How Resident Evil 2 Shaped The Modern Horror Landscape

Just as Resident Evil changed the horror game landscape in the 90s, so to did its sequel's remake in 2019. Resident Evil 2's success laid the groundwork for developers and publishers alike to take advantage of the genre's newfound staying power.

How Resident Evil 2 Shaped The Modern Horror Landscape

The video game industry is full of revivals. Genres make a return like the most recent 3D platformer resurgence spearheaded by games like Yooka-Laylee, A Hat In Time or the Crash and Spyro remasters. Franchises see new entries thanks to renewed fan interest like Shenmue III or Pyschonauts 2. Even classic titles receive fancy new remakes such as Final Fantasy VII or Shadow of the Colossus. One such revival involved one of Capcom’s most influential series. 

Resident Evil has had its fair share of ups and downs throughout the years. What was once a prolific franchise in the late 90s and early 2000s would eventually see a decline in quality year over year. Prior to it’s pseudo-reboot in 2017, many fans and critics believed it had hit a low point with Resident Evil 6 that it couldn’t recover from. But with the remake of Resident Evil 2, not only did Capcom resurrect a classic title for a new generation but they also inadvertently kickstarted a renaissance for a genre that probably wouldn’t exist without it.

Humble Horror Beginnings 

While the horror genre certainly didn’t start with Capcom’s Resident Evil, there’s no doubt that it was the catalyst for its rise in popularity when it launched in 1996. A 3D spiritual successor to Sweet Home on the Super Famicom, Resident Evil was a tremendous success and paved the way for classic series like Silent Hill, Dino Crisis and Parasite Eve in the late 90s.

Over the years, the horror genre has risen and fallen like the tides. With every rise in popularity comes a lull. After the boom in the 90s, horror developers and publishers were often met with diminishing returns on their products. Stellar titles such as F.E.A.R., Eternal Darkness or Fatal Frame just couldn’t perform as well as their predecessors had. During this period, smaller indie titles filled in the gap left by big budget horror releases. Experiences like Amnesia: The Dark Decent, Slender: The Eight Pages and S.C.P. Containment Breach offered gamers scares when the Triple A studios wouldn’t. 

Condemned: Criminal Origins / Monolith Productions / SEGA

Condemned: Criminal Origins / Monolith Productions / SEGA

As technology improved, so to did the potential for new horror games. The dawn of the 8th generation of consoles gave us Triple A titles like Alien Isolation, The Evil Within, and Until Dawn with smaller indie titles dotting the horror landscape such as Layers of Fear, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and Outlast. While horror games could’ve easily fallen back out of the public’s interest after another rise in popularity, Capcom would again effect change on the industry with its flagship horror franchise. 

A Revolutionary Return to R.P.D

In 2019, Capcom would release a full, from-the-ground-up remake of Resident Evil 2 to critical and commercial acclaim. This success would be the springboard for the survival horror genre’s staying power today. As of October 2022, Resident Evil 2 has surpassed 10 million copies sold and holds Metacritic scores of over 90 from both fans and critics alike. Its high sales and praise are well warranted as Resident Evil 2 is one of the best games of 2019. The impressive graphics, impeccable level design and improved gunplay rounded out a modern retelling of the original’s story with the memorable set pieces and characters remaining intact. 

Resident Evil 2 (2019) / Capcom

Resident Evil 2 (2019) / Capcom

Resident Evil 2 marked an important turning point for both the series and the survival horror genre as a whole. It proved that Resident Evil 7 wasn’t a fluke and the franchise, just like the zombies that had infected it for decades, was back from the dead. It also proved that the survival horror genre was a profitable endeavor, especially when injected with some nostalgia. Without Resident Evil 2‘s success, the horror landscape in the upcoming years could’ve looked very different. This has manifested itself recently as there have been a number of horror game announcements that took the gaming public by surprise.

EA Motive is remaking the original Dead Space from the ground up. THQ is rebooting Alone in the Dark for a second time, helmed by Soma and Amnesia writer Mikael Hedberg. Remedy announced that Alan Wake 2 is in development over a decade since the original title. The allure of profit has even pulled Konami out of retirement as they announced a swath of Silent Hill projects. The long rumored remake of Silent Hill 2 developed by Layers of Fear and The Medium‘s Blooper Team was revealed along with the first new entry in the franchise, Silent Hill f, since 2012’s Downpour.

SILENT HILL Transmission (EN) | KONAMI

There is a strong possibility most of the aforementioned projects don’t see the light of day if Resident Evil 2 was met with middling reviews or financially broke even. It’s important to remember that the video game industry is a business and profits typically trump artistic integrity. It’s easier to chase trends to make a profit than take risks on projects that are truly worth it. This is why a niche genre like horror has been subjected to roller-coaster like peaks and valleys for years.

If a game underachieves, especially if it’s a new Intellectual Property, publishers tend to cut their losses and move on. Believe it or not, ZombiU was one of the most innovative and interesting horror games in the last decade. Despite that, Ubisoft saw poor sales numbers as a reason to leave it for dead.

An Eerily Bright Future

Resident Evil 2 has now opened the door for companies like EA and Konami. They’re now willing to invest time, money and resources into big budget, Triple A survival horror games. In their mind, the rewards now out way the risks.

Dead Space (2023) / EA Motive / EA

Dead Space (2023) / EA Motive / EA

The hope is that Resident Evil’s newfound success will create a snowball effect for the survival horror genre. If these remakes can achieve the same results, it could cascade to other classic revivals. These remakes are an important stepping stone in revitalizing the horror genre into a constant presence rather than the intermediate trend it has been. The largest hurdle for the genre now is for newer titles who don’t have the benefit of nostalgia.

Despite its initial reviews, The Callisto Protocol is one of the most exciting games of the year. The hype generated from Striking Distance’s first title was impressive but without Resident Evil 2, would The Callisto Protocol ever have been greenlit? Would a potential spiritual successor to Dead Space be taken seriously by publishers or investors prior to Resident Evil 2‘s release? The answer is a resounding yes based on how the industry at large works when anything is massively successful.

The Callisto Protocol / Striking Distance Studios / Krafton

The Callisto Protocol / Striking Distance Studios / Krafton

Crafting mechanics made their way into nearly every game released after Minecraft. Games like Harvestella or Disney’s Dreamlight Valley wouldn’t exist without the popularity of Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing New Horizons. Apex Legends and Warzone owe everything to Fortnite and it’s popularizing of the Battle Royale genre. At it’s core, the games industry is all about iteration and innovation. Starting with a successful base and branching off of it in new and unique ways. Resident Evil 2 is that base game for the horror genre going forward.

For now, it seems as though the highs and lows of the horror genre has subsided. Ironically, the future is bright for survival horror games. What was once viewed as a niche is seeing a resurgence into the mainstream. Untouchable games like Silent Hill 2 or Resident Evil 4 are receiving the remake treatment. New horror games, both big and small, are receiving media attention the genre hasn’t seen since it’s heyday. If you’re excited to get your hands on any of the enticing horror games next year, you have Resident Evil 2 to thank. 

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