It starts with a dirty burger. No, literally; this super shiny remake of Capcom’s seminal 1998 survival horror sequel starts with a lovingly rendered bread bun, stuffed with a beef patty, a slice of bacon, oozing with cheese – the kind of thing that you can feel your arteries screaming as you’re looking at the screen but, by god do you ever want one right this instant. This image, and the scene that follows, pretty much feels like a mission statement from Capcom – this is not the Resident Evil 2 you’re expecting. It’s prettier, darker, different and most certainly very dirty. Grimy. Squishy. It’s a game that sets out to make you uncomfortable as much as it wants to entertain you.
Resident Evil 2 was my introduction to a franchise I’ve grown to both love for its strong horror and puzzle gameplay,as well as despair for the downturn it’s taken in recent years. As a PC gamer, that was the version I played, and it’s a game I’ve revisited many times since, most recently on the GameCube. On the flipside of that, I have never played the ORIGINAL release of Resident Evil – the PC port was a bit of a jank, requiring specific graphic cards to function, so my first introduction to the amazing adventures of Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine was via the incredible remake on the GameCube. For the uninitiated this was a ground up overhaul of the first game, throwing in newly rendered character models, locations, a new script and soundtrack, new puzzles and a complete shake up of everything that fans of the original were expecting. It’s since recieved a HD update, releasing a couple of years back on PC, PS4 and XBox One, as well as getting reissued on Wii before that, but to say I’ve been waiting for Capcom to give the sequel the same treatment for quite some time is an understatement. Here we are, though – just over 20 years later and I’m dragging myself screaming out of my latest foray into Racoon City. Let me tell you – I was not expecting this!
It’s basically a completely new game that happens to be based on Resident Evil 2
So, back to that burger and the revelation that this ain’t yo Daddy’s Resi. It’s quite remarkable what Capcom have done with this title – it’s basically a completely new game that happens to be based on Resident Evil 2. That becomes apparent the first time you get your hands on your chosen character. Ditching the fixed camera angles of the original in favour of an over the shoulder approach that’s reminiscent of Resident Evil’s 4 through 6, RE2 (I’ll use this going forwards when I’m talking about the remake to avoid confusion!) quickly introduces its new, grittier aesthetic. The “tutorial” section at the petrol station introduces you to the smoother controls that this viewpoint affords while also making the original releases opening cinematic interactive. You’ll also be introduced to something you’ll likely come to hate throughout the course of this game – the torch.
With the much improved real time visuals that Capcom’s modern RE Engine allows, the lighting in this game is at the same time superb and utterly pant messingly terrifying. Light sources cast shadows, the torch that your character waves around in dark areas lights up the scenery in only a small cone, leaving you trying to spot the hidden undead menaces lurking in corners, while the lack of fixed angles leads to more careful exploration of rooms. While we’re on the subject of the engine, this game looks absolutely amazing! From the architecture to the facial animations and even the way characters move and react to their environment, bracing themselves, pushing doors open and acting as surprised as you when something horrible appears out of the shadows, everything looks stunning, even down to the stomach churning viscera.
I’m not going to lie – I like a good gory film, probably more so than others (I would, dear reader, digress into a discussion of extreme cinema but that’s for another day!) but there are some moments of squishiness in RE2 that truly deliver the horrifying goods – the way you can blast limbs off the zombies, or a moment where someone’s head is crushed, resulting in a spectacular eyeball pop. Blood glistens, flesh and muscle stretch and torn skin looks… well… like torn skin. It’s gruesome and amazing and I love it.
The new controls also switch up the combat to a degree. You still use the left trigger to ready your weapon, firing with the right trigger, but you’ll now find yourself with a few more options open to you. Standing still and letting your shrinking reticule reach its center will give you a much more precise shot but will of course allow the shambling Z’s to inch closer. Weapons can now be switched using the d-pad, reloaded quickly with a tap of the square (X if your on XBox) button, and freely aimed to help in targeting enemy weak points. The secondary weapon system shakes up the combat even further, though. Secondary weapons consist of grenades and knives. These can be armed with the right bumper and used appropriately, throwing or slashing. But secondary weapons serve another purpose. If you get grabbed by an enemy you can hit the right bumper at the appropriate time to use them before you get damaged – knives can be jammed into enemies and grenades stuffed in mouths to do massive damage. It’s a smart system and one that you’ll need because the enemies in this game are AGGRESSIVE.
I’m glad I wore my brown trousers!
Zombies have a much longer reach, monsters like Lickers will chase you down and murder you and, even more horrifying, doors no longer provide respite. Sure, there are still areas that enemies won’t enter, safe zones where you’ll find typewriters to save your process and boxes to stash items from your limited inventory, but the first time you dart into a room only to hear an enemy banging on and eventually opening the door behind you… well, I’m glad I wore my brown trousers!
For all the change, though, some things stay the same. At the beginning players get the choice of starting a game with either rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy or Claire Redfield, sister of Chris from RE1. Following the petrol station scene you’ll be deposited in Racoon City with one goal – reach the police station. Each character gets the same story at this point, meeting the same NPCs with dialogue switching up appropriately. At times these two characters will cross paths, but you will always control the one you chose. After finishing the story with this character you’ll then have an option to use your save file and start what is effectively a New Game + (to use modern gaming lingo, kids) where you’ll play through the story again with the other character, visiting new locations and meeting new NPCs – the beginning and end are the same, but what happens in between is different and sheds light on the story overall. But here’s the kicker – in RE2, Capcom have had the most fun playing on the expectations of those gamers who’ve done this rodeo before. You see, things are different. Story elements are changed, moved around, sometimes even eliminated entirely. This isn’t necessarily change for changes sake, though – this feels like a more streamlined experience, trimming the fat and allowing previously underused characters to shine in meaningful ways. It’s a testament to modern video game storytelling that, yes – this is still Resident Evil 2, but it’s a new, fresh take on the story, modern and mature and all the better for it.
This feels like a TRUE survival horror game
One of the larger criticisms aimed at the series over its lifespan has been the gradual dumbing down of the franchise, moving into a more linear, action friendly feel. Now, I’ll admit to something here – I’ve not played Resident Evil 7, the game that apparently signals a change into a less action focussed, more thoughtful tone over the previous games, but RE2 has given me the taster I need to shift it up my queue to that coveted “Up next…” spot. RE2 is lighter on the puzzles than the original release, but the way it integrates them into the world feels much better. In fact, the world itself overall feels better and fresher and, mild spoiler alert, more interconnected. Yes, taking a leaf out of the Dark Souls/Metroidvania playbook, RE2’s areas ultimately weave and connect back on each other, allowing you to revisit older rooms with fresh eyes, to try solving side puzzles and find hidden gear. You’ll need all the gear you can get – ammo is truly scarce and, while a new crafting mechanic can help you fill your pockets, there were many times I found myself with one bullet left, having to be careful and plan my runs between safe rooms, making sure I had enough healing resources on me. But this new world structure allows you to embrace that, to learn the fastest routes to your destination and understand how enemies will react when they see you to minimise the impact on your health and resources. This feels like a TRUE survival horror game.
Honestly, I could go on about RE2 for ages but I’m worried I’ll let slip something truly spoilery. There’s the unlockables that allow you to look at production art and models (you should totally do the latter just to appreciate how gorgeous they are). There’s the game modes that you can get access to on finishing the different storylines. There’s secrets galore, locks that will taunt you in your down time between sessions inviting you back to see what mysteries they hold. There’s the costumes you can get, like the noir outfits for Leon and Claire that let you play the game with a black and white filter. But above all there’s the atmosphere that this brilliant reimagining of a stone cold classic oozes like the cheese from that dirty burger. RE2 is a game that redefines both its namesake and the series it’s a part of and is a bold and exhilarating game that cannot be recommended more.