Reviews

Resident Evil 2 (2019) Review

The rain was pelting the windows, the soft thump of each and every raindrop exploding against the panes of glass as I stumbled around the corner of the hallway, uneasy on my own feet. I took a furtive glance behind my shoulder, I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t hear anything except the slow dance of rain on the windows. I took a second to just exhale. I had lost him.

The thought raced through my mind for just a moment. Gingerly taking a step forward I relaxed ever so, suddenly he exploded through the wall on my right, sending down a shower of debris all around us as I stood staggered. Screams, expletives, terror suddenly became my companions on my new imperative flight through the wretched half-dead memorial that was Raccoon City Police Station. The Resident Evil 2 Remake had entered into a new and altogether different dimension of fear and dread.

Resident Evil 2 Remake instantly snatches away your heart, forcing you down on a dread-filled journey over one tenison laden night in Raccoon City as it all falls apart. I have very limited prior experience with the Resident Evil series. The only prior RE game I’ve played is the fantastic Resident Evil 7, a near masterclass of horror storytelling.

I thus went into RE2: Remake with very little idea of what to expect, or the knowledge and love of the original nearly twenty-year-old game. The remake though is wonderfully adept at slipping you into the lives of Leon and Claire and what’s happened inside the police station without any prior knowledge needed or twenty years of games needing to be played.

It is almost impossible for me to talk about the remake in any way without devoting considerable attention to arguably its breakout star, the brilliant Mr.X. Whereas in the original version of RE2, his role was substiantly more limited and different, in the remake he becomes a hulking, never stopping presence. Always there, always slowly marching through walls, doors, and whatever else stands before him in his relentless pursuit of you.

Mr.X’s re-imagining here is a brilliantly done transformation, radically reshaping your later time in the police station, and your understanding of where everything is and what threats remain.

This is perhaps shown nowhere stronger then in the slow realization that dawns upon you that you can hear Mr. X at virtually all times, slowly walking. This is a wonderful feature of the character for two very different but brilliant reasons that compliment each other delightfully. Firstly, is the simple fact that this is a great way to try to keep tabs on him, affording the player a sort of sonar for X that will allow you to begin to grasp a better understanding of how close or far away he is.

The second point though and very much a counter to the first, is the fact that there are few things more terrifying in RE2: Remake then getting a bit lost, or stuck somewhere. As you stop paying attention to the outside world as you frustratingly search for the solution to a puzzle, or try to retrace your steps to get back on track, you realize that you haven’t heard anything from good ol’ Mr. X in a while. As if on cue his deafening footsteps suddenly become all you can hear as he smashes through a door and the chase begins again.

He’s unable to be killed. He can’t be truly stopped for more then 30 seconds or so. He’s wickedly unpredictable. Did I mention he can just smash through random walls at time? Mr. X helps to reshape Resident Evil 2 Remake, and soon enough provided for many of its greatest scares and moments of tension. Mr. X in his new form provides the remake with its own great version of Jack Baker, constantly chasing and sprinting after you with a chainsaw in RE7, which formed such a horrifically brilliant heart to the sublime and near-perfect first act of that game. The highs don’t reach that note here, but they are pretty damn good nonetheless.

The evolution and growth of RE2: Remake locations and story as it goes on, is a wonderfully done triumph, particularly in location variety and the monsters you will encounter in each. The high for me in terms of pure fear, utter desire to avoid a fight with at all costs, and just dread and horror at seeing were the mutated creatures lurking in the water of Racoon City’s sewer system. Yet, all of the various creepy crawlies of the game stoke fear and a constant fight or flight debate within your brain.

Particularly with the game’s commitment to weapon and ammo scarcity, and how it increasingly doubles down on that as the game progresses. It throws more and more zombies at you without increasing the amount of supplies you can expect to find. The games devotion to weapon scarcity flirts with being unfair or harsh without ever fully crossing the line even as it remains bruising and ever-present, particularly if like me you went in trying to kill every zombie before truly realizing the full ramifications of what that entails.

One of the very biggest talking and selling points of Resident Evil 2 has long been it’s dual protagonists in Leon and Claire, and how they each have their own distinct campaign to play through, complete with second run versions of each. For me, the truth of how different and brilliant the games multiple runs and different campaigns actually are, ultimately begins and ends with me thinking it’s a clever idea that is maybe reflective of the fact that the game is near twenty-years-old because it comes with a fair share of baggage with all the good and cool ideas it brings for me.

Ultimately, my biggest takeaway is that Leon and Claire’s story should have probably just been combined into one single campaign. One that cuts back and forth between the two, showing you the moments of Leon and Claire’s journey through Racoon City’s Police Department that is actually different and unique without forcing you to replay through the 85 to 90 percent of the game and story that is exactly the same in both.

Indeed, the weirdest feature for me was the fact that the other character all but disappears from your playthrough after a certain point, not even really being mentioned again. When they finally meet up again at the end, with a brand new character in tow for one of them it is a slightly disconcerting and bizarrely forced trip down memory lane to really remember that they were also part of the narrative to begin with.

The different playstyles and natures of the two separate characters though is at least welcome, and the larger role they play in the expanded Resident Evil story is easy to enjoy. In particularly, finally getting to see fan-favorite and much-talked about Leon Kennedy from eventual RE4 fame get his start here as he slowly figures himself and what happened out was a nice story thread.

Conclusion

Resident Evil 2 Remake is a triumph from a plethora of different points. As a from-the-ground-up remake of the much-beloved original, it is perhaps the single finest remake I have ever seen, and unquestionably the model against which every other remake going forward should be judged against. It smartly didn’t just splash a prettier coat of paint on the old game, it expands and broadens Resident Evil 2, it’s characters, and the world of Racoon City to be better and stronger then what was already there.

As a classic old school horror title RE2 Remake is a successful, quieter triumph of discovery, secrets, backtracking, and not answering every question or point of interest in a single playthrough. For better or worse, it’s decision to split up Leon and Claire’s story into two separate playthroughs is the clearest example of the importance RE2 places on playing through this game again and again to truly discover and explore every secret and area. Indeed there are whole rooms and swaths of the police station that you can only access as one character or the other. The game demands you keep playing.

Finally, as a total horror and video game experience, this remake of Resident Evil 2 is a breath of fresh air for me, speaking selfishly. I’ve talked before of how 2018 was, in many ways, a lost year for games for me. How nearly nothing truly stuck or hit me with the weight or impact I was wishing. How I just sorta felt lost with games at times. Then along comes this remake of a nearly 20 year old game that within the first three weeks of the new year already delivers an experience that captivated, enthralled, riveted, and captured my imagination in a way that would have instantly put it into my top 2 favorite games of last year.

Resident Evil 2 Remake isn’t perfect. It serves as a example of the way games have progressed and evolved since its release in both good and bad ways. But its ability to instill emotions and visceral feelings into you is a triumph that all these years later, whether it’s your 10th time or like me, your very first time experiencing it is a wonderful showcase and statement of its quality and the brilliant and scary nature of Racoon City’s Police Headquarters.

This game was reviewed on a Standard PlayStation 4 system with a retail copy of the title purchased by the reviewer.