In 1998, when the original Resident Evil 2 debuted on the PlayStation, it was marked as one of the best games of all time and cemented the Resident Evil franchise as the definitive tour de force when it came to the survival horror genre in video games. With this new vision of Resident Evil 2, all that can be said is that it is a damn near perfectly crafted remake of that classic game. It pays so much respect to the original version while doing so much new and adding to it that it makes it its own thing. It respects the original enough yet manages to adeptly enter it into today’s gaming universe with a new look, camera and gameplay more suited to today’s console generation. Simply put, this remake of Resident Evil 2 is the definitive next generation survival horror showcase and immediately enters itself in the conversation for Game of the Year 2019...and we’re only mere weeks into January!
As fans of the series already know, Resident Evil 2 stars rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and student Claire Redfield. For newcomers this is the first time meeting these characters we’ve come to love over a series that has 8 main entries and 2 canonical side stories under its belt. The plots become a bit muddled over time, but thankfully that’s one major correction this remake sets out to accomplish. It first and foremost fixes up some lingering plot holes that have popped up over the series and connects the dots to the overarching lore in a cleaner manner now that better care was taken to the story. We’re still discovering the shady machinations of corrupt pharmaceutical company Umbrella and the mysterious variants of viruses that have plagued much of the series, but now the long threads have a better sense of cohesiveness and things just make more sense. Without spoiling too much, RE2 contains the familiar quest of the new G-virus that would almost become the successor to the T-virus from the first game and all the maniacal double crosses and plot twists come just as you’d already expect them, but for the newcomer, it will be a testament to how deep the character motivations run and by the end you’ll no doubt cheer for Leon and Claire and actually care whether or not they survive.
Not content to just gives us the same story but better, the known areas we traverse through within the game are better looking. Some new areas added to this game that were cut from the original vision and they add some much-needed padding to an already quick game. The police station, sewers and hidden Umbrella lab are all there and are pretty much how you remember them if you played the original, but now there is a new city street area and orphanage that add to the mythos, giving us both answers and new questions to the wonderful lore that is in the Resident Evil series. The architecture and the updated graphics combine to deliver the visual feast of a city that has lost its soul to the outbreak and has since turned into a city of desperation and despair. The sewers echo the grimy underbelly of Raccoon City, which becomes unto itself a character in the game. The laboratory is where we feel the biggest breath of fresh air, even though we can’t take it in as the enemy difficulty ramps up and there are Lickers aplenty to quickly ruin any scenic strolls.
The game’s difficulty comes across as sometimes easy and sometimes a little too hard. Ammo is scarce, and if you aren’t careful you’ll find yourself heading into some sections with no bullets and having to restart an earlier save file, and that’s in the hope that you created multiple save files to begin with. Once you remember enemy placements and where the items are, speed runs are definitely possible, and you’ll wonder how you struggled through the initial playthrough of the game to begin with. You can start off with Leon and finish the story with Claire (and vice versa) and the secondary character playthrough ups the ante a bit with a harder difficulty and the mysterious Mr. X, a Tyrant in a black coat and fedora who is content to knock you senseless and chase you throughout the entire structure of whatever area you are in at the time. Long gone is the capability to shoot him enough times and hope he drops, instead this Tyrant is akin to the game’s Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees, a boogie man that loves to stand behind doors you’ve already gone through and areas you’ve already cleared and surprise you as you backtrack through rooms solving the myriad of puzzles within the game.
While the Tyrant works as a prevalent threat throughout the game and helps balance out the ease of which it is to dodge and run past zombies and Lickers alike, the game’s boss fights are where the complaints might emerge for some. The somewhat sluggish control scheme seems fit to limit how much you can move and is a key indicator to how much the series has moved on from its survival roots to a more action horror focused one. There were times I missed the ability to dodge, or even stomp on a downed monster’s head (Anyone else miss the Billy stomp from Resident Evil Zero? Just me?) and the weightiness of the controls sometimes led to some unwanted hits from the enemies and bosses. It forces you to play keep away during the more intense boss fights (most notably against the Birkin monster fights) and the boss tends to be faster than you can anticipate leading to some unwanted hits that may feel as cheap. It’s a minor thing at best, but for gamers who aren’t that savvy with these types of games or controls, it will come up as an issue from time to time.
Regardless, one little extremely minor kink doesn’t ruin the overall experience of the title. Everything you’ve ever loved about Resident Evil is in this game and it serves as a perfect showcase of how far they’ve come with the series especially if you consider the complete and utter overhaul that was Resident Evil VII: Biohazard with its first person view and new story direction. Resident Evil 2 keeps much of the old game alive and well while pushing it ever so slightly into new territory and delivers one of the best games to hit the survival horror genre in a long time. Capcom was once the master architect of the genre, and the care and attention to detail in this remake is solid proof that they have found their resident ground again.