Remakes are nothing new to entertainment. Films, for one, have been doing them for years. Few of those, however, have actually been significant. John Carpenter’s The Thing is one successful case of being a remake of a film that was already a remake in the first place, and it revolutionized the horror genre in a number of ways, with some of the best use of practical gore effects that still look fantastic thirty years later. Zack Snyder’s re-thread of Dawn of the Dead is another remake that deserves mention, in a different manner: it pays homage to George A. Romero’s classic flick while telling its own story, bringing back the zombies to the forefront as an actual threat, whereas the 1979 version tended to make fun and satirize the undead. Snyder’s take is what a remake should be all about: another look at a cult favorite work of fiction that doesn’t overshadow the original, managing to stand on its own merits.
1998’s Resident Evil 2 could be considered a staple of videogames. It followed up on the success of the first Resident Evil nearly four years after its release, and it was a superior game in just about every way, expanding the story further while managing to be a concise experience. Only later would Resident Evil turn into the convoluted mess that Capcom is trying to crawl out of these days, but back in 1998, things were simple: a huge pharmaceutical corporation by the name of Umbrella who basically owned a Mid-Western town in the United States secretly conducted research of a biological weapon in form of a virus that turned humans into the living dead, or worse, mutated creatures with inhuman strength. An outbreak occurs that ravages the city, but not before protagonists Claire and Leon unknowingly find themselves right in the middle of it all and are forced to fight their way out, ruining Umbrella’s plans in the process. From that point on, the series’ story would get piled on by numerous sequels and side-stories, playing down the theme of zombies being a danger, even going so far as doing away with them entirely, focusing instead on weaker creature designs.
Talks about a Resident Evil 2 remake have always circulated the web, but it was only in 2015 year that production was officially confirmed, and eventually the project was shown for the first time during E3 2018, where a playable demo showed off just how good it looked at that point. Since then, I had the opportunity of giving the game another shot before release, and came out similarly impressed. At that point, it seemed like Capcom had a hit on their hands, so the months that followed were baked with anticipation, until last week’s release. After spending over twenty hours playing Resident Evil 2 and finishing the main campaign with Leon, and following it up with Claire’s “B-side” second run, I can safely attest that this remake is a stellar game that stands on its on, an achievement that wouldn’t have been possible if Capcom didn’t procure some fresh minds in order to put them behind the project, as well as the technology needed to do so. Running on the same engine that powered the equally shocking Resident Evil 7, the RE Engine, Resident Evil 2 is a visual spectacle that’s also exciting and positively unnerving to play, a game that’s not without fault, but that as a remake does a lot of what the aforementioned films did, by building upon what came before it and making something of its own.
If you had pegged 1998/1999 me to recount the events of Resident Evil 2 back when it was new, I would have probably done a decent job at describing the entire game experience then, since it was one of my most played games at the time. Since then, that hasn’t been the case, as I’ve hardly touched Resident Evil 2 since finishing multiple times on a variety of consoles — PlayStation, Dreamcast, AND Nintendo 64, believe it or not — so I was a little hard-pressed remembering every single screen and instance in the original version. Playing the remake brought back some memories here and there, but for the most part, it felt like I was playing something new with a touch of deja vú. The remake shakes things up in terms of events and scenes, but the sequence remains basically unchanged. Whether or not the truck driver who eventually crashed into town after being bitten did so after hitting a zombie on the road, or if it’s Leon or Claire stopping at a seemingly deserted gas station on their way to Raccoon City, the new Resident Evil 2 opens and follows in a way that will feel familiar and at the same time new to returning fans.
Things radically change when you get to control them, though. Gone are the still camera angles and weird tank controls, in favor of a freely moving camera, third person action controls, and an absurdly realistic physics engine that makes every encounter unpredictable and tense. Yes, you’ll find yourself fighting zombies for the majority of Resident Evil 2, but they cease from being the shambling, arms stretched targets that they used to be. They’re now dangerous obstacles that can catch you off guard, and most importantly, they don’t go down easily, forcing you to be precise and conservative in a way that a Resident Evil hasn’t forced you to be in quite a while. Shooting a ghoul in the head isn’t a sure fire way to take them down, and even if they do drop, they are just likely to get back up again. Only by destroying the brain, in true zombie fiction, can you really off them for good. Thing is, that’s easier said than done. Resident Evil 2 is eerie and atmospheric, and more often than not, you probably won’t even see these guys coming as you explore Raccoon’s huge police department building, one of the game’s major landmarks.
A relentless foe has been the subject of many forms of horror fiction. Be it the shark in Jaws, the xenomorph in Alien, or even Friday The 13th’s Jason Voorhees, the notion of having a powerful being chasing and eventually cornering you is horrific, and Resident Evil 2 has its own for you to worry about. Returning villain Mr. X, a Tyrant mutant, the same type of creature that was the final boss from the original Resident Evil, makes his appearance early on during your adventure, and like his old self, he’s just as well dressed and insistent as he’s ever been. The remake does an amazing job at playing up his imposing and intimidating nature, not only by making him look 2+ meters tall, but by announcing his presence aurally with closing, unwavering footsteps as you explore rooms and try to carry on with the game. He can open doors, corner you, and most importantly, he will absolutely ruin your day if you don’t dodge away from him. For the few few hours playing, running into X proved to be the source of most of my anxiety playing Resident Evil 2, and admittedly, I felt like turning the game off and taking a long break many a times, but I persisted and eventually grew accustomed to having to circle around the map in order to outrun his pursuit.
And in that, I discovered some of the limitations in how enemies behave in the remake. Doors are no longer points where the game will load — you know how the classic Resident Evils would draw dramatically slow door opening animations in order to hide load time back in the day — in fact, Resident Evil 2 only loads once when you boot a save up pretty much, so even zombies can break through and follow you into the majority of rooms. Unless those are save rooms that contain the series trademark typewriters, which just happen to be safe havens in-game. If you run into one of those, even a conga line of zombies, Lickers, or even Mr. X won’t follow you inside, which to almost all accounts is a blessing, while to a few, it breaks the immersion, especially so when you start using this to your advantage, since all enemy creatures simply break chase, turn around, and go back to their “positions” once you open that door. Only once does that rule not apply — one particular typewriter happens to be positioned in a wide open room smack dab in the middle of the precinct, where X is free to move and chase you about preventing you from saving your game, but outside of that, it’s a little disappointing to see how easy it is to break enemy behavior.
You get to pick from either Leon or Claire when you start a new game, that playthrough deemed the “main” campaign, and once you finish it, you’re prompted to play with the other protagonist. The original Resident Evil 2 was cleverly designed in a way that you conserve supplies and items during your runs through the game since everything carried between saved games, so if you say, hogged all the ammo with Leon your first time through, Claire’s turn would be noticeably more difficult. Story events would also take place concurrently between those playthroughs, from different points of view. That novel concept would remain exclusive to Resident Evil 2, that is until the remake. For some reason, while you’re still able to play through the game a second time with the alternative character and get to see (some) events unfold from different perspectives, the item conservation mechanic is nowhere to be seen in the standard campaign mode. In fact, the B-side adventure is mostly a rethread through most of the same puzzles found during the first run, with some alternate locales you have to stop on your way, here and there. Even the boss fights happen to be the same, with some exceptions towards the end of the game. There’s very little interaction between the protagonists outside of a handful of cutscenes, and the story beats make less sense when you take into account that both fought and killed the same bosses in two segments of what should be a single, interconnected playthrough. It’s a very uneven delivery of what could have been an even deeper implementation of a “one-play co-op” experience, given the advancement in videogame design since 1998.
There’s thankfully much more to Resident Evil 2, and while I have gone in lengthy detail about my problems with the game, there’s so much that Capcom has got right that more than makes up for them. For instance, the atmosphere and ambiance are incredible, thanks to the expert art design and lighting that really help set the mood all throughout the game. The sound department is also to be commended for the amount of work they put in making zombies sound absolutely horrific, down to the shrieks from female ghouls that sent chills down my spine when playing. The updated character models are expectedly much more expressive and life-like than their predecessors, highlighting the quality in facial capture and animation that has come a long way in 20 years. Zombies are a show on their own, reacting differently and frankly unpredictably to shots and attacks, drawing back from blows and even reacting to obstacles like tables and other furniture in their way, as they drag themselves toward you. They also look gruesome, managing to get grosser and grosser the more you attack them, as their limbs are torn off, bloody chunks coming apart, pieces of their heads realistically getting continually more grotesque as you shoot them. Resident Evil 2’s gore is disgusting, and it helps play up the horror dramatically.
The contained musical score, although not nearly as memorable as the original’s, does its job setting the mood — especially during the chase moments when X is right on your tail. In fact, if you purchase the deluxe edition of the game, you’re able to switch to the old music and sound effects, so if you don’t really dig the new, you can bring in the 1998 flavor in. I stuck to the modern flavor and came out satisfied, but I’ll be sure to give that a spin in later playthroughs.
Speaking of playthroughs, the classic Tofu and Hunk game modes make a comeback in the remake, which are unlocked after finishing the two campaigns. I’ve yet to jump into those myself, but from seeing Tofu’s brief appearance in the last pre-release trailer for the game that played after the limited 30-minute demo that was put out a few days before Resident Evil 2 hit, it looks just as ridiculous as ever. There’s also a set of planned free DLC where Capcom will show even more of the backstory for some minor characters, one of whom makes an appearance during the main campaign — I’ll touch of those when they get released next month, so keep a bloody out for more content.
Outside of the glaring faults that I detailed, Resident Evil 2 still manages to be one of the most impressive remakes I have ever played. Capcom outdid themselves. They already hit a home run years ago with their remake of the first Resident Evil, making Resident Evil 2 an even bigger accomplishment. What’s special about this new remake is that it can work as a basis for any future Resident Evil games could be built from, or even better, other remakes for some of the forgotten horror franchises from their catalog, like Parasite Eve or even Dino Crisis. I can’t even begin to imagine my level of anxiety just thinking of Nemesis breaking through walls, running after me in a dream-like scenario that Resident Evil 3: Nemesis ever gets remade like this.