by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 6th February, 2019
Capcom created a near perfect remake of a cult classic survival horror game which is now better than ever and an early GOTY contender.
20 years ago the world received a game that would later be recognized as one of the cornerstones for the entire survival horror genre. Resident Evil 2 was a masterful achievement, a gem of a game, and a completely frightening experience that would shape survival horror in years to come.
Its remake takes the best parts of the classic game and mixes them with modern graphics, superb sound, and redesigned environments creating a package that is the best horror game I played since Resident Evil IV.
From the very beginning the game makes it clear that it won't try to fright you with cheap jump scare tricks; no, what Resident Evil 2 Remake does is it induces gargantuan amounts of dread, despair, and tension and then simply makes players bathe in those three until they are cooked. All that is packed inside beautiful visuals thanks to the in-house RE (Reach for the Moon) engine that powered the previous entry of the series, Resident Evil VII.
But unlike in VII, RE engine works like a charm here, with sharp textures and no stuttering and freezing when switching between maps. Thanks to this the whole experience is silky smooth, especially on PC where you can enjoy max details even on a modest PC. Another cool feature found in Resident Evil 2 Remake is the fact the game doesn't have any loading screens. The only time you see a loading screen is when you die or when you enter the game from the main menu. Also different from the RE VII is the third person behind-the-back camera commonly found in all Resident Evil games starting with IV.
It works perfectly, especially during fights in tight corridors when a strong feeling of claustrophobia can make you panic more often than not. And here, every room and corridor feels like they are narrower than they really are which helps the game in creating the feeling of constant shiver. Hairs on your whole body will tingle, sometimes minutes on end, which can be overburdening for some players.
But that was the intention of designers at Capcom and I can say they really nailed it. And the design of the game is labyrinthine, with a bunch of interconnecting rooms and corridors, making you reach for the map pretty often, which is another high point. You see, the game doesn't look identical to the original; each area is redesigned and features different layout compared to the classic title, meaning that even experienced veterans will have to learn new arrangements and will be able to get lost in sewers, which is fun and frustrating at the same time.
And of course, the third person camera movement system is way better than in the original, but we expected that because the original game featured horrible movement mechanic that shouldn't be found in any modern video game.
The three fear-inducing feelings (dread, despair, and tension) are present throughout the game mostly because of excellent character models, stunning lighting system, and superb audio department.
Characters look incredibly lifelike and they are extremely detailed, giving the game photorealistic looking zombies and other monsters that at times can be really frightening and human characters that credibly convey their emotions and intentions. Animations of zombies and other enemies and human characters are perfect; zombies are roaming the police station like the undead from John Romero films, slow but steady.
This lulls players into thinking they aren't much of a threat and then as you get close they lunge at you with full force, creating moments of pure fear and at the same time making your whole body to tremble. Moments like these are the reason why we love survival horror games this much and Resident Evil 2 Remake is filled with them. Next, we have the lighting system that plays with players' mind all the time.
Darkness mixed with your flashlight gives corridors and rooms spooky looks where you cannot know what lurks in them until you get closer and sometimes getting closer means getting right into danger. And that unnerving looks zombies have when you light them up with your flashlight can stun you in a second, especially when you light up a skinner and see their horrific, bloody flesh and deadly jaws.
The sound department is also excellent, with masterful voice work by human characters that is light years ahead of mushy and often amateur-sounding voices found in the original game. Zombies and other monsters sound perfect, like they just came out of hell. Growls, screams, shrieks, and other inhuman sounds they make is a perfect addition to the game's thick and overburdening atmosphere.
Playing with headphones is the desired way of experiencing the game, making it much more intimate and thus much more frightening experience. Animal screams of skinners right before they lunge at you can induce a moment's freeze of the whole body, and subtle atmospheric aural cues (pouring rain, dripping sounds of blood and other bodily fluids, distant screams and other unnervingly inhuman noises) work together with gruesome visuals (the game is filled with dead bodies, gore-infested corridors, disgusting flesh-like substances that cover walls and floors) to induce a constant shiver of your whole body.
And when Mr. X appears and starts chasing you all over the police station you get to know what real dread feels like. He is huge and his thumping steps can deafen your senses, and that chill-inducing sound effect played when he enters the same space you're in is a trigger for an instant panic attack. Playing the game with headphones and binaural effect turned on is especially enjoyable in its twisted way because you will hear Mr. X walking in the distance and will be able to guess where he is and from where he will enter the current room, making the game even scarier.
When it comes to gameplay, Resident Evil 2 Remake hits all the right notes. At the start of the game, you will feel vulnerable and powerless and that feeling won't change much even after you amass lots of different weapons and ammo. But here you don't feel completely powerless like in modern horror games that feature weaponless gameplay, and that is something I really like.
Yes, enemies are frightening but at least you know they will fall if you decide to shoot at them. Of course, sometimes you have to simply run away because ammo is constantly in short supply. This makes firefights with the undead tense and stressful because you know that every bullet counts and that you simply don't have a wide margin for error.
Gunplay is pretty good, with weapons having a noticeable kick in them along with powerful impact effects. Add to that the fact that zombies react to every bullet impact with believable animations and superb visual effects and you got yourself one hell of a shooting experience. You can mess up enemies' faces with bullets and sometimes their flesh can get ripped from their bodies in such ghastly way that you really can think for a second or two you're not playing a game but living a real nightmare.
Shooting a zombie in the head with a shotgun from point blank distance will turn their head and neck into a mushy mixture of flesh and bones, making them look like some otherworldly horror from "The Thing," (the original one) and setting skinners on fire will make "The Thing" comparison even more obvious once those monsters with their skin turned inside out to start crawling towards you in flames. Zombie enemies can also be dismembered. It looks gruesome but is morbidly fun to do and sometimes it can be much more effective than simply aiming for the head.
The game also makes juggling the inventory a common thing, always making you think twice what to carry with you before leaving a safe room and what to leave inside the stash. Inventory space is always in short supply, even when you find a couple of inventory-increasing satchels.
This is a cool mechanic because you'll often find yourself waging what should be kept and what should be discarded and whether that new item you found is worthy of inventory space. Puzzles are here, of course, and while they aren't really hard they can be interesting to solve, especially in later portions of the game. Some puzzles required to keep a pen and paper next to me to write clues needed to solve them.
This also works for safes and locker codes because not all can be accessed via inventory notes, which is awesome and gives Resident Evil 2 Remake that sweet old-school feeling I haven't found in years, decades even. Oh, and if you write all lock and safe combinations during the first run, you won't have to look for those during the second playthrough.
Typewriters are used to save the game and if you play on hard difficulty you need a writing tape for every save just like 20 years ago. To be honest, playing on hard difficulty is desirable, especially during the second run because after you finish the game for the first time the second run won't provide much of a challenge because you will know all of the tricks as well as locations of most weapons, and will know the most efficient ways for dealing with monsters.
During the first playthrough, the game can feel like a proper survival horror even on normal difficulty. You will be left without ammo more than once, enemies will feel like massive bullet sponges quite often, and the tension, dread, and physical stress built from running away from Mr. X will lead you straight into skinner's jaws at least a couple of times during the game.
But if you play it smart, save up on healing items, save often (and visit your stash often), and always have enough inventory space for new items the game will become quite easy during the final third because you will have plenty of ammo and healing items and all you'll have to do is to stroll through the final section before the final boss battle. Of course, that doesn't have to be the case.
But since the game rewards exploration, if you're one of those gamers who simply cannot move on before clearing every room of useful stuff (the game makes this easier by coloring areas that contain useful items in red) you will find your stash bursting with healing items, ammo, and weapons halfway through the game.
Resident Evil 2 Remake features two playable characters (Leon and Claire) and in order to see the real ending, you have to finish the game with both of them. This isn't so hard because your first run will take about 7-8 hours on normal difficulty, with the second run being even shorter unless you opt for hard difficulty mode.
While the two campaigns are quite similar, each character features unique story moments and areas they can explore so it won't feel repetitive playing with the second character. Further, each character has access to different weapons making gameplay varied and exciting during the second run.
Also, Leon and Claire have different starting points and different paths leading them to new areas, which also creates two varied and equally fun campaigns, snagging another win for Capcom's designers. The story is quite good and doesn't differ much from the story we had in the original game but like with the level design you will find a couple of different details that elevate the experience and don't make it a simple copy-paste of the original story.
Also, each campaign answers a couple of unique questions making the second run even more interesting.
The game picks up from where the first one ended, the T-virus contagion expanded to the whole of Raccoon city turning most of its residents to mindless zombies. By the time Leon and Claire arrive at the city (Leon going to his first day as Raccoon city police officer and Claire looking for her brother, Chris) it will become filled with the undead. They meet in a local gas station and from there the journey leads them to the police station. The game then takes players through the station and its basement, sewers and finally into the Umbrella's underground lab, where the final chapter takes place.
And once you finish the game with both Leon and Claire you get access to the third, quite short, campaign that will take about an hour to finish. There's also the option to play again with both characters (flipping their roles this time), giving Resident Evil 2 Remake a huge replay value.
While it sounds like the game is perfect, it does come with a couple of things I didn't like that can't ruin the experience but can create a noticeable dent on its near perfect shell. For instance, boss battles are too easy and not really rewarding. You start each of them thinking "oh man, I'll die five times before this is over" only to finish each in five minutes without breaking a sweat.
One battle can be frustrating but not because of the boss but because of the imperfect mechanic that's part of the battle. Next, some zombies simply cannot die, especially those found in places you frequently visit. Since you cannot know this during the first run many players will spend lots of ammo trying to kill those enemies instead simply shooting their limbs off and leaving them to lie there, completely harmless.
Mr. X is probably the best part of Resident Evil 2 Remake but he won't chase you in a fair manner all the time. Sometimes he will suddenly jump in front of you even though you previously left him in an area that prevents him from appearing at the place where he appeared which can feel cheap, especially when playing on hard. And skinners sometimes don't work as they supposed to.
They are blind meaning they rely on the sense of hearing to locate enemies and sometimes, even if you're moving at snail's pace, they will suddenly start screaming and lunging at you without any apparent reason.
But even with those shortcomings, Resident Evil 2 Remake is a stunning game. It took the original and improved it in every possible way, creating a final product that is beautiful to look at and a joy to play. Gameplay is completely old-school when it comes to managing inventory, conserving ammo and healing items, forcing players to sometimes run from instead to shoot at enemies and shooting feels excellent, tense but rewarding.
At the same time the game looks incredible and features the usual third person, behind the shoulder camera we have in modern action titles (that was pioneered by Resident Evil IV) and that makes the action extremely visceral and intimate. Locations are familiar but their design is altered enough compared to the original game to make them fresh and unknown for players who finished the cult classic game 20 years ago.
They are also labyrinthine in design, often making players to constantly look at the map in order to find the path that leads forward. The game plays like one uninterrupted action sequence thanks to the lack of loading screens and excellent level design and its atmosphere it's so thick it can be cut with a knife. Resident Evil 2 Remake improves upon the original in every possible way and it is the best Resident Evil game I ever played. It is also a strong contender for the game of the year title and one of the best survival horror games of all times.