The 1998 release of Resident Evil 2 is not only woven into the fabric of my gaming DNA, it’s also considered a pioneer and arguably one of the greatest survival horror games of all time. It’s a game loved by a myriad of fans from a franchise that has divided its fanbase the more it has strayed from its horror roots into action-adventure blockbuster territory. The challenge for Capcom has always been how to modernise the series while still appeasing the fans of yore with the scares, puzzles and gameplay that made Resident Evil a household name. While 2017’s Resident Evil VII restored some of the faith, Capcom’s revamped Resident Evil 2 dials it back to what made the series the king of survival horror and takes the genre to a whole new level thanks to a challenging, gory, tense and visceral experience. This is survival horror redefined and remastered.
Here we go again
This new iteration of RE2 is not simply a remake – it’s a total reimaging built from the ground up with story tweaks, gameplay improvements and new puzzles and monsters, giving an old classic a fresh feel. Gone are the anachronistic game design elements such as the tank controls and fixed camera angles that helped evoke that sense of dread in days gone by. They’ve been replaced by an over-the-shoulder view that brings you closer to the horror thanks to a new level of visual and atmospheric detail courtesy of Capcom’s RE Engine and a 4K resolution. Seriously, the quality and attention to detail is jaw-dropping; the blood-soaked floors and walls, the lifelike recreations of Leon and Claire, the terrifyingly realistic looking zombies, the dimly lit corridors of the RPD – everything looks incredible and horrifying.
The events of RE2 are pretty well known, but for newcomers here’s a summary. Set after the events of Resident Evil (and parts of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis), RE2 sees rookie cop and teen heartthrob Leon Kennedy on his first day on the job in the middle of a zombie outbreak in Raccoon City. By pure happenstance, Leon runs into Claire Redfield who has come to Raccoon City in search of her brother Chris (from the first one, also known for his bulging biceps in RE5). After becoming separated early doors, Leon and Claire must survive the nightmare that has overcome Raccoon City and stop the outbreak from spreading.
As in the original, both Leon and Claire have their own campaigns, with each scenario having its own differences yet intertwining to some degree. While it’s not so entwined that what happens in one will affect the other, Leon and Claire’s fight for survival will take different paths to a certain extent. However there are a number of sequences that play out the same across both campaigns.
Leon’s journey will see him cross paths with the famous Ada Wong, with the red dress heroine playable for small parts of the game, while Claire will stumble across Sherry Birkin who is also playable in a brand new section of the game. Other characters from the original will make an appearance, with some having new sequences altogether. Furthermore, each character has their own weapons unique to their playthrough, with upgrades available throughout, should you find them.
Work Safe aren’t going to like this
Does salvation or death await?
Fancy seeing you here
Is it your face or are you just happy to see me?
Tyrant or Thanos in disguise?
One of the biggest changes has been to how the game plays, and honestly it’s a change for the better. The combat thrives thanks to the switch to the over-the-shoulder view, which brings you closer to the action – there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a zombie’s head explode over all the surroundings thanks to a close-range shotgun blast or stabbing it in the chest before it takes a bite out of you.
The camera switch also brings us closer to the terror, and since the first RE showed us how terrifying zombies could be, zombie games have saturated the market, removing the fear factor in the process. However, in RE2 zombies are no mere cannon fodder. In fact, they are truly terrifying at times.
Zombies will move towards you with purpose, swaying from side-to-side, moving faster as they get close enough to taste you while absorbing more bullets. If you shoot their legs off they’ll crawl around after you, they’ll break through windows and doors into rooms you’re hiding in or exploring, and they’ll even throw themselves from upper floors to lower levels if there’s a chance they’ll get to snack on you. Plus, even when you do think they’re dead there’s always the question of whether they’re down for good, which can take up to eight bullets.
It also doesn’t help that zombies both look and sound terrifying. It’s a testament to Capcom’s design that they’ve made zombies feel scary and intimidating again. It wasn’t uncommon for a zombie to elicit a sense of trepidation as it as it bore down on me forcing me to shoot in panic only to end up zombie dinner.
But zombies aren’t the only creature you’ve got to worry about. Lickers will scurry across the walls and ceiling looking to deliver a deadly blow, enemies will lurk in the sewer waters waiting to poison you, and the Tyrant, well he’ll just follow you to the ends of the Earth, pounding you if he manages to lay his mitts on you.
It wasn’t uncommon for a zombie to elicit a sense of trepidation as it as it bore down on me forcing me to shoot in panic only to end up zombie dinner
Now imagine a combination of the above chasing you while you try to find a key or a cog and you’ll get a sense of just how hectic and frightening the game can get. This is easily the hardest RE game to date, not in a frustrating way but in a rewarding way. It is worth noting that not all of the enemies from the original feature, so if you were expecting a carbon copy of the original you’re going to be let down somewhat.
As usual, resource management is paramount to survival. Ammo is scarce and cannot be used liberally if you want to make it out alive. I was constantly scrounging for ammo, ensuring I made every bullet count when I could. Additionally, your knife cannot be used an infinite amount of times – each knife can be used three times before it’s no good, and if you stab a zombie in the chest you’ll need to finish the zombie off before you can reclaim it.
The incredible production levels aren’t limited to the game’s visuals, with the voice-acting a far cry from the cheesy and comical performances that earned the early games a certain level of infamy. It even makes the story feel somewhat less B-grade and there are times where it’s hard not to feel invested in Leon or Claire’s plight. The soundtrack has also been given a work over, with Capcom ditching the traditional haunting score for a spine-chilling binaural audio soundscape (you can swap in the retro soundtrack by purchasing the Deluxe Edition). Best experienced with headphones, the 360-degree audio sensory experience will ensure you hear zombies groan, feast and stalk the hallways of the iconic Raccoon City Police Department and other monster-infested locations. While it’s hard not to miss the customary score, the new audio mix does help make the hallways feel a lot more claustrophobic.
‘Zombies crawling in the dark looking for the answers’
While the main campaigns clock in at roughly fifteen hours on Standard difficulty, there’s plenty of replayability thanks to a Hardcore difficulty that features ink ribbon saves, trophies/achievements, as well as a couple of additional modes that unlock. One of those modes is The 4th Survivor, which puts you into the mercenary boots of Hunk, who is trying to escape Raccoon City. While the other is the same mode but instead of playing as Hunk and with guns you play as a piece of tofu with knives. Both of these are new takes on modes from the 1998 original, something old school fans will appreciate.
It’s an understatement to say that Capcom has successfully modernised the game while still remaining faithful to source material. This is everything that I wanted from an RE2 remake and then some. It recaptures the sheer terror that RE2 evoked 21 years ago as a ten-year-old, and whether you’re an old fan revelling in nostalgia or experiencing the horror of Raccoon City for the first time, this reimagining of Resident Evil 2 establishes itself as survival horror’s new magnum opus. It’s only January, but RE2 may have already established itself as a serious 2019 Game of The Year contender.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher