Capcom dips into the archive once more for this long-awaited remake of one of their most beloved titles: Resident Evil 2.
With the first person frightfest of the seventh main series instalment revitalising a franchise that had gone from stale to woeful in the space of one game (the quality drop-off from RE4 to RE5 was forgivable; from 5 to RE6 was cataclysmic – and let’s not discuss the spin-offs), hopes were high for the remake of Resi 2, a game beloved for just about everything bar the finicky inventory system – I mean, honestly, do typewriter ink ribbons really take up the same space as a submachine gun?
This remastered version of the best Resident Evil manages to strike the right balance between the Romero-meets-Argento mood of the 1996 original, and the more fluid combat mechanics of the celebrated RE4. This approach makes for a tense experience far removed from the guns-blazing boredom that befell parts of 5 and most of 6. The team behind the utterly terrifying 7, which stripped all the excess back by rather blatantly taking a leaf from Kojima and Del Toro’s aborted P.T. project – have added their touch here, and the reborn Resi 2 stakes a claim as being not just one of the best games of this generation, but one of the finest horror games ever.
The story is, in its basic form, still the same: rookie cop Leon Kennedy shows up for his first day at Raccoon City PD to find the place eerily quiet, save for some ominous moans and the sound of feet dragging in the distance. Joining him on this quest is Claire Redfield, determined to figure out where her brother Chris has disappeared to since the events of the first game. All that stands between them and escape is a police station where the door keys have been replaced with elaborate puzzles, a city populated by the undead, and a hulking menace known as Mr. X (or, at least, he was; here the game does away with mystery and just outright calls him what he is) who stomps around and shows up just when the ammo is about to run out.
There are some great changes that add to the tension. Minor tweaks like enemy and item placement mean the veterans in the gaming ranks will be kept on their toes, whilst major changes mean there’s now more game for everyone with the addition of new places to explore. Like the original, once you’ve played through with one character, the option to go again from the perspective of the other is unlocked. However, rather stressfully, Mr. X is now in both timelines rather than just the B run, which rather amps up the adrenaline. His initial introduction is great, lifting up a helicopter like his last sessions were leg days and his crush is in the gym, before immediately proceeding to mercilessly stalk you all over RCPD. It’s not the first or final surprise for RE2 vets, but it’s certainly one of the best.
This particular tyrant is unstoppable, but he doesn’t detract from other returning foes, like the iconic Licker and the grande fromage William Birkin (the outing of whom is one of the few jump scares this game allows itself, a testament to the influence of RE7’s restraint relative to its three predecessors). Yet the meat and potatoes of the Resi series has always been the shuffling zombie horde, and here the walking dead are rendered in impressively gory detail. When being attacked, limbs fly off, muscle is exposed and heads split open. It would be delirious if the rest of the game weren’t so imposing (that’s not a criticism), with darkened corridors barely illuminated by a torch whose light often doesn’t uncover as much as you’d like. That’s not to say you won’t be impressed by the visuals; on the contrary, this could be one of the best looking games of this generation, with motion capture, design work and lighting effects all working towards creating a world that was clearly lived in before being destroyed.
It’s not just enemies and graphics who have been levelled up. The writing – until recently, never really a strong point for the series – has been redone to fit the sombre tone, with even supporting characters given moments to shine. Remember the asshole gun store owner? He’s got a reason to be that way. Lt. Marv? He gets a hero shot where he tells the main character to get in gear. And those main characters have had time in the writer’s room; Leon might still be the boy scout, but he’s one with a heart, and by the end you can see his arc curving towards the cynic of the latter games. That said, Claire’s campaign is where the polish can be both seen and, surprisingly, felt: “Tell me about your mom”, she asks a terrified young companion after a particularly grisly encounter, a question that tells the player as much about the character asking as it does about the character answering. There’s still B-movie one-liners aplenty, but Capcom’s clearly been investing wisely since the autopilot actioneering beat sheets of RE6.
Away from the writer’s room, surface sheen and excellent opposition, the game does have some flaws, which notably are holdovers from the original. Despite one setting dragging on a tad too long (as well as being introduced by a sequence that’s so sluggish to control you’ll be longing for quicktime events), first playthroughs can take a mere six or seven hours – although, in fairness, double that for the alternative runs. Mr. X can also be a little too keen, his devotion to hunting you down becoming an irritation during some puzzle sequences, and there are occasions involving him that break the established gameplay without being signposted as such.
Yet that doesn’t detract from the simple truth that the benchmark for remasters is here, and long-time fans will rejoice that Capcom is following the Resi 4 formula of cribbing what was great about the games preceding it and improving upon them. This bodes well for both RE8 and the inevitable Nemesis remake.
Resident Evil 2 is out now, reviewed on PS4.