You might recall, if you read my review of the Resident Evil HD Remaster some years ago, that I wished for a remake of Resident Evil 2 that kept true to the original formula, but updated the gameplay to control more like modern action games. Little did I know I’d actually get my wish.
A while after that review, Capcom announced a Resident Evil 2 remake, which piqued everyone’s interest. Then… silence, for a long time. When they finally resurfaced with something to show us, I don’t think any of us were ready for it. It was indeed a remake, but not in the style of the HD Remaster, no, it was fully recreated from the ground up as a third-person action game. From that point on, I shut it out, and ignored all news and previews. I only do this for my most anticipated games – the last being Bloodborne – to make sure I went into it completely blind. It finally arrived last Friday, and I had it pre-loaded and ready to rock at the moment it was unlocked.
Upon starting it up, I was immediately delighted to see that it let you start the game as either Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield – just like the original. I’ll explain why that’s important later. For now, know that for story purposes, Leon is a rookie recruit of the Raccoon City Police Department who has arrived to find out why he was warned not to come to his new post; and Claire has come to Raccoon City looking for her brother, who is also a cop, but hasn’t communicated with her in a long time. They bump into each other in a desperate scramble to get away from a zombie-infested gas station and decide to head to the police station for protection and answers. Problem is, the whole city is crawling with these undead buggers and they become separated again.
Whichever character you play first will enter the police station through the front and experience a particular set of events throughout the game. Then you can play the other character as the second story, and enter through the back gate and experience another set of events taking place during the same timeline. Once that’s done you can swap them around, so if you played Leon then Claire, you can now play Claire then Leon to get yet another set of events. That’s four different playthroughs you’ll get. To be fair, they’re mostly the same, with only the occasional gameplay or story change, but it’s still pretty cool. In the original game, they called this the “zapping” system.
But that’s not the only way in which this remake stays true to its roots. The deliberate and slow-paced gameplay of the original has been preserved, although it’s probably a lot easier on the lower difficulty settings – but I played on Hardcore mode, you know me. Hardcore mode requires you to use consumable ink ribbons at typewriters to save, has less health and ammo lying around, and makes enemies harder. As a fan who played the original so many times I could do it blindfolded, why would I want to play it any other way?
So I’m referring to Hardcore difficulty when I say that I was almost constantly low on ammo, deciding carefully which enemies to kill and which to dash past, planning my routes through the various areas to avoid exposing myself to risk more than necessary, and healing only when I absolutely had to so I’d conserve my limited health items. It was great and really took me back to the first time I tried the harder difficulties on the PS1 original.
Zombies are your main foe throughout the game, filling a role somewhere between fodder and an ever-present threat. On Hardcore mode, a single zombie bite almost kills you. Two bites and you’re dead, so underestimate them at your peril. Of course there are also the Lickers, iconic skinless creatures with huge claws and long-piercing tongues. They’re hard to kill and very fast. There aren’t a lot of them, but they always seem to show up where they’d be the biggest pain. Of course the old RE zombie dogs are there too, fast and annoying, but weak. There’s a new enemy I won’t spoil, and of course the Tyrant shows up to chase you occasionally. Back in the original RE2 days, players liked the Tyrant so much, Capcom decided to make a whole game, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, based around the concept of an invincible enemy that chases you from time to time.
Then there’s the puzzles. Resident Evil 2 and some of its fellows are usually the subject of jokes and memes about their ridiculous puzzles. Like, why would a key that’s necessary to get around the police station be hidden in a statue that needs to be opened by inserting gems? It was ridiculous and never explained. The remake addresses this having you seek out replacement machine parts or password dongles and such – much more believable. There’s still a bit of the old weirdness remaining, though, such as slotting emblems into statues – but they explain that away by saying the police station building is very old and used to be a museum, hence all the art and the hidden passage.
I normally don’t talk about graphics because I don’t have the word count for it, but I just have to mention here that, not only is the remake a great looking game, but the way the graphic artists kept everything instantly recognisable while also updating it to look realistic and modern deserves a round of golf claps. You could show me a shot from any room from any angle and I’d be able to say, yep, that’s waiting room or, ah, that’s the S.T.A.R.S. office. It’s really well done. Then there’s all the nice touches like blood splatter, blood trails and bits you can shoot off zombies. Immediately after I shot the first zombie in the game, causing its head to explode and chunky bits of brain to land on a nearby shelf I thought, oh yes, me and this game are going to be good friends.
So that’s my general gushing about the game completed – believe me, I could go into more detail for thousands of words. And so far I’ve only done a Leon – Claire run, I’ve still got to do it the other way around before I even attempt to unlock some of the harder hidden stuff. This is what a remake should be, and it’s so good I’d say don’t even worry about playing the original, just play this.
Anyone could be forgiven for thinking Capcom had completely forgotten how to make a proper Resident Evil game – but they've proven us all wrong. They can still do it, and how! Resident Evil 2 is everything a die-hard fan of the classic games could have wanted, and the modern play mechanics should help it appeal to a newer audience too, which is a good thing.
I don't think I've ever seen a remake modernise itself so much while staying so faithful to the original material - this is the gold standard for how to do a remake
Some of the puzzles and encounter layouts were clearly purposefully made to subvert the expectations of fans on the original
Hardcore mode is great for old-school survival horror players – the limited saving, ammo scarcity, huge attack damage from enemies, and the careful planning of your route are just what we want
Lots of unlockable items, such as outfits, powerful weapons and new modes, to reward tenacious players, just like the original
Until you figure it out, the sneaking bit with Sherry is an annoying trial-and-error bit and the definite low-point of the game - thankfully it's short and once you know how it's done, it'll never bother you again
The Tyrant is a real pain the arse, sometimes to the point where it's no longer scary or tense, just irritating
If I were making this game, there is one secret unlockable I would have included and pity it's not in there (anyone who knows their classic gaming journalism April Fool's Day jokes knows what I'm talking about)
Unfortunately, in the internet age, any secrets the game might have had are already known - younger gamers will probably never know what it was like to live in the rumour period of the original RE2 before all its secrets slowly came to light over months of print media
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