The original Resident Evil, or Biohazard as its referred to elsewhere, was an unexpected hit for Capcom, but like Street Fighter and Mega Man before it, Resident Evil never became a franchise until its sequel, Resident Evil 2, dropped in early 1998 and proved that this new genre affectionately referred to as “survival horror” was here to stay. In the twenty-one years since the release of Resident Evil 2, it’s still heralded as one of the best entries in the entire series that now has nine mainline entries, countless spin-offs, remakes, and feature length animated films. Because of it’s lineage, when it was announced in 2015 that Capcom was remaking Resident Evil 2, it was an announcement that was met with both excitement and worry. Capcom had shown they could take something old and make it new again as seen in the brilliant 2002 remake of Resident Evil originally released for the GameCube, but what does a reimagining of Resident Evil 2 look like in this decade? Now over three years since its unveiling, Resident Evil 2 is finally in the hands of players, and like Resident Evil (2002), it’s an exceptional game that not only manages to honor the legacy of one of the best games ever made, but surpass it as well.
Like the 1998 title originally released on the PlayStation, in Resident Evil 2, players take on the role of one of two characters. The first is Leon S. Kennedy, a rookie police officer on his way to his first day at the RPD. The second is Claire Redfield, the sister of Chris Redfield from the first game who arrive in the mid-western town of Raccoon City only to find it swarming with legions of zombies. Both protagonists seek shelter in the Raccoon City police department where they look for a means to escape while uncovering the circumstances behind the apocalypse while defending themselves with limited resources from the twisted creations of the Umbrella Corporation. The story of Resident Evil 2 does a great job of honoring the original game while also further fleshing out characters that had very little lines in the original like police officer Marvin Branagh and one of the conspirators behind the creation of the virus that has led to the zombie outbreak. While there is a “2” in the title, this is also a great entry point for those who chose to make this their first Resident Evil experience as it excludes even the recap that kicked-off the original with the only thread to the debut entry being Claire’s familial relationship and the S.T.A.R.S team. All the player needs to know is that there was an incident, zombies are hungry for your flesh and it’s up to you to survive.
Resident Evil was once defined by its tank controls, pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles, but as the years have gone by, the series has evolved much like Umbrella’s creations to a more traditional, third-person camera style or even a first-person one like in the last entry, 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. In terms of perspective and control, Resident Evil 2 has the most in common with the fourth, fifth and six entries, however that doesn’t mean that you can expect to easily shoot your way through threats or that this remake is any less terrifying than what the original was over two decades ago. Guns can be upgraded with new attachments, ammo can both be found and crafted, and in a series first you can combine red and blue herbs for a temporary buff, but even common zombies refuse to drop after multiple blows to the head and are perhaps the most dangerous they’ve ever been in the entire series. Don’t expect to be able to run to the safety of another room or return to a room you once cleared to find it still empty. Zombies will chase you from room to room and when at all possible, it’s best to run away from them should you not have a consumable defensive item like a knife or grenade. A new item in the game allows you to board up select windows to keep them from flooding in, but by the time you eventually get around to keeping them out, they’re already crowding the already claustrophobic hallways of the RPD.
Similarly, old tactics for dealing with other monstrosities like the grotesque Lickers with their sharp claws and exposed brain, zombie dogs and the hulking Tyrant, Mr. X, no longer apply. When you see a Licker, you hold your breath, walk quietly as you can and pray that none of your body brushes up against it for fear or hearing its terrifying scream. One sound you’ll come to dread are the heavy stomps of Mr. X. Hearing them means you better get ready to run and pray that there’s nothing in front of you, especially a Licker. Mr. X’s unrelenting hunt for you is both one of the best and worst parts of Resident Evil 2, as his presence, whether you can hear him or not, creates a sense of dread likened to the Nemesis or the Baker family from chapter seven, but you’ll curse his disrespect of your need to simply move a book shelf to advance upstairs. Mr. X has one single mission and cares little for your need to solve a puzzle.
One of the best parts of the 2002 remake of Resident Evil was how it used the basic blueprint of its location but moved around item locations and added new sections that made it such that even veterans couldn’t trust their own memory and that applies here too. The RPD has been stunningly recreated using the power of the engine that was used to make Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and when you’re not panicking or running for your life, you’ll marvel at rooms you became intimately familiar with should you have fond memories of the original game, that is, when the meager light of your flashlight allows you to soak in those details. The RPD is just as much a character as Leon, Claire and the few other survivors they encounter and the team who crafted this game understood that. New paths, rearranged item locations, new puzzles, an extra top level and sections outside of the police department that are near unrecognizable from what they were before or are completely new bring back the thrill of exploration the Resident Evil series was once known for and there’s a joy that comes from repeating runs as you come equipped with the solutions to puzzles you previously didn’t have and seek the best route to shave down your previous best times.
Upon booting up the game, you can choose to play as either Leon or Claire, and while each character will meet characters the other won’t, explore new areas or come at places from different routes, there’s a greater sense of repetition in the proceedings than what was present in the original game. Upon completion of either character’s campaign, you’ll unlock a B scenario just like in the original where you’ll begin the game at a different starting point, but most everything else save the conclusion is the same. More so than uncovering more plot, the B scenarios are meant to challenge you as they feature less items, rearrange items and change how you come up certain puzzles, which if fine, but about the only place his remake of Resident Evil 2 pales in comparison to the original is how unspecial the companion campaigns feel.
The unlockable B scenarios offer a greater challenge than what you get from what’s initially available to you, but if things get too tough or if you want to make this game have the rules of the original, there are optional difficulties such that you can experience Resident Evil 2 however you wish. Should you just want to soak in the tension and atmosphere, there’s an easy difficulty that will allow you to kill enemies using fewer bullets and your character will heal themselves to a certain extent too. On the opposite spectrum of that is hardcore mode which eliminates the ability to continue found in the easy and normal difficulties, locking saves and retries behind ink ribbons like in the classic series while also making enemies tougher. For those who master hardcore, optional mini scenarios unlock as well where you’ll be tasked with running through a large portion of the game with a set load out using fan favorite character, Hunk, and the loveable joke character Tofu who comes equipped with nothing but knives.
Resident Evil 2 is everything a remake should be, respecting the original game while also giving those who have ran through the RPD dozens of times over the past few decades a fresh take on a game they cherish while similarly opening up the series to a whole new generation of players. Even with a fully loaded arsenal and a healing item or two, you’ll never feel truly safe from the hordes of zombies and other monsters that lurk in the halls of one of the most iconic locations ever crafted for a video game. Between Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and now this game, Resident Evil as a franchise hasn’t created a palpable sense of terror in what feels like years, making Resident Evil 2 not only better than the original, but up there with the best of the rest of the series as well. Whether the action heavy focus the series took over the past few years has turned you away or you were turned off by the awkward controls in the early entries, Resident Evil 2 is the game to either rekindle your love of the series or finally experience what others have been in love with all this time.
Resident Evil 2 is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on a Playstation 4 copy of the game purchased by the writer. Purchases are available here.
Resident Evil 2
- Brilliant reinvention of a classic location
- Permeating sense of terror.
- Great for new comers and long time fans of the series
- The best zombies in any Resident Evil
- Mr. X cares little for your need to solve a puzzle
- Repetition found in B scenarios