I remember being nine-years-old and seeing Resident Evil 2 among the new releases at Wal-Mart. I don’t know exactly what drew me to it, as I had never played a horror game before. Something inside of me just knew I had to have it. That January day in 1998 I took a fresh copy of RE2 and the unofficial Prima guide — the one with the creepy Van Gogh looking zombie on the cover — home with me and entered the world of survival horror for the first time.
Resident Evil 2 is one of my top games of all time. I played it during an especially tough time in my life. My father had just passed away, and I was emotionally raw. The game scared the bejeezus out of me. I had to hide the guide underneath a dresser because that damn zombie creeped me out so much, only pulling it out when I needed a crucial clue.
But, even though RE2 gave me plenty of nightmares, it also helped me. The fear of zombies and Lickers enabled me to forget the much more immediate concern of life without my father. That’s the gift of horror games and movies. It’s a warped form of escapism that puts our real fears in perspective, and I’ll always love Resident Evil 2 for this reason.
When I heard the news that there was finally going to be a Resident Evil 2 remake I was ecstatic. Over the years I’ve come to love the rest of the series, even the weaker entries, but RE2 is where it all began for me. Although I was somewhat nervous that somehow the magic of the original would be lost, reviewing this reimagining of Resident Evil 2 has been an absolute pleasure, and this game marks a real return to the series roots.
Resident Evil 2 remake review | Tragedy in Raccoon City
The premise of RE2R is the same as the first. Leon Kennedy is the latest addition to the Raccoon City Police Department. Even after being warned by his superiors to steer clear of his first assignment, he drives into Raccoon City to see if he can make a difference. He crosses paths with Claire Redfield, college student and motorcycle enthusiast, who is looking for her brother and one of the main characters of RE1, Chris Redfield.
The two wind up in Raccoon City surrounded by zombies and other horrors created as a result of the nefarious actions of the Umbrella Corporation. Along the way, Leon meets Ada Wong, a woman who claims to be an FBI agent investigating Umbrella, and Claire meets Sherry, a little girl who has somehow survived the horror, but who is more connected to its origin than anyone would guess.
The path our two heroes take through the Resident Evil 2 remake is significantly different from that in the original, but the story hits many of the same points in one form or another. The most important fact for fans of the original is that nothing has been removed. All the characters you know are here, and many of their roles have expanded.
Resident Evil 2 remake review | Reimagining the World of Survival Horror
But the Resident Evil 2 remake isn’t just a remaster with added content. It would be easy to get that image in your head since that’s how Capcom handled the remake of the original Resident Evil in 2002. Instead, this is a from-the-ground-up reimagining. Every single bit of the original has been changed in one way or another.
There’s plenty of familiar territory in Resident Evil 2 remake, no doubt, but by necessity, no location in the game retains the exact same look as its original counterpart. Some purists might think this is a bad thing, but there was no other way to make this game. The original used pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles, so whole swaths of locations were just never in view. It’s weird to think of just how much of the RPD, Sewers, and Labs we didn’t see in the original, and how much was filled in with our imagination.
Because of the limited view of the original’s fixed cameras pretty much the whole game had to be redesigned to some extent. All those places that were out of sight before now needed to have just as much attention paid to them as the ones that were out in the open due to the decision to use a third-person, freely-rotating camera. As a result, even the areas that closely follow the design of the original game feel new.
The higher fidelity imagery also adds a lot of details that we never got to see in the original. A lot of areas in the original allowed you to examine them to get flavor text like, “The desk is disorganized and untidy. It probably reflects the owner’s personality.” Now, though, you get to see that type of thing instead of just reading commentary on it by the characters. The whole game is peppered with little details that make it feel more real. For example, the RPD’s walls are decked in missing person posters, departmental awards, cork boards with memos, and it just adds to the illusion of being in a besieged police station.
Resident Evil 2 remake review | Something old, something new
Although many areas are similar to their counterparts from the original game, there are a massive amount of additions, tweaks, and twists that come with Resident Evil 2 remake. Some locations have been moved, items may do things they didn’t do in the original, or be used in different ways. Puzzles are also all-new, so even if you find yourself in a familiar situation, you’ll see that knowledge of the first game doesn’t always translate into knowing what to do in the remake.
The remake expands each location in the original game considerably. The RPD gets a whole third level added to it, a more extensive basement, and more. The sewers are now more than just a brief stopover and are a key location in their own right. You’ll also get to see more of the streets of Raccoon City than you did in the original game. Besides familiar areas, there are also entirely new locations that have been added that you’ll visit during your journey.
There are a few places that have been removed, though you probably won’t even miss them the first time through the game. I don’t want to drop spoilers and ruin anyone’s exploration experience, so I won’t name what these areas are. I will say that the geography makes more sense with one of them gone, and at least one section of another canon Resident Evil game now makes a hell of a lot more sense.
The most important thing about the new environmental design is that I didn’t feel like I was missing anything from the original after I was done with Resident Evil 2 remake. The locations Resident Evil 2 takes place in are as much a part of the cast as Ada, Sherry, or Annette, and I feared that something significant would be cut or changed in a way that would negatively impact the game. Surprisingly, Capcom somehow managed to translate the game into a fully 3D world without leaving anything important out.
Resident Evil 2 remake review | The face of evil
We haven’t seen classic zombies in Resident Evil since before Resident Evil 4 debuted, so I was really wondering how they’d pull them off. In the third-person RE games, we’ve always had zombies that for one reason or another retained enough intelligence to allow them to use weapons or work as a group. I genuinely wondered if they could implement those classic, dumb zombies in 3D without making them feel toothless. After all, a big part of what made them so threatening in the original game was the fixed camera angles and tank controls.
I’m glad to report that RE2R‘s zombies are even more threatening than the ones in the original. For one, they’re tougher. They can take a whole handgun magazine in the chest, and you might make them fall over, but they’ll be coming back for more.
Because zombies soak up ammo, you have to be more strategic when combating them. A lone zombie in an area can be a major block to your advancement. They hit harder than in the original, but you also have more choice on how to deal with them. You can lure them out of an area and run past them. If you can’t do that, you can handicap them by blasting off one of their legs, since with this game zombies are fully dismemberable. Of course, if you’re feeling your inner Dirty Harry, you can also fell them with one melon-splitting magnum headshot.
What adds even more to the feeling of horror that zombies, and other enemies, bring is the gore system in Resident Evil 2 remake. Each gunshot, explosion, or knife swipe takes out a big chunk of your enemy wherever it hits. Blast a zombie in the face with a shotgun, and you might be rewarded brain matter flying everywhere, or if you’re unlucky you might just have peeled off the meat and now have a grinning skull lunging toward your throat.
One place that RE2R really improves on RE7 is the enemy variety. Besides a few minor enemies, all the monsters from the original return, albeit some in different forms. While some are just a graphical improvement over their original versions, they all have new weak spots and behaviors that take advantage of the new 3D gameplay. Lickers, for example, are blind and hunt based on hearing. This was a facet in the original, but given their improved lethality in the remake, stealthing past these long-tongued monsters is a smart tactic.
Resident Evil 2 remake review | They call me Mr. X
I just got done talking about enemies, but there’s one in particular that stood out as an absolute menace. Tyrant T-103, a.k.a. Mr. X returns in the Resident Evil 2 remake as an even more intimidating enemy. In the original game, he’d appear during each character’s B scenario and was imposing there. However, he was also predictable. After getting over the shock of him bursting through a wall or slowly walking down the corridor at you, it wasn’t hard to realize that if you just go through a door, then he’d leave you alone until the next time you triggered him to pop out.
I rarely feel any panic in games. After all, how often is there actually something actively fighting against you in games? In the majority of games the AI just reacts to you entering an area, you kill or slip past them, and that’s the end of it. In Resident Evil 2 remake Mr. X is no joke. Mr. X doesn’t care about all that passive mess. He wants to kill you, and he is going to follow you until he does it.
The first time I met him, I was genuinely panicked. I knew where I had to go, but that relentless thudding as you hear him closing in on you makes it hard to think. The RPD forms many loops, so you do have a chance to evade him, but it’s easy to get pushed into a bad situation. You may have to slip into a corridor with a Licker or several zombies and try your luck with some enemies you can snake past or takedown.
While he may be relentless, you can outpace Mr. X. He’s sensitive to sound, so if you avoid firing your gun, step lightly, and don’t slam through doors, it’ll take longer for him to track you. For me, this was somehow worse than him just thundering after me. Sneaking down the desolate corridors, filled with the creaking of wooden boards punctuated by the moans of the undead all the while listening to his footsteps getting closer, then further, then closer is nerve-wracking. This is survival horror, this is what Resident Evil is all about, and RE2R captures it spectacularly.
The good part, though, is that Mr. X doesn’t overstay his welcome. The parts where he chases you are thrilling without becoming unfair and frustrating.
Resident Evil 2 remake review | Save one bullet for yourself
The transition to 3D could have been a bad one for Resident Evil 2. The original game gives the illusion of 3D, but really all the action takes place on one plane, with some limited interaction above and below the player. The thing that made the gunplay difficult and exciting in the original was the awkward controls, obscured vision, and spongey enemies.
All the controls and combat of the original RE2 had to be thrown out the window for the remake. The transition to the third-person camera makes things a lot more complicated. The perspective is now over-the-shoulder and plays more like RE4, 5, and 6 than it does RE2. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking RE2R is an action game.
The devs have taken a system that could have led to a more traditional third-person shooter feel and tweaked it to retain the horror feel. The most crucial step they took was when it comes to aiming your weapon. RE2R requires a bit more time than your standard third-person shooter for your character to take aim. If you aim and immediately fire, the spread will be so wide you likely won’t hit anything, even if it’s right in front of you.
Instead, each weapon has its own quirks when it comes to aiming right. If you don’t want to waste your very limited supply of bullets you need to stand your ground and take your time between each shot. As you play the game more, you’ll start to get down the nuances of each gun, and you’ll start getting the muscle memory down to fire right at the moment when your character has steadied themselves.
All but one of the weapons from the original game return in RE2R, and you can find upgrade parts for each throughout the game to enhance their abilities. You may be upset to hear that one weapon was cut, but I assure you, it sucked, and no one liked it. To make up for it, the Spark Shot and Flamethrower are actually useful this time around, and I found that every weapon for both Claire and Leon had its utility.
RE2R manages to introduce an entirely new method of control and gunplay while still retaining the overall feel of the original. This is an area that was really make-or-break for the spirit of the game, and I’m impressed that Capcom was able to pull it off.
Resident Evil 2 Remake review | Bonus round
To complete both Leon and Claire’s scenarios the first time took me around 11 hours. I already knew the general layout of the RPD, minus the additions, from the original game and the demo, and went through at a relatively brisk pace. Contrary to early reports, however, A/B scenarios are still in the game. This time around they’re called 1st and 2nd runs, and the differences between them are a bit more negligible than in the original. However, I still found it fun to take each character through both of their scenarios.
Besides the 1st and 2nd run scenarios, there’s a host of other unlockables available as well. The “Records” section gives you a checklist of tasks to complete, for which you’ll be rewarded with models for the model viewer, concept art, weapons, costumes, and even other modes. Hunk returns in a revamped 4th Survivor mode and you can still unlock Tofu in The Tofu Survivor as well.
You get a rank at the end of each campaign run-through as well. So, there’s a lot of fun to be had in trying to beat your times. It’s evident that the developers kept speedrunners in mind when designing the game, and one of the things I like about the new location designs is that there are a ton of optional areas that you don’t even have to visit to beat the game.
So, if you choose to take the scenic route, there’s plenty of places to visit and items to obtain that can help you in your journey. Alternatively, if you’re looking to make a record time you can skip these non-essential locations at the expense of perhaps not getting a weapon upgrade, or having to make do with less healing items or ammo.
While I was reviewing the game, I managed to get an S rank, but I’m confident there are more efficient paths to take than I did. I can’t wait to see people start speedrunning this game and see just how minimalistic you can get with a run.
I also got the good fortune to play with the retro soundtrack, and man, if you’re a fan of the original, it’s definitely worth a whole playthrough just to experience this DLC. I’m generally not one to emphasize any purchases beyond the base game, but the retro soundtrack is just nostalgia city, and still manages to blend well with the new gameplay and locations.
Resident Evil 2 remake review | The best in the series
The Resident Evil 2 remake has brought the series back to where it needs to be. This game captures the spirit of the original trilogy perfectly while also bringing to bear all the good things that came out of the later entries in the series. As a fan of the original RE2, I was blown away by how much love was poured into this remake, and I hope it’s a sign of things to come for the future of Resident Evil.
Whether you’re a long time fan or a newcomer, Resident Evil 2 remake is an absolutely fantastic game. It’s the best in the series yet and wholly outshined my most optimistic expectations. It doesn’t supersede the original, but it’s an excellent retelling, a wonderful update, and an excellent experience.
Resident Evil 2 reviewed on PS4. Code provided by publisher.