Despite the fact it’s a remake, Capcom’s glorious revisiting of Resident Evil 2 feels more like a game of new beginnings than one of nostalgia.
Granted, it features the same storyline, characters and zombie-infested corridors of its 1998 ancestor, but alongside its familiar charms comes a refined sleekness that the franchise had been sorely lacking for years. Sure, those visuals definitely make a world of difference, but it’s the polished rekindling of Resident Evil 2’s tense exploration, frantic combat, challenging resource management, and effective scares that transform this from a retrospective love-letter to a progressive next step for the franchise.
Simply put, this is the best it has ever felt to play a traditional Resident Evil game. It retains the series’ core staples while introducing forward-thinking gameplay innovations, making it a smart, visceral horror experience, brimming with finesse and ambition. Whether you’re being chased down dark, winding hallways by a towering, unkillable behemoth, or battling grotesque sewer mutants with little more than a knife and three bullets, it’s clear that Capcom has not only managed to recapture the spirit of the original game but also prove that classic survival horror can still thrive in the modern era.
For those unfamiliar with the PlayStation classic, the story follows Leon Kennedy – a rookie police officer on his first day of the job – and Claire Redfield, a young woman searching for her older brother. Your first job is to pick a scenario, but don’t fret: there isn’t a correct order to play, and you’ll get to run through both in good time. Travelling to the nearby metropolis of Racoon City, your chosen protagonist is soon catapulted into the centre of a devastating zombie-outbreak, the legions of the undead forcing them to survive the city’s streets alone. Taking refuge in the confines of the local police station, they soon begin to uncover a sinister conspiracy that makes Raccoon City’s apocalyptic invasion seem much less coincidental than at first glance.
As is usual for the iconic zombie series, Resident Evil 2 is nothing if not a little cheesy. Similar to an entertaining B-movie, its outlandish dialogue, over the top monster designs, and – frankly insane – plot may seem a little excessive to new players, but it doesn’t take long to fully embrace the charming eccentricities of this franchise’s world and characters. This is largely due to the remake’s confidence in balancing the series’ over the top narrative with a sense of new-found maturity. Ushering in fresh voice-acting, incredible facial animations and grotesque enemy designs, Resident Evil hasn’t felt so raw, engaging and immersive in over a decade. The plot remains outlandish but the visuals and authentic feel of the world prevent it from ever becoming tacky.
Beating your first run-through is merely the beginning of your time with Resident Evil 2 – the end credits unlock a second game mode that allows you to play an abridged version of the tale through the eyes of the other protagonist. Beating this second story will net you additional game modes with some fan-favourite characters. First, you’ll play as fellow survivor Hunk, as you attempt to escape the police station while battling a challenging horde of enemies with a limited amount of resources. Beat Hunk’s scenario, and you’ll unlock Tofu’s tricky tale (with more game modes to come in post-release DLC).
While the variety is nice, the game still doesn’t rack up a particularly long runtime, around eight hours for your first and five hours for your second playthrough. The similarities between Leon and Claire’s playthroughs sometimes makes journeying through the game twice something of a chore, with the structure of the story only ever really diverging at one point, and for little more than an hour’s worth of content.
Where Resident Evil 2 begins to truly ascend is not in pre-rendered cutscenes, but the stories that naturally form as you navigate through the claustrophobic hallways of Racoon City’s not-so-abandoned police department. This is largely due to the smooth additions to the gameplay and Capcom’s sensitive handling of the essential traits of the franchise.
Resident Evil 4’s over-the-shoulder camera makes a triumphant return and inventory management remains vital to survival, yet both feel more refined than ever before: the former more cinematic and immersive, while the latter is more intuitive and fast-paced. Combat also sees some major improvements. The stiffness that always plagued the franchise is reduced, but still lingers to sew every grizzly encounter with a sense of tension.
Ammo is scarce. This makes killing an enemy with as few bullets as possible become something of a necessity, while the slightly laboured combat turns each undead encounter into an intense test of precision and composure under pressure. Missing that one shot soon becomes the difference between reaching the next room and becoming zombie-chow; pulling your weapon is more about tactics than who has the itchiest trigger-finger.
It also wouldn’t be Resident Evil if there weren’t boss battles, however, it also wouldn’t be Resident Evil if they weren’t the most lacklustre area of the gameplay. While combat feels more about picking your fights in the haunted hallways of the police station, these boss scenarios seem intent on placing the game into the shoes of a high-octane shooter, in turn, putting an unfair spotlight on the weaker aspects of the combat. They feel clunky and unresponsive. The lack of a dodge button to avoid fast enemy attacks, or having to awkwardly line up foes to cue scripted events, somehow manages to remove the fun of these climactic showdowns. Bosses should be the pinnacle of game design; the moment where everything the player has learnt is put to the test, but instead, this remake feels like it utilises Resident Evil 2’s toolbox to create encounters that don’t match the overall tone of the gameplay.
However, it’s everything around these boss battles that makes Resident Evil 2 such a joy to play, and thankfully, exploration remains the constant centre-piece of the gameplay. Travelling down the eerie corridors of the small but jam-packed map, it’s hard to not find yourself so engaged in the experience that every creak, bump or footstep immediately makes you fear what could be waiting around the next corner. Even better, the game doesn’t alleviate these fears. From the horrifying, screeching Lickers that scuttle across ceilings to the lumbering, parasitic swamp monsters that hatch in wait in the sewers, there’s no end to the horrifying creatures that stalk your journey throughout the world of Resident Evil 2.
Yet, the undeniable highlight of these encounters comes in the form of the gleefully terrifying tyrant: a statuesque, zombified giant that cannot be killed and periodically stalks you as you try to complete objectives. He’s without a doubt the game’s most intimidating foe, his footsteps echoing from different parts of the building as you attempt to quietly evade his line of sight and, inevitably, his brutal grasp. He’s the poster boy for how survival horror gameplay elements – such as the unkillable, stalking boss – still carry weight in modern gaming, his presence conjuring some of the most terrifying and stressful moments I’ve played in years.
Because it’s a Resident Evil game, the police station is packed with puzzles, many of which force you to scour the environment to find different objects and solutions to open doors or access locked off goodies. If you played Resident Evil 7, the format will come quite naturally. Discovering objects as you progress through the game, you’ll be posed problems that can only be solved by utilising these items. Some might be locks that can only be accessed by certain shaped keys; others might be scenario-based conundrums, like an undetonated piece of C4 that you must explode to progress. They aren’t the hardest problems to solve, but they do add an element of complication to your plans, especially when the item you need is in an area you fled to avoid a particularly dangerous enemy.
The cherry on top of this sweet package is some of the most beautiful visuals you’ll find anywhere on current-gen consoles. The stunning lighting and detailed animation make this a dark, grimy horror experience that packs one hell of a visual punch. But its technical fidelity extends far beyond pretty graphics. The sound design here is utterly phenomenal, the pounding boots of the stalking Tyrant make him identifiable immediately, while the distinctive screams of a nearby Licker will stop you in your tracks. It has a strangely beautiful soundtrack, too. The reworked list of songs manages to capture the harrowing essence of the game’s varied suite of situations.
Resident Evil 2 feels like a bright new beginning for the Resident Evil franchise. It’s bold, brilliant and, most importantly, absolute horrifying. The tense atmosphere, stunning visuals and solid game design make this “remake” – a label that sells Capcom’s efforts here so short – the series’ most consistently impressive entry in years.
There are niggles, especially in the game’s approach to boss battles and the repetitive nature of the scenarios, but Resident Evil 2 is a comprehensive horror masterclass that breathes some much-needed life back into the survival-horror genre.