Resident Evil 2 Remake is a game blessed with an almost unfair advantage - it’s based on one of the best survival horror games ever, and one of the finest games full stop. Capcom wasn’t content to rest on its laurels though. This is a publisher and developer that’s in fine form and out for blood these days. Resident Evil 2 puts the idea of remasters to shame, delivering a top-to-bottom remake that is every bit a better game than the one it’s based upon.
The Resident Evil franchise was always a cornerstone of my clearly-too-violent childhood. Right from the moment I saw the grimy FMV of a zombie lifting his head from a corpse on the bottom floor of the Spencer Mansion, like a fat king looking up from his feast, I was hooked. It’s just about one of the most iconic game franchises in existence, although certainly guilty of straying far from what made it so great. Resident Evil 4, whilst fantastic, was the beginning of the end for the series as we knew it, transforming it into action-packed shooter series. With Resident Evil 7, Capcom brought back the horror, the adventure gaming, and the puzzle solving, and Resident Evil 2 Remake steps even further back into the cozy confines of what made this series fantastic, albeit with plenty of modern twists.
A direct sequel to Resident Evil, RE2 is set in Racoon City immediately after the outbreak of the T-virus at the nearby Spencer Mansion. Leon S. Kennedy is a cop heading in for his first day of work and Claire Redfield is looking for her brother Chris. They quickly discover all is not well in Racoon City, heading to the RCPD police headquarters in the search for help. Naturally, the situation at RCPD isn’t too pretty either, and it quickly becomes a fight for survival for Leon and Claire. You can pick either character for your first playthrough and each has a slightly different story with alternate weapons and a few location changes.
Each offers up a different route through the story and locations, although don’t go in expecting something drastically different. There’s just a few different puzzles, different routes, and a few different weapons. It’s recommended you play through one and then the other for the complete experience although I’d argue you’re not missing a great deal just playing through one.
At its heart, Resident Evil 2 is a classic adventure game, albeit with one with a murderous, terrifying core. It’s about plodding around an immensely detailed environment looking for clues, picking up objects, and solving puzzles. Find the secret emblems and solve the sliding puzzle to get a Snake Key, that sort of thing. You’ll be backtracking through the same environments umpteen times, trying out new items and gleaning new secrets. It’s a game with more Monkey Island DNA than Capcom would probably care to admit.
The most obvious change for the remake is the utterly fantastic visuals. Capcom has squeezed out plenty more juice from the RE Engine used for Resident Evil 7, delivering a loving remake that is absolutely lavished with environmental detail. The Racoon City Police Department has never looked better, provided you can look past all those rotting corpses. The claustrophobic, labyrinthine corridors of Resident Evil 2 mean Capcom has been able to adorn this environment with masterful attention to detail. Everywhere you look is packed with incidental features, breathing life and lending realism to an environment that’s not exactly conducive to reality with its kooky secret corridors and anachronistic doors that require old heart-shaped keys.
Dank puddles reflect the buzzing lights as they swing to and fro. Desks are filled with detritus and memorabilia of lives lived. It makes for a truly fascinating place to explore, comfortably making RE2 one of the best looking games you can play right now. Unfortunately, if you haven’t got plenty of VRAM in your graphics card then you may struggle with the higher resolution textures. This can affect the quality of a lot of the environmental details, such as notices on the walls or papers on the desks.
Returning players will find Capcom have added plenty to keep you on your toes. In among the new areas to explore, Capcom is also keen to play tricks on your expectations. Jump scares where it was previously utterly safe, or slight environmental changes and even new areas.
The new and improved Tyrant, or Mr. X, is probably the biggest headline-grabber. Mr. X is an overcoat-wearing terror who steadily marches towards you at all times. While I appreciate what Mr. X does mean to some people, he’s basically a walking anxiety machine that can get in the way of a good old rummage around RE2’s lavish world. This lumbering monstrosity certainly keeps players on their toes, and has a capacity to surprise, but sometimes you just want a moment to be left alone. Thankfully, this invincible killing machine, who reminds me far too much of Tomb Raider’s butler, isn’t a total ever-present, but he is a personal blip on an otherwise sublime game.
It’s the quality of life improvements that have impressed me most though, and it’s here where Capcom has really identified what made the original Resident Evil games tick and which elements should be left in the past. First and foremost, the map upgrades. This is an evolution of the updated map from Resident Evil Remake and it helps to remove the more painful elements of backtracking. Every room you go in is added to the map, or you pick up maps for entire floors. A grey room hasn’t been entered yet, a red room still has things to discover, and a green room is complete. Objects of interest and items are now marked on your map too, so there’s no running around with your new valve desperately trying to remember which room had steam that needed turning off. You just pop up the map, scan for the steam valve, and head straight there. It helps keep RE2 ticking at a fantastic rate. You’ll always know roughly where to head next, even if you’re not sure what you’ve got to do once you’re there.
RE2 forgoes the old tank controls in favour of a behind-the-shoulder third-person camera. This means you’re coming at these old environments in a totally new way, yet Capcom has still retained the panicky claustrophobia which is core to these games. The lack of loading screens also makes the experience more dynamic. Zombies can wander in from the corridor to a room, for example, or could be waiting to lunge at Claire as she opens a door. For those intimately familiar with the original, Capcom is also keen to play tricks on your expectations. Jump scares where it was previously utterly safe, or slight environmental changes and even new areas.
There are a handful of difficulties to pick from in RE2 Remake, comprising Assisted, Standard and Hardcore. Assisted includes things like aim aids, auto-saving, weaker enemies and even regenerating health. Standard features some smart adaptive difficulty that I loved. It ensures you’re always kept on your toes by adapting zombie health and ammo pick-ups depending on how well you’re playing. Early on when I was making great progress, for example, I picked up a box of pistol ammo and received just one bullet. Soon enough I found myself in a hairy situation and burned through my ammo, just about surviving. At this point, RE2 became a little more generous again with its ammo handouts. Finally, there’s Hardcore for all you sicko’s out there. This mode has much stronger enemies, no autosaves and the return of ink ribbons for saving.
All told, Resident Evil 2 is an utterly fantastic remake, reimagining a 90’s classic for a modern audience with modern sensibilities. A single playthrough is slight at about 8-10 hours, but every minute is oozing with quality. If that’s enough for you there are also alternative routes with other characters, a couple of secret modes and some fairly crazy unlockables for those who absolutely master the game. Resident Evil 2 is a brilliant rendition of one of the finest survival horror experiences of all time.