After years of hope and then months of waiting, it is finally time for the G-Virus to be unleashed once again in Raccoon City. The second Resident Evil game still remains many a fan’s favourite, and surely stands as the peak of the original series. Capcom have taken that core game, with its dual protagonists, interlocking stories, and blend of puzzles and combat, and fully updated it to the graphical standards of 2019. In doing so, however, it is clear that they fully appreciated what made it so great in the first place and have kept the core content intact. In many ways, this is the Resident Evil 2 of my rose-tinted memories, but presented in a way that will hopefully spawn a whole new generation of fans.
Despite having delved into the time-limited demo beforehand, I still found myself bowled over by the graphics. Gone are the blocky polygons of 20 years ago, replaced by stunningly modelled environments packed with incredible amounts of detail. There was an odd sense of déjà vu in exploring the rooms of Racoon Police Department, as they were eerily similar yet also radically transformed by the added power of contemporary consoles. Character models are also equally transformed, with a welcome variety to the range of zombies you’ll encounter, and that leads me to the particularly effective looking gore in the game, of which there is a vast amount. The oozing, fluid, congealing and slippery blood that coats much of the environments gives everything a sleazy and horrific sheen that really makes it look lifelike. The enhanced design of the enemies also means that they react to damage and there is much gruesome fun to be had in separating limbs and heads from torsos.
I played through on a standard PS4 so wasn’t able to follow up on the reported HDR issues from the demo, but found the brightness and lighting to be much more balanced. Obviously this is a game that is best played in a darkened room with the brightness turned down. Objects that you can interact with are clearly defined without having to resort to the old fashioned glimmering effect and largely fit in nicely with the environment. The whole game has a visual and logical coherence that makes it all hang together gloriously.
The common criticism that the puzzles seem out of place in the police department is more clearly explained away by a pamphlet that reveals the site used to be an art museum (which was also present but less explicit in the original). As you progress through the various levels of the game, each displays the same eye for detail combined with a distinct style. From underground car parks to sinister laboratories, it all looks and feels right, but the real star is the sewer section, complete with all the filth and excrement that you would expect.
The dual storylines are retained from the original game, with Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield both independently exploring Racoon City and occasionally bumping into one another. The interplay between them has been streamlined though, with there being no crossover items, so there’s no deciding whether or not to take a machine gun as Leon or leave it for Claire. In fact, playing through the ‘A’ scenario with either is largely the same, with the main difference between the specific weapon sets of each and the secondary character sections featuring Ada Wong and Sherry Birkin. Finishing an ‘A’ playthrough does still unlock a ‘B’ story for the other character, in which the story echoes that of their comrade and leads to a different conclusion. This streamlining is effective but feels a little less innovative than the setup of 20 years ago. There are still plenty of reasons to play through multiple times to unlock extra rewards, now with trophies and achievements for extreme challenges such as not using healing items or finishing under a certain time limit or number of steps.
At first, even contemplating these kinds of approaches seems ludicrous, as the switch to an over the shoulder viewpoint hasn’t dulled the challenge of Umbrella’s mutations. The inventory limits and item boxes provide a constant need to juggle between ammo, health aids, and key items whilst minimising backtracking and exposure to dangerous enemies. There are now multiple difficulties to enable those without STARS reflexes to see the end, with the easier two having an Autosave and no ink ribbon limits. Playing through this way still made for a fantastic game, without the frustration of needing to replay the most difficult parts, but didn’t quite feel enough like a real Resident Evil experience. After finishing, I immediately restarted on a higher difficulty and treated the easy mode as a training exercise. It remains to be seen whether the extra challenge achievements will be beyond me, but I’m looking forward to giving them a try!
The bestiary of foes that Umbrella unleash upon you contains all the familiar monsters from the original and a number of new ones. The zombies lurch and moan in true Romero fashion and are largely harmless except when attacking in large numbers. The iconic Lickers return and are possibly even more terrifying thanks to the advances in visual and sound design. The latter in particular really adds to the game and manages to create terror even when you know what is around the corner. The slick movement noises of the Licker and the clomping footsteps of the unstoppable Tyrant are always sure to make your blood run cold and your bowels clench in fear, even when you are relatively well armed.
Finishing the main game with both characters unlocks the 4th Survivor mode, as revealed in the most recent trailer at the end of the demo. In this mode, you play as the indomitable Hunk, a highly trained mercenary who comes complete with a full arsenal of weaponry but cannot collect more in his race to the extraction point. This mode has no item puzzles, and no campy dialogue, but feels like a survival puzzle of its own as you must work out how to get past a series of encounters with the resources at hand whilst reserving enough for the unknown areas to come. Once you have finally managed to get to the end of this you can try again to do it faster. The thrill of balancing risk and reward in whether to rush through or clinically take out your enemies is a shot of pure adrenaline and provides an excellent counterpart to the survival horror of the main game. There are also even more unlocks in this mode for the truly skilled, but I haven’t got any of these yet.
This Resident Evil 2 remake is a phenomenal update of a classic game. It combines the best of the original’s narrative and puzzles with the ammo crafting of Resident Evil 3 and the action gameplay of Resident Evil 4 to create a hybrid that still manages to feel like classic Resi. Old fans will enjoy the nostalgic retread of Racoon City in all its newfound glory, whilst newcomers will get to experience one of the finest episodes of the series as it should be. The remake has been more than worth the wait, and the evil of the Umbrella Corporation is back in residence at the top of the survival horror pile once more.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 – Also available on Xbox One and PC