I'll get something off my chest straight away. I have not played the original Resident Evil 2. Why do you ask? Well, Resident Evil 2 came out in 1998, which means I would have been five years old when the original came out. I remember watching a friend play Code Veronica when I was really young and there was a scene in which a guy got his head smashed into a glass window. That image was stuck in my head for a really long time. I didn't really start playing even slightly scary games until I tried Resident Evil 4 on the Nintendo Wii. Ever since then I've been a huge RE fan and I've played pretty much every major entry. So I couldn't be more excited about the Remake if I tried.
It's 1998, two months after the Spencer Mansion incident from the first Resident Evil. As rookie cop Leon S Kennedy and student Claire Redfield both arrive in Racoon City, they realize something is severely wrong. The city has been overrun by zombies and the two are quickly separated forcing them to survive on their own as they search for an escape from the city.
Leon and Claire's stories largely play out exactly the same regardless of who you choose to play as first. Leon's story follows his effort to uncover the cause of the outbreak which sees him working with the mysterious Ada Wong. Claire's story involves her attempt to escape the city while protecting a young girl named Sherry. If I had to choose, I'd say I enjoyed Claire's story more. It felt much more desperate and character driven, while Leon's felt a bit more action heavy and somewhat slightly cheesy. I'd also say that Leon gets some much stronger firepower throughout the course of his story.
While I enjoyed the individual stories I was pretty disappointed by the lack of continuity between them. Without trying to spoil too much, let's just say there's a scene which results in noticeable damage to a walkway. What bothers me is that on the second run that damage was suddenly fixed and the exact same scene happens again. Almost as if the first run never happened at all. While I've never played the original I believe there was at least some sort of crossover between the two stories. In the remake, it's almost as if the other one never happens. It's just the start and the ending of the stories that match up.
Resident Evil 2 drops the fixed camera angles and tank controls of the original for the 3rd person, over the should gameplay established by Resident Evil 4. Precise aiming and an awareness of your surroundings are essential for surviving Raccoon City. On top of that, Resident Evil 2 really drives home the survival aspect. Ammo and healing supplies are scarce, yet enemies hide around every corner. So make your shots count or run away. In my first playthrough, a little reckless behavior really came back to haunt me when I got caught in a boss fight with a lack of healing items.
Of course, there are boss fights, it wouldn't be Resident Evil without one. There's nothing special about them really though. The fights often play out like any other boss fight you'll see. An enclosed space, almost like an arena with resources scattered throughout and a larger than usual enemy with a big glowing eye on their person somewhere. It's what you'd expect from a Resident Evil boss fight. The fights aren't bad, but they're nothing special really. Just keep circling around the area and shoot the boss's glaringly obvious weak spot until the fight ends.
Outside of boss fights, you'll spend most of your time exploring the area looking for key items to solve puzzles. The adventure takes you through the darkest corners of the Raccoon City police department, down to the sewers and more. Each area is intricately designed, giving you reasons to explore every corner. The police department building itself is an incredible location. It's also kind of weird, according to a note in the game, it used to be a museum. Hence the weird secret passages, the special keys to open some doors and other bizarre elements of the building. This weirdness is what makes it fun to explore, and rewarding when everything starts to fall into place. You'll find locked doors with certain symbols on them, so when you find the relevant keys you'll rush back to those doors to find out what secrets hide behind them.
That being said, there are still a few optional secrets hidden around the game. Certain weapons and upgrades are completely missable unless you pick up on certain hints. Some of the items you'll gather on your journey might seem useless at first but examining them can reveal secrets about the item you wouldn't normally gather. I'm a little ashamed to admit I left a police badge sitting in my inventory for a while before actually examined it and realized what it's used for.
While you are exploring the RPD there's still a sense of dread in what you are doing. The undead roams the halls looking for their next snack. The big issue here was how do Capcom handle the undead enemies with the change of camera? In the original, you had fixed angles and auto aim. So by moving the camera behind the player and allowing for a more precise aim, how do you adjust the zombies to maintain them as a serious threat to the player?
The answer? Well to start with, they've made the zombies a lot tougher. Every major piece of zombie media will always tell you to aim for the head but in Resident Evil 2 that's not quite the case. Yes, headshots will hurt them. The problem is the dead don't stay dead for long unless you get a lucky critical hit on a headshot, most zombies will rise up again before long which is a problem considering how you need to conserve your ammo. I found that kneecapping the zombies in areas I knew I'd be passing through multiple times was a great solution since it slowed them down and made it a lot easier to avoid.
The fact that the zombies don't stay dead can cause some serious issues for people that don't particularly enjoying watching a zombie take a chunk out of your neck. As an experiment during one playthrough, I wasted some ammo to shoot every limb of a zombie, both legs and arms. The result? They wiggle across the floor like a worm still determined to take a bite. The only real way to kill them for good to hope you score a critical hit with a headshot. Magnums and shotguns are usually a good way to put them down for good but their ammo is more scarce than standard handgun bullets.
Zombies are just one problem though. Lickers stalk the hallways and can cause serious damage if you're not prepared. There's a trick to it though, Lickers are blind and rely on hearing to track their victims. So if you know one's in a nearby room, you can potentially avoid it by slowly walking through the room. That approach can prove problematic if there are other enemies in the room though, especially if a certain enemy is on the loose.
This guy right here. One of Umbrella's "Tyrants." A huge mutant bioweapon impervious to your standard firepower and absolutely determined to murder you as brutally as possible. Also known as Mr. X. He is hands down the best/worst part of this game. Just his footsteps are terrifying. Those big boots hitting the ground remind you that he's in the area, just dying to meet you. On quite a few times I just found myself hiding in the corner of a room listening to this massive footsteps hoping I could find an opening to slide past him unnoticed. Thankfully you can evade him briefly, at which point he'll just continue to stomp around looking for you. This is when the zombies and other enemies become an even bigger problem. The second you fire off one shot, or otherwise, make a big noise he'll start marching right towards you. So it raised this constant problem as I explored the area, I'd either try to slip through zombies and often lose a chunk of my neck as a result, or I'd fire a few shots then run like hell because Mr. X was already on his way towards me.
Mr. X is might be Resident Evil 2's secret weapon. His mere presence is enough to get your heart beating. It's even worse when you are struggling to find the path you're meant to take. When you're a little lost and wandering to find the answer, knowing he could be around any corner waiting to greet you makes it impossible to stay calm or take a breath. It really took me by surprise when I realized just what Mr. X was really doing to me. I was mentally mapping out the routes I was going to take. Starting to remember what loops I can run to help put some space between us. Mr.X was forcing me to carefully plan every move I made. It's was more than that though, not just what corridors I'd run through, but also making me remember who or what lurked in those corridors so I could try and figure out how to move through each route with as little trouble as possible. All because Mr. X was so terrifying that I had to do this if I wanted to survive.
Putting Mr. X and his terrifying presence behind us. The final element of Resident Evil 2 is the exploration and puzzle solving. In most situations, Resident Evil 2 does a good job of making it clear what you need to do but without telling you how to do it. There's a couple of different puzzles you'll face and most of them for the large part just hit that sweet spot where the solution isn't immediately obvious, so you'll be doing a bit of guesswork as well as re-reading certain pieces of text repeatedly until you realize just what you were missing. There's only one puzzle late in the game that took quite a lot of time and random guessing until I finally figured out the solution.
There's also a lot of backtracking, you'll spend most of the game running through the RPD whenever you find a new key. So it makes sense to start to remember certain areas of the building, which doors require which key and so on. Resident Evil 2 will reward you for paying attention and memorizing certain things while Mr. X will punish you for not paying attention when it really matters, something I learned the hard way a few more times than I'd like to admit.
Resident Evil 2 is built in Resident Evil 7's engine which means it's absolutely beautiful. Just look at the screenshot above which features the ill-fated Marvin Branagh. Just like 7, all the major characters are once again modeled after real people and look fantastic. While the RPD is an especially haunting environment, both in areas with light and the areas which require your flashlight. The level of detail is fantastic and really adds the game. The detail in the gore, however, is especially disturbing. The opening scene features a poor officer getting a chunk of his neck ripped out in disgustingly beautiful fashion but it quickly sets a tone for the rest of the game. Especially when you encounter another officer named Elliot, his demise is haunting and utterly disgusting in the best kind of way. They really don't hold back, and it helps to emphasize that these zombies are a real threat.
It's bolstered by some strong animation. Getting grabbed by a zombie is scary in a multitude of ways. From the often mangled faces of the undead getting excited about their snack, then the way they bite into your neck. It goes without saying that you don't want to let a zombie get his moldy hands on you, but Resident Evil 2's zombies are incredibly disturbing for so many different reasons.
For all the gory details and design, audio is just as important and Resident Evil 2 hits all the right notes here as well. Mr. X's loud booming footsteps are just one stand out aspect of the sound. It might be a point of contention for some, but for me, the lack of music really helps to maintain the tension and atmosphere of Resident Evil 2. The dead silence makes the scream of an angry licker even more of a shock, or the noise of a zombie taking a deep dive into your neck is just downright disgusting. In a good way of course.
Sadly Capcom decided to go non-union with the voice actors in this one so we don't get the return of previous voice actors such as Mat Mercer as Leon or Alyson Court as Claire. The new actors are solid, Leon's is a little shaky and feels pretty cheesy in places but Claire's VO actress is great.
Despite only being present in the early game, the VO behind Marvin Branagh gives a fantastic performance. Maybe it's weird to highlight a side character, but he's fantastic with the little material he works off. My only gripe is that Leon and Claire constantly talk when you point a gun and it gets a little grating that they constantly have to talk while firing their guns. Especially since it's usually just a word or two, Claire really seems to enjoy calling the zombies assholes.
That being said, if you purchase the deluxe edition then you can play through with the original soundtrack which I did on my second playthrough. More importantly, it brings back the guy with the deep voice who says the name of the game when you hit the start button which is neat.
Resident Evil 2 is fantastic. It's a reminder that there's still life in the old-school survival horror genre. Not everything has to be so action heavy and you can terrify the player without the need for cheap jump scares. (Even though Resident Evil 2 is guilty of that in a few places.) It's proof that you can still use some old tropes like keys and reusing previous areas without cheapening the experience. However, it might be a little on the short side for some. My first playthrough came in at just over six hours.
I think the thing I'm most disappointed about is the lack of crossover between Leon and Claire's stories. I did four separate playthroughs just to make sure I saw the story from all angles but the truth is that there are barely any changes based on who you choose to play as first. The 2nd playthrough just gets an extra weapon and an extra encounter early in the story.
It is, however, very replayable since I've already played both stories twice and fully intend to try a hardcore difficulty run. Capcom has also already promised free content soon with a series of smaller stories featuring other Raccoon City survivors such as Kendo. Plus there's 4th survivor and tofu survivor modes which feature a much more action-heavy, more difficult challenge too.
Resident Evil 2 is a great start to the year, one filled with disgusting gore, big scares, and challenging gameplay. If the rumors about a Resident Evil 3 remake are true, then Mr. X is a perfect blueprint for what Nemesis should be. He's relentless, unforgiving and utterly terrifying in the best kind of way.
P.S I saw a picture where someone used that phone app to make Mr. X smile and it's even worse than you could ever imagine.
|+ Mr. X Haunts My Dreams||– Lack of continuity between Leon and Claire Stories|
|+ Tight, Challenging Survival Gameplay||– Might be a little short for some people|
|+ Fantastic Graphics and Details||– Claire's weapons are weaker than Leon's|
|+ Actually Scary Zombies||– Leon's VO could be better|
|+ Great Audio Design|
|+ High Replayability|
|+ I can't stop thinking about Mr. X please dear god someone make it stop|