Resident Evil 2 Review – There was an incident…involving…zombies
For as long as I can remember, whenever I’ve been asked to name my favourite game, without hesitation I’ve responded “Resident Evil 2.”
My love for this 21-year old PS1 title is part nostalgia, part fandom and (most importantly) all about the incredible game design. Resident Evil 2 was THE game I played every weekend. It was the game I finished over and over, just because I could.
It was a masterclass in world building, in intricate 3D Metroidvania — long before Metroid Prime — and most importantly it was both hilarious and terrifying. At 13-years old, Resident Evil 2 was the epitome of why I loved video games.
It’s remained that way for my entire life. But after 21-years, Resident Evil 2 has been dethroned as my favourite game of all time by none other than… Resident Evil 2.
Resident Evil 2 Review
Capcom first remade the original Resident Evil for Nintendo’s Gamecube in 2002. It was only six years after the release of the original, but the improvements were mind-blowing. New areas, incredible visuals and updated gameplay made one of the best game’s ever even better.
Fans assumed that Resident Evil 2 would soon follow suit, however, it was not to be. Capcom re-released Resident Evil 2 over the years for a variety of platforms, but it was always a simple port of the original.
No updates, no improvements.
The exception to this was the game’s release on N64 which included some additional notes and lore. Obviously, fans lapped it up, but the widely recognised ‘best-game-in-the-series’ was sadly overlooked for a full remake.
To coincide with the 20th anniversary of Resident Evil, Capcom finally acquiesced and announced the remake. It would be another three long years before more was unveiled and then another seven months before its release. Let me say right now; it’s been more than worth the wait.
Resident Evil 2 is absolutely incredible. It somehow retains every single bit of the original’s spirit while at the same time feeling current, vital and fresh. It’s a staggering achievement and one that continues to astound me the more I play.
A Little from Scenario A, a little from Scenario B
Resident Evil was a series that staunchly held onto conventions for a long, long time. Resident Evil 5 still featured tank controls and while Resident Evil 6 did away with them, it was a nightmare for a whole barrel of other reasons.
Resident Evil 2 does not feature tank controls but it does have reverence for the series’ history. Much of the layout and environments in Resident Evil 2 are about as 1:1 as they can be; enemies look and sound like they should and obtuse puzzles, scarce ammo and magical herbs are all accounted for.
This is all just window dressing though and while it helps to create the atmosphere of Resident Evil 2, the real magic is in how Capcom recaptured the spirit of the original. Playing Resident Evil 2 on PS4 feels just like it did playing it on PS1, but it also feels totally unique and much, much better at the same time.
It’s a tricky feeling to convey. Somehow, this remake both modernises and flawlessly recreates the original game in a way I’ve not ever encountered before. Fans of the original 1998 game will know what I’m talking about as soon as they boot it up. Sure, waves of nostalgia can help release that dopamine and serotonin hit, but I have to believe there’s more at play here. If this Resident Evil 2 didn’t feel like the original, I’d be able to tell and I would be annoyingly vocal about it.
Instead, I’m going to be annoyingly vocal about the amazing job Capcom has done of transfiguring a forced perspective, awkward controlling classic game flawlessly into a 2019 masterpiece.
Tanks for the Memories
While you now have full control of your characters, elements of tank controls remain. First and foremost is the accuracy mechanic – a masterstroke of game design and one that I suspect many other titles may adopt in the future.
Essentially, when you aim down the sights while moving your reticle will stay wide. If you remain motionless, like you were forced to be in the original, your reticle will gradually contract until you have a much more accurate (and occasionally powerful) shot. It perfectly evokes the feeling and anxiety of being rooted to the spot in the original, while giving you the freedom to move. Genius!
Second, is the quick turn. An absolute requirement in the days of tank controls, the ability to make an instant 180 is still very useful today. You don’t need to use it, but I found myself doing it instinctually and to great effect, which only helped strengthen Resident Evil 2’s ties to the original and feel ‘right.’
Like the original, Resident Evil 2 features two playable characters. You can opt to play as either Claire Redfield or Leon S. Kennedy and then tackle the game from the other character’s perspective to unravel the entire story. Unfortunately, unlike the original, decisions you make and items you collect don’t affect the other playthrough.
In the original Resident Evil 2, should Leon take the expanded item pouch, Claire was unable to grab it when she made her way through the same area. As Resident Evil 2 has been modernised, this idea no longer works in the same context. Now, players collect a number of item pouches to upgrade their inventory throughout the game. Similarly, each character has access to a number of weapons, so being able to use one at the expense of the other character isn’t necessary.
The lack of this feature is less a complaint and more something I noticed that differs between the two. Resident Evil 2‘s remake obviously has had to make a multitude of changes, so some things from the 1998 original were always going to be cut. Conversely, Resident Evil 2 also includes a lot of all-new content, most of which is great though there are some less than stellar additions and one that I eventually loathed.
The Tyrant, otherwise known as Mr X.
The Tyrant and Resident Evil go together like Jill and Chris or Leon and Claire. He’s the series’ ultimate (monster) enemy, with Wesker being the obvious overall champion of baddies. In Resident Evil 2, the Tyrant arrives on the scene and, like a prototype Nemesis, hunts you until you put him down.
These moments were scripted and happen semi-regularly throughout the game until you eventually had a showdown in the Umbrella Labs. Mr X was a terrifying addition to Resident Evil 2 who became less so over time as you knew when he was going to appear. To prevent players from becoming accustomed to Mr X, in the remake, he stalks you like the Xenomorph in Alien Isolation. He’s always searching, waiting and listening.
If he hears a gunshot or a zombie scream too loudly, he comes charging for you and your best bet is to run. You have the option to unload your weapons into his face (and earn yourself a trophy by knocking his hat off) but by the time he’s down, you will have wasted way too much ammo. That said, on the lowest difficulty, shooting him is viable, but on Standard and Hardcore, you should always run away.
I’ll admit, at first it was thrilling to hear his footsteps echoing throughout the police station. Trying to figure out where he was and avoid making too much noise so as to not attract him. After a while though, Mr X simply becomes a nuisance; even if you down him, he only stays that way for a few minutes and then he’s back on your tail. He somehow always manages to be where you don’t want him to be. While this should add to the horror it ultimately ruins the pacing of the game.
I understand the idea behind this new Mr X but rather than adding a dynamic element to the game, it only derails it. Eventually, the initial fear of him is lost and instead of feeling like a part of the game and story, he just feels like an oddity, like he doesn’t quite belong. It is one of the few instances during which I would have preferred the original’s design choice.
Thankfully, the section of Resident Evil 2 that features Mr X is short. Just like my patience whenever he rocks up.
Also, I think that Leon’s redesign is awful and I hate the way he looks and sounds, but what are you gonna do, I had it my way for 21-years and I’m not partial to change. I’m sure everyone else will think it’s great, but I’m just a stubborn old man yelling at the clouds.
Before Resident Evil 4, gunplay in the series had you essentially aiming your gun in the enemy’s general direction and letting rip. Thankfully, Resident Evil 2 returns to the over-the-shoulder, 3rd person gunplay we’ve come to know and expect.
Unlike other games though, aiming in Resident Evil 2 is really unforgiving. In addition to the ADS (aiming down the sights) mechanic mentioned earlier, there’s absolutely no aim-assist on Standard or Hardcore difficulties. There’s also a tonne of weapon sway and getting your shots to land in the right spot is really quite a lot tougher than your standard 3rd-person shooter.
And this is a great thing. Resident Evil has always been about stacking the odds against you. You’ve always been confronted with too many enemies, that take far more bullets than you can afford to use. Here, ammo is more plentiful, but only because you’re likely to miss a lot of shots. After a time you’ll get your eye in, but expect to still miss plenty of shots. Those pesky zombies and lickers don’t really like to stand still for you.
As for the classic Resident Evil monsters and other enemies? They’re disgusting, scary and absolutely perfect. Zombies have been done to death these days, but Resident Evil 2 still manages to make them frightening. The way they lunge after you, grab you, scream in your face and be a general menace is great. And like the first Resident Evil remake, RE2 includes sub-weapons so you can push your attackers off you in style.
Should a zombie (or anything else) grab you from the front and you have a sub-weapon equipped, just hit L1 when the prompt appears and you’ll either knife them or shove a grenade in their mouth. If it’s a flashbang, they and everything else, are blinded for a few seconds. If it’s explosive, well…bye, bye head.
If enemies grab you from behind however, well then you’re screwed and you’ll just have to eat the damage.
The overall presentation of Resident Evil 2 is stellar and definitely show how much work has gone into this remake. The level of detail must be seen to be believed. Exploring the police station, the lab and the sewers, I was often side-tracked by just looking around and taking it all in.
The same can be said of the audio. I played with headphones, in the dark, which is how I’d recommend it unless you have a weak heart or something.
Groans, footsteps, the click of a licker’s claw, all of it came at me directionally and all of it made me soil myself. Guns pack a loud and meaty punch and the soundtrack is the stuff of nightmares. For those who want that classic experience, you’re also able to select the original game’s sounds. It’s totally worth it.
I’m not sure what else can be said about Resident Evil 2. It’s a damn near flawless remake and a damn near flawless video game. I’ve played and finished it seven times prior to writing this review and I plan on finishing it many, many more. It’s scary, engaging, addictive and a whole lot of fun.
If you want to start your gaming year off right, play Resident Evil 2. It’s my favourite game of all time and might be the best one ever made.
Resident Evil 2 was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by Capcom.
Game title: Resident Evil 2
Incredibly Faithful to the Original - 10/10
The New Standard for Remakes - 10/10
Old School Game, Modern Day Gaming - 10/10
Scary as all Fuck - 10/10
Pitch Perfect Pacing - 10/10
Tyrant is a Nuisance and only adds Frustration - 6.5/10
Ridiculously Replayable - 10/10