Jen Hawkins reviews Capcom’s ground up remake of the 1998 classic. Beware some spoilers if you are completely unfamiliar with Resident Evil 2.
For me, Resident Evil 2 represents a new gold standard in both remakes and single player games. Capcom has masterfully created a perfect marriage of new and old in the reimagining of 1998’s survival horror classic and series fan favourite.
Resident Evil 2’s remake proves beyond doubt to me that true horror experiences are not rooted in the fixed camera angles and tank controls of old, but can exist comfortably in the slicker and faster paced world of modern gaming.
Resident Evil 2 see’s the return of series protagonists Claire Redfield – sister of STARS survivor Chris Redfield of the original game, and Leon S Kennedy, a rookie cop about stumble onto the worst first day on the job imaginable.
Much the same as its original, the game throws our protagonists together only to quickly break them apart and onto their own separate journeys, as they each fight to survive an unexplained outbreak which has turned 99%
of the city’s population into savage walking corpses.
In terms of its core gameplay, 2019’s Resident Evil 2 has taken its lead from many people’s series standout Resident Evil 4 – but don’t worry survival horror purists – despite that, the new RE2 is every bit the game you know and love.
The fixed cameras and vintage tank controls have been scrapped in favour of a free-aim which showcases the game’s tight combat, allowing players to take in the deliciously dark environments. The over-the-shoulder camera adds for some seriously tense moments as enemies walk through your gunshots and lunge towards you, screaming to take a chomp out of our heroes.
The game retains s limited inventory system, encouraging exploration to find crucial inventory upgrades which enable you to carry more supplies and ammo and allows for some beefy weapons upgrades too.
Those weapons feel appropriately weighty as your arsenal expands, but never so much that you lose the feeling of vulnerability when stepping into battle – especially against the likes of the ever-evolving William Birkin.
The magical storage chests have made their return, usually a companion to the series iconic typewriters for saving – though crucially on the Assisted and Standard difficulties the game features an autosave feature, usually triggering before a key story event and helps with pacing should your character meet a sticky end.
Those in search of a challenge can attempt the Hardcore difficulty which will make enemies more vicious and damaging and force players to resort back to collecting a limited number of ink ribbons to save their progress.
Leon’s campaign see’s the return of fan favourite Ada Wong as your morally grey sometime companion who accompanies you on your fight through hordes of flesh-eating monstrosities while on her own mission to discover the truth behind the outbreak.
Meanwhile Claire’s search for her brother leads her to cross paths with Sherry Birkin, a young girl lost in the carnage and who Claire takes under her wing in a bid to help her find her mother and survive the escalating situation.
Each unique character has their own individual section which breaks away
from the usual pace of the game. Sherry for example – being completely defenceless – will need to sneak around and avoid being seen as well as solving small puzzles to escape. Ada packs a little more in the way of defence,but also employs the use of the EMF gadget which allows her to manipulate electronic currents as a means of problem solving.
These extra protagonists’ limited capabilities, by their design and their environments, add to the overall feeling of jeopardy that Resident Evil 2 does so well at instilling in its players.
Even seasoned players will need to heed caution when encountering even the most low-level enemies as it is possible to become quickly overwhelmed and trapped should you take a wrong turn.
Your first run on the campaign will likely take you anything up to seven or eight hours to complete, with the game encouraging replays, rewarding you for your time with extra modes and new items.
Speedrunners and completionists will have a field day ploughing away through the various achievable ranks, unlockable weapons and collectables scattered across four scenarios.
Similarly to its 1998 forerunner, the main game offers two main ‘A Scenarios’ and which on completion unlock the ‘B Scenarios’, designed to run as supplementary to your previous run.
In addition the legendary 4th Survivor / Hunk – and the famously bizarre Tofu mode also return to occupy the hardcore survivalists out there.
The game stays true to its survival horror roots with weapons, ammunition and supplies being found around the various well designed locations, and always seemingly in quantities of ‘just enough’ to get you by.
By the end of my first playthrough on standard difficulty, it felt like I had made it to the end by the skin of my teeth, having exhausted nearly all my ammo and recovery items on the final boss encounters.
The enemy design is really something to shout about here. Even just the ‘basic’ zombies themselves have a level of horrifying detail that makes them stand out in a genre that is at least skating close to oversaturation.
Zombies will mindlessly pace towards you and, even after hitting the deck, often come back for a second lunge at your soft, chewy fleshy bits. It becomes clear (often too late) that the best strategy is to disable them and avoid conflict, or risk blowing a stack of ammo taking down just one enemy leaving you empty handed as you move on.
Damage registers on the enemies in impressively disgusting ways, with gunshots taking away chunks of flesh or body parts, while grenades and flamethrowers will leave skin charred and black.
The level of design and variety in the enemies only furthers the feeling that this game has been a real labour of love for the development team – going as far as to insert themselves into the game as zombies.
The iconic Lickers are back with all their terrifying menace, with the game now allowing you to sneak past them if you can stay quiet enough to avoid open conflict, making for some seriously intense (non) encounters.
Perhaps the most notable embellishment to the remake is the expanded presence of Mr X, who had previously only made an appearance in
the B Scenario campaigns in the original game. Mr X functions almost like the Nemesis creature of RE3 and will stalk you relentlessly.
Your only hope of survival being to run and hide. It’s in these moments – especially during a first playthrough – that the horror of Resident Evil truly shines.
Collecting key items and solving puzzles quickly become an exercise is how far your nerves will hold, as there are very few locations Mr X cannot and will not make an unwelcome appearance.
Some of my biggest scares in this game came from Mr X making a sudden, violent appearance while desperately trying to make it quietly from point to point.
Graphically the game is a triumph, with character models and environments offering an exquisite level of detail. From the iconic setting of the RPD in all it’s hilariously overwrought ‘former art museum’ glory, to the
sewers which will have you wading through filth while suspiciously coloured liquids run through open pipes and along the walls.
Having played the game on a base model PS4 this game still looked the business, though a PS4 Pro, Xbox X and PC are where the visuals really demonstrate their bleeding edges.
On all versions the game does suffer from a few texture issues, particularly a strange almost fizzling dissolved look to some of the floor and wall textures as they come into shot, but these are only minor and very easy to ignore.
As impressive as the game looks, the sound design is probably where Resident Evil 2 made its biggest impression on me.
The voice acting is strong throughout while holding onto some of the camp and silliness that the series is known for. The sound design for the zombies is particularly chilling with enemies screaming and snarling as they lunge towards you, or the terrifyingly heavy thumping as Mr X stalks the halls of the RPD in search of you.
The soundtrack has taken on a more ambient vibe, with big orchestral scores stepping in to amp up the drama when main enemies make
their entrance. Those who purchased the Deluxe edition or one of the add-on packs can enjoy the original 1998 soundtrack by switching over in the menus – an especially nice touch.
While the game is already a strong contender for my game of the year at this point, it is inevitably not without some flaws, particularly where pacing is concerned.
Leon’s campaign especially somehow never felt quite as ‘on-point’ as Claire’s and some of the recurring characters felt slightly less interesting or underdeveloped during his run.
One particularly stand-out criticism comes in the form of the ‘G3’ confrontation in the final act, where the sequence plays out almost the same way in every scenario. In scenario ‘B’ it feels to me like something else should be in its place. This is a shame if only because it shows that not quite as much attention to detail went into expanding the alternative scenarios as they perhaps did in the original.
Claire’s story feels a lot more human and one motivated by love and purity of intention, where Leon’s feels more traditional, straight down the line and motivated by a sense of duty.
That said, moments such the one in Kendo’s gun shop are particularly heartbreaking. Resident Evil 2 has moved away from the campy dark villains and peril of old and instead instilled the characters and story with a deep-seated feeling sadness and tragedy.
Personally, there were small subtleties in Claire’s story that I much preferred over playing as Leon. Most notably the insidious and predatory Chief Irons adding that extra layer of unease and anxiety that become particularly apparent when playing a vulnerable little girl trapped under his control.
Next to that would be the unspoken mutual understanding that grows between Claire and Annette Birkin as they fight to stop the G Virus spreading beyond the limits of the city, while protecting the innocent child caught in the middle.
Annette reverts to be being a somewhat archetypal villain without an opportunity for redemption when playing as Leon or Ada, which felt quite jarring when considering how much her story arc plays a key role in the final act of Claire’s narrative.
None of this is to take away from the solid experience that comes from
playing both characters scenarios, but I found myself leaning far more towards one than the other in term of preference.
To conclude, Resident Evil 2 is everything I wanted from a remake of the ‘98 classic and more. Capcom has made some brave and bold decisions which have not only enabled some much needed evolution to the
franchise but managed to preserve and hold onto the elements that make the series so beloved.
There is plenty to love here for both casual and hardcore fans of the series alike, while holding open it’s big rotting arms for new players to jump on board.
With the promise of free expansion DLC coming in March and the huge replay potential, Resident Evil 2 is a must play for fans of horror and solid contemporary single player videogame experiences.
Here’s to a hopeful future as Capcom nails a masterful modern Resident Evil game.