Remakes in the video game industry aren’t always able to capture the mystique and anticipation of a brand new release. No-one was champing at the bit for every scrap of new footage of the Crash Bandicoot N Sane trilogy, for example. Even the remake of an undeniable classic like Shadow of the Colossus had a relatively short eight months between announcement and release. The remake of Resident Evil 2 is a different story altogether. Resident Evil for the GameCube is widely considered one of the best re-imaginings of all time, and so it seemed somewhat inevitable that after years of rumours, fan demand and cagey responses from Capcom, a Resident Evil 2 remake just had to be on the way. Almost four years since this charming announcement video, and in the wake of the revitalising Resident Evil VII, the confidently-titled Resident Evil 2 has arrived. So has Capcom truly “done it”? Or was Resident Evil 2 better off left in the tinny, low-poly annals of 1998?
Resident Evil 2 begins with Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield heading into Raccoon City after a harrowing encounter at a petrol station. Leon is a rookie cop in the RCPD and Claire is a college student searching for her brother Chris (one of the protagonists of the first game). They, of course, find that the whole city has fallen to a plague of zombies and, after being separated by a truck exploding, set out to find answers and, naturally, survive the night.
The first decision you’ll make is whether to play as Leon or Claire and while their stories are different in a number of key ways, for the vast majority of the game you’ll explore the exact same locations, solve the same puzzles and fight the same bosses. Upon completing one route, you can start a new “Second Run” as the other character, which will have minor differences, including the true ending.
I was somewhat disappointed to find how similar Claire and Leon’s paths are. Having not played the original I was expecting each character to have a far more unique adventure. Leon and Claire do meet and interact with different characters, weapons and harbour different motivations, but on my second go through, certain areas definitely felt like a slog.
It also irked me from a narrative standpoint that it’s not always clear which events happened to which character and when. With perhaps one exception, boss fights play out the exact same way as both Claire and Leon, which, without getting into spoilers, makes zero sense if the stories are supposed to be happening at the same time. It also doesn’t appear to be an alternative timeline where Claire (for example) takes part in the main story beats instead of Leon on her run. It’s a minor quibble and the bombastic finale of the second runs true ending more than makes up for any shortcomings.
The ambient sound is fantastic with its wind and rain pounding through smashed windows, the thumping footsteps of a certain big boy in a trench coat and the wet explosions of bullet-riddled zombies. The soundtrack is forgettable with the exception of the tracks that play during boss battles which I’m sure fans of the original will recognise and love. The voice acting is certainly a number of steps up from the significant cheesiness of the original, but it’s also nothing to write home about by today’s standards: good, but not great performances abound. A surprise to me was that Resident Evil 2 features a binaural audio setting and while it is nowhere near as impressive as it was in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, running past a zombie I thought was dead only to have it shriek right in my ear is now quite startling indeed.
The RE Engine, introduced with Resident Evil VII in 2017, is just showing off at this point. Character models are gorgeous and highly detailed, the fluid animations are mesmerising across the board and the use of shadows and lighting conjures a palpable atmosphere of dread and danger. It’s an incredibly robust and seamless engine – everything from the shadows cast on Leon’s face by his boy band fringe, to the various keys, bullets and herbs you pick up are all rendered in the highest quality. The art direction is no slouch either – certain enemies and areas are jaw-dropping in their morbid beauty.
The biggest key difference with Resident Evil 2 is that it is now a third-person shooter through and through. Gone are the fixed camera angles and tank controls of the series’ past. You may not be able to dodge or roll out of harms way like Lara Croft or Nathan Drake, but Leon and Claire are undoubtedly far more agile than in the classic Resident Evil games, or even Resident Evil VII. In a franchise where even turning around could be a challenge, this is a significant alteration and one that may not go down well with longtime fans. I didn’t have a problem with it personally, especially as the creatures you fight later in the game are… well let’s just say they have no problem keeping pace.
One of my favourite things about this game is how areas I had thought were safe did not stay that way for long. Lickers, blind, inside-out monstrosities that stalk along ceilings and pop out of vents, and the dreadful Mr X, an enormous pale man in a black hat and trench coat, will introduce themselves to your formally safe spaces, making backtracking just as intense as the first time through. Encountering Mr X was particularly stressful because he stomps from room to room searching for you, all without saying a word. One time Mr X chased me right into a room full of Lickers and all hell broke loose. Even getting from one wing of the police station to the other becomes a challenge.
Regardless of the perspective change, Resident Evil 2 is still a survival horror game, and that means scavenging for resources, managing your inventory and making every bullet count. It’s incredibly satisfying to go from room to room, clearing it of items and checking to see which doors are locked and which will allow you to continue on. The level design contributes a lot to this satisfaction, piecing together how each floor of the police station works, and what item you need to solve the puzzles in which room, never gets old. Finding space for all the items you need to progress the story, as well as herbs for healing, grenades and knives for defence and of course ammunition, is a puzzle in and of itself. Hip pouches will expand your inventory by two slots, but they are rare making those first few hours quite a challenge. Rooms on the map will change from red to blue when you’ve uncovered every item to be found within, and key items, safes, herbs, gunpowder and ammo are all marked on the map once you pass them so you can come back to get it later if you have no inventory slots left. A welcome addition is that when story items like wire cutters or a certain kind of key have been used on everything they possibly can be, that items icon will feature a red tick, telling you that it’s now safe to discard it.
A highlight for me was definitely the boss fights. They wouldn’t always be telegraphed so I’d immediately panic, but the game is designed in such a way that even in this moments of chaos it’s never unclear what you have to do or where you need to go. I have a history of getting frustrated with other Resident Evil boss fights as it’s usually where the clunky controls and rigid camera angles would become a problem, but Resident Evil 2 avoids this. The majority of the boss fights are cleverly done and are either a spectacle simply to watch, or are satisfying to emerge triumphant.
Playing on PC I had zero issues using mouse and keyboard, with both movement and aiming feeling totally uncompromised. I also had no issues with performance on my 1080Ti, except for when using a particularly effects-intensive weapon that can be found on Claire’s route, where the whole game dropped to around ten frames per second. This will no doubt be patched soon. Worth mentioning are the bonuses and unlockables like concept art, a 3D model viewer, alternative costumes and extra modes.
The environment variety is a little lacking, with there being three main locations to explore as both Claire and Leon. There are specific places that are unique to each character, but they never amount to anything more than a novel diversion. It doesn’t help that of the limited locations one of them is a sewer, and the other is extremely limited in scope so while it’s intriguing conceptually, in execution I wasn’t there long enough for it to have a lasting impact. Obviously, it’s a little unfair to criticise the environments of a game that came out twenty years ago, but with a remake, I had hoped for a more elaborate expansion of the ideas of the original.
Resident Evil 2 is a solid re-imagining of a much adored PlayStation classic. It may not be as groundbreaking as the remake of the first Resident Evil was back in 2002, but it remains a success nonetheless managing to stay true to its roots amidst a complete revamp. Visually stunning, dripping in atmosphere and providing more than enough incentive to embark on multiple playthroughs, Resident Evil 2 is a treat for both fans and newcomers alike.
Resident Evil 2 was reviewed on PC with a code provided by the publisher.