My first reaction to the Resident Evil 2 remake was one of awe. Not for the return of newbie police officer Leon Kennedy and his trusty right shoulder, there for us to once again – as in Resident Evil 4 – peer over as we take aim with his hand cannon. Nor was it the recreation of the PSOne game’s eerie Racoon City Police Department, the details of its lobby that were locked away in my memories as pixellated smears suddenly coming back to haunt me in full HD.
No, the moment the game struck me came when Leon reached down to a person in need, his generosity met with an unhinged jaw hanging slack from the rest of the man’s face, only limp strings of gooey flesh holding it in place. It’s gross and I absolutely loved it.
Videogames have been gory for years but the Resident Evil 2 remake feels like a significant step up in the gruesome. The likes of the Doom reboot, which lets you messily dig a chainsaw into a demon’s back, epitomises the purpose of most virtual blood and guts: to further satisfy our violent fantasies, working alongside squishy sound effects to make combat feel punchy.
But in Resident Evil 2 such gory detail is not ancillary – it is, instead, the blood-soaked star of the show. It’s a game that gets you up close to red tissue and disembowelled organs, showing you in full the horrors of its macabre monsters, and expects you to be sickened and terrified at the sight.
With Resident Evil 2, developer Capcom is showing us the many horrendous ways the human anatomy can be mutilated. This is made possible due to the photorealistic graphics of the studio’s in-house RE Engine, which was previously used to remind us how creepy Capcom’s flagship horror series can be with Resident Evil 7 – a glorious return to form inside a cannibal mansion. The levels of gore in that game were limited due to its population of sludge monsters known as the Molded. These creatures, fashioned by a black fungus, have an inky mess for a body that’s topped with a head of huge teeth. But with Resident Evil 2, Capcom swaps its black bile fantasy for the red-blooded horror of zombies, inviting you to play a grotesque game of ‘limb Jenga’ with them.
The grisly sights may seem like an easy way to get a reaction out of people, but Resident Evil 2’s producer Tsuyoshi Kanda is quick to express that there’s brains behind Capcom’s newfound butchery. “Truly terrifying zombies are one of the major concepts behind this title, and we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to achieve this,” Kanda tells me. “One of the scariest things about zombies is the way they come for you relentlessly even as you pump bullets into them. To portray this effectively, you need to have damage impact that feels weighty and real. We’ve tried to make each different weapon feel as real as possible by combining the know-how of everyone on the team.”
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You don’t need to look for long to see the disgusting fruits of this effort: popping zombie heads sends blood splatter in all directions, and a bullet to the knee will see the undead trip into pools of their own offal. It’s clearer than ever in Resident Evil 2 that you’re mutilating hordes made of flesh and viscera, each of your attacks triggering a big reaction from the bodies you shoot in the form of ghastly wounds, gashes, and dismemberment. Capcom recognised that zombies lost their scariness amid the action hero bravado of Resident Evil 6. Now it’s time to make amends, to bring back zombies as the threatening and unrelenting force they once were.
Watching Resident Evil 2’s zombies writhe around, there’s one detail that shines the most, and Kanda puts a name to it. “We’re rendering high-resolution visuals designed in incredible detail, and using them as the basis to create our world of wetness and darkness,” he says.
It’s this idea of “wetness” that distinguishes the gore in Resident Evil 2 from that on display in most other horror games. This doesn’t come as too much of a surprise if you’ve followed the series over the years as its designers have always put pride in the warped anatomies of their most hideous creatures. Look at the mutated form of Wesker’s body at the end of Resident Evil 5 – part man with a large demonic arm, part mass of tentacles drenched in black tar – and you can see the final evolutionary stage of these absurd forms. The animation gives the impression that by continually blasting the glowing heart at the centre of Wesker’s mass, you’re mere moments away from getting covered in lashings of his molten gunk – yuck.
What’s happened now is Capcom has got access to technology that matches its team’s gore-soaked vision. Even though we’re back to basics in Resident Evil 2, facing creatures that aren’t as misshapen and eccentric, the explosion of head, leg, or arm that comes from a shotgun blast is primed more than ever to make your skin crawl. The team armed with such a weapon, Kanda reminds me that the essence of the original game remains front and centre of their minds, and it’s that which informs the emphasis on such flamboyant body horror.
“We want the game to be fresh yet familiar – nostalgic but new at the same time,” Kanda says. “The original game informs the motifs of the new title, but we want to betray fan expectations – in a good way! We want you to be saying ‘Wait, wasn’t this…’ as you play, be it from the reimagined gameplay or the way the new over-the-shoulder camera brings a literal new angle to puzzle solving. At the same time, the original game’s ‘core’ is being carefully retained.”
The game’s core might be one we know, but appropriately, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been chopped up, grounded, and then shoved through a meat grinder to set in new scares using guts, gall, and other gruesome details. If you haven’t already, prepare to slip as you tread through the Resident Evil 2 remake, as Capcom has prepared a wet dish of intestines and human pulp, and laid it out in a rancid mess across the floor.