The Resident Evil series has garnered critical acclaim since the first game hit the PlayStation back in 1996. But the more recent Resident Evil 7 left some people disgruntled due to its shift to a first-person perspective, instead of the series traditional third person view. At the same time, more and more voices were clamouring for a remaster of Resident Evil 2 – the 1998 classic survival horror game that so many fans of the series enjoyed back in the day.
And Capcom has delivered a full remake of their 90’s era hit, featuring cutting-edge cinematic scenes, great atmosphere, good survival horror gameplay and a good retelling of the original’s story, in what no doubt is one of the best games of the year so far.
As in the 1998 game, this Resident Evil 2 remake lets you choose between two different protagonists: Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield. The former is a cop who’s on his way to Raccoon City (the game’s setting) for his first assignment, only to find that all hell has broken loose in the city.
Stopping at a gas station early in the game, he soon comes across the undead – flesh-hungry zombies intent on wreaking havoc in Raccoon City. He also comes across Claire Redfield, a college student who’s arrived at the city and is on the lookout for her brother, with both characters crossing paths and coming into contact at several points in the game.
And unlike other games (such as the recent Assassin’s Creed Odyssey) Leon’s and Claire’s playthroughs really feel different, despite the fact that you’ll visit largely the same locations in each case.
However, there are some unique locations and puzzles for each playthrough, and you also get to meet and play as a different secondary character in each. Plus, each has a unique boss fight (aside from major boss fights common to both) meaning it’s worth playing through the game as both Leon and Claire to see everything this Resident Evil 2 remake has to offer.
This should take you about 15 hours for a first playthrough and about half of that for a second playthrough. Aside from this, you also unlock a special mode for Leon once you finish the game with Claire, and vice versa. This mode offers a slightly different perspective on events, and a different ending too, meaning this is one game which can keep you busy for a while, and this is definitely a plus. Also, getting to unlock additional outfits for Leon and Claire is another incentive which could keep you playing here too.
Regardless of whether you play with Leon or Claire, though, the first major location you’ll visit in Resident Evil 2 is an abandoned police station. This has obviously seen better days, and is now in a state of disarray with zombies running amok in the place. Despite the fact that the police station is in tatters, it’s easy not to appreciate the level of polish that went into the game’s visuals, as Resident Evil 2 surely has fantastic graphics.
Capcom has given its 1998 game a fresh new look, and aside from the cutting-edge cinematics (which are worthy of a Hollywood animated movie), there are some superb 3D graphics here. Actually, I don’t recall seeing this level of detail on PS4 since 2015’s The Order: 1886, and it’s hard not to be amazed at the fidelity of the visuals here, from the stuffed animals on a police officer’s desk to the shiny marble statues found in the police station, and a stately library with its highly detailed wood textures, there’s plenty of graphical eye candy to admire here.
Also, graphical effects like sparks, smoke and fire in the industrial settings you get to explore after leaving the police station also look lovely, and there’s also plenty of detail to enjoy in other locations such as a series of labs belonging to the evil Umbrella Corporation – the clinical white walls and hard metallic textures adding to the sense of danger. Plus, character models (especially Leon and Claire) look appropriately lifelike and realistic too.
And even the 3D close ups you get of in-game items such as ammo boxes are packed with detail, making inspecting these (by rotating them using the controller thumbsticks) a joy.
There are plenty of dark environments here too, in which Leon or Claire will use a flashlight to provide some lighting. The interplay of light and shadow adds to the feeling of tension and dread when exploring locales such as the creepy gas station you explore early in the game, as you never know when an enemy will appear, making you fight for your life.
Gearing up for action, you’ve got to be aware of limitations: as makes sense in a survival horror game, ammo is scarce here as you can imagine. I found this to be more of a problem in my playthrough with Claire Redfield, as I often found myself out of ammo (even for her basic handgun) and had to run away from enemies constantly, something which I found slightly frustrating.
Having enough ammunition here is especially critical when facing the more powerful enemies you’ll encounter in the game, such as Lickers and those pesky zombie dogs, amongst others. Lickers are fast-moving, four-legged monstrosities which can walk on walls and ceilings and which will give you a hard time later in the game, but even the game’s bog-standard zombies can pose quite a challenge, especially if you’re out of ammo for your most powerful weapons.
This is because it can take a lot of ordnance to put down zombies, and their erratic movements as they approach my character made it difficult to land headshots, which are the preferred way to deal with the undead. Actually, I ended up missing quite a few shots (not a good thing in a game in which ammo is so scarce) due to the zombies’ unpredictable movements, something which made putting them down with the basic handgun frustrating sometimes.
Of course, any of the more powerful weapons in Leon’s or Claire’s arsenal will make short work of any vanilla zombies you encounter throughout the game. Both characters get to wield a more powerful handgun later in the game (which is great for blasting zombie heads open), while Leon gets what’s likely the best weapon in the game: the flamethrower.
I found using the flamethrower to kill the plant-like zombies I encountered in the Umbrella labs particularly satisfying, even though Claire also gets a special weapon which can fire acid rounds, making enemies wriggle in pain until they die. Playing as Claire you can also get your hands on an electricity-based weapon (which does pack a punch) even if admittedly I did feel slightly underpowered when playing through the game as Claire – cop Leon seems to get the better arsenal here.
Nonetheless, and despite the availability of more powerful weapons, zombies are still dangerous in numbers or if they grab hold of you while making your way through the game’s levels though. Thankfully, you can whittle down zombie numbers in locations such as the police station by boarding up windows, giving you less threats to worry about as you go about your business.
Carrying items such as wooden boards, quest items and the weapons you get to play with in the game takes up inventory space, of course. As in previous Resident Evil games the inventory is limited to a certain number of slots.
And given the limited inventory space, it’s a good thing that “stash boxes” are available throughout the game world. This provide space to store any items you might be carrying, which is a good thing taking into account I frequently found I did not have enough inventory space to carry all the items I picked up throughout the game.
This is something I found slightly annoying truth be told, as sometimes I couldn’t pick up an item I knew I needed to progress in the game because my inventory was full. This meant I either had to discard one of the items I was currently carrying (even useful ammo on occasion) to make room for new items, or make my way to the nearest stash box in order to store some of the stuff I was carrying and then head back to where I was in order to pick up the new item or items in question.
This admittedly I found slightly tedious – although these “what should I take with me?” decisions will no doubt be part of the game’s survival horror appeal for some, plus you can also find “hip pouch” items scattered throughout the game world which increase your inventory space, which no doubt is a plus.
Some may also like the fact that Capcom hasn’t toned down the gore and scares for this Resident Evil 2 remake. Wandering around the police station you’ll encounter corpses lying on the floor and blood splattered all over the place. Early on, attempting to help a beleaguered police officer proves futile, with the man ending up in very bad shape after a zombie attack in what no doubt is one very gory scene.
Also, getting up close and personal with zombies leads to the camera zooming in on the action, with you getting a desperate last attempt to use Leon’s (or Claire’s) knife to push the zombie back, or risk ending up being the creature’s next meal… Also, playing as a secondary character during one sequence set in an orphanage makes for one scary and tense experience. There, you’ll be hunted by a ruthless police chief and can only resort to stealth and evasive manoeuvres to make your way through.
Despite the gore and scares, though, every now and then you’re reminded that this is a game you shouldn’t be taking so seriously. After all, a character like Ada Wong goes about her business in Raccoon City in a sexy red dress, shooting zombies and other monsters in this outfit, while Leon and Claire remain easy going and calm throughout the adventure despite facing unspeakable horrors throughout.
And the whole premise of the game about an all-powerful corporation releasing a virus which turns the entire population of the city into zombies is as silly as it gets, even if it’s so typical of the zombie apocalypse genre of which the Resident Evil franchise is perhaps the greatest example of.
Also typical of Resident Evil are the puzzles you’ll encounter throughout the game, which are plentiful as you can imagine. Some of these puzzles can be solved by trial and error – for instance, some the locks scattered throughout the game have three letter combinations, and it’s possible to get through these by trying every combination possible. However, reading an officer’s journal in the police station or looking at one of the photographs you find during the game can reveal the right combination.
Also, another puzzle involving a statue with a missing arm can be solved by trial and error, although it’s way more satisfying to do so by finding a roll of film, which you can use to obtain a photograph revealing what item is needed to complete the puzzle. Also, the fact the game marks certain inventory items as fit to be discarded one they have outlived their usefulness is something which helps make the puzzles easier, even if none of Resident Evil 2’s puzzles are real brain-teasers though.
Puzzles are obviously a big part of the Resident Evil 2 experience, and it’s not hard to reach the conclusion that this is a puzzle game at its core, with the action having more of a secondary nature in my view. Some of the puzzles are a bit old-fashioned though, such as having to find keys with specific shapes (for instance, the “diamond” key”) to open certain doors, even if gaining access to new, previously inaccessible locations sure is a joy here.
It’s hard not to notice, though, that there is a clunky, mechanical feel to the game – that despite Capcom’s polish and high-tech gubbins this still feels like a late 90’s game at its core – which it is (actually, the original Resident Evil 2 hit shelves way back in 1998).
Despite this, and the puzzle-focus, Resident Evil 2 has some astounding action sequences which could put other modern games to shame. A boss fight in the Umbrella labs against a monstrosity created by the G-virus sure is stunning, with the beast tearing down walls and throwing objects at the player, causing major destruction in the process. Also, being followed by The Tyrant – a towering, grey superzombie with killing intent – during certain parts of the game adds an element of tension to the gameplay, in what is a slow-paced game overall.
So, what’s not to like here? As was the case with other Resident Evil games, there’s plenty of backtracking involved here. At times I thought I had left the game’s police station location for good, only to have to go back in order to pick up items I needed to solve a puzzle or two. Also, regarding the game’s story the truth is that there is not much character development here – for instance Leon’s and Ada Wong’s relationship comes out of the blue. But the story and dialogue do hold their own and are more than decent for what is a remake of a late 90’s game.
Some of the game’s encounters are also predictable – at some point in the game, I knew a bunch of corpses on the floor would raise and attack me the moment I had walked away a certain distance, even if putting these zombies down was still a fun experience.
And while the sound effects (especially the weapon sounds) are ace, the music is typical survival horror fare and I didn’t notice it much during my playthrough. Also, you might find the fact that you can access your items from any stash box in the game unrealistic – but it makes sense for Capcom to sacrifice a little realism here for the sake of convenience though.
None of this detracts from the fact that Resident Evil 2 is a superb game, and a great remake of one of the 90’s top video games. If you’re into the survival horror genre you owe it to yourself to play this game then, as Resident Evil 2 sure is an early candidate for game of the year no doubt.
Resident Evil 2
Score: 88 / 100
Available on: PS4 | Xbox One | PC
Reviewed on: PS4
Launch date: January 25, 2019
This game was reviewed using a copy purchased by the author.