Twenty-one years ago, I had a great time playing Resident Evil 2 on the original PlayStation console. I enjoyed the first Resident Evil on the same console in 1996 but it was the sequel that turned me into a fan of the game franchise.
A few months ago, Capcom released the remake of Resident Evil 2 (which I bought for Xbox One) completing the promise they made way back in 2015. Sure details of the game were kept in great secret until E3 of 2018 (when it was first previewed) but I can tell you from my experience that the long wait was indeed well worth it!
Before I go on, let me share to you that while just about everyone called this new version of RE2 a remake, for me it is more than that. I personally would call it a remake with expansion.
Now I can discuss the game
Gameplay and Presentation
The way this game was remade and expanded, Capcom’s team did a great job to modernize Resident Evil 2 a lot. This is not a carbon copy of the 1998 game design done with 3D environments and a 3rd person view (over-the-shoulder) for the 8th console generation. The developers went the extra mile adding some new challenges and gameplay features that just might inspire other game developers to follow suit.
At its core, RE2 Remake is technically a 3rd person adventure game that carefully blends horror, action and exploration combined with suitable storytelling split into two sides. When you play a new game, you get to choose either Claire or Leon. Once you finish the game, a “New Game – 2nd Run” option comes up which allows you to play the other character on the other side (or scenario) of the main story that you just finished.
While the 1998 game had pre-rendered backgrounds presented in 2D (which makes sense with that game’s outdated tank-like controls), this game has every environment in full 3D which you can freely explore and revisit. As you control your character with a 3rd person view complete control of the view (that allows you to look around), the developers used shadows and darkness in many parts of the game to ensure an atmosphere of horror and suspense. There is nothing like walking down a very dark corridor with your flashlight not knowing what’s ahead of you.
Of course, there is the classic Resident Evil challenge of solving puzzles and item management. There are also these containers where you can put your items into for safekeeping and the good news is that identical containers in other locations instantly carry those stored items.
As this game deals with zombies, the game developers went all out on making each zombie and monster very detailed and grotesque to look at. The 3D artists seem to have studied anatomy while the in-game physics handlers ensured that whatever part of the zombie’s body gets hit by a bullet, it gets the corresponding damage. The zombies are scary and grotesque and compared to their 1998 counterparts, they are tougher and more dangerous to deal with. With regards to the monsters, the standout is the Licker which in this game is much more dangerous even if you have lots of ammunition. The Licker is capable of jumping a great distance towards you with a lot of speed to boot. The Licker can push your character down on the floor when you least expect it.
More on the monsters, the 3D art on William Birkin is incredible! It’s as if the game developers took a close look at the 1998 William Birkin (much lower polygons back then), watched John Carpenter’s movie The Thing for inspiration and then made the modern William Birkin look more monstrous with photo-realism in mind! The more mutated Birkin got, the more incredible the visual detail and scare factor got!
The most defining gameplay challenge is exploring the police station with Mr. X (a Tyrant) walking around searching for you. He walks around obsessively and can go into most rooms although he cannot enter the room with game saving devices (typewriters). Mr. X is very dangerous and each time he appears, the tension and fear run up high forcing you to get away somehow. As long as Mr. X is in the game, you must listen carefully to the ambient sound (note: raise the volume of your sound system or that of your HDTV) to watch out for the sounds of the steps he takes. The louder the steps, then it means his presence is very near you.
As expected, guns are the main weapons to use and eventually you will get to use a shotgun (for Leon), a machine gun (for Claire), grenade launcher, flame thrower and others. This is not a straightforward shooting game however. Zombies are tough as they take a lot of bullets to put down. This will force you to get the most out of each shot as the impact per shot is directly affected by the quality of the aiming which itself goes down as your character moves. To get the best aim, your character has to stand still and when you fire, you better hope that the zombies (which constantly move) do get hit. Sure you can move and fire at the same time but you won’t get good results in return. Forget about doing the Gears of War tactic here. Just pace yourself, be strategic, then aim and fire.
Your character gets to use a secondary weapon in the form of a combat knife or a flasher or even a grenade. Imagine your character is armed with a secondary weapon. If an enemy grabs, you will be prompted to use the secondary weapon to damage (or push back at least) the enemy and allow yourself to keep your distance away without getting hurt.
When it comes to survival, the classic gathering and mixing of colored herbs are back. Taking inspiration from 1999’s Resident Evil 3, the game allows you to create new ammunition by combining items needed for creation. As the items are varied, you can decide which kind of ammunition to make. Speaking of which, the amount of ammunition in this game is pretty limited and this will compel you to conserve bullets and make the most out of what you have to survive.
On the aspect of exploration, the locations in the 1998 RE2 are back but they have been expanded even as key locations from the old game were recreated in 3D. The police station seems bigger to me this time but the standout zone of exploration is the dark and gritty sewer (which puts the sewer in the 1998 game to shame). There are a lot more places to explore and the good news is that there is something worth collecting when visiting those places.
As for the deep underground science experiment facility, the game developers made the place really looked like it was used for work by the employees. There were lots of equipment around that were not presented as mere in-game decorations but rather they gave me a clear idea that work was done previously before disaster struck. There was even a sleeping quarter for stay-in employees which really looked lived-in.
Storytelling (warning: mild spoilers ahead)
A zombie outbreak struck Raccoon City. Near the city, Claire Redfield (who’s searching for her heroic brother Chris) and Leon Kennedy (a rookie cop on his way to the police station) incidentally get together after having an early confrontation with zombies at a gas station. As they got into the city, an out-of-control truck hits their car (which they got out off in time) and separates them. Claire and Leon make it to the police station only to find out that it is hazardous with zombies and corpses inside. From this point on, they have to figure out what is going on, who is responsible and how they could escape and survive from the ruined city.
As this game is a remake, it is no surprise at all that the original script from the 1998 game was not reused but rather this new game has a new script inspired by it. The intention was to reintroduce not only the characters but the game’s core concepts to a modern gaming audience who, by today’s standards, are very used to watching very cinematic cut scenes in their video games.
The dialogue is lengthy and for the most part the voice actors performed nicely on delivering the drama (and the expository dialogue) and bringing the characters to life. The script captured the essence of 1998’s RE2 mostly but there were a few noticeable differences that bothered me.
For one thing, I noticed that Leon Kennedy in this modern game does not really take charge of his situation and even gets fooled and manipulated by Ada Wong who poses as an FBI agent. By comparison, Leon has a subtle but notable taking of responsibility (and taking charge) of the situation in the 1998 RE2. Remember dialogue in that game with Ada telling her that they cannot progress if she does not let him take charge? Remember the scene when the jailed journalist was told that if he wanted to survive, he would have to leave with Leon? Those character traits of Leon taking charge against the odds really happened back in 1998. The remake’s Leon is more gullible and naive by comparison. Was this a deliberate alteration done by the script writer? We don’t know yet but the difference of Leon’s personality is noticeable.
Next is the lack of strength in the way Leon and Claire reacted to the zombie outbreak in Raccoon City. The scene where they get together for the first time at the exterior of the police station showed them being too casual (not that concerned) of their situation. Their exchange of dialogue felt better suited in a romantic movie. By comparison, their portrayal (getting reunited after the initial separation) in the 1998 game was more convincing.
Next, I have a problem with the way Claire decides to fight the heavily mutated William Birkin in their 3rd fight. It’s just not convincing in relation to the entire situation of the outbreak. Even though Claire Redfield has no military training (she knows self-defense only), she decides to risk her life fighting him completely disregarding the need to quickly save Sherry (suffering at this point) and escape with her. This scene is clearly another one of those “because the game requires it” situations. By comparison in the 1998 game, Claire reacts naturally with silent fear each time she sees William Birkin.
Apart from the differences between RE2 1998 and RE2 2019, there were these inaccuracies regarding the narrative of the game. Supposedly, regardless of which characters were used on each side of the main story, the core story’s events took place in close proximity to each other if not at the same time. This however does not explain Annette Birkin’s appearing in BOTH sides of the main story specifically in the moments leading up to the 3rd boss battle with her mutated husband William. She appeared in Leon’s side of the scene and also in Claire’s side of it. Was there a clone of Annette Birkin made behind the scenes?!
And then there was Mr. X who in the main story appears to hound both Leon and Claire respectively. What happened to Mr. X during Claire’s side of the story goes into direct conflict with Mr. X being the final boss in Leon’s side. I can only speculate that there were two identical versions of Mr. X in the story which the game developers never bothered to explain.
This remake of Resident Evil 2 is indeed a great game to play and I sure got my money’s worth having finished the single-player campaign a total of six times (focusing on the scenarios) even though there is a lack of zapping (which the 1998 game featured) and the narrative lacks precision when dramatizing the two sides (scenarios) and emphasizing the little details between them. The other game modes like The 4th Survivor, The Tofu Survivor and others add value on the side but for me, the real stuff of the game is the single-player campaign.
It’s not a perfect game but it is great enough for Capcom to keep me interested again in the Resident Evil game franchise. I hope that secretly they are working on a full 3D remake of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (which has a visual clue in the RE2 Remake).
RE2 Remake redefined survival horror as much as it modernized the core concept of the 1998 game. In terms of survival horror gameplay, this game is the definitive model on how to do it. Forget about the debacle that was Resident Evil 6 because RE2 Remake is the one to play.
Resident Evil 2 Remake is highly recommended even if you are not an RE fan.
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