Game played on: PS4
Release date: January 25, 2019
Resident Evil 2 is the latest game in Capcom’s long running franchise of survival horror games. This is a remake of the second game from the fifth generation of consoles. It cements the franchise’s return to its roots, after making a more action oriented focus starting with Resident Evil 4. Keep in mind that I have not played Resident Evil 7.
Resident Evil 2 retells the story of the Raccoon City outbreak. Players get to choose to play Leon S. Kennedy, a rookie cop or Claire Redfield, Chris Redfield’s sister. Completing one character’s story unlocks a “second run” playthrough that shows what the other character was doing at the time of the first playthrough. I played as Leon the first time, and then Claire.
Capcom really managed to outdo themselves here. Resident Evil 2 is a remake that manages to court modern gamers with its presentation and gameplay, and will appeal to old school fans of the series.
Of the three games I have played of the series, Resident Evil 2 probably has the story with the most effective emotional hook. In Claire’s story, she becomes the caretaker of a young girl named Sherry Birkin. As for Leon, he will eventually partner up with the series’ famous Ada Wong, and begin the Batman and Catwoman-esque relationship with her that continues in the chronologically later games. For whosever’s scenario you play first, there will be a side character named Marvin, a Raccoon City police lieutenant. There are genuinely emotional moments and you feel a true connection to the new characters. Leon is a naïve idealist while Claire seems to be the more down to earth and pragmatic of the two. There’s a noticeable lack of camp compared to previous entries. While there are outlandish elements, everything is taken quite seriously, with the outbreak being treated not only as a horrifying event but a tragic one that ruins a fair share of lives. Yet the story never becomes so serious it becomes unintentionally funny. It’s by far the most grounded Resident Evil, but it still knows it’s a Resident Evil game. It ties with 4 for best dialogue.
One rather glaring flaw is how the first and second runs aren’t well connected to the other. The idea is that while Leon is going through his campaign, Claire is going through hers. Finishing one unlocks the other. The problem arises from how neither meshes well with the other. Puzzles that are done in the first run have to be done again in the second, when ideally characters should have different challenges to handle. To be fair, some puzzles are mixed up in the second run to throw off players, but the larger problem is not solved. It’s because the team clearly put the most thought into the first character run while the second run was neglected. The second run is quicker to go through, and not just because a player will have advanced knowledge of which items are where.
Structurally, the game is very similar to the first game. It begins in one location that follows a Metroidvania style design philosophy, and then the game takes you to new locations that expand on Umbrella’s role in the plot. In place of Spencer Mansion this time is the Raccoon City Police Department. Like its predecessor, the RPD is an absolute labyrinth, though it doesn’t have any death traps. Players will need to solve puzzles to escape, and then will have to solve more puzzles once they do. The newly designed RPD is the star of the whole game.
Zombies are even tougher than before now. It’s better to just avoid them outright rather than wasting ammo on them. It can take multiple headshots to kill them, and that’s just for the normal ones. Enemies like the Lickers are even stronger, but can be avoided if you’re quiet. The boss battles could be better but they’re serviceable. Impressively, the scariest segment in the game is one where there are no zombies. It’s a segment where you play as Sherry Birkin hiding from someone.
A much touted new edition to the remake is Mr. X. This guy is an unstoppable monster, who will hound players wherever they are. The closest contemporary comparison is the Xenomorph from Alien: Isolation. He can’t be killed, merely stalled for a few seconds. If you see him: run. Don’t try to pick a fight with him, because you will lose. Once he appears, he will not stop chasing you. Even if you outrun him and hide, he will still be searching for you. You’ll be hearing his footsteps on another floor, or on the same floor if you’re really daring or unlucky. It is best to find a good hiding spot or a save room, which he cannot enter. It becomes even more vital to avoiding combat when he shows up, even with other enemies. He can hear you running, firing a weapon, and even uses the groans of zombies to pinpoint your location. It encourages smart and deliberate, but also quick thinking and having a backup plan. He also has pretty frightening theme that plays when he sees you.
Resident Evil 2’s sound design is not only impressive from a technical perspective, but is also a useful tool for survival. Due to the over the shoulder perspective, the game compensates by using shadows and narrow hallways to hide the zombies, since fixed camera angles are now a thing of the past. By using sound, you’ll be able to have at least a good idea of where zombies will be, and if Mr. X is in the same area as you are.
The game looks great with excellent animation, realistic gore, and had a stable framerate my whole time playing it. A zombie outbreak has never looked better. The voice acting is pretty good as well. Kudos to Ada Wong’s voice actress Jolene Andersen, who helps her come across as more likable than I have previously found her. The weapons sound and feel good to use, and Leon and Claire have different ones that they’ll use.
Resident Evil 2 is a remake that other video game remakes should aspire to. It honors the legacy of its predecessors while also standing on its own as a great game. Anyone who is a fan of survival horror and excellent game design owes it to themselves to play this game.