Twenty-one years after the original’s release, I still count Resident Evil 2 among my favorite games of all-time. It was everything a zombie-loving thirteen-year-old me could hope for in a video game. I didn’t simply play the game. I devoured it like one of those aforementioned zombies with a member of the S.T.A.R.S. team. Compliments of an official Prima guide and the lack of any societal obligations aside from attending school, I had managed to memorize the entire game map throughout my 10 or so playthroughs. Every licker’s location, every confrontation with the menacing Tyrant, and ever statue puzzle had been embedded deeper in my mind than the latest algebra formulas from my teachers. Raccoon City wasn’t just a place to face your fears. It was a place that showed teenage me just what video games were capable of.
Flash forward to last weekend and the release of the terrifyingly good remake, and I was again in pure gore-filled bliss. My expectations were sky-high for proper justice to be done to Leon Kennedy’s no good, very bad first day on the job, and they were completely exceeded at every turn. Keep reading for what exactly makes this such a perfect retelling and modernization of a timeless game.
Modern Controls (Bye Bye Tank Life)
The first three Resident Evil games are defined by their pre-set camera angles and tank controls. Every time the backdrop shifted, you were thrust into unease as the new camera angle was perfectly cropped for maximum tension. In order to survive the horrors ambling toward you, you had to quickly readjust to your new setup and quickly calculate what direction forward, left, and right were for your character’s new perspective. It was extremely effective at the time, but it would have definitely felt like a unwelcome relic of the past had it returned. Thankfully, the developers chose to switch to a standard over the shoulder camera made popular in Resident Evil 4 and then stolen by every big action game that followed. The result is a much more frenetic pace to your journey. You’re constantly moving and trying to position yourself out of harms way. You’re reacting to your surroundings and not just the camera.
Sound and Lighting
Resident Evil 2 is a profoundly creepy game. With the loss of the forced prospective from the original, it could naturally be expected that some of the scariness would evaporate as well, but adjustments to the sound and lighting keep you in a constant state of fear. This is a game that demands to be played with headphones on and the lights off to maximize the mood and ensure your ability to sleep for the next several days is severely hindered. Each step you take, distant moan you hear, and the frequent sound of glass shattering foretelling a newly created zombie entrance point will have you ready to jump out of your seat at a millisecond’s notice. The spooky atmosphere is completed thanks to some extremely dimly lit surrounds (enjoy all the really dark pics!) that will have you praying that your Silent Hill-esque flashlight doesn’t catch a glimpse of the undead. Maybe it’s better not to know what terrors await. Maybe if you’re lucky, that creepy shadow is simply a statue and not a dearly departed member of the Raccoon City police force.
Quite simply, this map is the best in-game map I have ever seen due to a series of visual clues that greatly aid you in your adventure. Rooms that still hold secrets and supplies appear red, while those that have been fully pillaged are blue. Don’t worry about having to write down the location of areas that you’ll have to frequently backtrack to for puzzle-solving because the game cleverly displays information like locked doors (including the key needed) and the locations of core puzzles like the famous Goddess Statue. One of my biggest worries going into the game was that I’d get tired of the endless backtracking that is so prevalent in Resident Evil titles, but thanks to the greatest map this side of the Marauder’s, navigating never felt like a chore.
In most modern-day games, your character has an endless amount of space on their person to carry every last trinket that crosses your path. Resident Evil takes a decidedly different approach as it’d prefer you to carefully manage your supplies instead of being so weighed down by herbs and bullets that a zombie would easily overtake you. Sure, as you progress you unlock additional inventory space compliments of some stylish hip and side pouches, but your ever expanding arsenal means you’ll continue making tough decisions about what to keep and what to stash throughout. Similar to how smartly designed the map is, your inventory also has a wonderful little red checkmark now that lets you know when it’s ok to ditch that key item because you never know when you’ll need to have a third first-aid spray around just in case.
Cheesy Voice Acting
As a kid who was obsessed with the mind-numbingly awful Troma movies, I really dug how stilted and terrible the voice acting and performances were in the early RE games. Some reviews of the remake have taken offense with how bad the delivery often is (especially with Leon and some side characters), but it made me really feel like I was transported back to the much simpler times of 1998.
Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, was scarier than finding yourself face-to-face with the seemingly invincible bio-engineered terminator stalking the halls of the RPD known as the Tyrant or Mr. X. You might be able to temporarily put him down, but he would always find a way to reemerge and scare the crap out of you even on your 8th playthrough when you knew he was coming.
Somehow, the remake manages to up the quotient of pants crapping to previously unimagined levels with a new take on the Tyrant that will continuously follow you while you attempt to solve puzzles and even into some supposedly safe rooms. The second you hear those loud thuds of his massive footsteps, you immediately just want your mommy to protect you. Sure, it’s scary when he suddenly bursts through a wall like a homicidal Kool-aid man, but he’s at his most emotionally scarring in those moments where you can hear him but cannot see him. Will that door in front of you put even more distance between the two of you so you can reach focus on your next objective, or will it open up to your death? You will never get used to the pit that forms in your stomach during those moments where you are Schrödinger’s cat and both alive and dead at the same time.
The Sewer Gator
Good god, it felt just as amazing to blow up this gator today as it did in all of its pixelated glory back in 1998.
The Second Run
Part of the appeal of the original was that there were two distinct scenarios to play. After completing your initial playthrough with whichever character, you could then take part in a slightly different run with the other. It even had an awesome name for how what you did in the first affected the second called “The Zapping System”. The remake doesn’t feature anything as 1998-revolutionary as a Zapping System, but the second run may have been even more enjoyable than the first. Claire’s second run featured some slightly changed up puzzles, several additional locations, and a completely new set of weapons to keep things feeling fresh. Perhaps the biggest departure, was that the Tyrant starts chasing you far earlier in your second run leading to a much more stressful and tense experience as you are forced to carefully plan out your steps to solve the next puzzle only to have that completely blown up by your trench coated foe. Still, there’s a sense of familiarity with your surroundings that you gained on your initial run that makes you feel all the more capable and confident of leaving the city alive.
As soon as I loaded the game on my PS4, I selected Leon without a second thought because I was absolutely obsessed with him and his super sweet 90’s middle part hairstyle back in the day. While I did thoroughly enjoy my first run with him, I was shocked at how much more fun I had controlling the bad-ass heroine Claire. Aside from her voice acting being leaps and bounds better than poor Leon, her weapons and story were far more intriguing to me and gave me a much needed dose of kick-ass female protagonist especially having just come off a somewhat disappointing coda to Lara Croft’s adventure in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I highly recommend the run order of Leon -> Claire, just so she can deliver those final blows to the super mutated Dr. William Birkin. I wouldn’t trust my survival in anyone else’s hands.
The Grenade Launcher
God damn is it fun to blow shit up with the grenade launcher. Part of Claire’s appeal was knowing that at anytime I could even the odds with a well placed flame round. Who needs a shotgun?
After 17 hours, countless G-virus related deaths, and more exploded zombie heads than ever before, I walked away from the Resident Evil 2 remake completely blown away by what a spectacular job the developers did one-upping one of the most legendary games of all time. They managed to nail every beat, every scare, and every bullet in a way my brain still hasn’t quite comprehended. Now, I can’t wait to go back and pick up the Resident Evil remake from a few years ago or dive back into the world of Resident Evil 4. Really, just give me all of the Resident Evil, and I will be happy.