Take me down to Raccoon City
After the bombastic Resident Evil 6 nearly killed the franchise, we’re starting to see a resurgence of the series.
While going back to the tried-and-true original with an HD remake is an almost guaranteed home run, Capcom also managed to follow up nostalgia with innovation in Resident Evil 7. The series is in a good spot is what I’m saying, and now the Resident Evil 2 remaster can join its ranks.
Resident Evil 2 (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Capcom R&D Division 1
Released: January 25, 2019
This isn’t just a touched-up re-release, it’s a full-on recreation of the original game. Some character models look completely beefed up (or in Mr. X’s case, morphed into a beefcake), a few sport interesting aesthetic changes, but nearly all of the alterations are for the better. Environmental touches like more dramatic lighting are standard fare, adding more urgency to some of the game’s myriad tense moments, but creepier enemy patterns are more nuanced. It’s all thanks to the decision to use the relatively recent Resident Evil 7‘s engine as a canvas.
The entire setup is also ripe for revisiting. Leon, a green recruit of the Raccoon City police force, and the equally capable Claire are still quite the duo. There’s still some cheese, sure (I love seeing Leon yell “get off him” at a crazed lunatic who’s in the process of biting someone’s neck off), but it’s toned down a bit as Capcom severely pumped up the gore and horror factor, propped up by the updated sheen.
The police station, much like the classic mansion in the original, also deserves a special mention as a character in and of itself. It manages to open up without getting too ridiculous (shotgunning wolves in an open tundra in Revelations was a bit much) and still present plenty of labyrinthine tunnels when it needs to. It’s creepier thanks to the engine change, and it most definitely benefits from Capcom’s decision to wait over 20 years to remaster it rather than the alternative: a stop-gap project a few generations ago.
Not everything needed to be updated though. I still adore the built-in tension and overall philosophy of the Resident Evil series, which rewards prudence, thriftiness, and exploration. That latter bit is key as you’ll really need to take in your surroundings like a hawk. Did you remember that one hallway that has a door that needs bolt cutters to get through two hours after it’s relevant? I hope so, or you’ll be doing a lot of wandering, even with the semi-useful markings on the in-game map. Resident Evil has always awarded vigilance and this remaster continues that worthy legacy.
While I don’t necessarily mind the fixed camera angles or tank controls of old, modern concessions that eliminate both ultimately help Resident Evil 2. Useless items are marked, so you can safely dispose of them. Multiple zombies can overpower you and knock you to the ground dynamically. The new engine is transformative: seeing a crawling zombie with no face (that you just shot off) is a spectacle.
There are a few tradeoffs. Running animations are a little stiff, especially when juxtaposed to other elements of locomotion. Zombie grabs are a bit static and repetitive as well (they tend to always grab with pinpoint accuracy and hold on a little too long), even if they look visually impressive. There’s also a strangely low amount of zombie models present: to the point where you’ll see the same few faces every 10-15 minutes. You could chalk this up to the fact that they’re undying folk, but it does get a little silly witnessing the same exact dude shambling toward you after blowing another clone’s face off moments before.
These are minor gripes: the world subsequently feels more alive and functionally impressive. This is mainly the same gist and location beats (which I won’t ruin here just in case, even if the game is two decades old), and the slight alterations to the story make for a better-paced, more horror-driven experience.
While some may lament the removal of the “zapping” concept of the original, I don’t really miss it here. Now there are two clear cut-campaigns to tackle, which can either be played by Leon or Claire. Options are the name of the game, as you’ll unlock a “New Game [2nd Run]” with changes after the first completion (which took me roughly five and a half hours). There’s also another hardcore difficulty (ink ribbons required for saving, no autosaves, and enemies are stronger) and more extras in the form of 4th Survivor (a mini-scenario with Hunk and fixed items) and a Tofu jaunt.
It’s interesting as you’re butting against the same exact linear pathway filled to the brim with enemies, but slowly learning and adapting the most optimal way to use items and dodge pratfalls (beat my time! It’s 10:39). After that, it’s onto the harder joke mode with Tofu on (basically) the same journey, just with knives-only. Between that and hardcore mode, stalwart fans of the original who are worried about the remaster being overly streamlined should be sated.
My complaints about the Resident Evil 2 remaster are minimal. An argument could be made that Capcom could have done more, but the spirit of the original has been preserved and in many cases, enhanced. I hope every legacy game in the series gets this loving treatment, as I’ll probably be playing them for the rest of my life.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]