I had never played the original Resident Evil 2, so my expectations going into the remake were low but hopeful. With multiple modernized touch ups and quality of life enhancements, a 1:1 transition from original to remastered this ain’t, but what’s been lost from the old school has been gained with an excellent take on a well-established entry in the Resident Evil series. A welcome surprise was how Resident Evil 2 (mostly) avoids the folly of other horror games within the last few years: Leave all the scares to loud noises alone and make it a poorly disguised action game. Make no mistake that the game does have its segments of action, but it does so without losing sight of its original objective in being tense, exciting and worthy of repeated playthroughs.
The first major change that’ll be noticed is the lack of the traditional overhead, locked camera angles and the inclusion of over the shoulder perspective/controls; essentially the norm with the series since Resident Evil 4. While this makes the player far more effective in combat, it does mean that in snug rooms and hallways that things become more claustrophobic, doubly so when enemies are within grabbing distance. Meandering through Raccoon City’s fallen police station is deliciously tense, with lighting and sound design going a long way to ensure the place is creepy - Not in the typical sense as skin-crawling, but in the sense of having you wonder if you’re in fact alone in a room - Or if you’ll still be alone on the next pass. Zombies are gross and unsettling to look at, but it’s not their appearance that’ll get to many players, it’s the zombies you CAN’T see but can hear that’ll get to you. Hearing sluggish steps and grumbling growls but not seeing the source of those noises ran my blood cold more often than I’d care to count. The game makes zombies a frightening concept again despite being lumbering cannon fodder.
This being a survival horror jaunt, it’s par for the course that ammunition and healing supplies will be tight across your playthrough, and even with the sharper combat, Leon and Claire aren’t experienced gunslingers. For most weapons, one must pause while aiming for the reticle to shrink in order to land a precise shot, otherwise it can land anywhere within the aimed zone. With that said, you can and you will miss those valuable headshots, even on the shamblers. The slight bob and weave they do will be just enough to throw you off, nevermind when there’s other dangers approaching. This leads immediately to my first issue in that zombies seemingly take a random amount of damage before they’re downed for good, plus the randomness for landing a critical headshot (head bursting). Other enemy types make it pretty clear when they’re down and out, but run of the mill zombies don’t have the same clarity unless their head has popped. While I agree that not knowing if a zombie isn’t done for good raises tension, to walk by and suddenly find that your characters’ leg is being munched is irksome more than anything else. There’ll be plenty of jumpy moments to fill the quota of scares, but Resident Evil 2 is more intimidating with its scares than being a in-your-face annoyance; a shrieking licker is enough to rattle anyone, but it's their flighty speed barreling towards you at full tilt that’s more frightening. A sub-boss marching its massive self towards you down a hallway while zombies are ready to get grabby has a knack for raising the heart rate.
Coming off the tails of Resident Evil 7, 2 also looks fantastic across the presentation board (even if Claire resembles little of her old incarnation). The only real grating thing about the game’s presentation is the voice-acting for the cast, those including the protagonists Leon and Claire. While the characters are fine, many of the actors come off as they were directed to read their lines dramatically but not within the context/emotion of the scene. I hesitate to use the word ‘camp’, but if anything, hearing the protagonists utter curses and complaints when aiming at a zombie is at best humorous and at worst silly. My heaviest issue comes with Chief Irons’ depiction of being a creepy, violent abuser who has nothing in terms of redeeming qualities as a villain - A character designed to be a bad guy but not the kind that’s fun to boo. On the opposite end of that spectrum, seeing Ada back in action during Leon’s campaign as a super cool secret agent was a delight, especially in the brief time you get to play her… But having to go through a dull, out of place stealth section in Claire’s campaign on the other hand was something I could’ve gone without.
The map mechanic of marking passed items for later retrieval goes to show that, along with the other modern touch ups controls, that this isn’t a simple repainting of an original for the turn of a quick buck. It looks great, sounds great (sans voice acting) and plays great. With optional puzzles leading to inventory expansions and much-needed supplies, there’s a regular sense of progression even if you’ll spend a good bit of time getting Racoon City’s station layout learned. The initial scare factor does wane with future playthroughs, but I’ve already begun my third romp through the game and it’s still plenty enjoyable, especially as my skills sharpen. There’s also an assisted difficulty setting for those who need it (more of that please, devs!), alleviating a good chunk of the challenge since, near the end game, things can get rather rough. For those who enjoy horror games or shooters at a slower pace, this rendition of Resident Evil 2 gets my definite recommendation.