It was a many years ago when I first stepped into the shoes of Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield. But, if there’s one thing 2018 and 2019 has taught us, it’s that the past does not stay dead and will come shambling back in all its horrifying glory. Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 is not merely a remaster, with some spit and polish, but a complete overhaul; an entirely new experience, which uses the original as a half-forgotten dream of some distant, hazy journey.
Set in the fictional Racoon City, players take on the roles of rookie officer Leon Kennedy or mechanical engineer (?) Claire Redfield, as they find themselves in a zombie infested urban nightmare. Leon experiences one of the worst first days on the jobs in human history, though I still count mine at a music store as comparable, while Claire is in Raccoon City in search of her brother, Chris. After a quick meeting in a gas station that is no different to any that’s close to a nightclub at 3AM (lots of howls, grunts, eating, snuffling, shuffling feet and abuse of service workers), the two separate.
Both must manage the scarce resources against the nightmares trying to eat and crush them – and not specifically in that order.
In terms of style, it’s a third person, action horror, since it is the franchise that basically invented it. Gone, however, are the tank controls and beautifully 2D backgrounds: Here, we have the stunning RE7 Engine in full force, with little loading times and no loading times for cutscenes.
The closest comparison is not in fact Resident Evil 4, but The Evil Within 2. Characters respond quickly and their movements are smooth to the touch. I never once had an issue with the camera. However, characters can’t stomp on heads, do a quickturn, dive or dodge. They feel very stiff sometimes and, while it’s not tank controls, you do sometimes feel like you’re driving one.
Resource management is key and you will find yourself scraping through by the skin of your teeth. While the game has stashes, they’re in isolated rooms (with the save points), meaning you’ll be storing key items which initially serve no purpose – only for you to discover their purpose an hour later in a room completely on the other side of the world.
Enemies, especially the traditional zombies, are bullet sponges you’re better off avoiding entirely, meaning not only is ammo scarce but enemies dangerous too. Inventory is initially tiny, though as you explore, you’ll be rewarded with pouches that magically expand your space. Like the first game, and like The Evil Within 2, there are specifically designated areas to save – meaning you are constantly weighing risk-reward if you decide to pursue a quest rather than save, if you have not done so for some time. However, in certain set pieces, the game is forgiving, in allowing you to start from checkpoints.
Players have a buffet of nightmares to choose from, since it’s not merely one character’s single story, but two completely different characters and two separate, connected stories. What this means is that playing as either Leon or Claire lends itself to its own entire campaign; after completion, players then can step into the shoes of the other character, telling that same story from their perspective. That’s two whole games. However, that’s not all: You can switch it up entirely, from fresh, playing the reverse order. That brings the total to four.*
Creature design is not particularly unique, except in a few cases and except in terms of graphical fidelity, if you’ve played the first game: Zombies, zombie dogs, blind zombies but with tongues (the infamous Lickers), zombies but bulging and full of eyes, zombies but the terminator. There were some creatures that seemed straight of Silent Hill rather than Resident Evil, though I won’t spoil them except to say they did give me the chills.
Of particular note is what the Remake did to Mr X or Tyrant, drawing clearly from my favourite of the franchise Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.
Instead of being a few boss fights, he is a persistent enemy that never stops coming for you. He can only be slowed, never stopped. When he’s not in sight, he’s the embodiment of anxiety, with his thudding footsteps echoing throughout the room, telling you where he is and – more importantly – where he’s coming from. No longer are you free to wander from room to room, solving puzzles and collecting items. Instead, you have to balance your meagre ammo, sudden appearances of creatures that can be killed, and then the constant thudding, growing closer of Tyrant. Sometimes, you’ll find a solution to puzzle but your inventory is full, so you say, OK, I’ll go back to my stash on the other side of the building, but then as you make your way there, having to unfortunately load your entire shotgun into a Licker, constantly hearing the thuds of Tyrant, you realise you got the sound direction wrong and he enters the door you’re trying to exit, so you go NOPE, turn and run back, except if you go back, you won’t have access to your stash and now you have no ammo except – wait! – you remember a grenade in that room uphead, so you go grab the grenade, but then a zombie attacks you and, to get out his grip, you stick the grenade in his mouth, so he explodes, but then you fumble and Tyrant appears and punches you out dead.
If anxiety is constantly hearing the boss music but not being able to see the boss, you can imagine what constantly hearing Tyrant’s footsteps but not being able to see him does.
The game, however, is not particularly scary – not, for example, like Resident Evil 7. There’s no hiding mechanic, only management, which I think makes it less terrifying. However, it’s still suspenseful, nauseating and creepy as hell. With gorgeous lighting and graphical detail, incredible sound design and weird, hammy acting, the entire machine works wonderfully together to create a silly story.
This is a game that’s more interested in giving you a haunted house ride, than telling you a deep, emotionally engaging story. (For that, you should play The Evil Within 2, which is just… so, so perfect, using horror to tell a story of a broken family and a father redeeming himself from his weaknesses.)
The game doesn’t overstay its welcome, is a joy (?) to play, but carries little of what I remember of Resident Evil 2 aside from character names and places. The iconic Raccoon City Police Station is gorgeously overhauled and has similar rooms, but they didn’t even play the original Station Music – which I was hoping for. There are few callbacks so new players aren’t missing out – indeed, it feels, if anything, that if you’re looking for nostalgic value from this title that bears the same name as one of the classics of the genre, it is you who will be disappointed.
This is its own horrific, beautiful nightmare, slick and dripping with polish, and fulfilling in bringing chills and action in equal measure.
*If you need a more detailed explanation, this is the example. Say you pick Leon as soon as you boot up the game for the very first time. You then play Leon’s campaign, let’s call this Campaign A. After finishing Campaign A, the option to play as Claire comes up, to see what she was doing during Campaign A. Then you’ve played both characters during the same campaign. Later, however, you start completely afresh, ditching that save file entirely. You load a completely new game and play from the beginning as Claire. This is Campaign B. You start and finish as Claire. And, once again, the option opens up and you can play Campaign B as Leon, to see what he was doing the whole time. Thus, four entire playthroughs.