Review: Resident Evil 2 Remake
Cover art: Resident Evil 2 Remake (Capcom)
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, and PC
Release Date: January 25, 2019
Review: Resident Evil 2 Remake (2019) is, plainly enough, a remake of Capcom’s survival-horror PlayStation classic, Resident Evil 2 (1998). My introduction to the Resident Evil series was 2005’s Resident Evil 4, so this fresh take on RE2 is my first trek through the zombie-ridden, nocturnally fixed streets of Raccoon City. The premise is simple: a pharmaceutical company (Umbrella) has unleashed some sort of virus in the city that has the undead shambling around—hungrily, of course. Claire (a college student searching for her brother) and Leon (a rookie cop) are trapped in Raccoon’s archaic police station where they must survive and find the source of the zombie outbreak.
The police station is a maze of cloistered hallways, shattered windows, creaky floors, secret chambers, locked doors, and weird little trinkets. (There are other areas, but the police station is the main event.) As Claire or Leon, you will creep around with a flashlight, its bright glow providing a mere circle of visual information beset by darkness. In the dark, sound plays an important role in how players negotiate the game space and its emerging threats. It’s good, then, that the sound design is both chilling and informative from a gameplay standpoint. (Wear headphones!)
What’s been achieved in RE2 Remake, two decades after the O.G., is more than a visualsonic touch-up. It is basically a new game that, by most accounts, keeps the tone and essence of its predecessor. It has tight, over-the-shoulder controls (a departure from the elder game’s locked camera) and revised shooting mechanics. Target reticles dilate when your character moves, requiring that you stand dangerously still to pull off precise shots. RE2 Remake is all about these tradeoffs, i.e., “Should I discard this gunpowder to make space in my inventory for an upgrade part?”
As the story goes, RE4 was a shift away from the series’ survival horror roots—counting bullets and managing inventory—towards an action/adventure style. There was a “Kick” button, as I recall. In RE2 Remake, you don’t know jujitsu, and these aren’t the got-it-at-the-mall zombies of, say, Valve’s Left 4 Dead series. Ain’t no point systems or combo multipliers. You’re better off just not fucking with zombies. A headshot (!) on a zombie may not—and in most cases won’t—yield the satisfying splat of so many cranial explosions in other shoot-em-ups. Even apparently dead (as in, dead-dead) zombies may rise again until you relieve them of their ailing brains entirely. Limbless and on fire, they crawl and bite (yes, bodies react dynamically to damage). Bullets are sparse, so it’s usually better to stun with three shots than kill with nine.
Zombies are the stock enemies, but then there are the lickers—blind, animalistic things that lurch around just listening for you. I’ll omit some of the others, as there as bosses, mini-bosses, and area-specific creatures to find. I do, however, want to shout out Mr. X (of It’s Dark and Hell is Hot fame). X is a big-boned, superhuman zombie in a fedora that stalks Claire and Leon at different points in the game. When his giant body isn’t cutting a death-sized rectangle out of the screen, you hear only his heavy footsteps as he dutifully tracks you, magnetized to your every move. Again, the audio is the star here, as listening (and being mindful of your character’s noise) ramps up the tense gameplay immensely. You can’t even kill Mr. X. Think Terminator meets Hafþór Björnsson meets Humphrey Bogart.
“B-but, my grandmama bought me that hat…”
RE2 Remake has some delirious puzzles, many of which culminate in unblocking a path once solved. My enjoyment of these puzzles varied. Some felt too counterintuitive for an RE2 novice like me. For instance, there are “Examine” and “Combine” options in the inventory that are essential to the puzzles, but it took me a while to get hip to that (probably because I immediately dismiss tutorials). Solutions also require a lot of backtracking through environments, and there isn’t as nearly as much variety here as there is in most contemporary games. On the one hand, this repetition taught me how to trudge through the sewers like a pro, cutting time off future playthroughs. But, on the other hand, I got tired of trudging through the sewers.
The weakest part of the game is its story. Granted, the facial animations have come a long way, but a lot of the dialogue is dated, skippable. The strongest connection I felt with Claire and Leon was during their in-game reactions to the horrors (stuff like, “…Jesus Christ!” and, “What the fuck was that?”). Claire and Leon are separated for most (all) of the game, but their relationship, like the tenuous neural fibers of the undead, is strung along via some meager cutscenes and in-game notes. Those beats don’t land, but the monstrous atmosphere does, so you go with it. Leon eventually meets Ada, a femme fatale in dark shades and a long coat that conceals a rather perplexing red dress. Her motivations are unclear; she might work for the F.B.I., and so forth. Claire is freighted with Sherri, a young girl she encounters. Thankfully, at this point in my Claire playthrough, Sherri doesn’t actually encumber the gameplay—in fact, Sherri’s short playable sequence is damn scary. If we could suture the lacerated flesh of Claire, Leon, and Sherri’s narratives together, we would arrive at a nuclear zombie-vanquishing family of sorts. It felt pedestrian (woman instinctively cares for child, naïve man is deceived by mysterious woman, and the black guy dies. You’ve seen this before).
Don’t get me wrong though. Resident Evil 2 Remake is a fantastic game. The real stuff of the experience—the gameplay, the immersion, the horror—is done exceptionally well. It does “remake” in a way that, as far as I can tell, should satisfy both longtime series fans and new players.