Resident Evil 2
RESIDENT EVIL was an instant hit when it came out in 1996. Its first on-screen text was cryptic, if awkwardly put together. “Enter the survival horror.” The words likewise spoke the truth, and to the point where they introduced a whole new genre in the industry. They set the tone on what the game wanted to do in a way no other release was hitherto able. It was less about breezing through enemies and more about rationing supplies and equipment. It was about grittily plodding on in a hostile, alien environment. It was about atmosphere and tension, about unsettling gamers with both anticipation and actual experience.
Parenthetically, Resident Evil 2 followed in its predecessor’s footsteps just two years later, and how. In fact, it proved superior in every conceivable manner, ultimately becoming the most successful entry in the series (and possessing timeless virtues that have allowed Capcom to green-light a remake a full two decades since it first made its way to store shelves). Considering how high Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami initially set the bar and how much work then went into it, its positive reception came as no surprise.
Resident Evil 2 pits you against an unending tide of zombies and biological horrors. It carried with it much of the same motifs as the original, but was set in a larger environment, with newer and tougher enemies, off a more relatable setting. It boasted of better set pieces, creepier environments, and a larger emphasis on character and story while still keeping all the endearing quirks and, yes, clunkiness of the original. Small wonder, then, why fans viewed the game with fondness over the years, and why news of the remake had them elated and, at the same time, apprehensive.
Released late last month, the update of Resident Evil 2 keeps plenty from its namesake while reimagining significant parts to present a whole new experience altogether. The main course remains, but ingredients — among them enemies, puzzles, and items — have been changed, with the end-view of appealing to longtime fans of, as well as newcomers to, the title. And the good news is that it does everything it sets out to do spectacularly. Running off the same game engine that propelled Resident Evil 7, it runs smoothly and looks and sounds great to boot, with very little slowdown on the PlayStation 4 as well as on lower-end rigs.
Where Resident Evil 2 truly stands out, though, is in its gameplay. It represents a return to form by straying from the series’ more recent preference for action and emphasizing its survival horror roots. Bullets are scarce, zombies are tough and do a lot of damage, and tight corridors and entryways compel you to weigh the pros and cons of fight or flight. While most other games would emphasize cleaving through enemies, it instead forces you to think tactically about your choices and making you live with your decisions. Is using ammo to bring down a couple of zombies justified when there are more lurking in the next room? Can you dodge certain enemies instead of fighting them? Do you dare risk a shorter but more dangerous route just to save you a few minutes of backtracking?
At the very least, you’re not unprepared for the threats you face in Resident Evil 2. While most old enemies return, so do the veritable list of weapons main characters Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield have access to. And they’re just as effective with the new over-the-shoulder aiming mechanics. Most enemies, while tough, stagger if hit in the proper spots. A zombie can easily take several bullets to the chest, but will wind up incapacitated by a hit to the kneecap. A good shot to the head will stun them and allow you some time to skirt past. Knives and grenades are handy when you get grabbed, and herbs and first-aid sprays can be used to replenish your health should you ever get bitten, punched, or otherwise mangled by the monstrosities that have overrun the Raccoon Police Department.
With the return of old-school gameplay comes old-school obstacles. While often cryptic and borderline ridiculous, puzzles are fun to solve even as they require you to explore nooks and crannies. Exploration becomes the key to progression and, if nothing else, keeps you moving. The remake’s plot isn’t far removed from that of the original; it remains goofy overall, but nicely provides the impetus for fleshing out side characters more. That said, parts of the story come off as disjointed. The A and B scenarios are still present, but feel less connected than their original incarnation, what with some bosses and key events being recycled for both versions of the story. Enemies and bosses also seem able to take more damage, and if you’re new to the series, you’re liable to find yourself frustrated after being locked out of supplies or wasting ammunition. Thankfully, the greater challenge is balanced by the gameplay.
All told, Resident Evil 2 is survival horror par excellence, bringing the finest in the series up to 2019 standards. And with Capcom slated to ramp up support via the release of additional content, it promises to be a gift that keeps on giving. Highly recommended.
• The epitome of survival horror
• Looks, sounds, and plays great, with no apparent slowdowns or lags
• A ton of content and unlockables to keep completionists interested, with the two characters and their respective A and B scenarios having just enough variations to warrant multiple playthroughs
• Disjointed narratives between scenarios
• Tougher enemy constitutions and placements
• Overall tone of the story can feel uneven and jarring