One of the most common traits of the waves of remasters and remakes that have washed up this generation is an often slavish reverence for the original, typically sticking to sprucing up the graphics while leaving the actual gameplay intact. Resident Evil 2’s remake doesn’t follow that script, but takes the source material and reimagines it for the modern day. It’s all the better for it.
Of course, the first thing that can go and die in a burning bushel of zombies are ‘tank controls’ for human characters, and they’ve been dutifully thrown out of the window alongside the fixed camera views that were a necessity for the original game to achieve its level of graphical detail through pre-rendered backgrounds. Within seconds, it’s easy to see that shifting to a third person, over the shoulder view – as the series first adopted in Resident Evil 4 – was the right decision, but the game easily retains the creepy horror game vibe, compared to the more action-oriented feel of the mid-2000s games.
For one thing, the environments just get an awful lot darker than they did before. Yes, there’s still areas that are quite brightly lit, but with dynamic lighting, HDR and everything else, Capcom can sink you into the darkness with just a flashlight and creepy, horrible sounds to contend with.
One thing that really stands out is just how pretty this game is – and you’d hope so, when Capcom has thrown over 800 developers at it. The lighting in particular is wonderful and atmospheric, the rain and water when Leon and Ada head out from the RPD headquarters captures just the right amount of cinematic shimmer, while their character and facial animation is as top notch as their modern day scripting and performance capture. Most importantly, when you go wading through the sewers and have to fight a giant crocodile, Leon comes out covered in appropriate amounts of poop.
But this goes far, far beyond just making the game look prettier and control better. Capcom’s approach has been to modernise the game’s story and design, meaning that bit-part characters like Marvin or Kendo who died within moments of their appearance in the original release can become more integral to the story or briefly return for more meaningful story beats later on in the remake. Of course, the main thrust of the game’s story and the dual narratives that playing as Leon and Claire provide still remain, but it takes more than a few opportunities to broaden and add depth to the tale.
It’s taken to the extent of adding entirely new areas along the way and introducing new puzzles alongside remixes of previous ones. Ada has a remote hacking tool that can scan walls for power conduits and switches and then remotely trigger them. Doing this while also kiting a growing horde of zombies through the sewage facilities had me getting chomped on a few times, but a little trial and error thanks to the infinite typewriter saves and auto saves helped me through – veterans may wish to turn on hard mode and play with the limited typewriter ribbons.
The puzzles in general have a more common sense feel to them as well. There’s still some of the eccentricities of needing to attach hands to a statue in order to get a sceptre that can open a fancy box, but you’re just as likely to be tracking down a USB dongle for a PC, or deciphering combinations for a safe. Again, there’s just this push toward making the game more suitable for 2019, compared to the some of the batty nonsense that developers threw into games in the mid-90s.
Now, I’m going to level with you here, but I never played the original Resident Evil 2. A lot of the references, a lot of the jump scares, iconic moments and locations all sailed over my head, but that doesn’t mean as much here as it might do in another remaster. The intent is to create a fresh experience for those filled with nostalgia and newcomers to the series – the graphical upgrade alone makes this much more inviting for horror fans that wouldn’t have been born when it originally released.
Despite not knowing the layout of the building when I started, it soon starts to click and I had to consult the map less and less over the course of three hours exploring it. There’s some added niceties apparent when compared to footage of the original, such as having stairs up to the balcony in the main foyer, and simply being able to push through doors just makes the whole building feel more natural and connected.
Most of the zombies will go down with enough bullets, even if they can often take several clear shots to the head from a regular pistol and still get back up again. While you can run rings around them in more open areas, as in the original, they’re more handsy when you’re forced through cramped rooms and corridors. You’re bound to end up getting nibbled on a few times, during which the camera pulls right in over the shoulder to show a gruesome amount of gore. Pulling out Leon’s shotgun or Claire’s grenade launcher can more reliably put an end to them following you, though it’s quite terrifying when a Licker simply refuses to go down despite being set on fire.
It’s already a tense experience, but then the Tyrant reveals itself as Claire has to return to the RPD building. The music ratchets up when he’s following you, you can hear his booming footsteps stomping behind you or coming from above or below you. While I can boast about having ice cold reactions when simply walking past Lickers that are inches away from me, or having the foresight to board up some windows with zombies clawing at the other side, the Tyrant constantly had me running a little bit scared.
There was the hilarity of opening the door from the safety of Chief Irons’ room to find him stood just outside, there was the time where I thought his footsteps were coming from upstairs, when he was actually behind me – this was the only time I jumped enough for the Capcom PR watching to notice (much to his delight) and I’m going to blame a lack of surround sound – and there was the time where he caught up to me, I ran into the zombie-filled office, got trapped in a corner and inadvertently rescued from the situation when the Tyrant grabbed me and threw me across the room. It can definitely get your heart rate going!
The best thing about Resident Evil 2 is that Capcom are developing it in away that caters to both fans of the original and newcomers. It’s more than a standard remake and within that they’ve found freedom to bring practically every aspect of the game up to date, while still having enough knowing nods and winks to the series’ community. It’s shaping up to be the new gold standard for how to bring a 90s classic into the 21st century, and you should be very, very excited.