It has been 20 years since I played the original Resident Evil 2, so admittedly I went into the remake remembering the original only in snippets. Looking back at the 1998 graphics it sounds almost laughable now, but I recall the visceral sense of terror I experienced the first time I, playing as Claire Redfield, came across a “Licker” suspended from the ceiling in the hallway of the Raccoon City Police Department. All of my memories of Resident Evil 2 are cinematic and thrilling. Clearly, as anyone who has played it again over the years or merely watched a YouTube video can see, the original experience in my mind doesn’t match what 20 years of advancement in technology and gameplay has left behind. As a fan of Resident Evil 2, I would’ve been happy with a graphical update. But that isn’t what Capcom has given us. This fully rebuilt version has given us the experience we remember.
Gone now are the clunky tank controls, the fixed camera angles, and the pre-rendered backgrounds. From the inside of the RPD building to the dilapidated sewers beneath the city, Resident Evil 2looks and feels like a modern AAA horror title. Using the same engine as Resident Evil 7, textures like marble tile and wooden floors, to slippery pools of blood and exposed viscera imbibe the environment with realism. Facial expressions and character models feel incredibly life-like. At one point I approached a female zombie trapped behind a jail cell door and watched her face contort into a snarl as she fought against the iron bars in order to get a bite out of me. It was unsettling to say the least. And Mr. X, a hulking behemoth of a monster, in high resolution stalking you through closed corridors as the camera follows you from close behind is enough to rattle the nerves of even survival horror veterans.
Similar to Resident Evil 4, you shoot from a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective. But, since this is a true survival horror, it is best to run if you can. Ammo is scarce. Of course, there were several times during my playthrough when I ended up in a small area with too many enemies to simply run past. I learned rather quickly that even the zombies, the most common enemy, offer more of a challenge then you would think. Laying one out can take several shots. Even when I successfully made a head shot, it would often take another two to drop one to the floor. Be careful, because a downed zombie doesn’t mean it is a dead one. You may have to go another round with it if you didn’t manage to cause enough damage the first time. You would be surprised how many times I had to use more than six to eight bullets to put down a zombie for good. This is why it is best to either run or shoot them in the legs to slow them down if you have the option.
Combat is also highly satisfying. Shooting a zombie in the head results in watching parts of his skull explode away. Limbs fly off, blood spatters, and all with the rewarding sounds of metal meeting flesh. The new fully-mobile camera also makes boss fights feel more intimate and panic-inducing than ever before. Capcom has mastered the use of sound effects (like heavy ominous footsteps) and environmental design to create an atmosphere of tension that elevates boss battles and even regular run-ins with enemies into something truly horrifying.
Resident Evil 2 radiates with a constant sense of dread. Every shadowy hallway is alive with sinister possibilities. Is that sound you hear coming from a monster awaiting you around the corner or is that just the sound of the generator? Even the moments of calm and areas bathed in warm light aren’t enough to make you forget your vulnerability. The sound design, especially, made largely from environmental noises is rife with that same level of dread. Normal noises like bangs or the wind blowing past an open window rifles your nerves. Add to this the fact that Capcom added a few surprises even for the seasoned RE2 veteran, and you have yourself a perfect recipe for keeping the player on edge.
The only issue I had with RE2 is the old inventory system. On the one hand, I understand it is was an integral part of the original game’s survival focus. But, limiting how much ammo, healing items, and weapons you can carry is one thing. However, when you have to go back to a previous location so often to grab something integral for solving a puzzle because you couldn’t afford to throw away any of your current items, it gets a bit frustrating. There are storage boxes for your use, but they are few and far between. You can find hip pouches to expand your inventory a bit, but management overall is a continual nuisance. Inventory management will be your largest concern throughout the game, so keep that in mind early on.
Capcom has, however, offered a bit of help. The map will show you items that still remain in rooms you have visited. So, you can easily see where you left something you needed to solve a puzzle, or extra ammo or healing spray you couldn’t pick up the first time through. This alleviates having to remember where you saw something, thus cutting down backtracking time a little bit.
Though not a complaint, I did feel that the added mechanic of being able to board up windows was largely wasted. It is useful to some degree at times. But in the end it felt more like something Capcom added as a means of demonstrating the game had been updated without adding much extra depth. I wish this had been more strategically utilized. But, as it didn’t affect the gameplay negatively at all, sometimes it felt nice to put a little bit of a barrier between me and the walking nightmares lurking in every nook and cranny of Raccoon City.
The new and improved Resident Evil 2 is everything fans had hoped for and a love letter to why people have adored the series for over 20 years. Playing through Claire and Leon’s separate, but intersecting storylines, is a blast, even if you do end up retreading similar ground. Full of burgeoning bravado, they are the heroes we wish we had been caught with in the midst of an unexpected zombie outbreak. Over-the-top is what Resident Evil does so well, and this remake employs a sense of dark realism that adds welcome gravity without needlessly mitigating the inherent peculiarity of the story.
Capcom, fresh off the heels of the success of Resident Evil 7, has proven perhaps against its own future plans for the series exactly why Resident Evil is best left with its core intact. The fully remade Resident Evil 2 demonstrates that the campy, puzzle solving, and traditional conventions of the survival horror genre that made the series so popular doesn’t necessarily need to be scrapped or dampened. Of course, it is possible the original characters and storylines have reached their natural end. Perhaps the series reboot Resident Evil 7 represents is inevitable. Resident Evil 6, the final straw that prompted the reboot, may be definitive proof the original trajectory of the series had been overstretched and it is difficult to turn back the clock. But, even if that is the case and we must say goodbye to the familiar trappings of the series’ origins, Resident Evil 2is not only a fitting send off, but is certain to garner an enthusiasm for the series from newcomers to Raccoon City.