It’s disorienting to think that the last high profile survival horror game was The Evil Within 2, which came out almost a year and a half ago. The steady decline of the genre’s prevalence since is more than noticeable to its dissatisfied yet dedicated fanbase, and yet, despite the lack of titles that fall within the fine lines of survival horror in favour of more popular formats, Capcom refuses to let up with the franchise that started it all: Resident Evil. After the HD remaster of the brilliant remake of the original game, Resident Evil 2 was confirmed to be getting the same treatment in August of 2015. After no additional info for almost three years, the game was finally shown off at E3 2018, with a release to follow a mere seven months after.
Resident Evil has never taken itself too seriously narratively speaking. Bizzare and campy plots complete with quirky characters, silly writing, and performances so bad they’re funny have been longtime staples for the franchise. The series has a reputation for being unabashedly cheesy, and it’s all the more enjoyable because of it. However, recent titles haven’t followed this trend. Both RE7 and RE2 have a much darker tone about them in comparison to past entries. It’s allowed Capcom to retell the story of Racoon City’s initial outbreak from a fresh perspective. Smart changes and altering of events make for a much smoother experience, and strong voice-acting lends an emotional poignancy to crucial moments within its narrative.
I have a newfound appreciation for Resident Evil 2’s dual protagonists. Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield make their triumphant returns with a stronger sense of motivation and purpose behind their goals. Leon has an admirable urge to help those in need and his willingness to risk his life to save the city is made more believable because of it. Claire, on the other hand, is on the search for her missing brother, Chris Redfield. While simple in premise, Claire’s core narrative and character is vastly improved and much more likeable than in the original. The lack of narrative crossover between the duo in the remake feels like a missed opportunity both narratively and in terms of gameplay, but it’ll be hardly noticeable to those who haven’t played the original. The few side characters you encounter like Marvin Branagh and Ada Wong have some of the best development in the game yet have the least screen time. It stands as a testament to how far Capcom has come when it comes to crafting a narrative while not diminishing what made the original’s so charming.
The pinnacle of great survival horror is when all of its moving parts come together as a cohesive whole. Key staples like item management, hard-hitting enemies, puzzles to solve, items to collect and more are all part of a timeless formula that keeps these games as refreshing as they are. Resident Evil 2 neither mirrors nor disassociates itself with the original experience. Core objectives have been remixed, puzzles are altered in ways that will throw off even the most hardcore fan, and the excellent level design found in the original’s RPD setting is almost indistinguishable. It dances on a fine line between nostalgia and unfamiliarity, which is, by far, the best part of RE2.
Combat is always an option but never a desirable one. Aside from numerous boss fights sprinkled throughout each scenario, each enemy can be avoided to save resources, but that also means infected will still be lurking in that area when you inevitably backtrack through it. It’s a subtle and natural dynamic that emphasises player choice and how integral that choice is to making it out alive. The infected take a lot of bullets, so many to the point where it feels like a waste whenever you expend the ammunition to taken one down unless you get an ever-elusive critical headshot. It creates an innate sense of tension and atmosphere with every action you take, and that’s before Mr. X is brought into the formula. A hulking bioweapon whose sole purpose is to destroy and kill for Umbrella, Mr. X will ruthlessly hunt you down in unexpected ways. Even on my third playthrough, I was caught off-guard by him bursting through a wall in an area I thought was safe, and it’s a moment that’ll stick with me for a long time to come.
Resident Evil 2’s story is split up into two campaigns. The first where you play as one character, such as Leon, and a “2nd Run” campaign after where you play as Claire, or vice-versa. The 2nd Run is more than doing the same things with the other protagonist. You’ll enter RPD from a different area, items are found in different locations, and puzzles are once again subtly twisted to subvert player expectations. This is before you account for weapons unique to each protagonist, different playable side characters, boss fights, and a true ending which can only be obtained after completing the 2nd Run scenario. This effectively means you have four different campaigns to play through, plus unlockable modes, costumes, and character models to view in-game. RE2 is packed with a wealth of content, guaranteed to keep you playing for hours on end, and with additional free DLC on the way.
Ever since I played Resident Evil 7, I’ve been stunned by how excellent the RE Engine is. It’s astonishing what Capcom has been able to achieve with its relatively new piece of technology, and Resident Evil 2 is another stellar showcase for it. The game is stunningly detailed in every regard. Character models are intricately designed, facial animation is out of this world, and the new system used for gore is disgustingly good looking. Even the sewers are a gorgeous environment in their own gloomy and desolate way. There’s also a special mention that goes to the sound design. While some may opt to play with the classic soundtrack, it’d be a shame to miss out on what’s been created in its stead. The soundtrack plays subtly in the background so you can clearly make out the footsteps and groans of unseen foes lurking in the darkness, steadily building tension and instilling a sense of unease at all times. It’s a much more discrete inclusion of excellent audio design and achieves what it sets out to do without the player realising.
There’s one thing that permeates throughout my multiple playthroughs of Resident Evil 2 from the start right up until this very moment, and that’s how much love and care has been poured into this game. There’s an undeniable fervour present across Capcom’s recent titles that have come to an all-new climax with RE2. It single-handedly captures the essence of survival horror and what makes it great in a seemingly effortless fashion. The game is packed with content and modes that are all worth experiencing in their fullest, and Capcom should be commended for outdoing themselves yet again. RE2 is without a doubt the best remake I’ve ever had the privilege of playing, and I’m teeming with excitement now more than ever to see what’s in store next for the series that started it all.