Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
It’s always a risky proposition to return to any beloved pop culture favourite, years after it earned ‘cult classic’ status, and attempt to remake it for modern audiences. For video games, it’s a doubly fraught task, as the ever-evolving nature of the medium means not just the visuals but the very mechanics, the ways in which we experience the content, change and grow over the years. George Lucas adding scenes back into Star Wars annoyed purists without making the sacred trilogy bad. But return a decades-old game like Resident Evil 2 and messing it up might remind players that the original was clunkier and more frustrating than they remember.
Thankfully, your cherished memories will remain intact – Capcom’s revamp of the 1998 PlayStation classic is nigh-impeccable, hitting all the right beats in bringing the iconic horror game up to modern standards, without betraying what made the original so captivating. You’ll still play through the game as either rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy or college student Claire Redfield – drawn to Raccoon City in search of her brother Chris, hero of the first game – and the story hits almost all of the same beats as they battle through a city in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.
This is an upgrade done right, maintaining everything great about the original.
The most immediate change is modernised 3D controls and an over-the-shoulder view. This has been standard for the series since Resident Evil 4, but for anyone with memories of RE2’s clunky tank controls, the upgrade feels fresh and novel again. This does make it a bit easier to dodge the undead, but you’re still all too capable of being overwhelmed by zombies and other genetic monstrosities unleashed by the Umbrella Corporation’s foul bioweapon experiments.
Of course, the game enjoys a massive visual and auditory overhaul for modern consoles, and looks spectacular for it. Familiar locations re-appear, and for the most part enjoy recognisable layouts, but are far more detailed and immersive. The signature Raccoon Police Department building where much of the action takes place is stunning, with details such as blood-slick footprints staining the marble floors, or the remnants of hastily kitbashed barricades – evidence of the carnage that tore through the city before your arrival – making for incredibly atmospheric environmental storytelling. It’s also far more cinematic, with story cutscenes that experiment with unique camera angles and perspectives to put the player in an uncomfortable mood. Meanwhile, new and reworked music combined with startlingly effective sound design ratchets the tension marvellously.
2019’s Resident Evil 2 isn’t an exact narrative clone of its source – there are a few tweaks, affecting certain character relationships and events. The changes feel additive, enhancing what was already happening without derailing the story entirely. You’ll find these alterations in both Leon and Claire’s campaigns, with the traditional ability to play through the other character’s tale once you’ve completed the game. A few other familiar modes also await upon completion, with a few surprising updates for returning fans.
Some might complain that the overall challenge has been watered down. The traditional method of requiring an ink ribbon each time you want to save your progress at a typewriter is now restricted only to the ‘Hardcore’ difficulty setting, while an easy ‘Assisted’ mode even automatically regenerates some health after you take damage. Yet this strikes more as ego-stroking for returning players, with the restrictions they’re already familiar with elevated to a tougher standard. For anyone more interested in Resident Evil 2’s engaging-but-schlocky story and captivating puzzles than its brutal survival-horror, making the game more accessible is laudable.
This Resident Evil 2 is an upgrade done right, maintaining everything great about the original and elevating it with improved visuals, sound, and controls. The changes may shock anyone who played the original to death, but like the mutative experiments at the heart of the tale, the end result is something stronger and far more horrifying than before.