I will be somewhat controversial right off the bat, and say that Resident Evil 2 (2019) is one of the best pieces of evidence possible for the validity of remasters/remakes in video games. It manages to capture the feeling, the mood and setting of the original game but brings 20 years of technical advancements on top of that. It would be considered a good game even if it was not part of an existing franchise, but as it is, it manages to remind us all why Resident Evil fascinated us so much in the 90s.
Let me pontificate (as you must do, gentle reader) – most remasters and re-whatever of the past decade have been for games that were barely 5 or 10 years old, to begin with, and basically were a result of fewer consoles being backwards-compatible. “Remaster” in this sense meant scaling from 480p to 720p and calling it HD, but fair enough, you usually got 2 or 3 good games in a single box, so why not. We all knew what the deal was. The next type of remake was the kind we saw with the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro re-creations. Great games, but great because they were always great, to begin with. Solidly rebuilt, but loyally so: a one to one recreation of the original, more homage than anything else. And while I loved both of those and like the style of them, it does make them more comparable to the originals, and more open to scrutiny if you changed anything from the original.
That brings us to the final form of remake, and the most ambitious: the kind that Resident Evil 2 is really pioneering here. Here is my next claim: early 3D PlayStation games often don’t hold up today in terms of playability. It has nothing to do with “dumbing down” of systems in games or changing tastes or just not being used to them. They’re often hell to play now because nobody knew what they were doing at the time, and it was all being invented for the first time. Exciting at the time, innovating and dynamic, but we did find what worked well and we stuck with it for good reason. We shouldn’t just think that “past good, present bad,” when it comes to everything. Yes, micro-transactions suck a lot of the time and everything can be a bit soulless, but we did learn plenty of good things from that time too that we stuck with today.
If you doubt me, please go back and play one of those survival-horror games from Capcom in the PS1 era. Resident Evil 1-3 and Dino Crisis 1-2 are what spring to my mind as classics of their genre, and I loved them all when they first came out. But they are, in fact, tediously unplayable, for one major reason, and that is the control system. The fabled Tank Controls of myth and legend. The obvious technical reason they existed in the first place was that 3D games were new at the time and everyone had a different idea about how it would be best to control movement. This was especially before the analogue controls became a standard part of the PSX control scheme. Purists would say that it added to the tension: being hard to control made it hard to survive in a survival-horror game, but for me that answer is the very definition of artificial difficulty, as it should only very rarely and carefully be considered a good thing to make a game more irritating to control for thematic reasons behind it. This is before we get into how the late 90’s jagged polygon look is no longer especially conducive to generating horror in the viewer.
What I think Resident Evil 2 (2019) succeeds in is that it looks at what Resident Evil is meant to be and brings those core concepts across in a balanced way. For me, these key points are as follows: a B-Movie style zombie plot with a surprisingly amount of depth, greater conspiracies at work than what you might expect when you start out, absurdly designed environments with all manner of secret labs, tunnels and areas that make no logistical sense, puzzles that similarly have no place in the real world space, and genuine terror and horror as you navigate this world, facing preposterous monsters, always feeling slightly one step behind, and with very limited resources to aid you. Resident Evil games are meant to have a slightly naff sense of charm in some ways, and yet they’re also meant to be genuinely scary most of the time too. It’s a fine balance that Resident Evil 5 and 6 completely failed at managing, and even though Resident Evil 7 was a good game, it didn’t feel like a Resident Evil game to me, and I think it should have been better kept as a spin-off title than as a numbered main edition.
With all that said, perhaps I should talk a little bit more about the actual game I’m meant to be talking about. Which is fair enough, but I do think the previous paragraphs here are important, because out of all games, Resident Evil 2 (2019) definitely does not exist in a vacuum without context. That being said, let’s look at what it offers on its own merits, especially for gamers not alive when the original game came out.
The game has two playable characters, Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, who arrive in Raccoon City together to discover that a zombie outbreak has occurred. Leon is there to become a cop, and Claire is looking for her brother, Chris, who was the protagonist from Resident Evil 1. Upon arriving, they are separated and take different journeys through the ruined city. You choose which character to control first, and spend the entire campaign with that one, aside from a brief interlude in each with guest characters (Ada Wong for Leon and Sherry Birkin for Claire). Once you finish that character’s plot, you can play through the other story you didn’t do yet. In that event, small changes are added, such as doors being opened or items being placed, based on your own actions in the first campaign. This creates the feeling that the two stories are happening in parallel, and that you, the player, make decisions for both plots. At the end of your second run, you get a final epilogue to wrap things up. The story and characters are not especially amazing in and of themselves, aside from adding to the extended crazy Resident Evil universe mythos, but they serve the gameplay well and drive you forward to your next goal positively.
Gameplay is in the over-the-shoulder third-person mode popularised by Resident Evil 4, although it has come some way since then, and has added improvements from even RE6 of all places. You can now run and shoot, with the decrease in accuracy you would expect, but at least you aren’t frozen in place like you were in the older games. You can have a melee weapon, like a knife, but it has a durability meter, and if you use it to kill a zombie that grabbed you, you must take the knife out of the zombie’s corpse before you can use it again. You have a limited inventory, but you do have a fixed point in your central safe zone to store and transfer weapons and items. Your character will hold and use a torch alongside their firearm by themselves, so you don’t need to manage control over that. Generally, combat will be in tight, small corridors, where you need to constantly be aware of what resources you have, what exit routes you have, and what you must do to avoid being boxed in and eaten. You can be grabbed by more than one zombie at once, and you also have the new addition of having wooden planks you can place over windows to permanently stop zombies coming in that way, which is useful when you use that route often.
There are difficulty settings, which change things like auto-healing, aim assist, and save-whenever-you wants. On the hardest difficulty, you will have limited saves using finite items, like in the original game. Across the two routes, Leon seems to have more guns, while Claire has more interesting guns.
Your enemies range from generic zombies, who are still pretty terrifying in how they can trick you into thinking they’re dead when they’re not, to more dynamic monstrosities like the red-headed lickers and zombie reptiles and tentacle-ish monster type thingies. A scientific term. You are also occasionally pursued by the Mr X monster, who cannot be killed and must only be fled from. There are no giant spiders like the original game, which is sad.
I found myself feeling genuinely helpless, tense and scared as I went through these many dark corridors. It’s not just the gameplay limitations, but also the graphics (which look lovely in their horror-full-ness) and the sound design too, which is kept to a minimal level to increase tension. This is why I think this game is an improvement to play over the original: the controls you use to aid in creating the feeling that you are not a superhuman and in fact very weak and vulnerable, but at the same time, they are not constraining like the original tank controls were. When you are scared, and you push a direction to run, your character will run that way now, and it adds to how the game response to your automatic and fearful responses.
Each campaign will last you about 6-8 hours, on average, but the game does give you scores and encourage replayability. Upon finishing the true epilogue, you unlock The Fourth Survivor mode, same as in the original mode, which is sort of a shorter challenge run using a different character called HUNK. Upon finishing that, you unlock Tofu mode, which is like the previous mode, except you only have a knife and a few small healing items. Oh yes, and you control a giant block of tofu as your character. It was a fun little joke in the original, and I’m so pleased they included it here.
Other extras include some paid DLC costumes and such, but also free DLC coming out on February 15th, which includes classic costumes for Claire and Leon, and another (but new) challenge mode, featuring three smaller NPCs and their efforts to survive. I am always in favour of free DLC, so this is a good move from Capcom if the new content proves to be substantial.
Resident Evil 2 is a step in all the right directions for me. Capcom has been known for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and making terrible decisions regarding franchises that people adore, but in this instance, I feel they really tried to understand why people loved the original game and did justice to honouring it. It wasn’t a remake I ever expected to exist, but I am pleasantly surprised that it does, and that it plays so well. An Resident Evil 3 remake would be fine now too I suppose, but don’t go overboard Capcom. Nobody needs a Resident Evil 6 remake at any point in human history.
Now, where’s that Final Fantasy 7 remake got to?…
Resident Evil 2
- Feels like it was made with fans in mind
- Improved controls
- Genuinely scary
- Storyline 0%
- Gameplay 0%
- Graphics 0%
- Replay Value 0%
- Sound and Music 0%