Today’s BACKLOG.TXT is an attempt to distance the Resident Evil 2 Remake from its hype. Prefer to watch? Check out the video breakdown on 2 Headed Hero!
I’m a longtime fan of the Resident Evil series. 1998’s Resident Evil 2 was one of my most cherished games from my childhood, full-stop. This was back before zombies became mainstream on TV, and before a film series kind of shit all over the Resident Evil name. You could say I was beyond excited when Capcom announced the remake in 2015.
The 2002 remake of the first Resident Evil game served as a great reminder of the series origins. While it carried some of the same flaws as the 1996 original, the Resident Evil 1 remake still claimed its own sense of identity by mixing up the puzzles, mechanics and environments. Capcom gives good remake, and the Resident Evil 2 remake is their attempt to make lightning strike twice.
Looking Forward, Into the Past
It’s hard to ignore how drop-dead gorgeous the game looks at first glance. The environments are painstakingly realistic, and fans familiar with the 1998 original will feel right at home once the Raccoon City Police Station looms into view.
Effects like smoke and fire look fantastic, and areas take on an ominous feel thanks to the clever use of lighting effects. Walking through the dim hallways with only a flashlight to guide you – surrounded all the while by thumps and moans of horrors unknown – instilled a heavy atmosphere of underlying dread.
The character and monster animations fall smack dab into the Uncanny Valley. Leon and Claire are surprisingly lifelike, and will clutch their injuries, struggle with attackers, and recoil from weapons fire. Equal attention is given to the side characters, and I appreciated how the game gave minor players a better sense of personality.
The voiceover work is all fairly well-done: even the voice actor lines for the child Sherry were pretty believable. Resident Evil games are known for cornball dialog, and the Resident Evil 2 remake is not immune to this, but overall the voiceovers were more mature – and miles beyond its 1998 counterpart.
A great deal of importance was given to sound, which becomes more apparent later in the game. The muted cracks of 9mm rounds, the slap of boots on pavement, and the ominous moans of the risen dead all sound great, and the binaural headphone mixing adds a lot to the experience.
Monsters are reproduced here in meticulous detail. There’s a lot of zombie variety, and it was nice to see the amount of attention paid to the clothing and hair on the corrupted corpses. Terrifying beasts like the agile Licker make a return, while some of the noxious mutants are revamped and modernized. The walking dead can be deformed and dismembered down to their very torsos, and portrayal of player deaths are graphic and brutal in turn.
As with the previous RE Engine game, Resident Evil 7, I spotted the occasional weirdness with hair and beards. A menu bug kept the game from properly displaying my video ram, but even on my meager rig I didn’t have issue playing with most of the settings cranked up. Speaking of settings, the graphic and sound options are all fairly extensive – even going so far as to provide a small preview of their functions. I did notice a slight bit of slowdown when moving between some of the larger areas, but the remake generally ran smooth in 1080p/60fps for each of my playthroughs – no matter how many shuffling bodies were on-screen.
Entering the Survival Horror
Rather than dumping you right into zombie-filled streets at the start of the game, the Resident Evil 2 remake starts off in a gas station on the city outskirts. The year is 1998. Our hero strolls up to avail themselves on roller grill leftovers and take advantage of the bathroom’s scratchy toilet paper after a long ride into town… but wait. Something… has gone terribly wrong.
The gas station serves as a short tutorial, familiarizing players with the inventory and controls and giving them a taste of the vast amount of punishment the zombies can take.
Combat has a weighty feel that’s faithful to the original – for better or worse. Head shots are not instantly lethal, and the dead tend to bounce back even after absorbing a face full of ammo. On the other side of the coin, bullets can sometimes critically hit – blowing apart zed heads like paint-filled balloons.
Pass the Ammunition
Even though the remake allows you to aim and fire with accuracy, it doesn’t feel like there’s much reward in this. Weapons like the shotgun and grenade launcher feel toned down from the original Resident Evil 2 – you can no longer clear a hallway with a single shotgun blast, and ammo is much more precious. There were several sections during my first run where I ended up running from the horrors while clutching an empty gun – and for me, that’s the way survival horror should be.
One area where the new game truly shines on its own is its creeping sense of unease. The reanimated corpses can now pound down doors and follow you up stairs. No place in the Resident Evil 2 remake truly feels safe. Magazines often run dry and health often runs low, so turning tail and running away is sometimes a preferable option. As seen in the 1998 game, skillful players can stagger and avoid zombies rather than killing them outright. Leg shooting is a valid tactic, and a few new sub weapons like grenades can be used as crowd control, or even as a defensive last ditch effort to avoid becoming monster food. I was also surprised to see that some old strategies, like slowly sneaking past the Lickers or utilizing fire against the plant zombies, still worked in the remake.
Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Mr. X – also known as the Tyrant.
Resident Evil 2’s remake expands on its approach to this ten-foot juggernaut, who methodically hunts the heroes throughout the game. Weapons fire and battles with the game’s various monsters draw Mr X’s attention, and he tends to pop up right when you least expect it. Unlike the original, this Tyrant can’t be stopped – putting enough lead into him merely causes him to take a knee for a short time. Hearing those size 22s booming through the halls adds a welcome sense of urgency to the game.
Unfortunately the rest of the remake’s bosses lack the same sense of polish and originality. Boss encounters generally consist of blasting an obvious weak spot and running around a cramped arena. While veterans of the original will know to stockpile resources in anticipation of the game’s bosses, new players might be blindsided to the point of having to replay long sections of the game in order to get past these battles. The game does have a saving grace or two with a couple of the bosses – allowing players to use the environment to their advantage – but one particular fight was a borderline controller thrower due to the precise timing it required. All in all, boss fights in the Resident Evil 2 remake are fairly faithful to the original – for better or worse.
On the bright side, puzzles are remixed in an enjoyable way. Fans of the original will be able to appreciate the new twists that the remake places on the old familiar puzzles throughout the police station, and some new puzzles are thrown in for good measure. None of these are particularly difficult, and most are easily solved after some wandering around on the map or looking back through found diaries and data files.
The Resident Evil 2 remake is also much lighter on the inventory-juggling than its 1998 counterpart. Herbs can still be combined to craft healing items or buffs, while gunpowder can be combined to create various types of ammunition to suit different playstyles. Hip pouches are hidden in lockers and safes throughout the game, significantly expanding the characters’ carrying capacity. Some of these lockers also hide stashes of ammo or upgrade parts for the arsenal. Unfortunately, the game does not mix up the safe or locker combinations, which removes the sense of accomplishment for opening them during replays.
Find A Way Out
In an encouraging return to series form, the Racoon City Police Station and surrounding environments tend to be constructed as puzzles in and of themselves. Navigation can be difficult at first, but gradually eases as players memorize the winding routes around the game’s barricaded halls (and the odd helicopter wreckage).
A detailed map, with features more in line with the mapping systems in Metroidvania games comes into play here – automatically marking points of interest, covered territory, and discovered resources. A way to make your own marks is sorely lacking, and it can sometimes be a chore to remember exactly what key item is used in which room.
The Resident Evil 2 remake is also completely devoid of any hand-holding navigation mechanics. First time players that are accustomed to waypoint marker navigation might find some frustration here, and I admit feeling a little spoiled by these modern conveniences myself. I found myself walking in circles while crying “where the hell do I go?” during my first playthrough on more than one occasion.
Story Of My Life
1998’s Resident Evil 2 had a unique storytelling mechanic. Players had the choice between either Leon or Claire’s campaign from the game start, and each of the character’s paths would separate and converge throughout the course of the game.
Character swaps also make a return in the Resident Evil 2 remake. Leon is once again aided by the intrepid woman of mystery, Ada Wong, whose gameplay section plays out like a spy novel. Claire’s campaign swaps to 12-year-old Sherry Birkin’s perspective for a short but fairly sweet horror section. Although there was some enjoyment in the side character sections, I still feel like they ground the story pacing to a halt.
Finishing the original as one character unlocked a second run campaign where you played as the other, and vice versa. This allowed players to experience the flipside of Leon’s story from the Claire’s perspective. Fans rejoiced upon finding out that this feature remained intact for the remake.
Just A Second
The changes between the “normal runs” and “second runs” are largely superficial, but watching the minor characters react to each hero in different ways was a welcome addition.
The “second run” campaigns up the stakes by introducing certain enemies earlier on, swapping around some puzzle solutions, and adding more story and boss fights to the game’s end. To balance this out, second runs add a high powered handgun early on.
While I enjoyed the “second runs” about as much as the first, I found myself wishing a little more care was taken to reflect the other hero’s actions throughout the story. As it stands, each character’s second run ends up feeling mighty similar to their first. It feels like a missed opportunity.
For example, think about how different the game would be if the second runs changed up where the boss fights occur, or made you leave behind important weapons in a place where the other hero will find them, or took out certain resources and items that were used up in the first campaign, or allowed you to encounter side characters from the first campaign. These are just a few examples that would make the two runs feel more like one longer and more cohesive story.
Good, But Just Short of True Greatness
The Resident Evil 2 remake is undeniably a fun fright-fest and solid value proposition. When taking into account that each campaign runs around 6-8 hours, fans will be kept busy for a long time. Hardcore difficulty, additional unlockables, and combat challenges like 4th Survivor mode add to the replayability. New, free story DLC has been announced for a release this month. Modders have already gotten their hands dirty with the remake as well, and I can’t wait to see what other new crazy stuff they dream up.
In somewhat of an ironic twist, the Resident Evil 2 remake’s elements that remain faithful to the original tend to be what hold it back the most. As a series fan, it’s hard not to judge the game harshly or wish for more. Despite the game’s faults, Capcom has largely succeeded with making lightning strike twice. The Resident Evil 2 remake has followed hot on the heels of Resident Evil 7, helping the series take a giant step out of the grave and into a new generation of gaming.
- Chandon, also known as Bawss Sawss, is a pretty big Resident Evil dork. He’s also a sauce aficionado, gamer, writer, musician, and one head of the 2 Headed Hero gaming channel on YouTube. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. NEW!! You can now directly email questions/concerns/playful insults to [email protected] !
- 2 Headed Hero’s quieter half, Rollinkunz, is the channel’s illustrator, gamer, writer, and boardgame designer, He can also be reached on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.