Title: Resident Evil 2
Genre: Action Adventure, Survival
Developer: Capcom R&D Division 1
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Release: January 25, 2019
The Resident Evil 2 remake is the long-awaited fulfillment of an implicit promise that was made back in 2002 with the release of the original Resident Evil remake on the Gamecube. That remake took a game that many remembered as one of the most horrifying video game experiences of their lives and actually made it scary. By scrapping the cringe-inducing dialogue, incorporating completely new gameplay sections, and revamping the visuals while still somehow remaining faithful to the PS1 original, Capcom successfully crafted a timeless survival horror classic out of a mid-90s experiment that aged incredibly poorly.
Since then, the Resident Evil franchise trajectory has been completely unpredictable thanks to the Gamecube remake’s disappointing sales and Resident Evil 4’s surprising success. We can thank our lucky stars that the powers that be greenlit a remake for Resident Evil 2 which hasn’t aged quite as poorly as its predecessor, but it was still rough around the edges. By smoothing over the vast majority of the original’s rough patches and enhancing the characteristics that made it so great in the first place, Resident Evil 2 has become the new gold standard by which every subsequent game in the franchise (and any survival horror game in general) can and should be measured against.
The Tip and the Top
Resident Evil 2’s story remains faithful to the original while also adding a few elements and modifications to make sure the narrative beats pack an emotional punch. Leon Kennedy - a police deputy headed to his first day on the job - and Claire Redfield - a skilled motorcycle enthusiast dead-set on finding her brother Chris - cross paths on their way to a Raccoon City that, unbeknownst to them, is fresh off the heels of a zombie outbreak. They both explore the local police station which hides plenty of winding detours and city secrets. There isn’t a whole lot going on, and Leon’s motivation is tenuous at best, but there are enough surprises and turns to keep those that aren’t familiar with the original’s plot excited to see what happens next. What’s most impressive is the game’s cutscene direction. The camera cavalierly sweeps across grotesque displays of fleshy mutilation while also knowing exactly when to cut. It adds a layer of filmic noire to the scripted sequences that’s an entirely original addition and wholly enjoyable to experience. There is a decent amount here that wasn’t in the original, and everything still feels so authentic that you could easily convince yourself otherwise.
Resident Evil 2 brings back the classic franchise formula which remains largely unchanged despite the radical change in perspective, and it’s executed incredibly well here. You’ll spend your time in Resident Evil 2 doing what you would’ve done in the original: running through dark corridors, solving simple puzzles, taking out a few zombies while running around the rest to conserve ammo, and finding useful items that you just don’t have the inventory space for. The camera might fool you into thinking this is a third-person shooter, but it doesn’t at all play like one save for the more climactic boss fights. Everything is slowly-paced and oozing with dread and trepidation. Good aim might get you out of a bind or two, but most of your progress will come from careful planning, quick wits, and methodical movements. The lumbering pace of play fits perfectly in a game that’s utilizing the baroque horror mold that Resident Evil 2 is, and it’s great at evoking feelings of anxiety and stress which allow each victory to feel that much sweeter.
Everything you do in Resident Evil 2 looks and feels great courtesy of a heavy layer of polish that’s slathered on everything. Resident Evil 7’s RE Engine makes its return, and it remains impressive to look at. Every one of the game’s locales from the shiny hallways of the Police Station’s main hall to the glistening rain out on the muddy city streets looks top-notch. The faces look a bit rubbery and stilted, but things run at a sweet 60fps which keeps everything looking and feeling smooth and responsive. Each gun provides satisfyingly tactile feedback with each shot even while the enemies somehow absorb all the bullets, and the simple act of navigating the menus and interacting with puzzles feels fun. Everything clicks and moves so nicely that sometimes you’ll just want to sit there and spin a combination lock around for a while just for the heck of it.
Speaking of clicks, Resident Evil 2’s sound design is next-level good. It’s, like, scary good. Every sound effect sounds exactly how you’d expect it to: zombie shrieks fill the cramped rooms and give you goosebumps, your footsteps echoes throughout the halls reminding you of your isolated solitude, and doors creak open as though they haven’t moved in decades. Not only does each sound feel accurate, but every effect also sounds like it’s coming from where it should be. Positional audio is utilized incredibly effectively - it makes a zombie that’s hot on your heels sound like it’s breathing down your neck while also allowing for quieter moments of invigorating stress as you hear heavy footsteps draw closer. Any single sound effect is enough to instantly instill unease in a soundscape that’s otherwise starkly silent. The superb sound design adds to the already impeccable atmosphere, and it’s enough to instill a sense of fear and foreboding that cuts deep just by itself.
Even after you witness the game’s story unfold, Resident Evil 2 has plenty of content to keep you busy. With the choice of two playable characters (Leon or Claire) comes two sides of the same story. While they converge and overlap at certain points, there’s a surprising amount of new content in terms of both gameplay and story to make a second playthrough with the other character well worth your while. The game helps facilitate this by offering you an unlockable second playthrough with the character you didn’t choose initially which is essentially an abridged version of that character’s story. After playing through both versions of events, there’s yet another mode to dive into with its own gameplay twist. There are also tons of secrets and unlockables for completionists that want to perfect their play and get amply rewarded for their efforts. A singular character’s playthrough won’t take much longer than 8-10 hours to complete, but all the extra content and added unlockables make Resident Evil 2 no slouch in the content or longevity department.
The Flip and the Flop
Despite the fact that Resident Evil 2 has some impressive sound design, the voiceover work is noticeably less consistent. It’s all significantly better than the original’s hammy delivery, but Leon’s voice actor in particular doesn’t quite have things dialed in. He often sounds insincere and a bit off which is exasperated by the fact that he’s a main playable character that repeats the same canned lines over and over. Claire’s voice actress fairs much better, but it only makes Leon’s shaky voice stand out even more in comparison.
Having two separate playthroughs for each character is something that was carried over from the original and, while it still works well, there’s some overlap and repeat that feels like needless tedium. Having to solve many of the police station’s puzzles more than once can begin to feel more frustrating than fruitful when you’re just trying to remember how the heck you solved it last time. You don’t have to spend too much time on the repeat material since you’ll have a rough idea of what has to be accomplished, and the returning puzzles are tweaked to keep you from solving them too easily, but the fact still remains that the recycled stretches can make things far too predictable to be scary.
Final Grade: A
Resident Evil 2 is the pinnacle of a franchise that’s on an upswing after a series of ups and downs. It’s the product of a Capcom that understands its fanbase and reverently respects its survival horror roots. Resident Evil 2 improved nearly everything from the original without screwing anything up in the process, and it will be remembered as another Resident Evil classic because of it. This is Resident Evil at its unprecedented best, and it’s awe-inspiring to witness.