Updated: Jul 9, 2019
A Modern Re-Imagining of a Survival Horror Classic
Capcom released a remake of their 1996 Playstation title Resident Evil on the Nintendo Gamecube in 2002. Seventeen years and fifteen sequels and spin-offs later, they finally got around to releasing the remake of its 1998 Playstation sequel Resident Evil 2, now available on the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam. The term “remake” has changed a lot in seventeen years and many games find themselves simply cleaned up and “remastered” for today’s high definition video game consoles. Capcom themselves have been guilty of this many times over, but Resident Evil 2 is such an iconic title that it deserved a fully realized recreation. Not just in graphics, in gameplay design as well. Resident Evil 2 has been rebuilt from the ground up to become almost a new game.
Obviously games have changed a lot in the last twenty-one years, along with their audience and the expectations of those playing games. Concepts that were the norm in the burgeoning survival horror genre of the late 90s rarely find themselves in games nowadays. Capcom recognized this and understood that in order to make a successful remake of a beloved title, they needed to both honor its roots while making an accessible title. On the game’s default difficulty, saves are not limited to items, resources are more abundant, and inventory management is easier to handle. The game remains challenging, but not in an obtusely difficult way. However, for those nostalgic enough to deal with those mechanics, an optional Hardcore difficulty is available to make the game more closely aligned with the original 1998 game.
"Like the zombie fiction that inspired the Resident Evil game series, most of the plot is schlocky and filled with cheesy dialogue, melodrama, and a general B-movie feel"
Resident Evil 2 follows the story of rookie cop Leon Kennedy of the Raccoon City Police Department and the young college student Claire Redfield (sister of the protagonist of the first game, Chris Redfield) as they find themselves entangled in an apocalyptic zombie outbreak that has overtaken Raccoon City. Like the zombie fiction that inspired the Resident Evil game series, most of the plot is schlocky and filled with cheesy dialogue, melodrama, and a general B-movie feel. You can choose to play through the game as either character, and after finishing their story you unlock the game’s second scenario, in which you play as the character you did not pick. For example, if you start as Leon and finish his chapter, you unlock the second act of the game through Claire’s perspective, and vice-versa. The game is tightly built around the idea of replaying these scenarios, and finishing all four routes (Leon A, Claire B, or Claire A, Leon B) is the main bulk of the game.
While the story is mostly untouched, the gameplay has been completely revamped. The original 1998 PSX game used fixed camera angles and tank controls, both common staples of survival horror games. 2019’s release shifts the camera perspective to a behind-the-back look that will be instantly recognized by anyone who has played a third person shooter in the last decade. I believe that one of the biggest things that separates this game from most other third person shooters is the lack of aim-assist on the Standard difficulty, which combined with the relative scarcity of spare bullets and the unpredictable swaying of your undead foes leads to a slower, more deliberate experience. Often you’ll find the best solution won’t be mowing down every enemy, but instead running for your life. If you do decide to stand your ground it may not turn out so well for you. Shots aren’t easily dialed in, heads may jerk suddenly to the side just as you pull the trigger, and your enemies can be remarkably resistant.
"Shots aren’t easily dialed in, heads may jerk suddenly to the side just as you pull the trigger, and your enemies can be remarkably resistant."
Though the change in perspective does encourage a more active and engaging combat system, longtime fans of the series need not to worry. It is still the same Resident Evil 2 you remember, complete with silly puzzles that will leave you wondering exactly WHY Raccoon City decided to turn an old art history museum into a police station. All of the classics are here: examining a bejeweled staff to obtain an octagonal ruby that stays in your inventory for an hour before you find a specific socket to place it in, statues with movable hieroglyphs that, when solved, reward you with a medallion to insert into a different statue, etc. Some of the later entries in this long lived franchise downplayed this adventure game-esque concept and focused more on the action, leaving many fans disappointed with them. It may have taken them many years, but Capcom managed to figure out how to do both, and the result makes for a much stronger game.
Graphically, the game looks amazing and run at a consistent framerate, even on my base PS4. While I couldn’t get the full HDR experience, the game prompts a surprisingly in-depth brightness option when you first launch it. The game’s story takes place over one night, and most of the game’s environments are poorly lit, so it makes sense that “how dark it should be” is a major focus. The primary source of light throughout the game will be your character’s flashlight, creating a remarkable sense of tension and fear that is often not present in third person games. Every shadow will give you pause, every unexplored room a new nightmare. It hearkens back to the original PSX game’s use of fixed camera angles, which would often highlight a shadow whose source is just off-screen, or the growl of an unseen enemy.
"Every shadow will give you pause, every unexplored room a new nightmare"
Speaking of growls, the audio design of the game is comparable to its graphical fidelity. Full 3D, binaural audio is supported, and I highly recommend playing the game in a dark room while wearing headphones for the optimal experience. Every footstep, moan, and shriek is terrifying. Anyone familiar with the 1998 release will either be grateful or saddened to hear that all of the dialogue has been re-recorded. Unfortunately Capcom did not rehire any of the original actors, and not for the reasons you’d think. According to a quote from Claire’s original voice actress Alyson Court, “I would have done it, because I know you guys wanted me to, and I really appreciate your support. I appreciate the outrage you had towards Capcom and everybody involved. But unfortunately, as far as I know they chose to go non-union with the voice performances” (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtuCEDTaXqc). While the new actors do a good job, the knowledge that Capcom intentionally went with non-union labor due to the SAG-AFTRA union strike taints the package for me personally.
Resident Evil 2 is a perfect example of how to breathe new life into an iconic game. It has the production values of the biggest triple A games, gameplay that blends modern third person shooters and classic Resident Evil puzzles, all while retaining the identity and personality of its 1998 namesake. Following the success of Resident Evil 7 in 2017 and the incredible quality of this remake, the series is in a better place than it has been in over a decade and leaves me optimistic for whatever Capcom does next. Then again, they made Resident Evil 0 directly after the fantastic Gamecube remake of Resident Evil 1, so maybe I should lower my expectations.