Resident Evil’s Best Games are Defined by their Level Design

As gaming platforms have continued to upgrade their tech, the in-game world sizes have continued to increase, as shockingly-detailed environments are filled to the brim with side quests and secrets. As multi-dozen hour games continue to become the norm in the AAA space, linear games have had to work harder to impress players with their self-imposed restrictions while not feeling outdated or simple. Capcom’s modern remake of Resident Evil 2 looks to take players back two decades, taking advantage of many of the environments and story elements of the 1998 original while updating the gameplay mechanics and overall presentation. Our review offered the title a significant amount of praise, calling it “a bigger and more robust horror experience,” with a key factor being the unnerving atmosphere presented by the Raccoon City Police Department, wherein a majority of the campaigns take place. These types of environments have defined Resident Evil throughout its history and the best ones all share several key elements that exemplify a strong sense of level design.

Setting the Tone

Before the horrors of the menacing undead and ammo scarcity start to become clear, the first glimpse that players get of what’s to come is through the environment, which can create that first feeling of unease that continues to last through the rest of the adventure. From dimly lit hallways to crumbling architecture, these buildings are carefully constructed to allow the player to easily navigate them, but never feel fully comfortable even without any enemies on screen. Most importantly, these environments have rooms that easily convey their original purpose prior to the zombie outbreaks, with the Baker House being a strong example of this philosophy. Each member of the Baker family has their own room that represents their personality and prepares the player for their eventual encounter, hearkening back to a simpler time before the events of Resident Evil 7. The placement of the standard rooms including a kitchen, dining room, bathrooms and more never feels gamified, instead prioritizing the atmosphere that exploring an eerily normal but clearly ruined house brings with it while slowly unveiling the past of the Baker family.

So Many Secrets

Ultimately, these rooms would be worthless without the useful contents that inhabit them. Due to the consistently low amount of resources that players can keep on them at once, discovering a green herb in a drawer or a few bullets on a table can bring jubilation and truly mean the difference between life and death. The best loot, however, is never as easily spottable, as new weapons, inventory upgrades and more can be uncovered for the dedicated players willing to explore every nook and cranny and figure out the mechanical puzzles. These secrets were clearly established during the foundational moments of the franchise, as the Spencer Mansion in the original Resident Evil is filled to the brim with intriguing rewards that are often hidden in plain sight. From grandfather clocks to filthy bathtubs, even the pressing threats of the undead won’t stop the most dedicated of players from thoroughly checking and re-visiting every pixel each time they enter a new room.

Reasons to Return

While most Resident Evil games start in one primary location, they often tend to evolve and move onto smaller sub-locations as the plot progresses forwards. But just as often as the game moves away from that initial environment, it also offers plenty of incentives to return back, as the player gathers new tools and keys to unlock new areas. These return trips often prove to be memorable, as the familiarity of the rooms and hallways that the players first explored in previous hours allow for speedy traversal, which can often be abruptly halted by new and more powerful enemies. Both the original and remake versions of Resident Evil 2 offer several opportunities to return to the RPD, as new photos to develop reveal secrets about areas that were already explored and new keys unlock entire sections of the department that players have yet to visit. Between the first impressions that set the tone, the useful loot for dedicated explorers, and the second, third and fourth trips that feel familiar yet new, Resident Evil has set a precedent for some of the most memorable environments in gaming history and these levels continue to remind us why this survival horror franchise is still so prominent two decades later.