Things have changed a lot with me since Resident Evil 2 on the N64 was giving me nightmares in grade school. What I once viewed as a thrilling and tantalizing mystery that drove my imagination into dark territory, I can now see as the hilariously campy schlock it is. The plausible reality of a zombie virus now feels like the soft-science fiction it’s supposed to be. More importantly, however, is that games don’t scare me anymore. My experience in the hobby has taught me all about how games tick, and I’ve gained the confidence that I can conquer modern experiences with, at most, a little persistence.
Yet, I retain a sort of reverence for Resident Evil’s second entry, even after the series diverted into territory I didn’t really care for. After the Gamecube remake of the first game, I had held on to hope for Capcom to revisit the second one for so long that I almost didn’t believe it when they finally announced it. It felt almost farfetched; like something that would doubtlessly get stuck in development hell like the Final Fantasy VII remake. Yet, here we are, Resident Evil 2 has arrived and it’s time to revisit the Raccoon City Police Department.
WHY’D HE BITE ME?
The remake follows the same plot as the original. Claire Redfield, a college girl looking for her brother, and Leon Kennedy, a police officer going to work for the first time, arrive at Raccoon City and find it overrun by zombies. Far too single-minded for their own good, they decide not to just turn and run and instead head for the police department to look for survivors. Once it becomes apparent that this was a bad idea, they’re then left looking for a way to escape the city.
The voice-acting has certainly improved in the intervening years, and the characters don’t start enthusiastically boasting about the “Ultimate Bio-weapon”, but the plot is still as goofy as it was before. It is, on the other hand, enthusiastically played out with a straighter face. I’d say that you could almost mistake it for a real horror plot, but that’s a little too sarcastic, even for me. Instead, I’m just going to say that it’s a remake of an early-3D era plot, so set your expectations accordingly.
THE DARK CORNERS
I can’t describe how exciting it was to see the Raccoon City Police Department in full 3D. While the layout has been tweaked, the cluttered, claustrophobic rooms and corridors have made the transfer well, and it really feels familiar. The layout itself has been changed just enough so that I knew roughly where I was going but wasn’t always certain on what to expect.
The game itself feels like a similar mix of new and familiar. It adopts a more Resident Evil 4 style of over-the-shoulder perspective, while still maintaining the slow, shambling zombies of the original. Combat feels like a great translation. Zombies take a lot of shots to put down, as they did in the original, but it feels exciting to carefully line your sights up with their face as they slowly shamble towards you, arms outstretched, but not for a hug.
One of the defenses I often heard for the slow, unwieldy combat in games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil was that the lack of precision control was to make you feel vulnerable. You’re often cast as an everyman in these games, so obviously you’re going to suck at fighting back against the lurching monstrosities you encounter. While I’m not saying Resident Evil 2 disproves this theory, it at least shows that you can have it both ways. You can still feel like you’re one mistake away from a grisly death while also expertly placing every bullet into the hungry maw of a shambling zombie.
PARTY LIKE IT’S 1998
I honestly can’t express enough what a perfect remake Resident Evil 2 really is. It stays so true to the original version while modernizing absolutely every facet of it. Special modes like The 4th Survivor and even The Tofu Survivor have been brought back, receiving the same facelift the rest of the game got, and they’re fantastic. Costumes can be unlocked or bought from the store for a nominal fee, and if you’re willing to shell out a bit more, you can even play with the classic soundtrack.
The antiquated video game-isms remain intact, welcomed in rather than glossed over, so you still store things in magical boxes that teleport your inventory wherever you go, and people still store important keys in obtuse locations. It’s kind of amusing to see puzzles where you fix a statue to get a gem to open a box in a game that also depicts realistic gore and is overlaid with film grain. Yet somehow, it works fantastically.
Other mechanics of the game benefit heavily from the modernization. Mr. X, a towering death machine that pursues you wherever you go, is the most impactful upgrade. In the original version, he’d pop up every now and then in the B scenario, but escaping only required you to step through a door. This time around, he’s pervasive in both scenarios and he will track you to the ends of the earth. Just not through safe room doors.
It’s not always easy to know when Mr. X will show up. You can almost constantly hear him stomping around in some distant room, but it’s hard to know if he’s about to step through the door you were headed towards. Video games may have a hard time scaring me these days, but it’s hard not to feel a sting of anxiety when Mr. X busts through the wall like a vengeful Kool-Aid man.
There is an unfortunate side-effect to Resident Evil 2 so closely mirroring its progenitor: I was never really a fan of its progression. The game starts out briefly in the city streets before moving things into the police station and then descending deeper and deeper beneath the surface. That at least provides some variety, but honestly, I find cavernous sewers to be a lot less creepy than an infested police station. The issue is that having a usually safe setting be filled with horrifying horrors is an effective way to add to the atmosphere, but when you get to the sewers, well, you expect some creepy stuff down there.
I would have loved it if the game was skewed to focus heavier on the above ground portions, but really, it’s balanced out to be about the same as the original version, and that just doesn’t appeal to me. Not to mention that the sections that take place in the city streets are barely there and terribly underwhelming. You get very little chance to experience the city in chaos before you’re walled in, then buried.
Maybe that’s more of a personal complaint, but it’s one I had when I first played through the original, and things haven’t changed here.
THINGS HAVEN’T CHANGED
I was initially skeptical that Capcom would be able to remake Resident Evil 2 in a way that does it justice. They could have easily gone the route of the recent Onimusha remaster and just polished up the backgrounds and put an HD coating over everything, but then went several steps further and completely rejiggered everything while staying true to the original. That’s almost shocking. I’m not entirely certain there’s another example of a remake that has been so deftly executed. It even puts the Gamecube remake of the original title in the series to shame.
It’s just so strange that everything memorable about the original version has been preserved, even down to the complaints that had about it. It’s a remake without compromise, embracing the odd quirks of early-3D game design, so long as they worked, and glossing everything up with all the bells and whistles of a modern horror game. The old mechanics play wonderfully with the new ones, and that should appeal to both fans of the original, as well as newcomers. In short, Resident Evil 2 has risen, and it’s not just a shambling corpse, but rather the ultimate bio-weapon!
This review was conducted on a PS4 using a disc copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.