanics, making it hard for loot rats like myself who by default pick up everything in sight. Sometimes it can mean just having to loop back later to pick up some more crafting materials but often it can mean coming across a crucial progression item that you’ll then have to leave behind. Thus you play an optimisation game, scanning the room for everything in it and then deciding what you can and can’t take with you. It gets easier later on as you expand your inventory space, although then you’re usually carrying around more guns to deal with the game’s increased level of threat. I’d typically chide a game for making inventory management such a ballache however it’s clear that it was a core part of the game design, not something that was simply neglected. So whilst I might have been annoyed at the multiple trips I might have had to make to get everything in a room I understood that this was part of the challenge laid out before me.
Now I’m not sure if it’s my 2 decades of experience as a gamer since I played the original but the puzzles of the remake feel a lot more straightforward than they previously did. All the clues you need will come to you without the need for studious exploration and those that don’t can often be worked out with a little logic or brute force. There was only one time when I got stuck and that was due to me legging it out of a room without fully exploring it, something a second trip through fixed up immediately. I was playing on the Standard difficulty so I understand some challenges are a little harder on the top tier but even then I don’t think most seasoned gamers would struggle. For those who do there’s the easiest difficulty level which I think would cater to even the most casual of players.
It’s hard to tell what’s janky in Resident Evil 2 and what’s meant to be a core part of the game. For instance the zombies’ ragdoll physics constantly goes haywire, even when they’re not completely dead. On the one hand this could very well be deliberate as ragdolling in games often means the enemy is completely, 100% dead; something which this game really doesn’t want you to be sure of. Additionally the enemies AI breaks down around doors, sometimes they’ll break them down and follow you through whilst others will instantly forget you’re there the second you close it. Again, could be a game mechanic or could be a glitch, I really can’t be sure. It’s true to the nature of the genre somewhat, frustrating controls and random mechanics that always keep you guessing, which is also one of my biggest gripes with games like these. So either it’s part of the challenge or a frustrating lack of polish, you decide.
The story remains true to the core events of the original and retains the same ever present tension that the Resident Evil series was always so good at generating. Now I’m not typically a fan of the horror genre but it’s hard to deny how well Resident Evil 2 executes it. The game does have some rather severe pacing issues, something which I think is part due to its true to core nature and the assumed multiple playthroughs (which I have not done), but it does seem relationship progression between most of the characters happens way too fast given the time that would’ve passed (less than one night). A lot of it made sense to me given my history with the original game but for those who never played it I can imagine things might have seemed a little weird. Indeed the story seems to be the thing that recieved the least polish which is a shame but it’s still at least enough to carry you through it.
All this being said RESIDENT EVIL 2 / BIOHAZARD RE:2 sets the bar for what remakes of classic titles can be. Changing up the mechanics, completely rebuilding the environments and thoroughly modernising nearly everything about it brings about a new experience that keeps the essence of the original whilst still doing something new. Even for single playthrough gamers like myself there’s a lot to love here, from the well laid out puzzles to the min/max strategy, ensuring that there’s always a challenge at had to keep you occupied. There are some parts that could either be a lack of polish or a deliberate design decision, something that has always irked me about the survival horror genre. Still, all things considered, if all remasters or remakes were like this I think we as a gaming community would be far more welcoming to them. We may get to see more of it with a possible Resident Evil 3 remake on the horizon and I, for one, am definitely looking forward to it.
RESIDENT EVIL 2 / BIOHAZARD RE:2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 7 hours playtime and 40% of the achievements unlocked.
Reviving old IPs has proved to be something of a double edged sword. There’s definitely a lot of demand out there as many successful Kickstarter campaigns have shown but the resulting games have always been something of a mixed bag. For the most part the ones that simply try to recreate the old game with modern technology tend to fair worse whilst those that actually attempt a faithful reboot using the world and characters fair a lot better. This was the difference between Rise of the Triad and Tomb Raider for me, although the latter’s budget probably had a lot to do with it. So you can imagine when I saw a Shadow Warrior reboot I was hesistant to try it out for fear that it would have been yet another straight port, even if came with Lo Wang’s signature tongue-in-cheek humour.
You are Lo Wang, general badass and agent to the Zilla corporation, working directly with the company’s head doing whatever is required. Your first mission is simple, offer up $2 million in exchange for a single sword and bring it back. The deal, predictably, goes south and after dispatching numerous guards you find yourself confronted with another foe: demons from the shadow realm. As it turns out that sword you were sent to retrieve was none other than the Nobitsura Kage, an ancient katana which is the only weapon that can destroy beings from the shadow realm. Guided by your new demon friend Hoji you’re sent on a quest to retrieve all the pieces in the hope that you can stop the unrelenting demon invasion. Of course not everything is as it appears and Zilla’s intentions are far from being that of a simple collector.
All aspects of Shadow Warrior have been tuned for fast paced, hack ‘n’ slash combat, including the graphics. If I’m honest they’re at the level I would have expected from a cross platform release however with Shadow Warrior being a PC exclusive that excuse doesn’t hold up unfortunately. It’s not that they’re bad or dated, indeed as some of my selected screenshots will attest to it can be quite pretty at times, but apart from those set pieces it definitely has not been designed for you to gawk at. Combine this with a healthy dose of asset reuse that you’ll see throughout the game (which includes everything from the treasure chests to whole sections of levels) says to me that the graphics weren’t the highest priority but they do serve the purpose well, even if it gets a little samey as the game goes on.
Shadow Warrior is a first person hack ‘n’ slasher, throwing hordes of enemies at you which you can dispatch in numerous ways. Your primary weapon in nearly all of these encounters will be your katana as only it has the clearing power required to churn through enemies fast enough. There’s a ton of other weapons available all of which are made available to you a various sections in the game and you’re not likely to be wanting for ammo thanks to it being strewn everywhere. However chances are if you can get within melee range of your enemies you’ll want to use the katana over everything else thanks to the synergy it has with the other primary combat mechanic: dark powers.
There are 3 separate upgrade systems in Shadow warrior, each having their own unique upgrade currency and all of them affecting different aspects of the game. The primary upgrade system, or at least the one you’ll be using the most often, is the karma system which is levelled up by defeating enemies. Using special abilities and varying your approach will also net you karma bonuses, allowing you to attain upgrades quicker. The skills you get in this tree are augments to your other powers as well as direct stats boosts which can be your saving grace in the middle of a giant firefight. There are also some unique abilities available which can radically change how you play the game although, in all honesty, you’re crazy if you don’t focus everything on the katana and the skills surrounding it, especially the life stealing abilities.
The other 2 upgrade systems focus on dark powers (upgraded through Ki Crystals of which there are usually 1~2 per chapter) and weapons (which use money). The dark powers system feels like an organic progression mechanic more than anything else as the upgrades come regularly and predictably and, past a certain point, don’t heavily influence the game play. Your initial choices will heavily influence your choices down the line however as it’s pretty clear that you can either favor an offensive or defensive style. Weapon upgrades are probably the least influential out of any of them since the katana is just so much more powerful by comparison except when it comes to the boss fights. Thus I usually found myself with a horde of cash up until I got to a point where I felt a certain weapon needed upgrading to help me out. It’s also worth noting that whilst the katana appears in this menu you will never be able to upgrade it using money, so don’t bother waiting for the unlocks to happen.
All of this combines into a combat system that is fast paced and utterly enjoyable. You’ll start off with small engagements with only a handful of enemies but it will slowly ramp up to the point where you won’t be able to remember how many enemies are on the field. Over time new enemies get thrown into the mix, including giant warlords, warlocks that raise the dead and beasts covered in metal that can only be taken from behind (snicker). Unfortunately it does start to wear on you towards the end because the only way the difficulty increases is by adding extra enemies or reducing the amount of space you have to move around in. Additionally a lot of the cool abilities you unlock will simply not work on the higher tier enemies which kind of makes them pointless, making you reliant on the one move which does the most damage.
Despite this the boss fights are probably the strongest aspect of Shadow Warrior as whilst each encounter uses the same mechanic for defeating them (shoot the glowy bits until the fall down then kill the crystal inside) they each have unique abilities and all of them are just epic in scale. They can be a tad frustrating as there are some one hit kill mechanics and the checkpoint system doesn’t always save at critical points but honestly that was only a big issue with one of them. The rest were a hell of a lot of fun as you spam all your weapons at them to bring them down and nothing can beat the exhilaration you get after you’ve spent 30 minutes circle strafing your way to victory.
Shadow Warrior unfortunately suffers from a few notable glitches as well as having some outright game crashes that happen without warning. The screenshot below shows how shurikens will sometimes just float around in space forever. This usually isn’t an issue however I sometimes heard the shuriken noise coming from behind walls which, for a game that uses sound cues for certain things, can be quite distracting. I also experienced game crashes twice which I can directly attribute to some unknown edge case in ability use as they both happened instantly after I used an ability (circle of iron was the last one I could remember and it happened right after I released it). Key press recognition also seems a little flakey when you start to get dozens of enemies on screen which can be a little frustrating when you’re trying to heal yourself or trying to clear a path so you have some breathing room.
Of course it wouldn’t be Shadow Warrior if it didn’t have signature style of humour including numerous Wang jokes as well as other tongue-in-cheek humour. Thankfully, unlike other titles that tried to use similar humour techniques, it doesn’t get overplayed at every opportunity. Sure you’ll hear the same jokes every so often but it at least doesn’t scream “HEY WE’RE FUNNY RIGHT? YEAH WE TOTALLY ARE” desperately, hoping you’ll give them some laughs out of sympathy.
This then flows onto the story which, admittedly, isn’t anything to write home about but surprisingly is far above what I expected. I guess I was somewhat let down by Rise of the Triad (which was more of a direct remake of the original than anything) and thought Shadow Warrior would be the same but it’s so much better. Whilst the shift in tone towards the end comes at the cost of the humour it does help to round out the story well and thankfully avoids the pitfalls of screaming for a sequel. Overall it’s not the dramatic story telling experience that you might expect from some games but then again you’re not playing Shadow Warrior for that, you’re playing it for the fast action and wang jokes.
Shadow Warrior is a shining example of what a reboot can do to an old IP. Instead of trying to recreate the past exactly with modern tools Shadow Warrior is instead a homage to the title of yesteryear, one that takes all the things we loved about it and bundles them up in a completely new game experience. It’s not without its faults, especially with the rudimentary challenge scaling and game crashes, but I’m hopeful that the latter will be fixed in future patches. For me Shadow Warrior is the standard to which I’ll hold future remakes as it’s faithful to the original IP without relying on nostalgia to drive it. Fans of Wang should definitely check this out.
Shadow Warrior is available on PC right now for $39.99. Game was played on the Hard difficulty with 10 hours total playtime and 59% of the achievements unlocked.