Reviews

Resident Evil 2 (2019) Review

Capcom have had a mixed track record with Resident Evil sequels. Focusing on the the good, we had the recent shift to first-person and resurgence of classic survival-horror elements with 2017’s Resident Evil 7. Going back to 2005, Resident Evil 4 demonstrated the formula could work as a third-person shooter, injecting the series with a much-needed boost of action and humour in the process, while retaining many survival-horror elements. Finally, way back in 1998, Resident Evil 2 released to critical acclaim, retaining the foundation laid out by its progenitor – the fixed camera angles, puzzle-filled environments, grotesque enemies, resource-management, absurd story, and campy dialogue – while pushing production values up to 11. For many older gamers, this was their first exposure to the series, and that game retains a special place in their memories.

Fans have been clamouring for a Resident Evil 2 remake for as long as I remember, and those cries were only amplified after Capcom released the incredible remaster of very first game, Resident Evil (2002) – which has been ported several times. Since that remake, all we’ve seen are several average HD ports for the last-gen consoles, and a few low-effort ports of older last games to the current consoles. Thankfully, Capcom’s second remake is almost as impressive as the first, providing a complete overhaul of the visuals, new and expanded environments, more puzzles, more story, and a shift to the over-the-shoulder format of the pre-Resident Evil 7 era. Is it a fantastic game? Absolutely. Is this remake the best way to experience Resident Evil 2 and does it surpass their first reamaster, Resident Evil (2002)? The answer is more complicated.

The RPD has never looked this good and is full of surprises for new and returning players.

A quick refresher is in order as that’s something the remake seems to ignore: The S.T.A.R.S. team investigates a secret laboratory on the outskirts of Raccoon city, discovers the Umbrella Pharmaceutical Corporation also dabbles in bioweapon viruses (with predictably disastrous results), and the surviving members manage to escape before the lab blows up (destroying the evidence they need). Resident Evil 2 kicks off a month later, with rookie cop Leon Kennedy heading towards the Raccoon City Police Department after no one calls him to report for duty, while Claire Redfield is heading to the RPD in search of her brother Chris – a protagonist from the first game.

…there are survivors to meet, gruesome monsters stalking the halls, and a corporate conspiracy to unravel. Capcom has made this game more serious and bleaker than the original but the story has moments of cheesiness and levity…

Irrespective of who you chose to start with with, they meet up at a zombie-infested petrol station on the outskirts of town and flee towards the RPD together. In a change from the 1998 original, you’re offered only a brief dash through the city streets before you find yourself in the lobby of the police department, a building you’ll become intimately familiar with over the next few hours. You’re not alone however; there are survivors to meet, gruesome monsters stalking the halls, and a corporate conspiracy to unravel. Capcom has made this game more serious and bleaker than the original but the story has moments of cheesiness and levity, something that only crops up in the second half of the game. Leon, in particular, takes a long time to develop anything approaching a personality, whereas Claire is more assertive and relatable from the get-go. In this remake, Leon and Claire’s stories feel fleshed out, especially with expanded sequences involving Ada and Sherry.

As impressive as the city streets appear, you spend very little time outside. Only Claire gets an extended, yet ultimately uninteresting, foray onto the city streets.

With the camera tucked in close and a now-ubiquitous third-person-shooter control scheme, Resident Evil 2 relies on the complexity of its game world, tactical monster encounters, and excellent pacing to set itself apart from other games in the genre. It might not mean much to those experiencing the game for the first time, but the remake does a fantastic job of sticking close to the original framework, while massively expanding certain locations, reworking classic encounters to subvert expectations, and keeping you on your toes. There is plenty of new content, but the bulk of the changes are based on reworking existing puzzles or encounters – including a few concepts from other Resident Evil games – into new locations. It’s an experience that’ll terrify new fans and leave veteran players uneasy.

…the remake does a fantastic job of sticking close to the original framework, while massively expanding certain locations, reworking classic encounters to subvert expectations, and keeping you on your toes.

If this is your first Resident Evil experience, the best way to describe progression is to think of it as navigating a haunted house, designed by someone who was equal parts bored and insane. The environment is almost as deadly as the creatures that inhabit it – labyrinthine in design, full of illogical door locks, way too many broken or flickering lights, and a scarcity of supplies. The police department is a former art gallery, full of grandiose spaces connected by claustrophobic corridors, unsettling artwork, and elaborate puzzles. Fans of the classic Resident Evil games will be happy to know you can rarely take more than few steps without discovering another door that requires a missing key (which may also be a keycard, a battery, a crank, a valve, or gemstone). None of it makes any sense – even when the game tries to justify it – but systematically unlocking new paths deeper into the station, or back to a safe room, remains as entertaining as ever.

They may seem like an odd thing to highlight but veteran players will spot many puzzle elements shifted to new environments or put to use in different puzzles.

While you may think the deadly monstrosities stalking the hallways are your biggest threat, a skilled player can avoid most of them. What’s important is learning the layout of your environment. As you progress, you’ll initially be thrilled to unlock routes back to safe rooms and major puzzles, until you realise you’re also opening pathways for pursuing zombies and the Tyrant. Resident Evil 2 has taken a page out of the Nemesis handbook, giving the Tyrant free-range to wander the entire police station, bar a few safe rooms. As in Resident Evil 3, you can knock him down temporarily, but running is the most effective solution; you just need to know exactly where you’re running to.

Unlike Nemesis, the Tyrant ignores other creatures, so charging into a corridor full of zombies or lickers is a recipe for disaster. Breaking line of sight sends him patrolling around the police station – seemingly tethered to your general position. For those who find these hide-and-seek gameplay sequences annoying, I’m afraid they crop up in every campaign now (the Tyrant was originally reserved for the B-scenarios), but his presence is limited after you move on into the sewers and laboratory. If you’re playing on “Assisted” or “Standard” difficulty, you also get additional auto-saves that make these sequences easier.

Resident Evil 2 has taken a page out of the Nemesis handbook, giving the Tyrant free-range to wander the entire police station…

Once you understand the Tyrant’s basic patterns, you’ll realise the recently-zombified inhabitants and other mutated beasties are still your greatest threat. As in the original game, you have the choice to simply avoid or clear out zombies along certain paths, with further opportunities to barricade windows and unlock optional doors to create safe-ish paths through the station. Given the backtracking required, and the need to avoid gunshots when the Tyrant is near, this is a must. That said, you’re going to have to work a little harder this time as even a basic zombie – especially on the “Hardcore” difficulty – can absorb a half-dozen headshots, while the larger creatures – like the infamous licker – are capable of ripping through both your health and ammo stockpile if you’re not careful.

The new Tyrant is even worse than Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis or Resident Evil 7’s Baker family. Once he emerges, the entire police department becomes his stomping grounds.

I tackled my first and 2nd-run campaigns on Standard difficulty and found this struck a good balance; I had enough ammunition to push on, but reckless shooting or healing would leave me scant few bullets and a limp at the end of a boss encounter. Resident Evil 2 is more akin to the original game than any of the action-packed sequel when it comes to resource management but, as in the later games, boss arenas are often littered with ammunition and healing items, ensuring you can scrape by if you’re fast enough. Much like the classic games, cautious and conservative gameplay is rewarded; you can horde excess supplies for later areas and make them considerably less punishing.

I tackled my first and 2nd-run campaigns on Standard difficulty and found this struck a good balance; I had enough ammunition to push on, but reckless shooting or healing would leave me scant few bullets and a limp at the end of a boss encounter.

Sticking with the positives, it’s worth mentioning the stunning and excessively gory visuals. Resident Evil 2 uses Capcom’s RE Engine and, as such, it retains a lot of the visual style and gruesome animations from Resident Evil 7. There’s intricately-detailed geometry and character models, high-resolution textures, dynamic light sources everywhere, and a sense of weight to animations that ground your character and enemies in the game world. The tight camera makes unexpected zombies bites shocking, and all enemies have several gruesome ways of finishing you off. Enemies react realistically to gunfire, with zombies coming apart as you shred their head and limbs. Shadows from your flashlight cast eerie shapes across the walls; rain and blood-drenched surfaces glisten. Audio is equally impressive; the groan of a distant zombie, hiss of a licker, or the thudding footsteps of the Tyrant are terrifying throughout. You can toggle a pseudo-3D effect that is essential for tracking the Tyrant (and I strongly recommend using headphones when playing this game).

Ada and Sherry’s sequences are far more involved and interesting. In case you were wondering, no, there are no zombie-children in the new orphanage location.

Finally, we return to the question I posed in the opening paragraph, “Is this remake the best way to experience Resident Evil 2 and does it surpass the remastering efforts of Resident Evil (2002)?”. The answer, not exactly.

By changing the core gameplay to that of a third-person shooter, aiming becomes a important gameplay element; you no longer simply hold the auto-aim button and hope you have enough ammo in your inventory. The problem? This remake retains the loose aiming seen in Resident Evil 7, but combines it with a super-precise aiming if you stand still for a second. Fire rapidly and there’s a chance your bullets will miss at point-blank range; stand still and aim, your shots become so precise you can miss by a hair’s width thanks to shambling enemy animations and tight hitboxes. I got used to it over time, but it remained infuriating, especially when you’re tackling creatures with glowing weak spots (worth noting is the easiest difficulty adds a degree of auto-aim).

…it feels like a step back from the original, which had shorter campaigns, the Tyrant reserved for the 2nd-run, fewer but different boss encounters, and felt more interconnected with events of the first run.

Next up is the change to the structure of the first and 2nd-run campaigns. After completing the game with one character, you unlock a second playthrough for the other character, starting you out in a new location, with an altered path through the game. It’s great in principle but, unlike the original game, a) Claire and Leon barely interact, except for a brief conversation at the beginning and end of the game, b) there were no opportunities to influence the game world in the 2nd-run, c) your path is different but you solve exactly the same puzzles, and d) you tackle exactly the same bosses, in the same locations, with only the final encounter changing. I’m not sure if it was done to bulk up the length of each campaign but it feels like a step back from the original, which had shorter campaigns, the Tyrant reserved for the 2nd-run, fewer but different boss encounters, and felt more interconnected with events of the first run.

My final gripe is the lacklustre music. The original game has an incredible soundtrack that is instrumental in generating atmosphere, however, in the Resident Evil 2 remake, the classic music is locked behind the “Deluxe Edition”. It sounds and, honestly, feels so much better with the classic tracks. I guess you can consider this paywall another “modern” feature of the remake.

Shooting the glowing eyes is standard Resident Evil fare but this mechanic is made all the more infuriating when one moment your shots are wildly inaccurate, and the next you’re glancing the edge of the weak spot by a pixel-length.

Make no mistake, Resident Evil 2 is still an excellent survival-horror game that modernises the original in a myriad of intelligent ways, giving new players an incredible first experience and continuously surprising returning players. While not radically different, the inclusion of first- and 2nd-run campaigns, coupled with the 4th Survivor and Tofu challenges (and some free DLC modes coming), provide a ton of value. The aiming could do with some tweaking, while fans of the original might find the the story a tad too serious and the 2nd-run campaign underwhelming, but the classic survival-horror foundation is intact and the modernised control scheme is sure to bring in a larger audience.

That said, unlike the Resident Evil (2002) remake – which left the 1996 original redundant by expanding and refining every mechanics while preserving the core mechanics – there’s still reason to go back and experience the 1998 original. I played bits of it before, during, and after completing the remake review for comparison and it still holds up, if only because of the awesome music and greater diversity between A- and B-scenarios.

Resident Evil 2 (2019)
8.9/10

Summary

Resident Evil 2 is an excellent remaster for the modern generation and scary as hell, but not perfect.

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