Seventeen years ago, Capcom released the remake to the original Resident Evil on the Nintendo GameCube. At the time, it set the standard for how to perfectly execute a remake of a beloved video game: update the graphics, add new features, tweak the formula, and fix the problems that plagued the original. Fast-forward to 2019, and Capcom finally gives us a remake of the sequel, the aptly named Resident Evil 2. Applying the same method, Capcom has once again exceeded expectations and delivered a top-quality remake that sets the standard for 2019 game releases.
For those unfamiliar, Resident Evil 2 takes place during the same viral outbreak that began in the original Resident Evil, except this time the virus has spread beyond the walls of the Spencer Mansion and turned the innocent civilians of Raccoon City into mindless zombies. Players control either Leon Kennedy, a rookie police officer, or Claire Redfield, a college student searching for her brother, as they attempt to navigate the Raccoon City Police Station in search of survivors, safety, and answers as to what has happened.
The first thing people will notice about the RE2 remake is just how gorgeous and detailed everything is. From the environment to the zombies themselves, everything has received a major upgrade and polish. Not that a graphical overhaul should be too surprising when remaking a 20-year-old game, but Capcom is pushing consoles to the limit in terms of visuals. Zombies are both visually stunning and disgusting, environments convey a very real sense of claustrophobia and panic, and even the items and puzzles you interact with are painstakingly detailed. The game looks amazing, even if it makes you want to turn away in disgust from time to time.
The biggest gameplay difference from the original is the change in camera perspective. The original Resident Evil titles, as well as the 2002 remake, used fixed camera angles throughout the game, while the RE2 remake chooses instead to go with a third-person, over-the-shoulder view more used commonly in modern action-adventure games. This helps with general navigation and mobility, as the player now has control over the camera rather than being stuck seeing the game only from predetermined views.
Much like it did for the 2002 remake, Capcom didn’t just overhaul the same game that came out in 1998; the creators made sure to change just enough to keep veteran Resident Evil 2 players on their toes throughout the game. Some puzzles have been tweaked slightly, while others have been outright replaced with new ones. Enemy positions have been moved, and some encounters you might remember from the original have been removed entirely to make sure you never really know what lies around each corner. This may be the same Raccoon Police Station you explored so many years ago, but it manages to feel new and terrifying at the same time.
One of the gripes I have with RE2 is with the mobility of the characters, especially in the (sometimes very cramped) environments. Zombies have a very large grab radius and are a very real threat when you approach them from almost any angle. And while this is expected in a zombie survival horror game, it can sometimes fly in the face of the game’s decision to make ammo and healing items scarce. You may open a door and find four or five zombies between you and your destination with little choice other than to gun them down or waste time and resources surviving their attacks, as you don’t possess any ability to dodge or outmaneuver them.
Another departure from the original is the inclusion of the Tyrant, referred to by Claire as “Mr. X” in the S. D. Perry Resident Evil 2 novelization, into both scenario A and scenario B of the remake. Originally, Mr. X was one of the main antagonists when playing through the game’s second scenario, which showed you what the other main character was doing during your first playthrough. Now, Mr. X will stalk you relentlessly throughout the game no matter what scenario or character you are currently playing, and he comes with his own set of changes from his debut. And I’m not just referring to his new hat.
In the 1998 game, Mr. X felt like more of a manageable threat, as he could be dealt with even with your beginning weapons, at least with enough distance and ammo, giving you a respite from his presence until his next scripted arrival. In the 2019 version, even if you manage to down the hulking creature, you are only allowed a few extra moments free of his pursuit before he resumes chasing you, meaning you are never really safe to explore the station at your leisure. This seems like a strange change to me, as when we would play the original RE2 back in the day, we would almost exclusively play scenario A so as to not be under the constant threat of Mr. X and the anxiety he caused.
If you are looking to get the true survival horror experience out of RE2 remake, I suggest playing on standard difficulty. Through out my initial playthough, I frequently found myself trying to manage ammo and resources while trying to find as many paths of least resistance as I could, all the while hoping to stumble across just one more green herb or shotgun shell. On the flip side, I decided to play scenario B on the easier Assisted difficulty and faced very little adversity as a result. I completed the game with a slew of healing items tucked away in my storage box as well as enough ammo to face a whole army of the undead. On the flip flip side, I tried the game on the most difficult setting, Hardcore, and died in the beginning area. So, if you want to explore all the remake has to offer at your leisure, start with Assisted and then bump up to Standard when you have an idea of the new puzzles and enemies.
One last thing that could sour newcomers to the RE2 experience is the game’s length. All together I was able to complete both scenarios in a little less than 13 hours. This total playtime makes the full $60 price tag seem very steep, especially considering that same $60 will get you games like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Kingdom Hearts III that boast a much much longer gaming experience. Unless you are a huge Resident Evil fan, you may be able to Redbox or borrow this game and see all it has to offer over a weekend.
Overall, though, this remake is everything I could have hoped for: slick visuals, terrifying moments, and a perfect blend of nostalgia and novelty to keep my playing for hours at a time. Also, if you are able to get your hands on the deluxe edition, you get the ability to change the game’s audio to that of the original, which was an absolute treat. You don’t realize how many memories something as simple as a menu’s bloop sound can conjure up until you hear it again for the first time in 20 years.
Resident Evil 2 released on January 25, 2019, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows.