Release Date: January 25, 2019Platform: PS4 (reviewed), XBO, PCDeveloper: CapcomPublisher: CapcomGenre: Survival Horror
Resident Evil 2 sets its stall out early, with a gloriously gory moment that establishes the tone: as you will have experienced if you played the 30-minute demo, there’s a cutscene near the start where Leon witnesses a minor character being torn in half. Blood splatters in stunning 4K and there are some seriously sweary reactions, and the resultant mess leaves a corridor blocked off.
This, basically, is what Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 is all about. The graphics are great and the characters react to the scares in charmingly relatable ways, but you’ll soon realize that nothing happens in this game without purpose. That doorway could’ve provided a handy shortcut to the next stage of the narrative, but this very deliberate scene obstructs that route and forces the player to find a workaround.
Harkening back to a time when AAA games involved a little more problem solving and a little less mindless shooting, Resident Evil 2 aims for that sweet spot between scares and smarts. There are plenty of jumpy moments when reanimated corpses rush out from unseen crevices, but there is also a constant supply of brain-bothering tasks to complete.
You’ll soon find yourself honing your inventory management skills, checking your map constantly, and trying to remember which McGuffins are meant to fit where. You might even start snapping photos of clues in real life or jotting down some notes on an actual pad to try and work out a fiddly puzzle. Ignoring this nuanced level design – where no item is useless, but you can’t carry everything at once – and attempting to barge your way forward in the narrative is a technique that just doesn’t pay off. This game is a timely reminder of how rewarding it can be to challenge your mental faculties as well as your zombie-killing skills.
For the most part, these creative choices make for a pleasingly challenging experience. There’s a sense of achievement when you work something out, which is regularly undercut by a frightful encounter – just when you’ve let your guard down and decided that the situation is totally in hand, Resident Evil 2 tends to chuck something new at you. That something is almost always scary, or at least a freaky-looking foe that you’ll have to overcome. This chopping and changing between puzzles and violence results in an increasingly claustrophobic gameplay experience where you’re always desperate to get into the next room, while also constantly afraid about what might be waiting for you there.
However, there are points in the game where the wheels threaten to fall off. It’s a fine line to tread between fun and frustrating, and some of the puzzles in Resident Evil 2 end up on the annoying side of that divide. Busy-work begins to feel like doing endless chores at a couple of points, and working things out logically starts to feel more like randomly pressing buttons in the hope that one of them might let you move on.
You might even reach a point where you run into a brick wall with your inventory management, and have no choice but to backtrack for ages and dump items – you thought you needed them now, but you actually have to carry eight other things – into a storage box. Rather than stay stuck in a sulk about it, though, you’ll probably remain engaged enough to want to keep pressing ahead.
Visually and mechanically, on the other hand, there is absolutely nothing to complain about. The over-the-shoulder viewpoint is a neat upgrade from the original, the zombies and monsters are always rendered in frighteningly realistic ways, and the cutscenes and big moments carry a properly cinematic feel. The action controls will come naturally to anyone familiar with shooting games, although you’ll quickly learn that, in this world, your undead foes generally don’t stay down after one headshot. It’s worth remembering, at times when ammo is low, that running off is at times your best tactic. (Especially where one persistent boss character is concerned.)
Locations from the original game are expanded in organic ways, with a smattering of fan service moments peppered throughout. There are enough changes and additions to ensure that even the most seasoned fans won’t have an unfair advantage. Whatever your skill level, you can’t prepare for every scare, and you’re bound to feel the fear on numerous occasions. It might seem like a tiny thing, but some of the trophies in the game are really playful, which adds an injection of fun at random points in the game – and at some stages in this zombie-stuffed turmoil, a bit of light relief goes a long way.
You won’t feel short-changed in a story sense, either, with Leon and Claire’s quests for survival taking them on totally different paths through the zombie-infested Raccoon City. Their campaigns last about ten hours apiece and these separate strands of the story come complete with their own individual objectives and supporting characters. You also get a mixture of emotional beats, engaging environments, and boss battles on both sides of the split. Once you’ve finished a campaign with one character, you’ll likely want to start the other one immediately.
The anger-inducing moments are outliers, essentially, in a game that otherwise offers a smart upgrade on the 1998 original. Newcomers will likely discover a new favorite horror franchise to explore, while long-time followers of the series will find a sweet blend of familiarity and freshness. Whichever camp you fall into, you’ll find your mind and your mettle tested in equal measure as you fiddle your way through this gloriously gory (and occasionally grueling) reanimation of a classic.