In April 2016, a new PlayStation game came out that bore more than a passing similarity to a much-older release. Ratchet & Clank was the first title in Insomniac's 3D action-platformer series to be developed for the PS4, and rather than continue to push its titular protagonists into new stories and scenarios, it instead reimagined the first game, which had debuted on the PS2 back in 2002.
Insomniac's logic was simple, and effective: here was a PlayStation franchise that'd spanned several consoles, returning at a time when the PS4 was the runaway market leader, attracting all-new players to Sony's portfolio of exclusive software. To add to the lore that'd built up over the previous dozen games would have been confusing for newcomers.
But to go back to the beginning, and rebuild the Ratchet & Clank story while harnessing the improved power of the PS4, made perfect sense. Old-timers get a nostalgia hit, while those playing as these characters for the first time weren't lost amid a cacophony of call-backs. Win, win.
And what Ratchet & Clank did fantastically - putting to one side its fun narrative and engaging characters (shame the film didn't land so well, really) - was do nostalgia in a more imaginative way than literally polishing up old assets and actions. It was more like the game you thought you remembered, seen through very rose-tinted spectacles (and terrifically upscaled), had been put in front of you, and not the actual game it was essentially a version of.
This kind of remake is nothing new, of course - and more recently, Shadow of the Colossus is a 2018 example of a remake that captures a game's original spirit but improves the experience significantly. But as I played through a healthy chunk of Capcom's forthcoming Resident Evil 2 - E3 2018 footage posted above, and look to our Facebook for fresh gameplay - I couldn't help but think of Ratchet & Clank, as again my memories of the late 1990s were warped by the mists of time and the very modern-looking action playing out.
Resident Evil 2
Capcom have past form here, of course - the company's superb 2002 remake of the first Resident Evil became the foundation for 2016's HD revisions. But Resident Evil 2, without the benefit of a pre-existing remake, looks and plays astoundingly. It is, at the same time, incredibly evocative of the 1998 PlayStation game it shares its name and narrative thrust with, and entirely new of atmosphere, aesthetic and (most importantly) accessibility.
The damned tank controls are gone! Thank you, video gaming gods. Having revisited the Director's Cut version of the first Resident Evil recently, as it's featured on the PlayStation Classic, I can safely say that tank controls need to get in, and stay in, the nearest bin. Fixed camera angles are gone, too, meaning the right stick can be used to get a better idea of what horrors are lurking in darkened corners.
Resident Evil 2 gif
More instantly obvious is the general look of the game - Resident Evil 2 is running on the same (RE) engine that powered 2017's Resident Evil 7, and shares a similarly dank and grimy visual style, like the walls themselves could somehow be alive, and a threat. Which isn't to say that anything gets lost in the murk - not unless Capcom really want it to, so that it can pop out and give the player a fright. And yes, that happened during my time playing through a few different sections as Leon S Kennedy, Claire Redfield and Ada Wong.
I have to tiptoe around spoilers, here, but yes, Ada is playable. On top of the usual zombie cannon fodder, the ceiling-crawling lickers are more gruesome than ever, and a certain scaly something is waiting for Leon down in the sewers of Raccoon City (not that we can show it off, more's the pity). Sherry Birkin shows up, disappears, and then... Well, now I'm really walking a line I'd rather not. Suffice to say, this Resident Evil 2 has some surprises up its blood-stained sleeve that fans of the 1998 game will love.
Resident Evil 2
But the biggest takeaway from my time with Resident Evil 2 - which comes out for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on 25 January 2019 - is that it's another supremely effective piece of gaming nostalgia that recognises, rightly, that just giving players what they already had is missing the point. We've seen, with the PlayStation Classic and more mini-consoles besides, that repackaging the past with an HD cable just isn't enough. These old games, so few of them really hold up.
It's by giving players what they thought they had, and ideally building on that with new features, that games of yesteryear, fondly remembered as they are, can exist in the present without compromising quality for the long-term fan or essential newcomer appeal. And Resident Evil 2 perfectly hits that sweet spot - recognisable, but alien; exciting, but familiar. And definitely scary. So, who's up for some Nemesis, in 2021?
Featured Image Credit: Capcom