Whilst the original escapade in the Spencer Mansion saw Resident Evil become a household name, it wasn’t until the sequel that it achieved true video game greatness. Capcom’s 1998 release Resident Evil 2 still stands out today as one of the most popular titles in the series, and rightfully so – between the hordes of new and vicious villains, the brilliant Raccoon City Police Station setting, and the more enigmatic story that opened up the whole city to Umbrella’s nefarious doings, it had the recipe in place to be a truly unforgettable (and utterly horrifying) experience.
Well, if you thought it was brilliant then, you’ll be even more impressed at how it plays now in the new (and somehow improved) remake. With Resident Evil 2 Remake the game has been modernised, revamped, and had the terror ramped all the way up, all whilst maintaining the purity that made the game so fantastic to begin with. Every change in the game feels significant, whilst every re-created scene comes with a sense of nostalgia that’ll bring more than a few smiles to your face. I’ve found video game perfection to be a rare thing these days, but Resident Evil 2 Remake seems to nail it with its flawless blend of things new and old.
Resident Evil 2’s story is told from the perspectives of two characters: rookie police officer Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, sister of protagonist Chris from the first game. Both have headed to Raccoon City for different reasons, with Leon due to start his new job in the Police Department and Claire simply looking to find Chris. Things get off to a bad start though when they meet in the midst of a zombie attack and find out that the city itself is in disarray, with even more of the undead overrunning the many streets and buildings. With the intention in place to work together and find out what’s going on, things take a sour turn when a big explosion sees them separated. Thus they begin their journey through Raccoon City to unravel the mystery of what happened to cause all of the chaos and find out who exactly is behind it all…
One thing that Resident Evil 2 ramps up compared to the 1998 original is its cinematic presentation, with the game not only fleshing out the scenes you share with different characters but also making them feel a lot more real. It’s definitely not as cheesy as before, even if you’ve still got some corny quips and one-liners coming from the protagonists that feel a little unfitting for someone stuck in the middle of a huge zombie outbreak (though it wouldn’t be Resident Evil without them). Either way, the story definitely feels like it has a much bigger presence here and you can even expect to see a lot more from the characters who had a fleeting appearance the first time around.
Given there are two protagonists featured in the story, you’re given the choice as to who you want to play as in the game. Whilst the environment and some of the puzzles remain the same between each playthrough, they both have enough differences between them to feel unique in their own way. Between the characters you work with, the people you meet, and the weapons you use to vanquish your foes, each character’s campaign is definitely worth experiencing at least once – plus, it’s the only way to discover the narrative to its fullest.
Speaking of weapons, the shooting mechanics of Resident Evil 2 are where the game has seen one of its biggest evolutions. Gone are the fixed camera angles of yesteryear, with the game now embracing the over the shoulder setup popularised in the brilliant Resident Evil 4. With this shift in camera comes a whole new way to shoot down enemies, with a bigger focus placed on landing accurate and meaningful shots. You’ll always want to land those headshots for the most success, though the tension of being pursued by multiple enemies at once can mean there’s pressure on you to shoot as quickly as possible too – it can become a bit of a juggling act where you’ve got to try and land headshots in quick succession whilst also evading any incoming threats.
It’s incredibly satisfying to gun down foes though, with the shooting mechanics feeling tight and satisfying throughout. It helped that there’s a great selection of weapons to use across both character’s playthroughs though, with Leon treated to things like a shotgun and flamethrower whilst Claire gets access to the likes of a grenade launcher and the spark shot (which never stops being fun to use). Whilst the odds are against you with the constant onslaught of enemies that come your way, having a powerful arsenal that genuinely feels like it packs a punch at your disposal does a good job of evening things out a little bit… even IF ammo can be scarce resource.
That being said, they’re called the undead for a reason – just because you ‘kill’ an enemy, you can’t guarantee they’ll stay down. Zombies are relentless in their pursuit for your flesh and even enemies that you defeated earlier in the game will come back for more, with their creaking corpses slowly rising up and reaching out at your limbs time and time again. The best way to dispose of them for good is to pop their skull, but if you do leave a zombie with their brain intact you’ll want to take extra care when walking past them.
Oh, and just because a zombie is missing its limbs it doesn’t mean it still won’t bite out at you either. Resident Evil 2 allows you to tactically dismember your enemies, but as long as they still have a mouth they’ll happily try to take a bite out of you. The zombies are the most dangerous they’ve ever been across the entirety of the franchise and I bloody loved it.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game without a bit of puzzle solving, right? Between finding specific keys to open doors, using oddly shaped objects to open pathways, or just figuring out some tricky enigmas that use chess pieces, Resident Evil 2 is certainly a blast to the past as far as its puzzling is concerned. Whilst more cynical gamers might argue that players could just kick a door down or squeeze past the objects in your path, the return to eccentric puzzle design was an utter delight for me. The likes of finally finding that diamond-shaped key to open a door that eluded me earlier on was mighty satisfying, as was carefully examining an item I picked up to find any hidden mechanisms it had – it just felt a real return to the roots of the series.
Another example of the game returning to its roots is the inclusion of a big nasty Tyrant (affectionately known as Mr. X) who’ll randomly hunt you down as you play through the game. His inclusion was reserved for the ‘B’ campaign for each character in the game’s original form, but those playing this new Resident Evil 2 will get to experience his presence both ways. Great.
The thing is, whilst seeing Mr. X alone is enough to terrify most gamers, it’s his presence when he’s not in sight that’ll unnerve you the most. You’ll hear the thumping of his footsteps through the Police Station, you’ll hear him opening doors as you dread him coming through the one in front of you, whilst he’s also attracted to any nearby noise which makes shooting enemies a big no-no. It’s such a daunting feeling knowing he’s around and with only save rooms and a few puzzle rooms off limit to him, nowhere ever feels safe. Fortunately, he isn’t always around so you do get a reprieve from his stalking ways most of the time, but when you catch a glance of his hulking presence you’ll definitely want to be on high alert. Oh, and if you unload bullets into him he’ll go down but it doesn’t take him long to get back up, so there’s no stopping him that way either.
His presence made for a series of utter panic-inducing moments where I knew your life is at risk, but it’s hard not to get excited by it. It’s been a long time since I’ve feared a foe so badly in a game and every time I saw him in my path my combined squeals of glee and terror made for unpleasant hearing for those around me. Plus, you can shoot off his hat – what more could you want?
The best thing about Resident Evil 2 is how it manages to feel the same yet completely different at the same time. You’ll see familiar corridors throughout the Police Station and sights that are almost instantly recognisable, but you’ll also encounter new takes on rooms and characters that changes up the core experience. Then there’re some additional gameplay mechanics included that just make the whole game a lot easier to play, with item management more organised, shortcuts in place for weapon changing, new types of puzzles with safes and lockers, and even a herb combination which doesn’t only heal you but also fortifies your defence. A lot of these additions might feel like minor changes in the grand scheme of things, but they go a long way in not only making Resident Evil 2 the best game it can be but also the best game across the entirety of the series. Seriously, it’s THAT good.
Each character’s campaign shouldn’t take players too long to beat, with my first playthrough of Leon’s coming in at just over six hours and my subsequent one with Claire even shorter again thanks to the familiarity of the game. Whilst those two escapades would have been worth the purchase alone though, there are also the ‘B’ scenarios of each character to play through – for example, if you finish the game as Leon you’ll unlock Claire’s ‘B’ scenario that shows how her actions intertwined with Leon’s. It’s a satisfying way to see the whole story wrap up, plus it opens up whole new scenes, additional enemy encounters and gives players a tougher challenge.
There are also specific challenges to be completed to unlock in-game models and concept art, whilst additional game modes will become available if you clear the game under the right circumstances too. I don’t want to detail them here for gamers who may be clueless as to what they consist of – let’s just say that one of Resident Evil 2’s most iconic characters makes a return (and no, I’m not talking about Hunk).
Whilst I’ve got a lot of love for how Resident Evil 2 feels to play, I’d be remiss not to mention how stunning the game is. Never have the zombies of Raccoon City looked more terrifying with their flesh clearly decaying away as they stroll towards you, whilst character’s facial movements look life-like throughout too. If you’re a fan of blood and gore you’ll really be in your oils here, which was something I witnessed early on when a character was torn in half and his insides leaked out. It might sound a bit grim and gruesome, but it’s hard not to be blown away by it all. I mean it’s Resident Evil, what did you expect?
The environments never stopped impressing me either, with Resident Evil 2’s world an almost derelict one that’s made all the more beautiful thanks to the creativity in each location’s design and some on-point lighting effects. Recognising rooms I’d traversed through back in 1998 but seeing them in a new modern way never failed to keep me in awe, though those who never experienced the locales the first time around will struggle not to be blown away by the beauty of them either. It’s just absolutely stunning from start to end, no matter how macabre those sights that are impressing you might be, and it’s a real testament to the development team at Capcom that they’re still able to pull more out of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One’s hardware as we slowly head into next gen.
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC