Edited by: Tiffany Lillie
It has been exactly twenty years since the original Resident Evil 2 was released for the PlayStation in 1998. Met with critical acclaim, Resident Evil 2 became an influential title in the horror genre, praised for its atmosphere and vision. Now the title returns from Capcom’s vaults in a complete remake that adapts the story of Racoon City into a truly modern title. Dripping with atmosphere while boasting beautiful, modern graphics and completely revamped controls, this love note to the original horror title is everything a remake should be, being incredibly polished down to the last detail.
Into the City of the Dead
2019’s Resident Evil 2 is a third-person survival horror game, and returning players from the original will find the story relatively untouched. The narrative will take you through the devastated ruins of Racoon City amidst the chaos of a zombie infestation. With much of the population turned into hideous and shambling flesh-eaters — and some even transformed into monstrous bioweapons — it becomes a fight for survival at every turn as you lurk through the dark corners of a doomed city. You’ll be placed in the shoes of college student Claire Redfield and rookie cop Leon Kennedy. Through their eyes you’ll see the devastation wrought upon the city and its populace while discovering the dark secrets of what really caused this outbreak.
A survival horror in its truest sense, Resident Evil 2 offers limited ammunition and equipment for you to work with. Every bullet will count, forcing you to make the decision of whether to run or fight at any given moment. There are crafting elements that allow you to create more ammunition and healing items, but they are equally limited and often interchangeable, meaning you will need to choose what you want to use that precious gunpowder for. Fighting for your life is the name of the game, but when you’re facing down grotesque monstrosities with only two bullets left you’ll quickly find that running is often the more preferable option.
Making the most of the RE Engine, it’s hard to imagine that the 2019 Resident Evil 2 was anything but a complete construction from the ground up. Visually, the game is absolutely breathtaking. The environment itself is incredibly rich with detail, providing you with a sense of what happened before your character’s arrival. Racoon City seems alive with stories, from the clutter and personal objects strewn about the police station to the massive claw marks raked along the walls. The environments feel lived-in, rather than just shallow, empty backdrops.
The many enemies you encounter are nothing short of marvelous. Although you might find a rare twin or two, most of the zombies feel fairly unique in their own way with a visceral sense of meat to their body. They move with a sluggishness that feels appropriate and their limbs rupture with an appropriately juicy result. The varying levels of decay on each body and the occasional physical identifier of damage they sustain from your gunfire that doesn't stop them from moving on really helps provide that genuine sensation that each zombie is a slow, unstoppable death machine if you don’t have a shotgun to blow their head clean off. The only downside is that there are a fairly limited number of animations from when a zombie attacks you, dependent on where the zombie attacks you from.
This concern will be largely unnoticeable if you rarely find yourself grabbed by a zombie, but for new players, it might become somewhat tedious to watch your neck get chomped the exact same way for the fifteenth time. Rare but welcome respites from the ever-present hordes of zombies are the bioweapons: revolting mutations from (mostly) human bodies that have created horrifically monstrous results. These monsters, like the eyeless, wall-crawling Lickers you meet in the first part of the game, are uncommon but incredibly lethal, and their designs feel appropriately disgusting to look at. Their physicality and design lends to the sense of danger and intimidation, but are graciously rare enough that the don’t overstay their welcome or lose their sense of threat.
The atmosphere is truly where Resident Evil 2 shines. With beautifully-haunting lighting, the world of Raccoon City is left dark and overbearing, constantly leaving you to rely on dim overhead lights or your own flashlight to navigate the area. It works in perfect tandem with the sound design to help bring the game to life. Every hallway and every alley is a dark and foreboding threat of what might come next, forcing you into a sense of unease at all times, from the sound of footsteps to the shrill scraping just up ahead. Sound cues also give players some useful information. Enemies have certain distinct movement sounds, so if you keep your ears open, you might be able to hear that a Licker is in the area before you even see it.
Home of Umbrella
Resident Evil 2’s story has remained true to its original nature, but it has received a facelift that feels more up to date, with new voice acting and improved flow across the board. The plot’s course to discover what happened to Raccoon City and ultimately discover Umbrella Corporation’s secret is a solid premise, but it still leaves some plot holes that are never neatly explained on the surface unless you look for it. Leon and Claire are interesting enough as characters, with good acting to lend charm to each of them, but Leon’s rookie cop situation and Claire’s only interest in finding her brother largely leaves the story with little investment into their search as a whole. They’re somewhat mute in their arc, with no growth and essentially no engagement with the story except for wanting to do the right thing. The blunt heroism is admirable enough, but it makes for rather flat characters at the end of it all. What’s more to that is, while you’d expect Claire and Leon’s stories to be completely different, much of the stories are simply rehashed between one and the other over the course of the plot, with levels, puzzles, and even conversations sometimes almost indistinguishable between one and the other. That is not always the case, and the stories do have their own unique side characters with separate levels exclusive to that story, but it diminishes the amount of content you might feel like you’re getting.
Down to the Last Bullet
The gameplay of Resident Evil 2 is solid, simple but interwoven seamlessly into the experience. In typical third-person-horror fashion, you move about each level using a small yet versatile selection of weapons and equipment to help you survive the long night of Racoon City. There’s little to speak of in this, but the controls are smooth and the guns feel like they have a decent weight to them. A solid portion of gameplay will actually be allocated over to resource management. Equally typical of survival horror games, resources are limited in addition to your inventory space. This can range from enjoyable to frustrating at times as you try to figure out what resources you want to keep on your person at one time, what crafting items you wish to merge together, or what you want to put into your inventory chest. You will continue to gradually gain more inventory space over the course of the story, but you will likely often find yourself carrying around way too many items — or way too few.
Puzzles in the game are relatively true to fashion. There’s nothing overly complex about any of them. The overwhelming majority of puzzles are a simple matter of picking up the key item to access a new room so that you can receive another key item where you can (you guessed it) get another key item. It can be somewhat charming at times how simple the puzzles might be, but after a while it might just feel a little taxing. The mechanics of the puzzles and item storage in tandem highlight some rather outdated mechanics that might have been better left off in the 1998 version, creating a small sense of disconnect with the rest of the game that feels mechanically almost flawless. In much the same vein, what rare bosses you encounter throughout the story are simply bullet sponges for the overabundance of ammunition you received only a minute ago before you entered the all-too-obvious boss arena. You're left with little to no reward after having expended all your ammo and healing items, having to settle for the next area opening. These fights also require little in the way of skill or ingenuity; you just need to shoot your target enough times.
The Tyrant is a rare exception to the bosses, though it would be more apt to refer to him as an ever-present antagonist. Throughout most of the game, you will find yourself followed by the infamous “Mr. X,” a monolith of a man in a spiffy black coat and matching hat. He’d even look quite fashionable if he wasn’t trying to crush your skull in his enormous fist. The Tyrant is a slow but constant threat following you throughout several levels. He is a menacing figure that you simply cannot kill conventionally and will hunt you down no matter where you hide, with his distinct stomping footsteps not far behind you at any given time. At first, it’s an incredibly harrowing moment and his relentless pursuit is enough to get the heart pumping while you desperately try to escape, but, at a point, it becomes something of an annoyance more than a threat, particularly when you might be trying to solve a puzzle or find where to go next and he just won’t leave you alone to figure it out.
The Verdict: Great
Despite highlighting some outdated mechanics, Capcom’s 2019 Resident Evil 2 is a wonderful remake. Beautifully detailed and capturing the essence of the original, this remake is a fantastic new way to experience such an influential game that seized the hearts of many twenty years ago.