Release date: January 25th, 2019
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed,) PS4, PC

Back in January 1998, I headed to my local game store to pick up a copy of the sequel to one of my favorite video games of all time, the original Resident Evil. I spent the next week of my winter vacation digging into the original Resident Evil 2, and it quickly became another one of my favorite games to date at the time. RE2 was also re-released on many different platforms over the years, and I’ve played and completed each one of them several times over the years, so I’m definitely no stranger to the original RE2 and have played it as recently as about 1 year ago.

Over time, my opinion of the original game has changed in various ways since its release, largely related to the many dozens of other sequels and spin-offs the RE series has had since RE2‘s release (many of which surpassed the original RE2,) as well as some gross over-exaggeration on the part of most gamers claiming RE2 is one of the best games ever made and the best game in the Resident Evil series.

These factors, among other things, have caused my appreciation for it to decrease with time, along with its original power and enjoyment of playing it in general, though it’s still a pretty enjoyable and well-made game for its time.

When it was announced in 2015 that a full remake of Resident Evil 2 was in the works, my interest was piqued to see what Capcom could do to re-imagine the game with a modern take and possibly make some other improvements and changes using modern game technology.

As the footage and information about this remake started to come out in 2018, I was instantly skeptical of some of its new qualities and features, but tried to stay optimistic. Now the full game is finally here and I’ve spent a few dozen hours in its world and completed all scenarios and modes, we can take a deeper look to see if it holds its own within the series or the modern gaming landscape.

Review:

The first thing I can say about this RE2 remake is that there are more differences than similarities when it comes to comparing it to the original RE2. Most things you know and expect from the original may make an appearance in the remake, but nothing is the same as it was before. The entire layout of the game’s locations, enemy placement, events, and everything else you could imagine has been changed and updated, with almost nothing being left as it was in the original.

No matter how many times you’ve played the original or memorized its events and locations, nothing will prepare you for the remake, and you’ll have to learn everything from the ground up again. This is sometimes a good thing but often a bad thing as well. It feels like for each great new element the game introduces, there’s 2 other new elements that don’t work very well or detract from the overall game.

I’ll try to go over as many elements as I can in detail to drive this point home, starting with the new layout of the game’s areas. I’d have to say that the new design of the locations is a resounding success. Everything is restructured with a level of complexity and detail that feels good to traverse and explore, and has a familiar yet surprising feel to it. Many items and puzzles are in different areas, with somewhere around 75% of everything being in a different location than it was before, with even more new puzzles and items piled on top of keeping most of what existed in the original.

However, there is one major down-side to this change, and that is the boss fights within the game, which all take place in a tiny, claustrophobic space that amounts to about a 10-foot square and generally traps you in with a monster that’s 6 times the size and speed of your character, with no decent maneuverability or dodging ability to compensate for these differences. I know they were going for a claustrophobic feel for the game in general, thinking it leads to more fear and tension, but with these boss fights, it usually just falls short and ends in annoyance and frustration, showing that merely being trapped in a small and compromising environment is only a cheap and short-lived way to create dread or fear.

Since we’re on the subject of avoiding damage, it’s also a strange experience when trying to avoid enemy attacks or damage, and it feels like you mostly have to “cheat” or “trick” your way through most encounters, instead of being able to reliably plan a strategy to avoid them. Even after I learned the system and nuances of the gameplay enough to reliably avoid damage most of the time, it doesn’t feel satisfying, and just feels like I’m cheating the system or getting lucky, so to speak.

Next we can talk about the visuals, and how some of those visuals play into the gameplay itself, in good and bad ways. On the whole, the visuals are greatly improved, using Capcom’s new 2017 RE Engine to create some gorgeous photo-realistic settings and characters, generally running at very high resolution and frame-rates across most platforms it can be played on. Character details and animations are very fluid and life-like, almost approaching an uncanny valley situation at times, and it also helps create a somewhat surreal and bizarre feeling at times, which helps the atmosphere in general.

One small downside to the visuals for me personally is the re-designs of some of the characters, especially with Leon, Claire, and Ada’s characters, all coming off strange and realistically child-like in appearance or a little too phony Hollywood movie-ish for my taste. On the other hand, most of the supporting characters are all very well designed and updated, with everyone from Sherry, Ben, Chief Irons, Robert Kendo, Mr. X, and Annette having great visual and story updates that are a treat to see.

The big down-side to the visuals is the way they handled the dynamic lighting, and some of the ways they implemented it. To put it bluntly, the game is far too dark for its own good and the flashlight mechanic being used for about 30-40% of the game’s locations is more troublesome and limiting than it is helpful at creating fear or dread, which is obviously what they were going for. These dark areas where the flashlight is required just end up being a chore to navigate, making the controls feel less responsive and resulting in nothing but some cheap scares by using the limited vision, not really genuinely creating the scary, environmental feeling they were going for.

Even of the areas that don’t use the flashlight, the good majority of them feel severely under-lit, to where they probably should have given you the option to use the flashlight by your own choice, instead of the flashlight only coming out automatically in rooms or areas where it is scripted to come out. This makes these other areas also feel less manageable because of the lack of a manual flashlight option, and it just feels like a small misstep that could’ve easily been fixed.

The audio design for sound effects is also extremely well-implemented, with some very good surround sound and binaural 3D audio effects that really immerse you in the world with a good set of headphones. You hear every tiny detail of sound, including creatures and zombies stirring around you, even when there are none close to you, and you feel every single bump, thump, and step that yourself and the enemies take within the environments, making you always feel like something might be sneaking up behind you at any time.

One down-side of the new audio is the new music and use thereof, where the new, minimalist and dramatic modern TV-show feel to the score just bores me to death and makes most situations and areas less impactful than they should’ve been. Oddly enough, there is a DLC that you can purchase (or comes with the deluxe edition of the game) where you can turn on the original RE2‘s sound effects and music, and this wholly alleviates the issues with the music.

The classic music and sound effects bring back the strong feelings of every situation and environment in a way that feels purely joyful to classic RE fans, and I can say this option really fixed the experience for me in the audio department. The classic music, even though it feels slightly dated in it’s arrangement and very lightly clashes with the updated visuals, still manages to make the game more scary and exciting at the same time, and I never thought it would be so successful in this and up my enjoyment of the game so much.

Another small “nitpick” about the audio in the game is how dreadfully bad Leon’s voice actor is here. Everyone else in the game has fantastic and very professional voice acting that brings the characters and interactions to life, but somehow, almost every time Leon opens his mouth, it makes me cringe. He often has intonations and inflections in his lines that are not appropriate for what he’s saying or the situation he’s in at all, and it makes any back-and-forth conversation he has with another character feel extremely awkward. It’s nice that the rest of the cast makes up for his awkwardness, but it makes most of the cut-scenes in his campaigns just fall flat.

Along with the visuals and the audio, we also have to talk about the big elephant in the room and big point of contention among many series fans, and that is the decision of the devs to change the gameplay style to the over-the-shoulder style that the RE series has had since Resident Evil 4, instead of the fixed cinematic camera angles of the original RE2. This is a big 50/50 split for me, since I enjoy both styles of gameplay and visuals, but several other small nuances and features of the movement and combat in this new perspective were not terribly well-implemented.

First of all, the controls feel a little bit float-y or sponge-y, where the complex and very detailed running/movement animations seem to clash a little bit with being able to actually maneuver through what’s going on around you. While this was certainly mostly on purpose, to have this “claustrophobic” feel they were going for, I don’t think the end result works out very well. Even with the field of view turned all the way up, the camera still feels far too close to your character to be able to effectively navigate the game most of the time, and never came around to feeling satisfying as a whole. I felt like I was struggling with the camera and controls more than it was actually making me scared or incapacitated in a clever and effective way.

There’s a few other points to make here, mostly related to combat and enemies, starting with the fact that most enemies in the game are gigantic bullet-sponges, with regular zombies usually taking 3-4 clean headshots with a pistol to even temporarily bring them down for a few seconds (usually around 10-12 shots to fully kill,) when headshots are quite difficult to pull of as it is, with zombies constantly shambling and moving their heads from side to side, not to mention the drastically increased speed and aggressiveness of zombies in general. Surely most of this was done to make them feel more “threatening,” but most of the time it just felt more cheap and frustrating and made most traversal of the game more bothersome, especially coupled with the severe lack of ammo and resources the game gives you.

On top of this, many types of enemies from the original RE2, including the crows, moths, cockroaches, spiders, lab zombies, and plants are omitted here and could’ve served to create some nice enemy variety, but as it stands, this remake only features 4 different kinds of enemies outside of the bosses, and they start to feel pretty alike and boring by the end of the game.

Another big change related to enemies is how big of a part the Mr. X character plays in the overall course of the game. After completing up to a certain point in the campaign, Mr. X starts constantly chasing you from room to room, ready to knock you out within a few hits and send you back to your last save point. While he appeared pretty sparingly in the original RE2 and was easily avoided by going to another room, he now feels like an ever-present force for about 25-30% of the game now and follows you anywhere you go in the police station and even returns in certain scenarios in the sewer and the underground lab. While this definitely adds tension and makes for some very cool narrow escape moments, it sometimes feels a little bit overboard and he is over-used and sticks around for a little bit too long.

While lack of ammo is nothing new to RE games and can definitely be satisfying and effective if handled well and if there’s a good balance between the lack of ammo and the ability to maneuver around enemies to avoid them is struck, but it does not feel balanced in this game.  I believe the ability to save without ink ribbons and the implementation of the counter-attack defense weapons from the RE1 remake were given in an attempt to alleviate this issue, but they aren’t really sufficient, and it still feels very unbalanced and largely frustrating to play.

Another positive update of the gameplay would be the inventory system, which feels adequately updated to account for all the new puzzles and items sprinkled throughout the game, including not just one expansion to your original 8 slots, like the original RE2, but six expansions, making for a total of 20 slots if you collect all of the upgrades. On top of the expanded slot capacity, you also now have the ability to drop most items when you don’t want them, though they cannot be recovered if dropped by this method, but it’s a good trade-off that helps item management a lot. These features work to balance out the potential backtracking and frustration of item management that was frequent in the original RE2.

Another generally positive trait here is the amount of content included, with 4 different campaigns to play, and 3 drastically different difficulty levels, all with some pretty big changes between each one, plus the addition of the extra Hunk and Tofu modes, also carried over from the original game. There’s also a free DLC update set to hit in just a few weeks which includes 3 more short side-stories of RE2, which will serve to add even more bang for your buck once those are released in February.

The 4 main campaigns probably take around 4-6 hours each if you take your time and try to collect everything, not to mention trying to do speed runs and S ranks to unlock more content (if you’re into that,) so it does feel pretty worthwhile in this department compared to many of the single-player games that are released nowadays.

Conclusion:

Overall, it’d be hard to recommend this remake for full price to anyone who’s not a die-hard fan of the series, though, for fans, it’s an interesting new take on a beloved game from the franchise. However, it has so many ups and downs that it feels like a rollercoaster, with the positives and negatives constantly at odds with each other throughout the experience leaving for a bit of a confounded experience as a whole.

Resident Evil 2 remake feels like a little too much of the joy of playing it came from a genuine love of the world of the original RE2, and therefore feels like it’s leaning a little bit too much on nostalgia for its own good and not deriving enough of that enjoyment from its own merits, though its still competent as a game on a technical level and a fun revisit if you also love the RE2 world.

I can still commend the efforts and that they tried to do something new with this, I just think there were some design decisions that feel unbalanced and unsatisfying in the end. I had pretty low expectations for this going in, based on the footage and info that was shown before release as well as playing the demo a few weeks before the full game release, but the full game was surprisingly better than I thought overall.

If you’re not an original RE2 fan, you can watch plenty of trailers and footage online to decide if the game might be for you, but don’t expect this to be a carbon copy of the original RE2 made in modern 3D, but also don’t expect it to be a derivative, modern jump-scare mess like Resident Evil 7 turned out to be, if that’s the experience you’re looking for. Despite all this, there can be plenty to like here if you’re looking in the right places and can overlook some of the glaring flaws it has.

Final Score:

3.75 out of 5