The game mechanics of Resident Evil 2 Remake
I loved the remake of the Resident Evil 2 game, so I wanted to analyze the design of its core play. Underneath the label of “survival horror,” what are its mechanics really about? What is the main thing you do while playing the game? It may initially seem counter-intuitive, but the main mechanic of the Resident Evil 2 is opening locked doors. That’s the core of the game, all other mechanics are subjected to it, and are made to interact and amplify it.
The objective and the main mechanic
To help explain that, let’s first define what’s the objective of the game, what’s the condition for winning? Take out all the set dressing and you will see that the game run inside one big continuous maze. There’re several thematic areas in that maze, but it’s still one big intricated set of connected rooms and corridors. To win the game, the player must find and open the door that will let him out of the maze. That’s it.
The maze is not fully accessible from the start, it’s divided into multiple sections, and the entrance of each section is locked. The player needs to continuously explore the area that is available to him to find the item that will unlock the door for the next area, and do this over and over until the final door is finally found and unlocked.
Moving around the maze—going back and forth through its rooms to find the items and open the doors—is a big part of the game. So, it makes sense to develop conflicts and choices around the mobility of the player. Across the maze there are encounters; the player needs to pass those encounters to navigate the maze successfully. Here we get to the second main mechanic of the game, which works as it’s own subgame: shooting.
On the encounters throughout the game the player must fight zombies, if he overcomes them, he can continue on his path. Otherwise, the player loses part of his life. If all his life is gone, he dies and must start again. These encounters are how the player can lose the game, so the choices around them are a big deal. The main way to win the encounter is to shoot the zombie down, this mechanic is practically all physical skill of eye/hand coordination, the strategy around the encounters comes from the next mechanics, the limited resources and the inventory management.
On the game, the supply of ammunition and health items is limited, so each enemy encounter brings a tension of how the player can get past it without deplenishing his supplies. Together with limited resources, there’s a limited inventory space; the player needs to decide what to carry and what not to. The mechanics of finding items, opening doors, and backtracking because of wrong items on the inventory force the player to move around the maze; the mechanics of the encounters, and the limited supplies make the movement costly and force the player to strategize on how and when to move. Moving around the levels is costly, the mechanics of the game put tension around that.
The twist: Mr. X
Those mechanics by themselves already make for a great game, but Resident Evil 2 adds an interesting twist to that formula: Mr. X, the super monster. Appearing by the end of the first third of the game, he is highly lethal and cannot be killed. He will pursue and look for the player non-stop. The consequence is, on top of all previous mechanics, we also get the complications of a cat and mouse game. The player needs to continuously move through the maze to flee from Mr. X, which put considerably extra pressure on the other enemy encounters, how often they happen, and how much more ammunition the player needs to spend.
The core of the game
We can say that the main mechanics from the game are:
- Find and use an item to unlock further sections of the maze
- Shooting and dodging during enemy encounters
- Choosing when to use the limited supplies
- Managing the inventory, selecting what the player is currently carrying.
- Fleeing from Mr. X
They all work together and provide the base of the choices that the player can make during the game.
How the theme of the game influence its mechanics
It’s arguable that the theme and story of the game, and how well the developers executed it, is as essential as the core mechanics. But still it lives in a different plane, it’s a superstructure akin to a metagame. For example, if you had the same mechanics and rules but a different setting, would it be a different game?
Resident Evil 2 is a great game because of how its theme influences the base mechanics of the game. The fear and the atmosphere it creates, make it harder for the player to move around the maze. It can make the player spend more supplies than he would need otherwise, or just straight out miss shots. This cross-influence between the theme of the game and its mechanics—and between the mechanics themselves—creates a tight package and a better game.