The wait is over and the Resident Evil 2 remake has shambled back to life, but is it worth your time?
I’m supposed to gather some electric parts to turn on the mechanism that opens cell doors in the underground jail cell. I found one after dodging vicious zombie dogs, and now I’ve found myself climbing back into the very police station I was trying to escape less than an hour ago. I know where I need to go--by now the police station is somewhat safe, and I know the best routes to get to where I need to go… until I find myself needing to extinguish a fire. "No problem," I say, and go about doing so with some easy exploring. Things are going well. I’ve got good health, ammo, and then… Mr. X happens. Suddenly, everything I thought I knew had changed.
All the skills I remembered from playing Resident Evil 2 20 years ago vanish, as the huge Tyrant hounds my every movement. Open a door too fast? Footsteps. Shoot my gun? Louder footsteps. Suddenly… a door opens that I didn’t open. I panic, and run. "If I can just get to the save room, I’m fine…" And then I hear it. A Licker. I ran too fast and too loudly, and with only a second to spare I dodge into the S.T.A.R.S. office, safe for now, and pause the game. My breathing is ragged and I put the controller down for a moment. I’m terrified, excited, and above all, happy. This is the best feeling in the world!
Resident Evil was always my favorite horror franchise, and Resident Evil 2 was the game I spent the most time with when I was younger. I played it more than I played any other game in the series until the co-op fest of Resident Evil 5 with my partner. The zapping system of Resident Evil 2 entranced me; the idea that a game had multiple storylines that interacted with each other, and that the game itself changed when you played it again blew my mind. The campy charm of the weird puzzles, esoteric nonsense, and scary but cool monsters made it all a blast. And then Mr. X showed up in scenario B, and I lost my little mind! I couldn’t believe a game could have a monster chase me, know where I was going, and make me feel unsafe in areas I thought I cleared. Fast forward to 20 years later, and I found myself doing the exact same things I did when I was a kid, totally amazed by the experience I was having, and watching as nostalgia mixed with the new experiences introduced in this remake to create something truly special.
There’s no real way to beat around the bush: the Resident Evil 2 remake is an amazing game! If that’s what you wanted to know, you can stop reading now and go buy a copy of it right this instant. It might even be my Game of the Year, and the year just started, and yes, I know that Kingdom Hearts III just came out. But the Resident Evil 2 remake has an addictive and entrancing combination of things going right for it that make the game not only thrilling to play, but a game you constantly want to get back to playing. To play again and see if you can get a better score than you did, how much ammo you could have saved, what route you might have tried to avoid Mr. X better the next time (For the record, my Leon playthrough resulted in a 7.5 hour B rank, and I’m already gunning for that A!). If you have played Resident Evil before, you’ll likely find a lot to love in this game, and if this is your first introduction to the series (or maybe second following last year’s also stellar Resident Evil 7), you’re in for a real treat. And there’s an odd magic to this remake; if you never played Resident Evil 2, it’s still an amazing game, and if you were a fan of the original, the Resident Evil 2 remake might transcend to be an almost perfect game. The graphics are amazing, and the combination of sound, lighting, and effects make the game feel tense and scary even in well-lit areas, and downright terrifying in dark ones. Each area of the game (there are 3 major ones) have a distinct feel and sense to them, making them unique and exciting to explore.
But much of that, frankly, you probably already knew. The game looks amazing and borrows heavily from the new engine used in Resident Evil 7, changing from the first person perspective of that game to the somewhat more traditional over the shoulder camera from Resident Evil 4 through 6. The controls are fluid, particularly when compared to the older “Tank Control” style of the original, but at times I found the game still had a weird inorganic movement to it that made avoiding enemies still pretty challenging in tight areas, as if the remake combined the two control schemes of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4. This isn’t really a complaint, and if anything the Resident Evil 2 remake feels like the best version of Resident Evil controls since 5 (omitting 7 here since 7’s first-person view really changed the game experience). In terms of how the game feels, looks, and plays, there’s very little to complain about with this remake; it just works.
Perhaps the biggest discussion to bring up in terms of gameplay, however, is difficulty. I found myself caught off guard by the difficulty of the Resident Evil 2 remake even as someone who had played all of the previous titles, and even done runs of earlier titles at harder difficulty. Generally, I play the game on normal first, then go back and test myself with harder difficulty, or use easy difficulty to attempt a speedrun or pick up missed collectibles. In this remake, my first zombie encounter left me totally stunned and, honestly, panicking. I had shot him in the head 4 times… and he got back up! I found myself running low on ammo constantly early on because I kept trying to kill my enemies, angry at times that the monsters I had so easily killed when I was younger were now giving me trouble. And then I encountered my first Licker, and things changed.
This game is not about fighting. It is quite literally about surviving, which means making the decision of when to fight, when to run, and when to plan your next move. Normal difficulty will provide you with this question just as readily as hardcore will, and players should be prepared for that difficulty swing if they’re used to Resident Evil 4 style Super Secret Agent Leon, popping off Ganado heads and doing sick melee takedowns. You aren’t that Leon (or Code Veronica Claire) in this Resident Evil 2, you’re a person trapped in a hellscape with no way out and limited supplies. It was a funny thing to realize, because the term “survival horror” has rarely focused on the actual “survival” part, with more and more modern games focusing on early weakness transforming into endgame destruction on a grand scale as your character finds better weapons and levelled up. The Resident Evil 2 remake turns that on its head, instead focusing on making you think about the best way to get from point A to point B with the least possible risk to yourself. A mistaken calculation can cost you time, ammo, and health, and there are even times when you’ll need to judge if it’s better to take damage to avoid using up precious ammo, and you’ll certainly need that ammo when you face the bosses that this game throws at you occasionally!
Each boss fight is exciting and challenging, and while you may feel frustrated at the amount of ammo used, the game seems somewhat fair in helping you replenish yourself afterwards, and doubly rewards you for good planning and smart use of resources and your environment. At times I felt early on that I might struggle with the game and run out of ammo, but when I finally finished Leon A, I found myself literally swimming in ammunition that I could probably never use all of. Judicious use of non-combat items matters as well, and while the game doesn’t have a strict upgrade path like later installments did, you can still find ways to make your weapons better, usually by hunting safe combinations and exploring hidden areas off the beaten path. To this end, the map in Resident Evil 2 is an amazing ally and one of the best new features in the game. When you enter a new area, the map will turn red if there are any items, files, or important interactables to locate. The closer you get to that item (or, if like me, you actually brushed up against it but didn’t notice the prompt), the map will tell you exactly what that item is for you to go back and grab. Seeing what rooms were red and what weren’t really gave me a sense of knowing that I had finished an area (for the moment, at least), and tracking my progress in an organic manner.
One of the charms of Resident Evil 2, and the Resident Evil series as a whole, are its puzzles. It would probably not be incorrect to say that the Resident Evil games are actually puzzle games that occasionally have you shooting giant mutated zombies and other things. If you wanted to abstract that even further, it’s honestly fair to say that the avoidance and risk-reward routing through areas of Resident Evil 2 is a puzzle itself. This is probably also why Resident Evil 2 is one of the strongest in the franchise with its somewhat ridiculous set piece puzzles spread out around the police department. Finding weird keys, turning dials on giant statues, finding gems to insert into boxes are all within the game's experience, and it does little to ever try and make any of that make sense. In the Resident Evil 2 remake, there are a few attempts with the narrative change that the police station used to be an art museum, but it still makes little to no sense, and is lovable for it more than frustrating or silly. The sewer system, with its chess piece keys, is even sillier, and all in all adds up to what makes Resident Evil 2 so fun: its charm. The game has a weird charm about it that makes the experience fun to work through, even when fighting off flesh-eating monsters. The puzzles add a thoughtful but not particularly difficult wrinkle to that mix, making you think every action out in advance, and putting you on somewhat constant quests to find the one weird item you’ll need to open a door so you can collect a medallion to… well, you get the picture! All of that supposed backtracking may sound tedious, but it isn’t, because every time you venture back into the areas you’ve explored, not only might you find new secret places to explore or connect to, but the threats have likely changed too.
There are a few odd quirks to the game, however. One of which involves the DLC add-on that allows you to play the game with the original Resident Evil 2 score and sound effects for things like menus and typewriters; once I heard about it from friends, I bought it myself during the review and was blown away by how much it changes the experience! While it may not matter as much initially if you’re new to Resident Evil 2, playing with the original score was the missing component for me in some ways of merging the two versions of the game. Hearing the classic police station music play when I entered the main lobby was an amazing thing, and it made me feel like I was 20 years in the past, playing the game for the first time. Even if this remake is your first rodeo with the game, I honestly suggest getting the DLC to really complete the package; the new score is fine by all means, but the original score was a real work of art that fit the game perfectly. The added benefit of the Resident Evil 2 sound effects being thrown in was a great bonus.
My second issue with the game is voice acting. For whatever reason, Capcom decided not to use the union backed voice actors from past Resident Evil games; I’m not sure if development and recording for this game coincided with the SAG-AFTRA strike that took many voice actors out of games, but what I am sure of is that I think Capcom did the game a disservice by not working with the original actors to ensure the true feeling of Resident Evil 2 was preserved. The new voices of Leon, Claire, and the rest are fine, but they feel off or wrong in a way that you think you know what these characters might sound like, and they don’t. Some line readings are a little awkward (I’ve found this to be the case with Claire more than Leon), and while 20 years ago we might consider that campy charm, here it just sounds… odd. I don’t think there’ll ever be some way to fix this in DLC like with the music, and it makes me sad. I really enjoy the Resident Evil 2 remake, and don’t think I’d not play the game because of it, but I wish Capcom had waited or elected to pay the union actors and preserved the original personalities and intonations of the Resident Evil cast before release. As a few minor notes, if you get extremely anxious while playing horror games, or find games where monsters chase you constantly (like Alien: Isolation) hard to play, do know that Mr. X can be a bit of a handful (he’s really smart), but it doesn’t take up as much of the game as it seems. It can change the pacing and comfort level a bit, so be forewarned!
As we got our code right at release, I decided to take my time with the game and play through the storylines fully to see what the full game really had to offer. It may seem odd for a review, but here are a few tips that I learned while playing that I hope can help you out when you try out Resident Evil 2:
1) If you don’t think you’ll enter an area often or for a long time, aim for zombie’s legs rather than try to kill them if you can’t just dodge by them. It slows them down considerably and saves some ammo.
2) Blue herbs may seem worthless (there are like 2 enemies in the game that poison you) but can be combined with Red+Green herb mixtures to give poison healing but, more importantly, damage resistance! Great for boss fights!
3) Save frequently and cycle saves; I hunted a few trophies this way that I either missed initially, or would have needed to go back and do things I might not have done originally to get them.
4) Don’t worry about your ranking! That’s what replays are for! The game rewards multiple play through attempts through familiarity and speed.
5) Dogs suck. Run.
6) You get the ability to craft certain types of ammo. Always prioritize weapons that have scarce ammo but big impact on your play style or needs.
If you are a Resident Evil fan, you probably stopped reading this review after the second paragraph; the game is just that good and you probably already bought it. If you’re new or on the fence, or never got to experience Resident Evil 2 the first time, you should absolutely consider making this game part of your library. There are a lot of great reasons to play through the game multiple times, and Capcom has promised some new DLC expansions to add on to the game over time as well. Even without them, the Resident Evil 2 remake is an absolute blast of amazing gameplay and experiences that you’ll find yourself going back to again and again, wondering if this time, just maybe, you can get that S rank. So buckle up, take your G-Virus shots, and get ready to tag along with Leon and Claire.
+ Amazing atmosphere, graphics, sound direction, and controls make this probably the best Resident Evil yet
+ There is a lot to do across multiple routes and reasons to keep replaying the game
+ It’s Resident Evil 2!
+/- Difficulty might turn off some at first, but it is worth sticking through and learning from your mistakes
- While almost everything else is fantastic, the non-union voice actors used instead of the original cast is a real letdown
Are you a member of S.T.A.R.S., returning for more? Or will this be your first encounter with Resident Evil? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments!
Nicole is a features and a social video script writer for Crunchyroll. Known for punching dudes in Yakuza games on her Twitch channel while professing her love for Majima. She also has a blog, Figuratively Speaking. Follow her on Twitter: @ellyberries
Do you love writing? Do you love anime? If you have an idea for a features story, pitch it to Crunchyroll Features!