Resident Evil 2: Reliving the Horror Classic

Capcom's Resident Evil 2 remake is a love letter to the survival horror classic. Here are our hands-on impressions!

This Resident Evil 2 hands-on preview is based on a demo from E3 2018.

In 1998, Resident Evil 2 had the unenviable position of following up one of the most important survival horror games ever made and delivered an experience every bit as scary and cinematic as the original. It introduced beloved franchise mainstays Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, the duplicitous rogue Ada Wong, and a gruesome city play area beyond what fans of the zombie genre could have imagined at the turn of the century. With Resident Evil 2, the series reached its true potential.

Once again, Leon and Claire must explore the depths of a zombified Raccoon City as the T-virus spreads from a secret Umbrella laboratory to a police station under siege. But this new version of Resident Evil 2 is much more than a simple remaster of the game. It’s more of a reimagining with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a current-gen title. I stumbled through the zombie-infested Raccoon City Police Department during my E3 2018 demo and discovered a horror title that might very well be 2019’s best. 

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Despite how some fans might feel about Resident Evil 2 remaining faithful to the original, Capcom has made a few big updates that help the game not ultimately feel like such a dinosaur, something the Resident Evil Remastered and Resident Evil Zero Remastered editions can’t quite avoid. The studio has done away with the fixed camera, for example. Now the game plays with the over-the-shoulder camera first popularized by another Leon S. Kennedy adventure, Resident Evil 4.

You might be worried that this change compromises some of the scares in the game. After all, the early Resident Evil games thrived when it forced the player into a long hallway, directing the camera so he/she couldn’t see what was waiting ahead ready to claw at the player from a corner or crash through a window. But I have to say it’s almost more unnerving to see a zombie banging on a window ahead of you, drooling for your flesh as you walk towards it. Where the blind spot encouraged you to approach, the knowledge of the terror ahead makes you want to turn around and run. 

I don’t have to tell you how much better shooting is from the shoulder. It’s a necessary improvement made for a more modern audience and cracking the necessary headshot still feels great. The zombies don’t go down easy, of course. It’ll take three shots to the head to kill them, but that doesn’t guarantee that they won’t rise from the dead once again. In fact, when you re-enter an area where you fought a stalking corpse, there’s a good chance it’ll get up for one last scare (or a few more). 

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Unsurprisingly, the visuals are much improved. I dare say that Resident Evil 2 might actually feature the scariest zombies I’ve ever seen, from bloodied police officers to hungry pedestrians pushing their way into the building. The dynamic facial expressions add so much to these night stalkers, as they growl or shout with rage.

The game is also gory as hell, which isn’t exactly awe-inspiring when it comes to Resident Evil but is worth mentioning due to the execution. My brief time inside the police station was a showcase of gruesome violence. Blasting a zombie in the face with a shotgun will leave nothing but a stub for a head — it looks like a few meaty bits hanging onto what’s left of the monster’s spinal cord. At one point, a zombie fell from the ceiling and its rotting head split in half, opening up like two flaps to reveal red, oozing muck. Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero fans will be absolutely delighted. 

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By far, the remake’s most impressive technical update is the sound design, which becomes the most vital complement to the gameplay, as you slowly make your way through the empty corridors, hearing every footstep, scream, bang on a door, and shattering of glass — which indicates that more zombies have gotten in and are coming for you. There’s a speeding of the heart when you hear these sounds and sometimes even Leon will comment on the noises, which really is quite fun. The game knows how to masterfully manipulate noises to scare the player, even if there’s nothing waiting to jump out at you. It becomes a mind game of sound that is reminiscent of other horror classics like Silent Hill 2 and Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  

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I played Resident Evil 2 for about an hour and there’s honestly not much I can criticize about it. If anything stood out, it was perhaps the repetitiveness of some of the scares. I could predict when certain zombies were going to show up behind me or when one was going to come through a window. But I think that has more to do with the length of the demo as well as the tried and true trademarks of the franchise. The technical updates are more than enough to make Resident Evil 2 feel like a fresh experience. 

Resident Evil 2 is out on Jan. 25, 2019.