Rising from the grave once again is Capcom’s genre-defining survival horror franchise, and it kicks off 2019 in gloriously grizzly fashion. This newly fangled remake of 1998’s Resident Evil 2 — which is often considered a beloved fan favorite within the series— is a wonderful reinvigoration of the Japanese publisher’s terrifying formula. Capcom’s latest Resident Evil 2 is an incredible blood-splattered love-letter to devout fans of the franchise, and a terrific entry point to those late to the undead party. Indeed, though zombies may have been overcooked to the point of over-saturation, it’s safe to say that modern audiences still have a profound appetite for the ol’ living dead, and this one is an instant classic!
Much like the original, events take place within Raccoon City, which has been overrun by a mysterious biological outbreak that transforms its citizens into violent, man-eating monstrosities. You take on the role of either police rookie Leon Kennedy, or undercover operative Claire Redfield, in your bid to unravel the mystery surrounding the ominous pharmaceutical company Umbrella Corp. Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. Well, this is a remake after all, eh?
Thankfully, despite Resident Evil 2’s familiar setting and often predictable story beats, there are enough fresh narrative twists and turns to keep you on your toes. As you probably expect, layouts of iconic locations, like the Raccoon City Police Department, have been tweaked and many of the game’s puzzles have been overhauled to avoid repetition. Nonetheless, fans of the original will undoubtedly spot a ton of knowing callbacks and recognizable motifs to the 1998 classic.
Story-wise, what really stands out is how the title embraces its humble B-movie heritage. It’s no secret that dialogue in Capcom’s beloved horror series has always been absurdly comical, and Resident Evil 2’s is just as silly and charming as it’s always been. For me, its B-movie influences are what makes Resident Evil, well, Resident Evil. Frankly, it was a relief to see some hammy levity in the dialogue in-between the pulsating mutant action and neck-chomping violence. It’s not quite as ridiculous as Resident Evil: Revelations, but it comes pretty close. I mean, Leon literally quips, “I hope I don’t have to write a report on this!” as he shoots the umpteenth deformed monstrosity in the face. Don’t ever change Resident Evil!
So, what really makes the new Resident Evil 2 tick? Well, the creepy atmosphere is absolutely spot on, bolstered by the first-rate visual presentation of the game’s lighting, flame and shadow effects. There are other touches, too, like thoughtfully choreographed scares, a silky smooth framerate, well-designed puzzles and some eerily realistic and dynamic AI from the undead hordes (more on this later). Further still, a marvelously immersive audio experience really helps to flesh out the premium moment-to-moment feel of the title. In a nutshell, Resident Evil 2 is visually gorgeous and aurally arresting, too. Each spooky locale you visit — of which there are many — is smartly constructed and brim with both an authentic sense of dread and a myriad of distinct adversaries.
Perhaps the game’s strongest suit, however, is its edge-of-your-seat gameplay, which ratchets up the tension in clever, nuanced ways. For example, combat knives and grenades function similarly to 2002’s Resident Evil Remake and can be used as a defensive maneuver to stun attacking monsters. The only drawback is that this time around, knives have finite durability and break after a handful of uses. Furthermore, used blades must be retrieved from the bodies of defeated foes if you fancy keeping one on you (which you’ll want to do if you’re hoping to make it past some of the super vicious beasties in the latter half of the game).
Like I mentioned above, the zombies’ AI is creepily dynamic, and their movement is so eerily inconsistent that it’s pretty damn tough to achieve many clean headshots. Add to this, the fact that it takes a whole lot of ammo to just put one of the rotters down, and you’ve got the recipe for some serious heart-in-mouth horror moments. Just a heads up: even when those pesky buggers are down, they’ll likely be back up sharpish if you haven’t given their cranium a makeover with ol’ Mr. 9mm. Trust me, you’ll be sleeping with the undead fishes if you leave too many of those creeps lying around.
Much like 2017’s Resident Evil 7, ammo and resources are drip-fed slowly in a survival horror-centric style, but the camera has switched back to the classic over-the-shoulder Resident Evil 4-esque third-person view. You can also move and shoot at the same time, though your accuracy takes a big hit when you’re in motion. That being said, it’s still striking how the horror experience still manages to evoke such unbelievable intensity.
Clearly, Capcom has opted for a survival horror focus over the bombastic action of some of its modern predecessors (I’m looking at you Resident Evil 6) and this re-focus has really paid dividends. I lost count of how many times I was running on empty, nervously exploring the environments for ammo just so I had something to defend myself with. Of course, if all else fails, you can always try the age-old tactic of blindly sprinting past enemies. Nothing says survival horror like dashing around the map like a helpless blue-arsed fly, right?
Baked into the zombie-flavored pie are a bunch of quality of life improvements that help smoothen out any moment-to-moment frustration. The map is super helpful, and not only highlights rooms that still need to be explored, but pinpoints items that you may have missed. Items in your inventory that have served their purpose can be identified by a small red tick and thus can be discarded to save some space. And like the original, opening both your map or inventory at any time pauses the game, giving you a moment to heal up or strategize your next move. Trust me, you’ll need some downtime to catch your breath!
All in all, Resident Evil 2 is a phenomenal remake that plays to the long-running franchise’s best strengths. It’s an experience that resonates with an air of confidence, from a publisher who knows exactly what its fans want. But most importantly, it’s devilishly terrifying and an absolute joy to play. This is pure survival horror retro-fitted for a modern audience.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Capcom.