Survival-Horror Is Alive And Well - Resident Evil 2 Review
Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 remake sits as one of the strongest survival-horror games to be developed.
Capcom has recently come off a pretty significant stint of developing Resident Evil games with a very lukewarm reception. It was the release of Resident Evil 7 when Capcom showed they still had gas in the tank. As the 20th anniversary of Resident Evil 2 approached last year, Capcom rolled up their sleeves and unveiled a front-to-back remake of the beloved Resident Evil 2 for modern consoles.
The original Resident Evil 2 received its acclaim by telling the story of Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, a pair of characters set on unearthing the horrifying cause of destruction that plagued Raccoon City. Now in 2019, Resident Evil 2 tell us the same story with some new beats. To receive the full story, players will have the option of going through the motion as either the rookie-cop, Leon or Claire, who is on the hunt for her brother. As Leon and Claire get separated, their paths occasionally cross which is fairly similar to those that played the original.
After completion, players can choose the Second Run option from the menu, which will place you in the shoes of the opposite character. While the initial run-through of the campaign may take you roughly eight to ten hours, Second Runs will likely last three to four. Many of the locations and puzzles remain the same, but item locations and puzzle solutions are tweaked.
Playing through Leon’s campaign will have you explore the sewers a bit more than you would as Claire. On the other hand, Claire’s campaign features a brand new location to Resident Evil 2. Though your time in this location is brief, it is one of the stronger parts and is a welcoming addition.
Getting to see the story unfold from two different perspectives adds a lot of replayability, but forces some logic to be thrown out the window. Unlocking a door won’t mean the door remains unlocked when the second character arrives at the same location down the line, breaking some immersion. Working through one campaign won’t allow you to unlock each door and explore every room. To do that, it is encouraged to play a Second Run in order to get the full experience, plus the true ending.
The biggest change made in Resident Evil 2’s remake was its camera. In the original, it was the use of a fixed-camera that established a haunting feel to the entire experience. Venturing from one screen to the next caused even the more open environments to feel tight. The fixed-camera allowed Capcom to inject horror by forcing the player’s perspective as the scene unfolded. The fixed-camera was a product of late-90s games. Now, we are more accustomed to free camera movements, and because of that, Capcom had to reinvestigate the methods of delivering tension.
Capcom’s greatest achievement in Resident Evil 2 was their ability to re-orchestrate every bit of on-screen action to create an uncomfortable feeling without reaching for modern day tropes. While there are a few jump-scares peppered throughout Resident Evil 2’s campaign, Capcom executed on producing tension through audio and visual design.
Whether you play Resident Evil 2 with headphones on or through your preferred speaker system, the audio design is strong enough to send shivers down your spine. Since Capcom was unable to force perspective, Resident Evil 2 attracts your attention and makes you hold your breath through the most simple sounds. The small shuffle of footsteps around the corner or knock on a window and the first instinct will be to raise your weapon and investigate. Players of the original will vividly remember crossing paths with Tyrant aka Mr. X, the unstoppable, menacing force. Flash-forward and the Tyrant has a fierce musical accompaniment and heart-wrenching footsteps as he draws closer. Though as time progresses, the presence of Mr.X devolves from being terrifying to frustrating as he will often appear to chase you away from your objective.
A horror game can only be as terrifying as the environments and character designs allow. Nothing sells that the gut-wrenching feeling of terror more than staring down a well-polished character model. Capcom pulled no string by upping the ante we saw in 2017’s Resident Evil 7. Every enemy variant is unique and horrifying. Clearing out a room of zombies, only to hear the croaks and shuffling of an enemy reanimating once more is enough to get the heart pumping. Lickers will constantly keep you on your toes and even though you may not be able to see one, knowing one may be around a corner will make you rethink your current route.
Minor aspects were changed to give better overall experience for players. Storage management and menu navigation are done just as easily as it was in Resident Evil 7. Instead of feeling like a chore, the entire experience felt like it was improved. Once an item fulfilled its usefulness, like a key, a small red check mark would appear indicating you may dispose of the item and free up an inventory slot.
The map, in particular, stands out as a piece Capcom retooled for the better. Finding your way from one floor to another feels intuitive. Interacting with a locked door will highlight it on the map, which will give you details on how to unlock it and stay organized. Every icon on the map is there to keep the player structured. Some could argue that it makes for an easier experience, but the quality of life changes such as tagging ammo and health consumption items in each room helped cut down on retracing my steps wondering where I left that green herb.
While on the topic of items, it’s important to note that as Resident Evil 2 has three difficulty modes, even the Standard Mode delivers some real challenges. With added mobility and free camera movements, traversing the map is a lot easier. However, aiming your weapon to get the required three or four headshots to down an enemy is easier said than done.
Resident Evil 2 gives you a fair amount of variety with weapons and upgrades. The weapon upgrades will help you control your aim, or increase reload speed. These do come in handy, but when a group of four zombies begin to surround you, it’s only you and your ability to aim that will keep you alive.
Throughout the last area of the game, you’ll undoubtedly feel more powerful and confident. That feeling of empowerment is gained fairly quickly once given the arsenal needed to lay down some serious firepower. It’s through this bit of escalation that the game begins to feel a bit flat. By the final act, I was loaded with grenades, stacks of ammo, and enough health that even larger groups of enemies did not feel like a threat.
Each campaign ends with a unique boss battle, which unfolds beautifully. The surroundings are magnificent, and the music is powerful. However, it quickly boils down to a battle of attrition. After surviving through thick and thin, players only have the survive long enough to unload their stockpile of bullets and grenades in order to win the battle. After seeing Capcom do so much to improve the survival-horror genre thus far, falling back to the bullet-sponge final enemy felt a bit underwhelming.
Resident Evil 2 did not change the survival-horror genre but instead, gave us a truly polished version, revitalizing the genre. Capcom and the Resident Evil series has been a tentpole of the genre for over 20 years. As Resident Evil 7 proved to be a successful test to break away from the norms or the series, Resident Evil 2’s remake has me reconsidering if Capcom needs to take such a drastic departure.
Given that Capcom has now released two very pristine Resident Evil games back-to-back, each with their own different perspectives and tones, Capcom has many options of where to go in the future. Regardless of where the studio hopes to take the series, Resident Evil 2 proves that survival-horror games are not dead.