Review – Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil is one of my all time favourite franchises. It’s the series that introduced me to survival horror but it has has stumbled throughout the last generation, focusing more and more on mindless action while ignoring its horror roots.
After 2017’s fantastic Resident Evil VII: Biohazard and the charming Revelations games, the series found its footing again; bringing the series back to its survival horror origins while also adding a new absurd spin to the series. What better way to cement the return to form for than a full-on remake of one of the most famous and celebrated titles within the franchise?
Running on the very impressive Reach for the Moon engine, or RE Engine for short, Capcom has managed to deliver a visual treat without compromising frame rates. The Raccoon City Police Department is full of detail and environmental storytelling, whilst providing some impressive volumetric lighting and the best shadows I’ve seen in recent memory. All of this works together to ramp up the atmosphere and make the world feel more real and very scary. Character models look great, and the animations have been vastly improved over Resident Evil VII, from characters wiping the raindrops from their jackets to the way zombies stumble around the environments. There are a few weaker moments where there’s a noticeable drop in attention to detail, but these are few and far between.
The story follows Leon S. Kenedy and Claire Redfield as they journey into Raccoon City in the midst of a zombie outbreak caused by the familiar Umbrella Corps, a pharmaceutical company that has been experimenting with bio-weapons. The splits between Leon and Claire, with each playthrough revealing more intricate details and filling in the blanks of the other.
The gameplay in the Resident Evil series has always taken a priority over story, and that’s the same in this remake. The story follows the same threads as it did twenty years ago, but with some key differences. Certain story sequences have been moved around. Most notably Kendo’s gun shop doesn’t appear until you’ve left the police department. Marvin Branagh, a throwaway character in the original, has been given a much larger role in the story, acting as Leon’s (or Claire’s) guide through the earliest moments inside the RCPD building. Not only was this a great idea, but Marvin ended up providing some of the best emotional scenes in the entire series. There’s more examples of this sprinkled throughout. Capcom did an incredible job in the reimagining of this classic.
The writing occasionally stumbles into the realm of cheesy, but it’s a bad thing either. Leon and Claire’s banter is particularly cheesy as a nod to the classic Resident Evil games, but the vocal performances remain excellent throughout. The leads do an excellent job of portraying their characters as inexperienced survivors who eventually become iconic the badasses we remember so fondly. Meanwhile, side characters such as Marvin and Kendo provide some stellar vocal work that steal the show whenever they appear with some surprisingly emotional moments. This is some of the best writing and vocal work the series has ever seen and I’m hoping this level of quality continues into future entries.
Gameplay, much like Resident Evil 4, has been moved to an over the shoulder perspective. You are able move and shoot simultaneously, but at the cost of a massive penalty to accuracy. Zombies react to shots with great amount of detail as their skin falls off and splatters blood onto the nearby walls. The gore is even more delightful with a shotgun, as zombie heads explode in glorious fashion.
You will be spending a large amount of time in the RCPD building, which has a great layout full of memorable moments. The police department and other locations that you visit against your will are very well designed, with plenty of areas to explore and secrets to find. You will spend a lot of time backtracking but given how well-designed the maps are, it doesn’t really matter. Even after a few playthroughs, I’ve yet to get bored.
The remake comes with a number of streamlined features that make it more accessible to newcomers without compromising for its core audience. The in-game map keeps track of what you have and haven’t done in specific rooms. Typewriters and manual saving are in the game, but the game also autosaves quite often, maybe a bit too often for my personal tastes. I would have liked to have a difficulty between standard and hardcore that removed the autosaves.
Inventory management has always been a staple of the series and it’s the same here. You start with an extremely limited number of inventory slots to carry weapons, ammo, health supplies and key items. Often I found myself frantically running back to the item box to drop off some supplies. You can upgrade your inventory throughout the game, so don’t miss those item pouches. On standard difficulty, the game gives you more than enough resources to feel comfortable but not enough to feel overpowered.
Resident Evil 2 does a great job on the horror, even as much as making zombies scary again! Creeping through the police department, I was cautiously checking my corners and aiming at dead bodies to make sure they didn’t catch me off guard. Zombies take quite a few shots to take down, as they do absorb damage but even then they might eventually get back up again when you return. This adds a layer of unpredictability throughout the game. You don’t know exactly when you’ll find when you return to these areas. The only way to truly kill a zombie is to destroy their brain, usually with a well-placed shotgun blast to the face. The more ‘tanky’ nature of the zombies might not be to everyone’s taste, but I personally thought it was great. A lot of the scares aren’t very predictable jump scares, but are actually integrated into the game design and triggered by play.
Zombies aren’t the only enemies to return in the remake. Zombie dogs, G-Virus monsters and my personal favourite, the Lickers are all back. Lickers are blind but sensitive to sound, so it’s possible to sneak by them, though it’s easier said than done. One time I slowly walked down an entire hallway with the Licker following closely behind until a zombie busted through the window causing me to panic and trigger the Licker into attacking me. Easily one of the most intense moments I had in Resident Evil 2.
We also have the remake’s biggest trick, the tyrant known as Mr.X. The tyrant was also in the original version of the game, but his presence here is much more prevalent and fearsome. He can’t be killed, and the only way to deal with him is to run and hide. X can’t go inside every room and he is slow enough for you to get away without many problems. Just keep moving and don’t get cornered. He is much more of a threat when dealing with other enemies as well. Trying to line up headshots on zombies that are in the way with X only a few feet behind you is intense. Don’t get me started on trying to sneak around Lickers when the tyrant is turning around the next corner.
My first playthrough took me around eight hours to complete, with almost every location fully explored. Once done, you unlock a second run as the opposite character and the horror begins again. The second run allows you to witness the same events from a different perspective. Although the locations are largely the same, there are some key differences that drastically change the experience. Enemy and item locations have been moved around so you’re never sure what to expect. There are a few inconsistencies with the second run, but in the scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. It’s amusing to think someone restocked the police station for Claire after Leon has already made his journey through it.
Resident Evil 2‘s sound design is top-notch. I mentioned earlier about how much better the voice acting is now, but I haven’t said anything about the music or sound effects. RE2 uses binaural audio to help immerse players into the experience. Both the ambient noise and the soundtrack are great. Listening to the tyrant stomping around the RCPD building is incredibly terrifying and further adds to the atmosphere of the game. Listen close enough and you can pinpoint his location and plan your next move. My one major complaint about the sound design is with the weapon sounds. I had the same complaint when the game was announced and I’m disappointed that it wasn’t sorted for release. The gunfire just doesn’t sound as impactful as it should.
Only a couple of times did Resident Evil 2 stumble in my time spent with it. Puzzle solutions are often too simple and the one in the library felt like less of a puzzle and more of a test of how quickly you can move shelves. I wish that the story had more interactions between Leon and Claire, something the original game was also lacking. Finally, you will occasionally take control over a few other characters, but these segments are incredibly short. These are just some of the minor nitpicks I have with Resident Evil 2, but they had no impact on my enjoyment whatsoever.
Resident Evil games have always been highly replayable and this one is no exception, staying fresh with tons of unlockables and secrets to find. Completing the second run will unlock ‘The 4th Survivor’ game mode, a challenging run through the games areas with limited resources. Completing this will unlock the legendary Tofu, mode in which you play as a block of tofu. I’ll be playing this game for many more hours and I’m looking forward to diving into Hardcore mode, where ink ribbons return and items are even more limited.
Twenty years ago, Resident Evil 2 set the standards for the survival horror genre. Now the remake has raised the bar, and in doing that, it ended up becoming the best Resident Evil title ever made.
The RE Engine continues to impress with some great visuals and a smooth frame rate.
Engaging gameplay that brings the series back to its roots while trying something new.
Superb voice acting and intelligent sound design with only weapon sounds falling short.
Terrifying, fun, challenging, and always interesting. This is Resident Evil at its very best.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Resident Evil 2 is available now on PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4
Reviewed on Xbox One
A copy of Resident Evil 2 was provided by the publisher.