Looking backward in order to move forward, Capcom reclaims the title of best remake from itself once again with Resident Evil 2.
Title: Resident Evil 2
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: January 25, 2019
More than just a remake of an all-time classic, Resident Evil 2 is the next main entry in Capcom’s venerable survival horror franchise. Through a deep understanding of its legacy and the ambition to create a visual and mechanical experience second to none, Resident Evil 2 seeks to be the culmination of over twenty years of nearly unrivaled excellence.
Simultaneously converging on Raccoon City, rookie cop Leon Kennedy is investigating why communication with his soon to be coworkers has suddenly stopped, and college student Claire Redfield is searching for her missing brother. But instead of a peaceful Midwestern town, the pair finds themselves trapped in a police station turned nightmare of the undead and biological experiments gone wrong.
Upon starting a new game, players will once again be able to choose between two different campaigns, one for Claire and one for Leon, that feature a mixture of overlapping and unique events, items, and characters. Although just about everything found in the original game makes a return, many of the locations and set pieces have been reordered or repurposed to better serve the expanded narrative.
Inside the police station itself, things remain relatively familiar, with more creative liberties being taken as the game goes on and moves into other areas like the underground. One particular example is Kendo Gun Shop and its owner.
Originally used as an early attempt to convey the terrifying power of zombies and put the player in a state of panic similar to their character, it’s now featured much later to provide a surprisingly poignant and sobering moment that subverts expectations. Another instance of this retooling is a purposely trivial ‘boss’ fight updated with just enough of an additional gimmick to earn its novelty payoff.
As a franchise, Resident Evil generally hasn’t been overly concerned with providing profound stories in a big picture sense. Despite taking itself relatively seriously, Resident Evil 2 stays true to the original in that sense, and instead raises the bar from a presentation standpoint and doubles down on what drives so much affection for the series: characters and world building.
While some longtime fans might be disappointed that the original voice actors don’t reprise their roles, they can take solace in knowing that across the board the performances are candid, nuanced, and authentic in a way that revitalizes these characters and makes them better realized than ever before.
One of the most effective ways Resident Evil 2 tells its story and improves on the original is by expanding the roles of its supporting characters. Chief Irons is not only creepier than ever but with his very own The Shining moment, we get to see him at his worst rather than just reading about it.
Annette Birkin is a more sympathetic character, and her plight is better understood, paving the way for a legitimately emotional moment in a series that has very few. But stealing the show is Ada Wong and her mischievous entanglement with Leon that is explored so naturally and convincingly that it retroactively makes their relationship in previous games even better.
Of course, the most significant change in Resident Evil 2 is the move from fixed cameras to an over-the-shoulder perspective. Although not new to the series as a whole, players are now afforded the ability to precisely aim at zombies’ heads for satisfying critical shots that send chunks of rotten flesh flying across the room or dismember their legs to make them even less mobile.
Capcom’s commitment to recreating a structure and gameplay loops many people consider outdated is a remarkable feat.
A less glamorous update, but just as important, is character movement. From a mechanical standpoint, opening doors, climbing ladders, and running around enemies all happen with surprisingly fluid responsiveness.
This is especially apparent in boss fights, where adversaries no longer feel like they belong in a different game by being significantly faster and more mobile than the player. But character movement has been tuned just right, with Claire and Leon still limited enough to require purposeful and deliberate choices.
However, the most surprising thing about Resident Evil 2 is just how faithful it is to the original concerning game design. That might seem like an obvious thing for a remake, but even with the series refocusing on horror, puzzles, and limited offensive capabilities in recent years, Capcom’s commitment to recreating a structure and gameplay loops many people consider outdated is a remarkable feat.
The world is divided up into several variably sized environments that effectively act as giant puzzles solved by efficient item management, informed path selection, and knowing when and when not to engage with enemies. In the very early stages of the game, it comes across as a somewhat more linearly structured experience, with the game having a specific string of rooms and puzzles in mind.
But multiple routes soon open up, and the game potentially eclipses even the original in size and complexity. The many dingy halls and dark rooms of the Racoon City Police Department are just as claustrophobic as ever, often forcing the player to contemplate which precious ammo type to expend on an overwhelming group of monsters.
The many dingy halls and dark rooms of the Racoon City Police Department are just as claustrophobic as ever, often forcing the player to contemplate which precious ammo type to expend on an overwhelming group of monsters.
All of this adds up to something that feels like it’s transcended the dreams of survival horror fans and was born into reality. It doesn’t feel like Resident Evil 4, or Revelations 2, or even Resident Evil 7 for that matter. It genuinely feels like classic fixed camera Resident Evil but with an over-the-shoulder perspective: the pace, the deliberateness, the required careful consideration.
But at the same time, there are several quality of life improvements that keep it in line with modern game design. For instance, limited saves with ink ribbons are now reserved for the ‘Hardcore’ difficulty setting, whereas the others provide unlimited saves and even feature autosaving. Additionally, discovered items and points of interest now appear on the map until picked up or completed.
This reduces the frustration of trying to remember where that crank is that you had to pass up, streamlining, but not ruining the need to consider your inventory at all times. It would have perhaps been interesting to see this combined with the ability to drop items anywhere in the environment like in Resident Evil 0 or letting players use items without first needing an open inventory slot for them.
Speaking of mechanics from other games, Resident Evil 2 does end up borrowing a few from other entries. Defensive items from the remake of Resident Evil that allow the player to cancel out certain enemy attacks, and crafting various ammo types with gunpowder from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis both see a return.
With the two campaigns combined taking around a dozen hours, difficulty options that mechanically change the game, a time trial based bonus mode, and an assortment of unlockables, there’s enough replayability in Resident Evil 2 to stay busy for quite a while.
And with his increased relentlessness, even the tyrant known as Mr. X seems to have taken a page out of the Nemesis playbook. Previously Mr. X felt like a nuisance that couldn’t be bothered to do his job properly, but now he’s a nearly constant, unyielding threat.
Providing some reprieve, there are a few rooms and areas that he refuses to enter, but his heavy footsteps pounding the floorboards are a constant reminder that he’s just a few steps behind as he stalks the player through and across the entire police station.
Fortunately, Mr. X is slow enough that he can’t catch the player running in a straight line. But his persistence gives him the opportunity to pounce at dead ends, locked doors, and congested rooms, adding a special kind of tension to otherwise routine exploration and puzzle solving.
The biggest downside is the lack of subtly in his approach and ease to which he can be dodged in large spaces or kited around tables and walls. It would have been nice to see the AI given more unpredictability and occasionally show bursts of intensity like his cousin Nemesis.
Another way that Resident Evil 2 tangibly pays homage is with its difficulty. This manifests itself most noticeably with the resilience of even basic zombies. In classic Resident Evil games, there was a predictableness to how much damage they were willing to take, especially from a shotgun. But that’s now gone, so much so that it becomes borderline frustrating at times.
Having a zombie brush off multiple full clips of headshots, or getting up after playing dead for the fourth time is enough to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. Making the situation trickier is the fact that unlike the original game, enemies don’t produce a puddle of blood when finally defeated.
They seem to be designed this way to replicate the deadliness of zombies in the face of improved aiming and movement, but it mostly just feels like artificial difficulty. Along with enemies being able to turn Claire and Leon into lunch with only a few bites, running out of ammo and healing items is more than possible by playing recklessly, and Capcom is happy to teach players this lesson the hard way.
With the two campaigns combined taking around a dozen hours, difficulty options that mechanically change the game, a time trial based bonus mode, and an assortment of unlockables, there’s enough replayability in Resident Evil 2 to stay busy for quite a while. And without encountering any crashes, obvious bugs, or performance issues, it’s a superbly constructed game as well.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.