A Little History
The year is 1998, a devastating virus runs through the population of Raccoon City and it is up to our titular heroes Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy to make it out alive. A simple premise that was so successful with the first game in the series, Capcom again went to the well to bring the player into a frightening world of zombies, mutated animals, and dreaded Tyrants. The original Resident Evil 2, released in January 1998, set PlayStations ablaze with its well-crafted story, hauntingly realistic background, and tense gameplay. It went on to become one of Capcom’s most popular games and continues to have a rabid fanbase to this day.
I have always been a fan of the Resident Evil series. Survival horror has always been one of the genres I have gravitated towards when playing video games. For whatever reason, Capcom always seems to be able to pull me back in every time they release a new Resident Evil game. When I heard that there was going to be a remake of Resident Evil 2, I was actually quite excited. Back in 1998, this had always been one of my favorite games to play along with Silent Hill. Unlike most survival games today, Resident Evil has always been one of those series where the story has never let gameplay get in the way. Let me walk that back a little bit, the original Resident Evil trilogy never let gameplay get in the way of the story.
Changes in the Remake
So here we are, it is 2019 and I am reviewing the game that I played back in 1998. But it’s not really the same game. Yes, the story is still the same, the characters are still the same, but there has been an evolution; the overall feeling of the game is something quite different. We now have an over the shoulder mechanic that has been influenced by Resident Evil 4, we no longer have to fix the camera, and gone are the tank controls that were so prevalent in the pre-RE4 games. The inventory system is significantly easier to manage, and the crafting system has been slightly upgraded. The story has been tweaked as well to be a little bit more relevant to the current year. Along with that Capcom condensed the story to streamline it and bring it in line with what they should have done for the original.
Unlike typical remakes that are more of a cash grab than any real kind of an attempt to improve upon the original, Resident Evil 2 takes a different approach. With the loving care that Capcom has painstakingly taken in the three years since its announcement, it has developed this game into something that is new, fresh and unique, all while maintaining that classic approach to the story that we loved so much from the original Resident Evil 2. Without venturing into spoiler territory, both of the character campaigns bring something unique to the game that is severely lacking in survival horror games currently on the market. As you go through the gameplay and the different levels in the game, you learn and care more about the characters and how they deal with their respective situations. Claire’s storyline, in particular, is actually quite touching and the ending differs from that of Leon’s if you play her as the B side new game.
The control scheme in this game is greatly restricted from Resident Evil 6 and falls more in line with Resident Evil 7. Fancy kung fu and curb stomps are gone, and we’re reintroduced to sub-weapon gameplay. This means your knives will degrade over time, and other sub-weapons that you get are few and far between. You are given the option for hot buttons for both your primary weapons along with your sub-weapons, and this allows for quick and easy switching between primary equipped and sub equipped items. The inventory system is easy to navigate with these new controls and can be easily cycled through with a D-pad or the analog sticks. Gunplay is intuitive and responsive, with continuous aiming down the sites focusing your reticle for better hit detection and damage. And of course, just like every proper Resident Evil game, there is no dodge.
Graphics and Sound
The aesthetics of this game are solid. Using the RE engine that propelled RE7 back in 2017 to one of my top games of that year, Capcom has been able to push the engine even further to make the game look great on both consoles and PC alike. The PC version has far more customization (HDR, unlocked frame rates, FOV and DOF along with a myriad of anti-aliasing), but the console versions still hold their own. The fog and lighting in the game are designed in such a way that they help create that sense of dread that is constant throughout the game. Whether it is the narrow hallways of the RPD station or the sludge stained walls of the sewers, atmosphere is everywhere in this game. The character models, environments and even simple objects sitting on desks, are all painstakingly recreated with real-world scans to give this game a more photo-realistic appeal that we have not seen before in a modern horror game.
The sound design is on point, with everything from the toilets to the air circulation system in later levels adding again to that overall tension that continues to build as you go deeper into the story. The zombies…my goodness, the zombie audio is fantastic. You can even hear them screaming from off in the distance as they make their way across who knows where to snack on their next brain sandwich. Weapons sound and feel impactful, along with the concussive sounds of sub-weapons and explosions. The provided soundtrack is decent, but you will need to shell out an extra $20 to get the original soundtrack from the 1998 release (which I will tell you now, make the game even more intense).
Overall gameplay is difficult but fair, with adaptive difficulty back to provide players who have trouble getting through the game by dialing down on the amount of damage both you and enemies take. This is, of course, the apocalypse and you should feel vulnerable, but the game will not punish you to the point where you throw your controller at your brand new TV. Yes, there have been some complaints of zombies being bullet sponges, but if you play the originals, you will see that Capcom has not really changed that gameplay design. With three difficulty levels, Capcom has given even the most inexperienced player a chance to survive and save their fancy 4K TV from the assault of a wayward controller. Each character plays uniquely and has different weapons at their disposal and tasks to complete with Leon having more gunplay options, and Claire more explosive options. There is no quick heal button in this game so when you are getting low on health, you will need to access your inventory (and hope you have herbs on hand) but at least Capcom has made the conscious decision to pause the action for you to take your time to grab, mix, or use the item you need. And yes, combining items is back, and oh the things you can craft.
Your first playthrough of either Leon or Clair will run you around 7-9 hours. The new game (B) will run you about half that time. In total, you will have four main story campaigns to run, along with 2 additional timed survivor modes. Capcom has already confirmed three additional stories to be released as free DLC later in February 2019. Additionally, RE.net will have weekly challenges that you can do with international leaderboards to demonstrate your prowess of dispatching zombies and saving the world.
All in all, this is how a remake should be made. The love and care that Capcom put into this game is on full display. The characters, story, and even game design changes reflect a dedication and love for a series not only felt by its community, but also by its gatekeepers. If you are a horror fan and long for a game that will both challenge and entertain you, this needs to be a part of your collection. In 20 years from now, people will still be talking about this game.