Towards the end of Resident Evil 2, I was hanging on by a thread, battered, bruised, bloody, and beaten.
I’m clutching at my ribs, wincing in pain, and look as if I’m about to throw up. I can barely run, my health is in the danger zone, I’m all out of herbs, barely any bullets left, and I’m being pursued by the game’s toughest enemies yet. By all accounts I should be dead, but I’m still fighting by the skin of my teeth.
I’ve not felt peril quite like this in a game for years, and it’s fucking glorious.
Why? Because I’m actually scared to progress, I’m worried that I’m nowhere near a saving typewriter and the next time I turn a corner, I’m going to get my head crushed or bitten off. That’s half an hour’s progress lost in the blink of an eye and I’m not sure I can get back to the same point again with the limited resources I’ve left myself.
The indestructible nature of that which hunts you is emphasised time and again as you stumble and hobble through the game. You’re always the underdog, no matter how much you stock up and prepare. You shoot zombies and more will keep coming. You think they’re dead, but then they’ll crawl across the floor, grab onto your leg and take a chunk out of your calf. And just when you think you’ve got the measure of things, something new will creep up and force you to go to Plan B.
Resident Evil 2 is a game remastered for 2019 but it’s also unashamedly old school. You can’t just save when you want. You are going to have to pick and choose what you carry with you. Ammunition is so scarce that you’ll resort to creating your own, and you’ll find yourself back-tracking to open up additional routes with a new key or item you’ve found. It’s the perfect combination of staying faithful and keeping with tradition, but modernising the product in every way imaginable, bettering in each circumstance.
Not just that, but it’s a game that never outstays its welcome. It won’t go on for thirty plus hours on a single playthrough with an overabundance of side filler. This is a tight, well-rounded and polished experience from start to finish that clearly establishes its structure while offering plenty of new content that can be explored at your own pace.
It sounds laborious, but the process of exploring the Racoon City Police Station, moving through the same doors over and again, grabbing an item you left behind or armed with the solution to a puzzle you saw a few hours before, remains immensely gratifying throughout. And with the environment dynamically shifting around you and new enemies cropping up all the time, it all manages to stay very fresh and fearful. Even when you’ve walked a familiar path five times, you’ll still come out of the same doors very slowly, torchlight and gun firmly in hand.
Resident Evil 7 was a great video game, trying things from a new perspective in a suitably creepy setting with a terrifying set of villains, but after reliving Leon Kennedy’s first day on the force, exploring his place of work, getting engulfed in its atmosphere and uncovering its secrets, it’s pretty clear this is where the franchise is still at its best.
I can’t count the amount of times I had to run away, or barge my way through a horde because I wasn’t frugal enough in the early stages. And when you’re being chased down the stairs, knowing what’s behind you, that’s when you start to panic and forget about what’s ahead of you as well. During my playthrough, I backed myself into too many corners and tight spaces, and put myself face to face with Lickers, dogs and zombies far more than I should have.
This is a game that often thrives on you being defenceless, even though it is extremely well balanced – save for the final few sections. It lives up to the billing of ‘survival horror’ by punishing your earlier decision-making. But fortunately, you don’t just have guns and bullets to protect yourself. Leon and Claire can also make use of grenades and knives which can be plunged into an enemy if they get too close to you. There’s also a new feature that lets you board up windows so zombies can’t break through the glass and come for you. This can make your route to the next safe room much clearer.
Resident Evil 2 is keen on you using the environment to your advantage, but also in helping you understand that you can’t go in all guns-blazing every single time. If you see a Licker devouring a corpse, the best thing to do is quietly walk around them and creep through a nearby doorway to pass. Conserve your ammo, because you never know when you might need it.
Resident Evil 2 gave me one adrenaline rush after another, unlike any other third person epic I played last year. And in that, Capcom have perfectly bottled everything that made the original such a cult hit all those years ago, yet somehow made it even scarier. Even if you think you know what’s coming next, or where an enemy is ‘supposed to be’ or what a character will say to another, this Remake keeps surprising. It even answers some questions fans have theorised over the past twenty years.
And in true Res style, it’ll even reward you for the most outrageous and ridiculous of things, like taking 14,000 steps or fewer in one playthrough or never opening the item box. Not even once.
As remasters go, there are few that stand shoulder to shoulder with Resident Evil 2. Based on how much this Remake adds, the way it’s presented, the wealth of content it offers, and the respect it shows its shows source material, it’s clear Capcom have achieved new heights of quality. Resident Evil 2 Remake evolves, iterates, and expands on just about every conceivable and desirable component of the base game and the lore within it to make a more enticing and enriching modern experience that opens new doors for the franchise.
Unquestionably, Resident Evil 2 should be considered the measuring stick of quality by which all future remakes be judged. This is a monumental achievement that has been well worth the wait.
Review code kindly provided by the publisher. Played on PS4.