As a fan of Capcom’s Resident Evil series since the first game came out way back on the original PlayStation, I have two confessions to make. First: I hated Resident Evil 7. While it seemed like everyone under the sun was praising the “brave new direction” Capcom had taken the franchise in, all I saw was a project that aped the first-person always-being-chased style of gameplay that I think has been ruining the horror genre in recent years. And then, as Capcom seems ready to return us to a more classic era of Resident Evil, I have my second admission: I’ve always considered the original Resident Evil 2 to be far and away the most overrated chapter of the series.
I guess I could then also tell you that I quite enjoyed Resident Evil 6, but I’d like at least some of you to read the rest of this review.
Even if we don’t meet eye-to-eye opinion-wise, I’m sure we can at least all agree that Resident Evil has been having a bit of an identity crisis. As much as I loved (and still love) Resident Evil 4, it was the start of a shift to a more modern, action-focused formula that still kinda had zombies but also kinda didn’t. (And really, you could even see some of those shifts forming in Resident Evil 3.) The series would continue trying to find its footing until Resident Evil 6, which I totally admit was Capcom basically throwing their hands up in the air, giving us three different kinds of Resident Evil in one game, and then begging us to tell them which one we wanted. Side projects like Resident Evil Revelations at times felt like more nostalgic experiences, but they couldn’t shake that “less important side project” stigma that had once plagued Resident Evil: Code Veronica. And then, of course, we get to Resident Evil 7, which—no matter what I thought of it—undeniably threw a whole lot of tradition right out the window.
All of that history is important, because it leads up to one of the boldest statements I’ll probably make this year: This new Resident Evil 2 remake may be the first real Resident Evil game we’ve ever gotten.
Resident Evil was a fantastic and incredibly groundbreaking game. Chris and Jill’s journey through an undead-infested mansion was as engrossing as it was exciting, and the game single-handedly made “survival horror” both an established genre and a household term. And yet, as brilliant as it was, you can’t convince me that it was the game the development team truly wanted to make. On a technical level, there were so many limitations hampering the storytelling and gameplay ideas. And, as much as some people obsess over the classic fixed camera positions and rendered backgrounds, moving around at awkward angles over flat JPEGs were compromises to put up with, not relish.
Every game since has either been hampered by technology, gameplay, or story, each missing the mark in one way or another from being a true expression of the soul of the Resident Evil series. At least, until now. Resident Evil 2 started out as what I’d come to anticipate—a proper effort to bring a classic game into the modern era—but it didn’t take long before I started seeing it as something deeper. The more I played, the more I realized that I was playing the game my brain had always imagined those early PlayStation chapters to be. Nearly every single element here feels like beloved ingredients and modern technique mixed to a master level, leaving me assured that this is the Resident Evil 2 we would have received 21 years ago had it only been possible.
It’s hard to decide where to even begin, but probably the thing that jumps out the most right away is the game’s visuals. There’s no denying that Resident Evil 2 looks good, and that its graphical improvements jointly boost the terror of roaming dark hallways or destroyed laboratories filled with the undead, but it’s far more than just polygon counts or texture quality. There’s a warmth and humanity to the graphics here that I don’t always see in other games, and I don’t know if that’s due to the RE Engine, the team’s choice in how to recreate those classic environments and enemies, the art style used, or all of the above.
I just adore how Resident Evil 2 looks, especially when it comes to its cast. It’s funny that I wasn’t a bigger fan of the original back in the day, because both Leon and Claire would go on to be two of my favorite characters from the series (behind only Ms. Jill Valentine). The new character models bring the game’s heroes and villains to life like never before, and to my delight, Capcom continues the trend of giving its beloved characters wardrobe updates to fantastic results here. (Don’t you dare try to say Claire’s old outfit was better.) There’s other visual and audio bonuses as well, from a nice selection of unlockable and DLC costume changes (man, those Noir outfits) to a host of spoken language choices to the ability to swap out the remade sound effects and soundtrack for those from the original. That last option being a paid addition unless you’ve purchased the Deluxe Edition of Resident Evil 2 does admittedly sting a little, especially since it’s the only way you can hear “Resident Evil Two” announced on the starting screen like the lord above intended.
Gameplay-wise, Resident Evil 2 benefits from Capcom having had many years and numerous iterations to work out how Resident Evil games should play in the era of of third-person over-the-shoulder action games. Controlling both Leon and Claire feels responsive and gratifying, and for those times when combat is your only option, the game’s selection of weapons are now even more sadistically satisfying (with, surprisingly, my favorite now being the Spark Shot). There are two gameplay features I found myself missing, however: the option to head stomp zombies when they’re down on the floor, and the ability to dodge. Are they needed for what Resident Evil 2 is trying to accomplish? Absolutely not. They’re still two modern-day niceties that I routinely wished I had, even if they may have made the game easier at times. There is an option that can take the place of dodging to some degree, however, and that’s subweapons. In addition to their trusty knives, Leon and Jill can pick up standard and flash grenades, and then spend one of their stock to escape from an enemy’s clutches when grabbed. While the knife is recoverable from zombies once they’re fully downed, it only has so many uses before it’ll break and need replacing. All of this results in a game that feels modern and fun to play, but which also never feels out of place when put side-by-side with elements that hark back to a more classic time for the series.
Borrowing an idea that first cropped up in the original version’s sequel, Resident Evil 2 now also features the ability to mix different types of gunpowder to create more stock of a variety of ammo types. Speaking of picking up items, the trademark “zapping system” from the original game—where what you did playing through as Leon/Claire would then affect various things when running the second “B” playthrough as Claire/Leon—is no longer intact in the game. There’s still the push to see the story from both characters’ perspectives as one long experience though, and there will still be differences between both playthroughs depending on who you picked first—it’s just that those differences are no longer directly decided by your actions. If Resident Evil 2 loses a little something in that lessening of the game’s more dynamic elements, it then gains something back in its mapping system—which might legitimately be one of my favorite low-key upgrades in the game. Rooms are now color-coded to denote if you’re done with everything there is to do or get there, and when you’ve found but not picked up items, the map displays icons to tell you specifically what is still waiting where. Look, I’m too old and I play too many games to have to remember the locations of everything I’ve found, so every game should give me a mapping system like this.
The various changes and upgrades Resident Evil 2 offers brings us to its big sticking point, and that’s that you should consider it more of a reimagining than a remake. While it’s not quite 2004 Dawn of the Dead compared to 1978 Dawn of the Dead, locations, scenarios, and other elements aren’t always going to be how you remember them, and that could end up being disappointing for some of the more hardcore fans of the original. Where these changes have the most effect comes in the way of enemies, as some have undergone some reworking while others simply no longer exist. For me, I’m totally on board with making changes that better serve this update vision of Resident Evil 2 versus having a slavish commitment to keeping everything the way it was. And yet, I do admit that I felt the smaller enemy variety as I played. If those removed enemies really did go against the more “realistic” vision the team had for this project, then a few more new ideas would have gone a long way.
In the end, however, that—and the other minor complaints I had here and there—did nothing to lessen the unadulterated joy and emotional attachment I felt during my entire playthrough of Resident Evil 2. More than just a new chapter in Capcom’s legendary franchise, this is the culmination of said franchise’s 22 years of existence, and the near-perfect combination of retaining everything we once loved about Resident Evil while trying to figure out how to move those things into the future. With the stark contrast between Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 2, I now have absolutely no idea where Capcom is going to go next—but I do know that the world has just been shown how much life is still left in a series that many were saying had itself become a shambling corpse.
More than just a simple remake of a cherished classic, Resident Evil 2 is a reinvigoration of the entire franchise, showing just how much life it still has left without the need to make drastic gameplay or stylistic changes. From start to end, this is a phenomenal showcase of old mixed with new, both giving players the chance to relive an important chapter in the life of the series under fantastic new conditions, while also potentially paving the way for Resident Evil for years to come.
M - Mature
|Resident Evil 2 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Capcom for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI.