A solid enough remake, but it doesn't do enough new to really elevate it

User Rating: 7 | Resident Evil 2 XONE

To be honest, the original RE2 is a game I have limited experience with. I played the N64 version when I was too young to do so, and have general fond memories of it. The story upped the ante from the first, with a viral outbreak having taken place all across Raccoon City (even though it still took place in claustrophobic interiors). Now, the first REmake is a beloved survival horror game because it improved on the original in every conceivable way. Better graphics, better voice acting, better puzzles, more terrifying atmosphere, brand new, never before seen mechanics and areas, and even a whole new side story involving a character named Lisa Trevor. Suffice it to say that it’s a true remake in every sense. All of this is to say that this remake of the second game had some big shoes to fill and while it is a solid enough remake and has been generally well received, I do think it adheres too closely to the original when it should have changed things up to improve the overall structure of the original and surprise people familiar with it more.

The setup is classic: you play as either Leon Kennedy, a rookie cop on his first day on the force in Raccoon City, or Claire Redfield, Chris’s young sister as she looks for him following the Spencer Mansion incident in the first game. It turns out that Raccoon City is experiencing a viral outbreak, turning people into shambling zombies (side note: I give props to the game for actually calling them zombies rather than making up some lame sounding slang) or other monstrosities. The two are soon separated and have to fight their way through the police station and other areas to get to the bottom of what’s going on and escape with their lives.

People not familiar with the original might expect the game to be a zombie killathon through the streets of the city as you fight to survive, but make no mistake: despite the new over the shoulder perspective of this remake, this is an old school survival horror game through and through. Every enemy poses a huge threat, with even basic zombies able to take a huge amount of headshots before going down for good (and even then, they don’t always stay dead). It leads to constant decision making. Do you take the time to kill an enemy in the hallway you need to go down, potentially using a large amount of ammo in the process? Or do you maybe knee cap them, knocking them down and run past them? Or do you even try your luck at simply dodging them and running around them? The best thing the game does is make you constantly reassess your approach to a situation by limiting your resources and like some of the best games in the genre, it wisely gives you just enough to feel like you’re getting by, but not enough to really make you feel comfortable.

Going along with the old school nature of the game is the fact that, even though this takes place in a city, you are still limited to small scale, tight environments. The first chunk of the game takes place in the Raccoon Police Department, a fairly large building that is full of hilariously convoluted key locations that no one would ever realistically use (it tries using the excuse that it used to be an art museum). You must solve the greater puzzle of the environment, figuring out what the best route is and where to put the glorified keys you find in order to progress. The RPD undoubtedly stands out as the best location in the game, with an area in the middle kind of being a drag and the endgame area being surprisingly short.

One thing you can’t fault the game for, though, is its looks. There’s no other way to put it: this is a gorgeous game through and through. The RE engine that made RE7 look so great is back in full force here, with spectacular lighting, highly detailed environments, and great looking character models making the game a visual feast for the eyes. Areas you may remember from the original bring about both feelings of nostalgia and awe. The formerly basic opening hallway has been redone as a cluttered survival center that has gone horribly wrong, with medical cots and empty supplies being scattered everywhere. And it must be said that this game has possibly the best and gnarliest gore physics possibly ever seen in a game. Everything you do to a zombie and other enemies creates visible damage. Shoot a zombie in the leg and it flinches under the impact, exposing muscle and bone underneath. Blast a zombie in the gut with the shotgun and watch as its guts spill out. And yes, land an almighty critical headshot and watch as the heads explode in an almost comical way. The gore in this game is top notch, and should absolutely make a return in future games.

This is to say nothing of the challenging combat. As mentioned above, the game has adapted RE4’s over the shoulder camera, doing away with the fixed angles of the original series. This gives you greater control over your character, allowing you to run between enemies pretty easily (relatively speaking) and also allowing you to decide where to hit your enemies. Headshots with the pistol are all well and good, but sometimes it might be better to pop a zombie a few times in the leg to disconnect the limb, forcing it to crawl along the ground. Zombies react realistically, too, often stumbling back when hit by a shotgun or snapping their head back when hit there by the pistol. And sometimes that split second decision is all that stands between you and being zombie chow.

The puzzles scattered around the areas you explore are rather simple, often times being a matter of finding the right item to put in the right spot. There are occasional wrinkles, though, often times coming from new enemies being introduced. In fact, the well known Mr. X gets his time to shine about a third of the way through the game. In addition to the zombies and lickers (skinless things with razor sharp tongues that force you to slow down since they have super hearing but are otherwise blind) at a certain point through the game a seven foot tall dude in a bullet proof trench coat named Mr. X shows up. He is unkillable and will punch you into oblivion if he catches up to you. The only recourse you have is either spend some ammo and hope you hit him enough times in the head to stun him or to find another way around and avoid him altogether.

On the one hand, this does lend an air of tension to proceedings when he shows up. You can often times hear the heavy clang of his boots but are unable to locate him, making you wonder if it’s safe to venture out or not. On the other, though, he will often show up when all you’re trying to do is make a bridge out of library shelves (seriously) or pick up some item or another. He isn’t in the game for very long, but even the amount he is there for he tends to overstay his welcome, eventually becoming an obnoxious roadblock rather than a consistently threatening presence.

The game does wisely show restraint. In other hands, the remake might have become a non stop action fest filled with you killing enemies left and right. But Capcom doubled down on their restraint. Lickers are formidable foes, able to take a ton of damage and deal even more before going down. However, despite their popularity and iconic recognizability, Capcom instead sprinkles them throughout each campaign to make their appearances much more effective and memorable when they do show up. It’s a nice design move, one that enhances the intense and overwhelming atmosphere the game pushes on the player. Even basic zombies remain intimidating throughout thanks to their durability despite how played out the genre as a whole has become.

Returning to this game is the A/ B scenarios. Once you beat the game as one character, you can play a parallel version of events as the other. Personally, I chose to play as Claire first, then Leon. Each character has their own arsenal they accrue throughout the game, lending each campaign a distinct feeling from the other despite the fact that you go through many of the same areas. Playing on standard difficulty, the A campaign is moderately challenging, putting up a good fight while still being forgiving enough for those unfamiliar with the genre to get through. The B campaign, though, poses a much stiffer challenge. Not only have puzzle solutions and item locations changed, but ammo is much tougher to come by (near the beginning of my playthrough with Leon, I had almost no ammo and was surrounded by enemies before grabbing the shotgun, which, it should be said, is one of gaming’s best, with meaty sound effects and fantastic enemy damage). It’s worth playing through each campaign at least once (I do plan on swapping the A/ B scenarios soon) since they take some interesting detours from one another.

The game is solid all around. Great visuals, challenging combat, good atmosphere. Where it falters is its rigid dedication to being like the original. In the original REmake, Entire sections of the Spencer Mansion were changed or altered, and there were a lot of brand new, never before seen areas to explore, as well as the addition of Lisa Trevor, a tragic yet terrifying enemy who stands out for her humanly tragic backstory in the midst of the series often times sterile and silly storytelling. It lent a feeling of genuine suspense and intrigue since there was so much new on offer. There are no such additions like that here. Granted, certain characters have been reworked. For instance, Martin Branagh, the police officer you ran into as soon as you came into the police station in the original who promptly died after saying some foreboding stuff, lasts much longer and is more well acted (same holds true for everyone). You become a bit more attached to him before the inevitable happens. Same goes for other periphery characters, including the sheriff, whose role I won’t spoil, but who is now a much more dominant and memorable presence. But the problem is that this game still follows more or less the same structure as the original almost to a T. Look, even though they look gorgeous, the sewers level in the middle of the game is still a sewers level. There was a huge missed opportunity to let the player explore some more open parts of the city. A premise like this is begging for some urban exploration, and while there are a few moments in the out doors, they’re pretty brief overall. And the moments in each campaign where you play as another character are simply new ways to tell an old story rather than being a brand new addition ala Lisa Trevor. And to top it off, the same weirdly detached storytelling rears its ugly head here as well. The protagonists don’t really react much to the situations they’re thrown into, apart from the beginning. There’s a short reunion between them in the beginning chunk of the game where they come across as awkward school kids flirting with each other. Then the rest of the dialogue is sparse, efficiently written and delivered exposition. It leads to moments that should be more emotional feeling underwhelming and lifeless because the game simply does not put in the work to really get you attached to anyone.

Still, the campaign itself is paced well, with the player constantly making some sort of progress forward. It culminates in some solid enough boss battles that still feel somewhat anti-climactic, even during the True Ending at the end of the B scenario. True to Capcom’s history, there are some unlockables that give the player some incentive to push themselves to the limit by speed running the game on the hardest difficulty. These are mainly powerful weapons, which I have yet to grab because I’m bad. There is also the classic Fourth Survivor scenario that has been entirely retooled from the ground up. This is an intense gauntlet where you play as a small but important character that must escape the city by traversing the environments you find throughout the game. Only this time, they’re absolutely filled with enemies. This is as enjoyable as always, with uber challenging gameplay and extremely limited resources. It will take you several tries to complete since there is a very specific way to get through the mode, but it’s immensely satisfying once you do. Beating this unlocks another humorous mode that fans will remember fondly that I won’t spoil as well.

I would be remiss to not mention the free DLC Capcom has added to the game as of the time of this writing known as the Ghost Survivors. There are four in total, with three available from the start and the fourth being unlockable. These are riffs on the Fourth Survivor in that each one is yet another carefully crafted gauntlet of enemies with an ideal path and set of actions to perform in order to make it through except these are what if scenarios involving people who died in the main game. The wrinkle is that each one adds a new kind of zombie. In the first, there are Pale Heads, riffs on the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth who can regenerate damage done to them if you don’t use powerful enough weaponry. The second adds poisonous zombies, who explode in a toxic cloud upon defeat. And the last adds zombies with riot gear, with only specific body parts being exposed. These modes add more challenge to an already challenging concept. It took me quite a while just to beat the easiest one, but, like the Fourth Survivor, finally figuring out how best to approach the linear path was very satisfying. It is slightly disappointing that it wasn’t something more in line with something like the Mercenaries, but for being completely 100% free, the Ghost Survivors adds some nice longevity to the game.

I’m wavering with this one. It does a lot right, including its tense, reworked combat and stunning visuals that create an intense atmosphere, but the fact that it doesn’t take more risks is very disappointing, because the potential was there for Capcom to really expand on the original’s structure. Still, though, this is a solid, od school survival horror title through and through, and can likely be enjoyed by both people who have never played the original and those who have played it to death.

The Good:

+ Intense combat that manages to provide you with enough resources to get by, but not enough to make you feel comfortable

+ Newly rebuilt environments and character models are jaw dropping

+ An intense atmosphere

+ Replayable thanks to A/ B scenarios and plenty of unlockables

+ Bonus modes, including the free DLC Ghost Survivors, provides some nice, short bursts of uber challenging gameplay

+ Some of the best and nastiest gore in gaming

The Bad:

- Adheres too closely to the structure of the original, missing opportunities expand on the story and rework some of the weaker sections of the game like the sewer level

- Story still feels perfunctory, delivering efficient exposition but failing to provide an emotional connection to the characters

- Mr X. stops being intimidating and instead becomes annoying pretty quickly despite his relatively short time in the game

- Final bosses feel rather underwhelming and anti climactic even during the True Ending