The long-running Resident Evil series has become one of gaming’s most iconic IPs over its 20-plus year history, with titles first appearing on the original Sony PlayStation in 1996. For decades, Capcom’s zombie-filled survival horror franchise has continued to iterate and change the formula continuously to adapt to the current climate and trends in modern games. While they have found success in their newest mainline entry, 2017’s Resident Evil 7, fans continuously have shown interest in bring the classic style of survival horror found in its earlier entries back to the series, and luckily their voices were heard. Resident Evil 2, one of the series’ most popular entries, received the full remake treatment and the results couldn’t have been better (well, baring a few personal complaints). The inclusion of modern controls and perspective, along with the intense immersion level from the combination of the RE Engine and superb visuals, make this re-imagining of Resident Evil 2 one that has set the bar high for the process of remaking games.
Building Resident Evil 2 within the modern RE Engine may be one of the biggest payoffs that Capcom hit during the development of the game. Focusing on shadows and “wetness”, the RE Engine helps realize the immersion levels that Capcom wanted to hit. Many horror games rely heavily on atmospheric elements to help build suspense within their title, but no one has seem to truly do it better than Capcom’s teams working on the current crop of Resident Evil games. Specifically in Resident Evil 2, the reliance on the survival aspects of the game are monumental. Items and ammunition are limited, and many times players will find themselves facing a flight or fight situation that sometimes leads to avoiding the conflict to be the best approach.
Outside of the gorgeous visuals, the updated control and camera mechanics are the biggest improvement when comparing the original 1998 release and the 2019 release. For clarification, Capcom’s newest Resident Evil release is not a remaster, but more of a re-imagining. Gone are archaic tank controls found in the original entries, along with the dated fixed camera, and replaced with a modern third-person, over the shoulder perspective found in many modern series in the same vein. While those original mechanics added to the immersion and fear-factor of the original release, modern visuals and presentation offer the ability to add that same level of helplessness and fear while offering fluid control over Leon or Claire. Another great inclusion and modern touch is the inventory system and map management. Keeping many traits similar to Resident Evil 7, the item management between your Hip Pockets and Item Box found throughout the dozens of Safe Rooms makes transferring and storing items a breeze. In terms of map management, players will easily be able to plan their routes throughout the multiple areas of Resident Evil 2‘s environment by seeing what areas are cleared (marked in blue) and what areas still contain a puzzle, secret, item, etc that hasn’t been completed or found (marked in red). Backtracking will still be an aspect that’s encountered throughout your time will the game, but having a modernized map system such as this one helps streamline your experience and combats many pacing issues that could stem from the backtracking.
Players are spoiled by how well immersion is handled in the overall experience of Resident Evil 2. The way enemies stagger towards and that sinking feeling when you miss that close range pistol shot, the deranged Lickers that scourer the Police Department; everything things makes you feel so helpless but in the best way possible. But the most nerve racking aspect in the game, hands down, is Mr. X (or the Tyrant). You can’t kill him. You can’t necessarily hurt him (outside of staggering him with a Magnum shot if you’re lucky). You can only run from him, and outside of the Safe Rooms littered throughout the game’s map, he will not stop chasing you. When you hear his heavy, boulder like steps marching towards you, your stomach will drop. One of my biggest fears is being chased (no idea why, but that horror element has always freaked me out), so hearing the unsettling score pick up to the rhythm of his deafening pace, calling it unsettling would be putting it lightly. He may not be as visually terrifying as the Bakers from Resident Evil 7, but man, does he make up for it the tension he produces.
While some of the original’s puzzles tropes make their way into the newest iteration, many of them were new enough that I never found myself annoyed by the back tracking throughout the labyrinthine Raccoon City Police Department. That’s not to say that some of the puzzles aren’t formulaic. In classic Resident Evil fashion, themed keys make their return, and only some can be accessed by the certain player you play, providing more of a reason to relieve the horror of that fateful night in Raccoon City. At the same time though, the elemental puzzles that are found feel unique and interesting.
Being a re-imagining of the original, I expected many of the eccentric narrative elements that the series is known for to be present, but to my surprise this feels like the most overall grounded take on a Resident Evil story yet. Yes, it’s still a zombie infested town with outlandish monster and mutants at times, but the way these creatures are designed and presented offer the feeling of “what if?”; the feeling of “if a zombie apocalypse truly took place, I could see it going this way”. 2017’s Resident Evil 7 helped lay the ground work for this approach with its first half of its story focusing on a southern cult, showing fans what the series could look like based in more realism. While it’s latter half fell a bit short and relied on more wacky elements, it still helped ease fans minds on the direction the series could be going with its favorable reception. At the end of the day, it’s still Resident Evil. You’re going to get zany mutants and dozens of undead beings chasing after you, but think of it as the Marvel Studios approach to horror; you know what’s going on isn’t possible, but if it was, realistically it could look like this.
At the same time, the biggest issue the game has can be found within its narrative, as the two story lines of Leon and Claire just don’t differ as much as I hoped they would. One of the best parts about the original was its dual plot lines going on between the two protagonists. While both still have enjoyable narratives, for as much re-imagining was put into the overall game, I expected a bit more difference between the two. Considering you explore the same area during the same time when doing the Second Run version, having certain elements such as doors unlocked by Leon during your first playthrough still be unlocked for Claire would only amplified the immersion that is already so greatly implemented throughout the game. On a side-bar related to the Second Run mode, the word is a bit confusing when trying to activate the mode and not a completely new game from scratch. Just make sure you are attentive after the credits have rolled and the game will emphasis using the ‘Second Run’ option listed on the main menu.
Capcom’s re-imagining of Resident Evil 2 should be considered the new standard-bearer for gaming remakes moving forward. Almost all aspects of the game feel fresh and new, while also scratching that nostalgic itch for the original. Outside of the small complaints with the similarities between Leon and Claire’s narratives, this the Resident Evil experience I’ve been waiting for. Classic survival horror is not dead ladies and gentleman (and neither is an inflected being in Raccoon City after a full clip of ammo…I know, not the best attempt at humor). Resident Evil as a series is in such an interesting spot after this. My hope is for the series to go the same route that Nintendo has taken our favorite plumber, by having multiple styles of games coexisting. One thing is for sure, Capcom has found the secret formula to success again with this franchise, and I can’t wait to see where it goes after how much I enjoyed Resident Evil 2. It’s only January, and we may be looking at one of the front runners for 2019’s Game of the Year.