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Resident Evil 2 (2019) Review

I entered the survival horror when I first played Resident Evil 2 on the N64. The first time I saw the licker skitter across the outside of the Police Department window I froze in fear. I would continue to play it in short sessions, taking breaks when the tension got to be too much. Finally, I beat the scenario with Leon only to unlock another scenario with Claire! It wouldn’t take long before I had beaten all the scenarios, and seen all the game had to offer, including the bonus Hunk and Tofu modes. I knew the script by heart, and my brother and I would regularly quote the game, with its awkward line delivery and animations.

RE2 began my love affair with the series. I went on to play the original trilogy, the RE1 Remake, and all the shitty spin-off games. I even had an art book that included concept art and renders for all the games, as well as the “deep lore”. After the release of RE4, the series would stray further and further from its survival horror roots in-place of coop action and I began to lose interest. The series would return to its focus on horror with the stellar RE7, but it still felt like it was missing what made the original games so special.

Re-enter the Survival Horror

I’ve learned that it’s better to have no expectations when it comes to new game releases. It lessened the sting when the game didn’t live up to the hype. And if it did end up being great, then it made the experience all the more surprising! When Capcom first announced the remake for RE2 back in 2014, with the infamous “We do it!” video, I decided I’d wait for actual footage of the game before I got excited. Finally, at E3 2018, a trailer for the game was released. Watching Leon run through the updated police department, illuminating the darkness with a flashlight, looked much better, and spookier, than I expected. What really impressed me though was the staple of the series: the zombies.

Zombies had become the “trash mob” enemy of the series, and were no longer scary or intimidating. With the Remake, they made them scary again by making them much more aggressive and harder to kill. They could now tank headshots as they lunged towards you, and even if you put one down you were never sure if they were dead or just playing dead. Shooting off their limbs was now an option, and it was often better to cripple a zombie then waste precious ammo trying to kill it. But even a
quadriplegic zombie could still be dangerous.

I finally gave into the hype, and eagerly awaited the early 2019 release. Finally, it released on January 25, 2019 on Steam. I stayed up for the Midnight release, playing for 4 hours before finally giving in to exhaustion. The game was everything I had hoped for and more. It managed to pay homage while also improving on almost every aspect of the original.

A New Standard for Remakes

The Remake already got the zombies right. I quickly learned it was often better to avoid them, then to try to take them out. Resource management is one of the defining aspects of a survival horror and ammo is a precious commodity. As you play, you become better at assessing when to fight and when to run away. If you pick a fight with every zombie you encounter, you’ll lose in the long run.

During my first playthrough, I ran out of the ammo in the underground section of the game. I had to desperately make a run for the exit, while being pursued by a pack of zombie dogs. That feeling of desperation is something I rarely feel in games anymore. I limped out of the underground area, barely alive, but invigorated.

Exploring the police department, which basically served as the second mansion in the series, is the best part of the game. When you first enter the police department, you’re limited in where you can explore. There are whole rooms and sections of the department that are blocked off either by a locked door, a collapsed floor, or some other obstacle. As you explore, you’ll find keys or items that will unlock these areas, and allow you to progress even further. This approach to map design is called Recursive Unlocking, and I LOVE IT!

The Remake nails the level design even better than the original. Rooms will become more dangerous on revisits, as zombies will begin climbing through windows. You’ll also encounter more Lickers, agile enemies that crawl on the walls and ceilings. As if that was not enough, halfway through exploring the police department, you’ll encounter an unstoppable foe that will relentlessly hunt you down.

Mr. X is the best part of the Remake. He appeared in the 2nd scenario of the original, a Tyrant in a trench coat that would re-appear throughout the game. But because of limitations back then, he couldn’t move beyond the boundaries of the room he was in. Moving to the next room would eliminate the threat, meaning you could easily avoid him in most cases with good routing.

Not so in the Remake. With the removal of loading doors, Mr. X can now pursue you room to room. When he’s not in the same room, you’ll hear his thunderous footsteps as he searches for you in the vicinity. It’s terrifying when you realize he’s just a room over heading in your direction, and there is no escape. Mr. X has become quite famous on the internet, generating memes and compilation videos of streamer reactions.

Is It the Perfect Remake?

I’ve been praising the Remake so far, but it does have its shortcomings as well. In the original, the game had 4 separate scenarios depending on which character you chose to play first. A scenario differed from B scenario, featuring different boss fights, cutscenes, enemy/item placement, and routes. If you played Leon first, you could also zap over items to Claire in her second scenario, and vice versa. It gave the game a lot of replayability, and to see the full story you’d have to play all 4 scenarios.

The Remake still has the 2nd scenarios, but they play out almost exactly the same as the main campaign. The major differences are in the beginning and end, with most of the middle of the game unaltered. Some enemies and items are re-arranged, and some puzzle solutions are different, but the story plays out almost exactly the same with an added final boss fight and ending. It’s disappointing that the developers didn’t do more with the A/B scenarios. There are also some major plot inconsistencies that seem intentionally left in.

The sewer and lab areas, which are still fun to explore, are more linear than the police department in their design, and don’t offer that same freedom in routing. The sewers does feature the new G Adult enemies, which are disturbing abominations that almost act as a mid-boss. The Ivy enemies have also gotten a redesign, making them look much more like plant zombies, and elicit a horrifying groan reminiscent of the vengeful spirit from The Grudge. They can also one-shot you if they grab you without a self defense item, which I’m not a huge fan of.

The William Birkin boss fights have all been redesigned and are a lot more interesting this time around. Some of the boss fights are more gimmicky than others, the 2nd boss fight relying on using a giant crate to defeat Birkin, but overall they’re a good balance with ammo scattered throughout the arena. The final Birkin encounter is one of the most disturbing sequences I’ve seen in any game, and it’s incredible to see the amount of detail in each formation as Birkin turns more and more into an unrecognizable monster.

The Rest

The general story is still the same, but the script has been completely revised, giving a lot more personality to characters, and making them seem more real. It still has its share of immersion breaking moments, like Leon and Claire flirting while a mob of zombies approach from behind, and Ada breaking out a hacking device while exclaiming “It’s secret weapon time.” Unlike RE4 though, the stakes feel much higher, and the characters don’t seem invincible. For the most part, I loved what they did with the rewrite, and a lot of cutscenes I’ll still rewatch even on subsequent playthroughs.

One part that kind of drags is the middle section of the game, where you briefly explore the Racoon City hellscape. This section features a lot of walking, with unskippable dialogue sequences, and even an autoscroller for Leon. You’ll briefly play as Ada or Sherry, and while these sections are fine the first playthrough, they’re not fun to replay.

One thing I didn’t get into is the puzzles. Classic Resident Evil games had their roots in adventure games, featuring an array of puzzles that the player needed to solve to progress. None of them are too difficult, and they mostly involve finding an item somewhere else in the vicinity.

There is a healthy variety of puzzles, including a circuit board puzzle, which plays like the Pipe Mania hacking game in Bioshock, and a Chess Plug puzzle, where you determine the order they’re inserted using deductive reasoning based off hints. These puzzles are a nice diversion, and I’m glad to see them return. Fortunately, tedious puzzles like the crate pushing puzzle from the original RE2, have been excluded.

Play it Again, Leon!

The RE2R has a ton of replay value, including unlockable modes like Hunk and Tofu, and achievement challenges like not opening the Item Box or using any healing items. But it’s the inherent design of the game that makes it so replayable for me. Survival Horror games are difficult to optimize, and require more than just quick reflexes and good coordination. You also have to study the layouts of each area, and figure out the fastest routes, while also accounting for enemies along the way.

I got involved with the speedrunning community before the game even came out, a first for me. I watched closely as new techniques and strategies were discovered to optimize routes and speedup boss fights. Watching the game get deconstructed by these dedicated players only deepened my appreciate for it. I’ve already completed a few of my own speedruns, and enjoy the extra challenge of beating the game as fast as possible with little resources.

Closing Remarks

I highly recommend playing the Resident Evil 2 Remake, whether you’re a fan of the series or this is your first time. It will scare you, challenge you, frustrate you, and thrill you in a way most modern AAA games don’t even attempt. It’s breathed new life into the classic series, and it’s been exciting, as a long-time fan, to see the series become relevant again after Capcom almost killed it with terrible sequels.

You can find Resident Evil 2 on Steam for $59.99. I’d recommend skipping the Deluxe Edition, which just adds skins and the option to swap in/out the original soundtrack, unless you’re a die-hard fan.

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