Raccoon City. To a veteran of the survival horror genre, the mere mention of that very city is enough to see sweat running across the forehead, sticky palms clenching, and nerves beginning to break down. An unbearable tension will no doubt grow as minds are cast back to a time in which zombies were once a major fear factor in gaming, and survival horror was a horrifying experience.
It’s been some time since the horror genre has really affected us like that, and with recent years pushing first-person view points and jump scares at every turn, giving us that little shiver every now and again, it’s almost come to a point in which we’ve forgotten what survival horror really is. Fortunately, Capcom are here to help, and what better way to do so than by remaking the very experience that made the survival horror genre such a fear mongering affair. Welcome back to Resident Evil 2.
Now I’m going to start this review a little differently, and instead of jumping into the gameplay and what you can expect, I want you to picture this;
You’re slowly walking down a darkened corridor, a pistol with no more than a couple of bullets in the clip in one hand, and a flashlight in the other. With every slow step the rain outside beats down on the windows and further up the corridor you see it pouring off the window sill of a glass pane that’s been previously broken by what looks to be a zombie, or at the very least the corpse that has been torn to pieces laying on the floor in front of it. It’s clearly fallen through you think, as you edge your way past it. A few steps later another suddenly slams on the next window battering it to get in… then a crash as the window breaks and you’re at the end of a corridor blocked by a broken bookcase and whatever other junk former survivors were able to use to barricade the path. As you turn to walk back you see one, then two, then three zombies pour into the corridor out of nowhere, knowing your few helpless bullets won’t be able to take them all down. Then it dawns on you, you left that herb and first aid spray back in the item box as you couldn’t carry both of those as well as the various keys you’d need to open up doors to progress. Before you know it, you’re being taken to the floor as a zombie begins to rip at the skin on your neck.
Sounds rather terrifying doesn’t it? Well, these are the kind of experiences classic horror games used to give us, and with the return of Resident Evil 2, they are what you can expect to enjoy once more. This is a remake that keeps as faithful to the original fright fest as possible whilst also bringing a number of ingenious changes to keep things feeling fresh and modern. It’s an incredible return to horror.
For those new to the game, Resident Evil 2 takes place in the above-mentioned fictional Raccoon City, with players taking on the role of two iconic series protagonists, the first being the newest member of the Raccoon City Police Department, Leon S. Kennedy in his first day on the job. After arriving in Raccoon City, Leon quickly learns why he received a warning just a few weeks before to stay away – zombies. A run-in with a pack of bloodthirsty zombies at the local petrol station takes place and from there, he, and a fellow survivor, college student Claire Redfield – the second playable protagonist – who is met at the scene, quickly make their escape to look for answers.
Unlike the original game though – one which is played with a fixed camera angle and implements stiff tank-type controls – the Resident Evil 2 remake is played from a third-person perspective with an over the shoulder camera. What’s more is that it also uses the rather spectacular RE engine that was utilised with the development of Resident Evil 7, and so the game is no longer full of pre-rendered backgrounds and instead now made up of fully explorable 3D environments.
With exploration playing such a huge role in the Resident Evil games, and especially the original trilogy, this is a big positive, and whilst you could always go back and forth and explore the different areas in the original, there was never the feeling of fully being able to search every nook and cranny of the buildings, mainly thanks to the limitations in the design. Now though that’s all gone and Resident Evil 2 feels much more engaging. In fact, whilst you may find yourself exploring simply to gaze at the many tiny details that have been included in this remake, the main reason to do so is for the puzzles. And in Resident Evil 2 there are a lot of puzzles.
Now I’m not a big fan of puzzle games, as generally I find them more of a chore than anything else. In Resident Evil 2 though, the puzzles are a large part of what makes up the experience. Of course, you have the story that’s pulling you along too, and the tale for what it’s worth is one that will have you eager to find out what happens next, but the true engagement in any of the better Resi titles comes from the puzzles.
From the start to the very end of the game, the puzzles are used in an interesting way, and help keep gameplay fun and interesting. For example, initially players are required to find some medallions from various statues stood within the Raccoon City Police Department. To do this though you’ll need to gain access to the various rooms within the station, and many of these can’t be accessed until you’ve collected the four unique key types that allow you entry. Whilst this means there’s a lot of backtracking involved, as you head from area to area, piecing together various clues and slowly unlocking different things, there is never a feeling in which you’re being forced to do so. Instead it all feels very fluid and natural.
On top of this, the various locations within the game are full of undead nightmares, from believable and lifelike zombies – and I’m talking the classic zombie rather than those godawful mutated monstrosities from the more recent titles – to Lickers, zombie dogs and even the brutish and unstoppable Tyrant amongst several others. It is these creatures that crop up unannounced every step of the way, and you’ll have to manage them while solving puzzles, exploring different areas, and progressing through the story to the root cause of the viral outbreak that has ravaged Raccoon City.
In the original, this was often a difficult task due to the awkward camera positions, but with the freedom of the over-the shoulder camera and revamped controls, avoiding enemies is now a possibility, and should you wish to gain the higher ranking at the end of the game, or indeed stand a chance in some of the harder boss fights, then you’ll need to ensure you save every last round of ammunition possible. Resources within Resident Evil 2 are exceptionally scarce.
Limited resources are just more of what makes a Resident Evil game so special, and in Resident Evil 2 that much is expected. What’s new this time around though is the item box, and even though the inventory space is still as limited as many will remember, requiring strict management if you are to get past the many obstacles and gain access to every locked door, there is now at least a chance to store any items that aren’t immediately required.
Relying on them though won’t be your saviour in this remake though and as in any typical Resident Evil game, your key resources are always your ammunition, your herbs from which health is restored, and the keys from which to open locked doors. Fine management of those, along with knowing when to fight and when to run from enemies are often the make or break of a potentially deadly scenario.
One of the biggest and most obvious changes now is also in regards the fantastic visual redesign. With the game coming from the same engine as Resident Evil 7, everything from the film-like cutscenes, to the high-quality character models and even down to the finer details like the blood splatter within the corridors and on enemies, looks absolutely phenomenal, truly reinvigorating what is essentially a 20-year old game. In fact, had I not played the original all those years ago, there’s no way you’d even consider this a remake of such an old game as everything you see and play is entirely reworked. Throw in the fluid controls and movement from both the playable characters and the enemies, and this remake puts many of the latest triple-A blockbusters to shame.
Being such a big Resident Evil fan though, there’s rarely been a time over the years I’ve been found to complain about the games; I was even happy to let go the rather ambiguous design choices that went into Resident Evil 6. One thing that has always irritated me though was the limited shooting angles from the original titles, and no matter how much I played them, I was never comfortable being able to only aim, above, below, or directly in front of me. This however is yet another of the many areas in which improved features have been implemented and I can say Capcom have got it absolutely right.
The gunplay in Resident Evil 2 on Xbox One is that brilliant that now it’s entirely possible to line up your shot to ensure every bullet you fire hits the target, provided you have the time and patience to do so. There are 11 weapons within the game and each of them have their own way of firing, but unlike the original, players aren’t limited to set shooting angles. Utilising full mobility whilst aiming and taking advantage of a crosshair this time around allows you to be more accurate. This means players can now choose where in the body to attack targets and with the new limb damage, can even use a few bullets to disable enemies rather than kill them; legs, arms, and heads can be shot off courtesy of a few well-placed rounds.
The last thing I want to mention before we wrap things up is that Resident Evil 2 isn’t simply a one-and-done game. After you’ve completed your first playthrough, there are always plenty of reasons to jump back in again providing an unlockable new-game+ type mode as well as the 4th Survivor Mode in which players play as Umbrella’s Agent Hunk with limited resources, attempting to reach the Raccoon City Police Station from the sewers. Complete that though and fan favourite Tofu returns with Tofu Mode available for those that master everything else thrown at them.
All in all and it has to be said that the Resident Evil 2 remake is a pure masterclass in game design. It’s not your typical slapped together port with a few extra textures, or a fresh lick of pain, and instead it shows exactly what can be achieved when a developer puts in the time, effort, and care to bring fans what they truly want. With ingenious puzzles, enjoyable gunplay and a captivating story to get stuck into, Resident Evil 2 shows just what has been missing from the survival horror genre in recent years and with the graphical prowess creating some truly frightening environments, this is one game that will live long in the memories of both newcomers and veteran horror enthusiasts.
In fact, it may well change the shape of the survival horror genre for years to come.