January 22, 2019
Remakes and remasters are ten-a-penny these days, but few are as accomplished as Resident Evil 2. At once both wonderfully familiar yet completely fresh, Capcom has managed to retain the spirit of the 1998 PlayStation original, while reimagining certain narrative beats and memorable moments to keep even the most seasoned of fans on their toes. Practically everything you remember from twenty years ago is in here somewhere in some capacity, and there's enough new stuff – all of it good – to justify revisiting it all over again.
Resident Evil 2 essentially feels like an entirely new game, albeit one with all the hallmarks and trappings of the original. There are puzzles from the original that have been given a twist, or completely new obstacles to overcome, and rather than only appearing in the B scenario, Mr. X (aka the trenchcoat-sporting Tyrant) will now relentlessly pursue you throughout the game, anywhere, at pretty much any time. Certain events that have been turned on their head will defy your expectations, but there's nothing included that will spoil any fondly held memories.
The moment you first enter the hallowed main hall of the Raccoon City Police Department, it'll feel like a homecoming. Everything about the geography of the building might be etched into your brain, and even if the place has been expanded significantly, there's still something distinctive and immediately recognisable about every part of the building and its subterranean labyrinth.
It's testament to the 1998 version that you'll find it still rattling around in your brain, but Capcom goes to great lengths to confound expectations, saving certain scenes you remember for the 2nd Run playthrough, unlocked upon completing the game. Finish Claire's campaign and you'll unlock Leon's, and vice-versa. You'll unlock their classic costumes too.
You also need take only a single glance at Resident Evil 2 to see that it looks truly remarkable, but the sound design too is exemplary. Music is more nuanced and used sparingly, allowing the scratchy scuttling of a licker, or the tortured groan of a zombie to really come through and send chills down your spine. And you can try and board up windows in a desperate bid to prevent more undead from getting in, but eventually, you're going to be overcome by some sort of G-virus infected nasty at some point. You can't help but feel constantly on-edge.
The entire rebuilt and reimagined experience is exceptional, providing raw survival horror thrills that strike a pitch-perfect balance between scares, challenging enemy encounters and stringent resource management. Ammunition, herbs and such are all pretty scarce, so every bullet and every health item is precious, which given the odds you're facing, ratchets up the tension to palm-perspiring levels when your resources are getting low. And gradually dwindle they will, especially if you struggle to aim when several slavering zombies are bearing down on you at once. It's understandable.
At standard difficulty, Resident Evil 2 seldom feels unfair. Ink ribbons for saving your game have been dispensed with, and should you forget to save your progress at a typewriter, there are some fairly generous auto saves that ensure you don't have to go back too far. With the amount of backtracking you'll inevitably have to do in Resident Evil 2, this proves to be a godsend that happily does nothing to alleviate the sense of constant dread. This is even more all-pervading should you attempt hardcore difficulty, using ink ribbons with no auto save cushion to fall back on against tougher enemies, just like the good old days. And death is such a grisly and horrific event that even the promise of an auto save a few minutes back (if you're lucky) will be cold comfort.
Everything is presented in such forensic, unflinching detail that it's likely to give you nightmares. Just try and forget the bit where you pull poor Elliot's screaming torso from underneath the shutters, or find a cop with his bloody, sinewy jaw hanging from his face.
Even in the latter parts of the game where you may end up armed to the teeth, the game succeeds in ramping up the intensity, and like me, you may have been through the game many times over in its previous incarnation two decades ago, but you'll still find a plethora of content in here that's guaranteed to surprise you. In particular, sections that take a break from Leon and Claire during each of their separate campaigns are welcome, exploring other playable characters while providing additional narrative insights.
It's this capacity to serve up genuine shocks and twists on an old game that elevate Resident Evil 2 to something beyond the status of a mere remake. For all intents and purposes, this might as well be a new game. It certainly feels like one, with a wealth of new weaponry, puzzles, enemies, sequences, and areas to explore, as well as some neat unlockable bonuses – including the return of Hunk, Tofu, and the B scenarios - to encourage multiple playthroughs. And certainly, one run-through won't be enough. You'll want to keep on coming back for more, simply because Resident Evil 2 is a superlative game, giving far more than you could ever ask for from a remake.
We miss the old soundtrack (available as a bonus if you have the Deluxe Edition), but Resident Evil 2's spare and subtle use of audio is indicative of a survival horror series that's reached a high level of maturity. Less is more. Sound is used to bolster the tension, and it works brilliantly.
Truly stunning. In terms of pure aesthetics, Resident Evil 2 raises the bar for remakes, and one can only imagine what future entries in the series (or indeed future remakes) could look like. Dripping with detail and artistry, the game is beautifully lit, using shadows to great effect while simultaneously delivering oodles of sickening gore. Exemplary.
Purists might baulk at the thought of the remake eschewing the fixed camera and the static backdrops, but it's their loss. Resident Evil 2 plays like a dream, limiting movement just enough to make you feel vulnerable, while still feeling slick and immediate. The essence of the original remains intact, and modernising the controls and gameplay only makes revisiting a 20-year old classic all the more appealing.
While it's fairly easy to breeze through the campaign in around five hours on your first go, speedruns, 2nd Run playthroughs and other bonus content will keep you playing for tens of hours. Newcomers can ease in gently with the 'assisted' difficulty, while those up for a challenge can opt for 'hardcore', ink ribbons and all. A generous, well-presented package.
Plenty of simple tasks to make you feel like you're making good progress, then a few that will really turn the thumb-screws on ya. Finish the game in 14,000 steps or fewer? Harder than it sounds. Don't use the item box once? Even tougher. Go through the entire game without using a single health item? Eesh. A taxing, but not insurmountable list.
After reinventing the series with Resident Evil VII, returning to Raccoon City to relive past glories proves more than welcome. Calling Resident Evil 2 a remake, however, almost seems reductive. It looks and plays like a brand-new game, prodding the nostalgia glands while delivering something that feels fresh. Resident Evil 2 is expertly executed and bloody sublime.