Calling Resident Evil 2 a remake does it little justice.
The term, much like reboot and re-imagining, has a muddied meaning. It can suggest you’re playing a newer – hopefully better – version of a game you’ve already played, or a completely overhauled take that’s nearly unrecognizable from its source material.
Resident Evil 2 is all these things and so much more.
Built from the ground up, it’s every bit a brand new game as Resident Evil 7 was when it was released two years ago. In fact, it’s been crafted with the same engine that’s ensured the Baker family still makes regular appearances in our nightmares.
The first thing to strike you in RE2 won’t be the outstretched arms of a shuffling foe, but its stunning visual presentation.
Leon S. Kennedy’s return to Raccoon City begins with a gore-soaked encounter, but you’ll be too busy watching the rain realistically fall on his jacket to notice the monster gnawing on his neck.
The game’s brimming with beautifully grotesque monsters and blood-splattered environments, but it’s often the subtler details supporting these in-your-face elements that stand out.
Your first brush with the series’ iconic Lickers, for example, is made all the more terrifying by the masterful use of atmospheric visual effects; before you even glimpse the monster’s exposed brain and elongated tongue, your heart’s set racing by the rain and wind thrashing a plant through a broken window.
It doesn’t hurt that the Raccoon City Police station is a much darker place this time around.
Once again Leon’s tasked with escaping the sprawling, labyrinthine building, but the game’s expert use of dynamic lighting and shadows make it a much more terrifying affair.
And while players now have full control of a third-person camera, it’s pulled in just close enough to make even the bravest survival horror fans feel claustrophobic.
While RE2‘s atmospheric visuals will see you anticipating every step like it’s your last, its immersive audio work deserves just as much credit for keeping your pulse permanently elevated.
Whether it’s the whir of a chopper about to meet a doomed fate, the distant bark of a virally-infected Doberman, or just the slosh of a puddle beneath your feet, every sound contributes to the constantly building tension.
Of course, the game’s at its nightmare-conjuring best when its sights and sounds complement each other to scare your pants off and progress the story.
Before you come to that aforementioned crashed helicopter, the sound of its impact and the smoke-filled hallway leading to its final destination will have you imagining the worst even prior to putting eyes on its extra crispy pilot.
Given the 20-plus year gap between the original RE2 and this release, it’s easy to focus on its polished presentation. The stellar audio and visual work is only part of the package though, as everything’s been rebuilt to deliver an experience that can easily stand among its acclaimed contemporaries.
On top of obvious improvements, such as the free camera, over-the-shoulder perspective, and protagonist that doesn’t move like a tank, RE2 introduces a number of subtler tweaks to the formula. One of the cooler inclusions is how the combat knife and other sub-weapons are integrated.
As in previous entries, the serrated blade can still deliver basic melee damage, but it can also be jabbed into a target that unexpectedly attacks; so if a zombie grabs you from behind, you can bury the blade in its chest to give yourself a bit of breathing room.
A refined version of a feature introduced in the 2002 Resident Evil remake, the knife also degrades over time, occupies coveted inventory space, and can be retrieved and reused once the target’s dead.
Other weapons have also been tweaked to offer fresh strategic options; our favorite is the flash grenade, which can be shoved into an attacking mutant’s mouth before being detonated with a well-placed pistol shot.
Other brand new changes – as well as some borrowed and enhanced from previous RE entries – include the ability to board-up windows, and craft ammo and herbs with fresh results.
While these inclusions add some welcome variety, depth, and strategic advantages to Leon’s arsenal, fans needn’t worry about becoming too overpowered.
Scarce ammo, limited inventory slots, and a persistent threat capable of popping a victim’s eyeball out by squeezing their skull ensure the odds are always in the infected’s favour.
RE2‘s jaw-dropping presentation and polished gameplay steal the show, but its story and characters – notable series’ weak points – also benefit from the rebuild. The tale sticks closely to the original narrative, but still sports enough fresh twists to keep even seasoned fans on their toes.
More than that though, its main characters – supported by surprisingly good voice acting – are more interesting and developed, while some secondary players receive nicely expanded roles.
Environmental narrative devices, such as notes, memos, and pamphlets also do a fantastic job fleshing out the lore and even justifying many of the series’ staple – but silly conceits – like herb crafting and convoluted puzzle-solving.
RESIDENT EVIL 2 VERDICT
Your first few hours with RE2 will likely be spent marveling at its presentation.
But once you’ve become accustomed to how Leon realistically limps and clutches his side when he’s wounded, or how pelting rain and gathering puddles simultaneously deliver different aural experiences, you’ll begin to appreciate everything else the game has to offer.
Top to bottom, nothing in this game feels like a mere upgrade on an old formula. As polished and defining as recent favourites like God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man, RE2 will not only inform and shape the future of the survival horror genre, but the interactive entertainment medium as a whole.
Much more than a remake, Resident Evil 2 is the series’ best entry yet
Bar-raising visual presentation
Incredibly immersive audio
Welcome gameplay tweaks
Surprisingly good story
Scary as hell
Your future nightmares