I love Resident Evil 2 in both of its forms, but one element of the remake grabbed me (literally grabbed me) more than I expected: super-stalker Mr. X.
Enemies that stalk you aren’t an easy thing to get right. The best example of it working out is of course Alien Isolation, but Resident Evil has stalkers baked into the series identity almost as much as Alien thanks to Mr. X, Nemesis, and most recently Jack and Maugerite in RE7. But the remake version of the Tyrant mutant that stalks the halls of Raccoon City PD may very well be the best execution of this concept in the series.
There’s a wonderful sense of tension to your encounters with Mr. X. It’s a combination of elements; the thudding footsteps as he approaches, the searing music that increases in volume and intensity as he nears, and of course the not-quite-man himself: huge, blank-faced, absolutely robotic. The guy is bloody frightening.
I am perhaps the best sort of person to be freaked out by a character like Mr. X. The way I play survival horror games is methodical, meticulous. I take my time in every room, turning it upside down, checking every cobwebbed corner and pile of trash for resources. Zombies are slow enough and stupid enough to be avoided, but Mr. X is intelligent enough to make such a strategy either risky or impossible.
Such is the genius of the implementation of the stalker in RE2 remake – Mr. X toes the line perfectly between remaining a constant threat and becoming enough of a nightmare that he might be negatively disruptive to the game experience. It’s all about that balance, and in this the Capcom team has nailed it. He’s intelligent enough to feel a real threat, but easy enough to manipulate, avoid and lose that you don’t feel frustrated.
For the most part, that balance is achieved not through Mr. X himself, but through the brilliant design of the Raccoon City Police Department building. Much of RE2 Remake takes place there, and while Mr. X only showed up in the second B story of the original game, the remake integrates him into your first playthrough. Crucially, he doesn’t show up until you’ve been in the police department for some time – that’s key to all of this working.
This is nothing short of perfect. When Jack stalks you through the corridors of the earliest parts of the Baker house in RE7, the house is new to you. That enhances your stress levels for better and worse, but in RE2 the introduction of the Tyrant feels like an excellent late twist on the RPD area. You first have hours to explore and learn the layout of the building. You always have a map, of course, but nothing is quite so effective as memory of where the safe rooms and shortcuts are. By the time Mr. X appears you know the building well, and thus that knowledge is tested: to avoid and escape you’ll be forced to take alternate routes quickly and decisively.
On harder difficulties it’s also a test of how gutsy you are. Locked rooms tease you for those early hours, but by the time you earn the method to open them the Tyrant is loose. If you want to clear out the station, you’ll have to brave its corridors with Mr. X stalking you. In those narrow corridors, that means brown trousers time.
All of this is further enhanced by the nature of Mr. X. Jack and Maugerite were threatening, but as they hollered and called after you, it’d sometimes undercut the chase. When Maugerite calls you a ‘fucking shitcock’, you stifle a chuckle even if you’re bricking it. Mr. X has all of the most stoic and terrifying horror stalker icons: he’s Jason, he’s the Terminator, he’s Maniac Cop. Stomp, stomp, stomp down the hallway, emotionless and unstoppable.
As you risk crossing back from one side of the RPD to the other for story or side objectives, the game changes. You don’t want to fire your weapons at zombies not to preserve ammo, but to avoid revealing your location to Mr. X. As you cower in safe rooms, you worry about footsteps and creaks in the distance: are those zombies, or is that him? Everything about my approach to RE2 changed, and areas I’d already explored were thrown into a new light. Quickly you discover some avoidance tactics, and soon enough the ultimate strategy becomes clear: you must not panic. If you’re calm, quiet and find a good hiding place, he can even walk straight past you – but with the footsteps, the music and the constant threat of other enemies, that’s easier said than done.
Once you actually escape RPD, you’re not yet rid of the Tyrant. He shows up in later areas, but in a more restricted way. You’re better equipped and have a better understanding of his capabilities, too. By this point, his effectiveness is reduced – but none of that can detract for how effective Mr. X is as you quietly plod your way through the RPD. Resident Evil 2 Remake is brilliant across the board, but this resilient bastard is one of my favourite parts.