Attempting to remake what is considered one of the greatest video games of all time has to be both an incredibly exciting and intimidating prospect, but just over three years ago, that’s the exact promise Capcom made. Many consider Resident Evil 2 to be the pinnacle of survival horror after it capitalised on the potential of a cheesy and clunky predecessor with refinements that brought terror to the masses. And 21 years later, it’s ready to wreak havoc across Raccoon City all over again. Resident Evil 2 is an impressively faithful remake, but that’s also arguably its only major flaw.
While the release is more commonly referred to as a remake, Resident Evil 2 is just as much of a re-imagining of the 1998 PSone outing. Many memorable locations remain the same, though there are plenty of tweaks and changes, keeping you on your toes. The famous Raccoon Police Department has been lovingly recreated, although walking its hallways in 2019 is more of a streamlined experience. Some puzzles and mechanics are either radically different or have been removed entirely, and certain shortcuts have been stripped from existence. In their place are new rooms to explore, extra items to acquire, and fresh brain teasers to solve that feel slightly more grounded than what we’re used to. Don’t worry, though, each addition and adjustment makes for an even better game. Nothing at street level has been lost to time.
It’s when proceedings head underground that alterations really start to have an affect, though. Gone are the spiders, moths, and crows that inhabited the sewers and Umbrella’s laboratories, and the biggest kicker of all is that there’s nothing to replace them. It’s disappointing that some of the original’s more outlandish creatures are nowhere to be seen, especially so when no new terrors have been thrown into the mix. Thankfully, the zombie horde continues to be utterly horrifying.
More recent instalments have moved away from the undead, but Resident Evil 2 makes sure that every encounter with a zombie is a potentially tough test. Unloading nearly an entire clip of bullets may not even be enough to down a lonesome straggler, and when it comes to a whole group of them, your best option is to run in the opposite direction. You’re going to need to conserve your ammo for when you really need to use it because with bullets at short supply and zombies that refuse to stay in their graves, this is a hostile environment that works against your chances of survival in every single engagement.
This all helps to create an extremely tense atmosphere that’ll have you on edge at all times. A wave of nostalgia is sure to bring a smile to your face when you first reach the police department’s main lobby, but turn to the right and take a peek under the shutter leading to the east wing and that is sure to dissipate in an instant. Without electricity to fuel lighting, many of the rooms off to either side of the goddess statue are in total darkness. With only a torch on hand to aid navigation, initially you’ll fumble about the place, bumping into one too many zombies that would love nothing more than to sink their teeth into your flesh. But with further exposure comes experience. You’ll never feel completely comfortable exploring an entirely new area, but once you’ve got a grip on how the game expects you to play, you can start to make some real progress. The undead are always a major threat, though, and as a matter of fact, there’s another foe that is going to cause you even more problems.
Mr X has to be one of the most frightening enemies we’ve ever come across in a video game. The T-00 stalks your every move at certain parts of the game, and when he’s on your tail, the tension and adrenaline rush fly off the chart. The great thud of his boots across the wooden floorboards is enough to scare even the most hardened veterans, so much so that you’ll want to avoid him at all opportunities. Gunshots draw his attention, and if he discovers your hiding place nearby, taking one of his blows to the face could prove fatal. Not even save rooms or the main lobby area are safe places to take a breather anymore. This continuous sense of dread combined with the roaming zombie population makes for a tense and terrifying trip across Raccoon City.
When you compare the 2019 release with what was achievable on the PSone, the biggest difference between the two is quite clearly the visuals and a camera positioned just behind the shoulder. Each and every locale has been recreated with a great deal of care, while character models look superb. It’s not quite on the same level as 2018’s heavy hitters God of War or Red Dead Redemption 2, but the experience is still an extraordinary one from a visual design point. Taking potshots at zombies causes their flesh to chip away and decay in real time, while their stumbling motions along corridors is as lifelike as it can get.
Elsewhere, the remake brings with it sweeping changes to mechanics and the user interface to make for easier navigation. After being developed with the RE Engine that powered Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Capcom has adopted that same inventory and map design for Resident Evil 2. And to say that this update aids the experience would be an understatement. The inventory screen makes for easy reading with clear options that assist when combining items or inspecting them, while the map screen takes note of the items you don’t pick up along the way as well as highlighting locked doors along with text that tells you which key you need in order to head inside. It’s a great help that takes away some of the potential frustration felt when backtracking for items once you’ve found their use.
One mechanic that is nowhere to be seen though is the zapping system, a feature that allowed you to store equipment and ammunition in chests to be picked up on alternate playthroughs. As such, every item you find can only be used by the character you’re currently playing as. It’s not a big deal, but purists may understandably feel a little let down with the omission.
Resident Evil 2 is famed for its two alternating scenarios, and the plights of both Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield make their return with two campaigns that are actually a lot more similar than what we envisioned. Of course the twosome have separate reasons and motivations for being in the city at first, but both quickly find themselves wrapped up in a quest to take down Umbrella. They share objectives, visit the exact same locations, and face much of the same bosses. There is slight variation in terms of the characters they meet though – Leon teams up with Ada Wong and Claire helps Sherry in escaping the city.
For Ms Redfield, this does open up a whole new area never before seen in the PSone original. The orphanage focuses on Sherry’s escape from the dirty clutches of the Raccoon Police Department’s chief, and it makes for a whole set of exhilarating sequences. It can be considered a worthy addition to the overall narrative that makes you feel for the child that little bit more.
There’s so much to praise in Resident Evil 2, but unfortunately, there’s one hold back. The remake attempts to be so faithful to the original text, to the point where that becomes a flaw. It’s a strange one because Capcom has set out and achieved exactly what it wanted to do: create an honourable remake of Resident Evil 2. But in doing so, it has also proved just how far games have come since the days of the fifth generation of consoles. Video games simply aren’t designed this way anymore, and despite a number of changes and refinements, gameplay is still going to feel a little too archaic for some. Inventory limits will continue to frustrate newcomers, the lack of any real story setup may disappoint those who were looking for further lore, and the short supply of bullets may leave some stuck in a rut. The Japanese bigwig has remained loyal to its 1998 masterpiece, but 21 years later, not all of those mechanics manage to hold up when it comes to an experience that plays well.
During our time with the game pre-release, we rolled the credits on three separate playthroughs. Our initial foray lasted just under eight hours, but subsequent runs shortened to roughly three and a half. Multiple playthroughs are most definitely encouraged thanks to unlocks and ranks to achieve, although there are other modes to take a stab at outside of the two main campaigns. Hunk’s brutally difficult scramble for extraction from Raccoon City’s sewers makes a return, as well as the comedic Tofu. They’re two welcome modes that will prolong your time with the remake that little bit more.
Resident Evil 2 might be one of the most accomplished remakes of the generation. A number of mechanics have been updated and introduced in order to bring the game into the modern era, but this is still very much the classic experience you remember – inventory management, limited ammunition, and all. Capcom has lovingly recreated every historic location and moment you remember from 1998, and you owe it to yourself to witness that spectacle first-hand.
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