After spending a weekend with Resident Evil 2, I can’t stop thinking about it. I still see the dark corridors of the Raccoon City Police Department when I close my eyes, I hear Mr X’s thudding footsteps when it gets too quiet, and I’m worrying about inventory management when I’m getting my things ready for class in the morning. Resident Evil 2 is chilling, Resident Evil 2 is oppressive, and Resident Evil 2 is fantastic.
It’s no secret that Resident Evil lost its way after the release of Resident Evil 4. After the mediocre Resident Evil 5 and blunders like Resident Evil 6 and Operation Raccoon City, it seemed like the franchise would never return to its survival horror roots. But then Capcom surprised everyone with the reveal of Resident Evil 7, which turned out to be a brilliant return to form for the series. After the buzz surrounding 7 died down, though, people started wondering “whatever happened to that remake of Resident Evil 2 they announced a couple years ago?”
Resident Evil 2 originally launched back in 1999 for the PlayStation, and now, two full decades and three whole PlayStations later, Resident Evil 2’s remake is out for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. The remake is virtually unrecognizable from the original. Fixed camera angles are ditched in favor of a third person perspective, the game is a lot darker, and it looks a whole lot better. The game is changed so drastically that it’s less of a remake like the first game got, but more of a complete reimagining. Despite all these changes, Resident Evil 2 still maintains the soul of the original. This is how a remake should be done. This is the standard by which all other remakes should be judged. Speaking in terms of modernizing a classic while still maintaining the feel of the original, Resident Evil 2 might just be the greatest remake of all time.
When you start Resident Evil 2 for the first time, you’ll be presented with a choice. Do you want to play as rookie cop Leon Kennedy or college student Claire Redfield? This choice is more significant than you might think. Like the original, the remake of Resident Evil 2 features an A scenario and a B scenario. Leon and Claire get split up very early in the story, and you’ll only get to see what happens to the character you chose. Once you finish the story with that character, you can start the B scenario, or “2nd run” as the remake calls it, and see what the other character was up to the whole time, complete with remixed areas, different enemy placements, and an overall more challenging playthrough. Completing the 2nd run lets you see the true ending and fight the real final boss. I started off with Leon, and once I rolled credits I started the 2nd run with Claire.
Leon is a rookie cop waiting to start his first day, but he hasn’t heard from the Raccoon City PD, so he heads to the station himself to see what’s going on. The voice acting isn’t spectacular. Leon sounds like an idiot most of the time, but it’s almost charming in a way. Claire’s performance is a bit better, but not by much. Her story, however, isn’t as interesting as Leon’s, but neither story is particularly riveting. Even though they aren’t written particularly well, I still found myself attached to both Leon and Claire because of the way they react to their surroundings. When a zombie gets back up or there’s a particularly gory corpse, Leon or Claire will let out an “oh shit” or “oh my god”. Most of the time their comments would mimic mine. One time I was running from a group of enemies only to enter a room filled with more, and Leon said “are you kidding me?” I felt for Leon. Our frustration was mutual. It’s little character moments like these that really make both protagonists feel human. My favorite moments with Leon and Claire weren’t in cutscenes, but tense gameplay situations where I knew we were feeling the exact same things.
And the gameplay is tense. Like classic Resident Evil games, ammo is scarce, and choosing when to fight is more important than how you fight. Zombies don’t die either, not unless you completely destroy the head, which takes a lot of bullets (which you don’t have) or a well-timed shotgun blast (which you should save for stronger enemies). Ideally you just want to shoot them enough until they fall down so you can get by. Ammo conservation and item management are key components of the game here, just like the original. The game is at its best when you can count your remaining bullets on one hand and you’re a long way from a safe room. The survival in survival horror is emphasized in Resident Evil 2. The horror doesn’t necessarily come from the monsters, but rather the harsh and oppressive atmosphere the game creates.
There’s still some traditional horror, though. For starters, the game is really dark. I’m talking pitch black here. Unless your flashlight is pointed directly at it, you can’t see it. It’s a clever way to recreate the limited visibility that came with fixed camera angles, and the lighting (or lack thereof) is incredibly atmospheric. You have to check the floor for any zombies laying around, and you have to check the walls and ceilings for lickers. There’s also an extremely detailed gore system. Jaws will come loose from faces, intestines will spill out of stomachs, and torsos will be ripped from legs. It’s disgustingly beautiful, and the incredibly detailed bodies strewn about RPD in the pale moonlight are mesmerizing in a messed up sort of way.
All of this is accompanied by excellent sound design. Music is seldom used in Resident Evil 2, save for the first time you enter a new area or a save room. Most of the time it’s eerily silent. You hear your footsteps echo through empty hallways, followed by distant groans of the undead. Rain and wind blowing in from broken windows create unsettling howls. The sounds in this game draw you into the nightmare, leaving you alone in deafening silence until you stumble across something, or something stumbles across you.
Sound also plays a big role in the game-wide cat and mouse game between you and Mr. X. While he only appeared in the B scenario in the original, Mr. X is present throughout the entirety of the remake. While you’re exploring RPD searching for items to solve puzzles, he’s exploring RPD searching for you. His footsteps are very loud and you can hear them rooms over. As you play Resident Evil 2, you’ll get more and more acquainted with the thud of his boots. Mr. X is relentless in chasing you, crashing through walls, lifting huge debris, and even following you into some areas you thought were safe like the RPD main hall. Some of my scariest moments with this game were with Mr. X, holding my breath and praying he walks by the room I’m hiding in, or trying to complete time sensitive actions knowing he’s just one room over.
Sometimes, though, Mr. X goes from frightening to frustrating very fast. Resident Evil 2 likes to throw him at you when you need to take time to be stationary and perform an action, like lifting a heavy object. At times like those, it felt less like I was evading a ruthless hunter and more like I was taking advantage of its somewhat limited AI to lure it away so I could move a bookshelf. Resident Evil 2 has a handful of moments that disrupt the pacing throughout both campaigns, but they’re small hiccups in the greater scheme of things.
After finishing the 2nd run, you’ll unlock the Fourth Survivor, an extra mode that tasks you with navigating through a challenging gauntlet of enemies with very limited resources. Once you clear Fourth Survivor (which is easier said than done), you’ll unlock the Tofu Survivor mode, which is essentially the same as Fourth Survivor except you play as Tofu and you only have a knife, so it’s much, much harder. There are also three bonus stories called Ghost Survivors releasing next month, so there’s plenty of Resident Evil 2 to go around
Resident Evil 2 is not simply an incredible remake of a classic horror game. It’s able to stand on its own and and adopt its own identity while still remaining true to the original. It takes the ideas first employed 20 years ago and molds them into a game that feels like it could’ve come out today. Resident Evil 2’s haunting atmosphere, stellar presentation, and wealth of content make it not only the best in the series, but one of the best survival horror games ever made.