Resident Evil 2 Misses an Opportunity to Critique Modern Police Corruption
I cannot quit Resident Evil 2. Hours upon hours I slave away, held tight in its firm grasp, the urgency of its layered design and unsettling scares have kept me hooked. But all the while I storm the dreadful hallways of the abandoned RPD, I have to ask myself: why am I here?
For Leon Kennedy, the answer is simple enough. The rookie protagonist is caught in a shitstorm during his first day on the job, and even as the world continues to crumble around him, he wants to make a good first impression. Leon represents the naive, idealised notion of policemanship devoid of corruption, the antithesis of the likes of which have largely allowed this zombie outbreak to happen in the first place.
By roleplaying this noble, unsung hero, the player works down an elaborate path towards wiping the slate clean. To progress through the game — solving the puzzles, grabbing the items, reading the notes, developing the film reels, saving the city — is almost representative of Leon’s ethical, comprehensive workmanship; a means to eagerly pave the way for a more honest police system to be reinstated in whatever remains of Raccoon City. It means risking one’s own Life for the sake of the public’s safety, for the sake of dignity that should be bestowed upon the badge Leon so proudly wears.
But, and unfortunately there is a ‘but,’ as is often the case when living in America, land of outrage opportunities and unresolved tensions; but, REmake 2 (as it shall be referred to from here on out) fails to expand upon its progressive mechanical blueprint, weary of straying too far from its original 1998 plotline.
The moment the formidable Mr. X stormed onscreen, a sort of updated Nemesis construct taken straight out of the third PSX RE title, my anxiety escalated to the point of nearly setting the control down and never coming back. But I loved the game’s design too much to leave it forever. I refused to let this unstoppable, disturbing force, ceaselessly stalking me through the corridors of the police station, hinder my progress. The beast has to stop at some point, right?
Once again, this urgent sense of apprehension awarded by Mr. X’s mere presence — his pounding footsteps heard as he ardently searches for me just a few rooms away — provides an apt analogy for the infectious malfeasance which seems to spread through modern day policing like a shadow trails its particular client. Unfortunately, the aesthetic concept is never fully realised or seemingly even recognized by the storytellers. The game is quite literally set within a police department which is eating itself alive, yet REmake 2 never strives to acknowledge its own narrative potential.
Leon never truly grapples with any effects on his own sense of duty, the imposing atmosphere never commissions his own form of moral questioning. He remains just as steadfast and duty-driven at the end of the game as he is at the very start, even after the broken, bewildering systems have put him through constant danger and anxiety. Whether or not the political connotations are purposefully infused within the narrative, they are certainly there, built into the gameplay design itself. Perhaps Capcom is too fearful to take a step further with their most profitable property, and understandably so. This would all be commendable if Leon at least exhibited some sort of willed fortitude against the oppressive system; rather, he spends the game undeterred in spite of the monstrous circumstances.
AAA games have a longstanding history of placing profit over authenticity. Taking chances does not serve the bank account well, especially in a current era where proposing political notions immediately ushers in abject criticism and aggression. But the zombie genre has always been steeped in modern political context, offering commentaries on the climate when which it was developed and interpreted. REmake 2 deserves a more thorough political examination, as much as it deserves a narrative worth examining in the first place. Ironically, this horror game is frankly too afraid to probe any deeper than surface level storytelling.
While Mr. X appropriately serves to cripple and divert Leon’s direction towards serving the city — and subsequently the player’s own progress — this blatant though rather brilliant metaphor is never expanded upon within the game’s narrative. The storyline lacks any surprises because of its devotion to staying as faithful as possible to the original game. The result is a worrisome AAA product, a Western commentary on American capitalism held back by sales prospects.
In other words, the game is just too safe to commend. It has the underlying structure of a praiseworthy allegory, but lacks flesh; it’s left to rot away as skeletal remains. In an era where consumers are beginning to ask more from game developers, willing to think more about the prospects of interactive storytelling; REmake 2 should have expanded upon the potential to breathe new Life into its antiquated source material, to update and modernize the title in more aspects than mere graphical fidelity.
Ultimately, profitable obligations stood in the way. While the previous iteration of the series, Resident Evil VII, managed to subvert expectations and bend tropes on their heads; REmake 2 feels like a step backwards in some regards, quite literally, actually. Fortunately, the end result is still an enjoyable, often harrowing experience all its own. But one can’t help but lament at what could have been.