This review is available in both written and video format. The video shows the game in action while I read the review as a voiceover, so if you watch the video you don’t need to read the written review that follows since it’s the same ‘script’.
Xbox One, PS4, Steam (Xbox One version reviewed)
While I’m obviously a massive fan of gaming, I’ve also got a real love for horror movies, especially those from the ‘70s and ‘80s.
The Resident Evil series, then, has always been a big favourite of mine. It’s quite fitting, too, that I can draw parallels between it and one of my favourite movie franchises, George A Romero’s ‘Dead’ series.
The obvious connection is zombies: that sort of goes without saying. But both also essentially kicked off an entire genre – zombie movies and survival horror – and both went through a bit of a rough patch during their fifth and sixth instalments (Resi 5 & 6, and Diary & Survival Of The Dead).
As well as this, on a personal level my favourite entry in each series was the second: both Resident Evil 2 and Dawn Of The Dead built on what made their predecessors so effective, by moving their settings from a house in the middle of the countryside to a more urban location.
George Romero even directed some Japanese TV commercials to promote Resident Evil 2, just in case the connection wasn’t solid enough.
Over the past week I’ve decided I can now add another example to this comparison: not only are Resi 2 and Dawn Of The Dead my favourites in each series, I’m a big fan of both their remakes too.
Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead took the same premise as Romero’s 1978 masterpiece – a group of survivors hang out in a shopping mall while a growing sea of zombies gathers outside it – and gave it a modern overhaul, complete with an entire reworking of the plot to the extent that the second half may as well be a completely different film.
The new Resident Evil 2 that’s out this Friday does the same thing. The premise is the same – zombies in a police station – but Capcom teaches an old zombie dog new tricks by taking that classic 1998 PlayStation adventure and dragging it shuffling and moaning into the current generation.
This means no more pre-rendered backgrounds and static cameras, no more door opening animations, no more dodgy voice acting and no more zombies. Okay, I’m lying about the zombies.
Much of the core concept remains the same, mind you. It’s obviously still set in a police station and the general plot is still there. Once again you get to choose to play as one of two protagonists – Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield – and once again each character experiences the events of the game from a different perspective, bumping into different characters along the way.
Much like that Dawn Of The Dead remake, though, this isn’t a straightforward case of taking the original work and giving it a modern lick of paint. Capcom hasn’t just rebuilt things with an over-the-shoulder camera here: if you were to head to GameFAQs, take a walkthrough for the original game and try to use it you’d… well, you wouldn’t last past the first screen.
That’s because there’s a new opening sequence set in a petrol station, which acts as a sort of tutorial. Following that, the section in which you make your way to the police station has been shortened significantly. There’s no taking a shortcut through a crashed bus, no visit to the gun shop, nothing like that. You’re at the station before you know it.
Once you get there, it’s clear the differences have only just begun. Pretty much every major set-piece and puzzle has been completely changed: some have been scrapped altogether and replaced with completely new ones.
The police station’s layout has been tinkered with too, to make sure even the biggest super-fans of the original can’t just put their brains on autopilot and breeze through the game. You’re going to have to rediscover everything here: this is very much a ‘reimagining’ rather than a remaster, taking the basic properties of the original and building an entirely new game around it.
Take the infamous scene where you encounter the Licker for the first time. In the original Resi 2, you saw it scuttling past a window. Then, when you entered the next room, you turned a corner and it dropped down from the ceiling in front of you.
This time, when you approach that window, there’s nothing there. Enter the next room, turn the corner and… nothing. No Licker. Don’t worry, you still get to bump into it, but not until later. With that simple act of moving it to another room and another point in the game’s timeline, Capcom puts that original fear back into the Resi 2 fan and makes them realise that nothing is predictable any more: this may as well be a new game.
Another major change is the puzzles, which are easier in general. Depending on your take on what ‘makes’ a Resident Evil game, this is either a good or bad thing, but I personally loved being able to play through a Resi game without having to look up the solution to a particularly abstract brainteaser, something that annoyed me back in the day (though I was 20 years younger, to be fair).
If you long for the days of the convoluted puzzles of earlier games, then, you aren’t going to get them here, as the vast majority of Resi 2’s early puzzles have simply been removed from the game altogether. There’s no block pushing, no lighting fireplaces to get jewels, no God of Sun and God of Moon, no flicking five switches in a certain order to restore power to the station.
That’s not to say there aren’t still a couple of puzzles in here, but they’re far less abstract than they were in the series’ early days. The first major one – in which you need to find three medallions to place on the statue in the main hallway – literally hands you a notebook showing you three smaller statues you need to find and exactly which symbols you need to enter underneath them to get the medallions.
Most of the other handful of puzzles are straightforward enough too, with one exception. Without wishing to go into spoiler territory, later on in the game there’s one of those puzzles that involves pouring liquid between three differently-sized containers so you can eventually get the exact volume.
That one took me a good ten minutes of head-scratching, though presumably if you give it about 90 seconds after launch I’m sure some enterprising young YouTuber will have a solution up, no doubt decorated with a garish thumbnail.
That puzzle aside, the game’s exploration has generally been gently reworked with the modern gamer in mind. As in some other Resi games, the maps highlights rooms in blue if you’ve seen everything they have to offer, and highlights them in red if they still contain an item of interest.
On top of that, though, they now also highlight any items you haven’t collected or puzzles you haven’t solved, which is a massive help. Now if your inventory is full and you can’t pick up that First Aid Spray, you can run to the nearest item box (which are also helpfully indicated on the map), deposit some items then easily see on the map where that spray was.
Similarly, if you eventually find that square crank for the strange square keyhole you discovered an hour ago, the map will now handily show you where that hole was so you can return to it quickly without having to methodically check the rooms you think it could have been in.
This is particularly useful because the map is larger than it was in the previous game. The police station’s layout itself has been extended, meaning some corridors now lead to different rooms or staircases than you may have been used to before.
This new and improved map comes in really handy as a result: with more sections to discover it’s understandable that the game doesn’t want you trying to commit to memory even more important locations that you need to come back to later once you have the right item.
Also useful is the ability to expand your inventory with a number of little hip pouch things you find on your travels. Each time you find one of these your inventory grows by two slots, meaning you can go from your initial eight slots to a far more comfortable 20.
Not to say that makes it significantly easier, mind: by the second half of the game even a maxed-out inventory still doesn’t feel anywhere near big enough, and you’ll still be juggling items as is the Resi way.
Although there are plenty of other new additions that make the game feel fresh – most notably the laboratory near the end of the game, which has changed significantly – probably the most notable change is the presence of Mr X.
In the original Resi 2, Mr X only made an appearance when you completed the game with one character then started the ‘Scenario B’ mode with the other one. This time he’s very much a part of the main storyline, and regularly appears to fuck with you.
His appearances before were entirely scripted: the pre-rendered environments and the fact that nobody could open doors meant he could only make an entrance – usually by breaking down a wall – if the developers had scripted it as part of the story.
This time he’s basically given the right to freely roam the police station, continually walking after you in a way reminiscent of the horror film It Follows. It’s a little like the moments in Resident Evil 7 when Jack is stalking you around the house.
Although it’s a clever idea in practice, personally I wasn’t too keen on it: Resi has always been about the set-pieces in my opinion, and adding a random element makes these moments more hit and miss.
Rather than the game cleverly making him turn up at the exact moments you don’t want to see him, instead you inevitably just bump into him from time to time and it becomes more of an annoyance than a genuine shock.
It also had me going “hmmmm” from time to time, because though I can’t prove it I can’t shake the feeling there are some teleport shenanigans going on to make sure he turns up more regularly than he should.
Still, this is the sole iffy factor in what’s generally a fantastic entry in the Resident Evil series. There’s plenty to do in this one: not only is the main campaign a good deal longer than it was before – expect to beat it in around 10 hours – you’ve still got all the other unlockable modes you’d expect from a Resi 2 remake (no spoilers!).
It effortlessly walks that balance between offering a respectful and faithful reworking of the original game’s tone, while still changing it enough to make it feel like its own unique beast (certainly far more than the GameCube Resi remake did).
So much about it is satisfying: the way heads explode when you catch them just the right way, the way zombies lunge at you when you run past and often just miss by their fingertips, the way everything just looks infinitely better than the 1998 version.
Most importantly – just like the Dawn Of The Dead remake before it – it manages to make zombies scary again, something I was genuinely concerned wasn’t possible after we had that period in gaming where zombies were just chucked into everything.
That ‘98 game still has enough differences to justify its place in the series, though. Many still have a soft spot for its fixed cameras, and that terrible voice acting is still the stuff of absolute legend.
The new Resident Evil 2 could never replace the original one: it still holds such a dear place in the rotting, undead hearts of so many gamers from that era. What it does do, though, is proudly stand alongside it: not as an inferior remake, but as an equal, with its own set-pieces and puzzles and scary bits.
Resident Evil fans, you can breathe out again. It’s brilliant.
Resident Evil 2 is out on Xbox One, PS4 and Steam on 25 January. You can buy the physical version from Amazon UK (Xbox One, PS4) and Amazon US (Xbox One, PS4).
In order that I could write this review, I received a digital copy of the game from Capcom. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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Great review Chris! Unsure if I’ll pick it up at Launch, mainly due to the amount of games I own that I need to play. Unfortunate to hear about Mr.X randomly showing up. Its no doubt there to keep you on your toes and to feel constantly uneasy but I sure don’t like the idea. I guess if a Resi 3 Remake is indeed in the works that they will have the Nemesis done the same way.
Scary zombies… It has been a long time since I have seen a scary zombie on games or movies. The 70’s and 80’s horror movies are definitely the best. Even with all those technological achievements on the special effects area, so common in recent times, I do prefer the oldies.
RE is one of my favorite series. I’ve been playing those games since the original PS days. I do appreciate the fixed cameras style but it is nice to play in another perspective. I’ll definitely pick this remake and hope to scare myself a little, playing alone late at night.
Thanks for the review, Scullion-san.