Resident Evil 2 Remake – A Cruel But Brilliant Master
PS4, Xbox One, PC
Until Player 2’s glorious leader Matt Hewson assigned me the review of Resident Evil VII in 2017, Resident Evil games were something I’d consciously avoided. Horror films weren’t my thing and the interactive aspect was not something that appealed to me, rather it turned me off the idea even further. When the review code landed in my inbox though, my hand had been forced, and despite being traumatised for a dozen hours I came away overwhelmingly positive, and that prompted a crack at the crown jewel Resident Evil 4 for a Video Games Club entry. With two acclaimed Resident Evil VII titles under my belt the intimidation I felt by the sheer thought of the franchise was beginning to wane. Naturally though, good old Matt Hewson (seriously mate, are you and Capcom conspiring against me?) again gave me the tap on the shoulder with Resident Evil 2 on the docket, the fear coursed through me once again. Resident Evil 2 Remake is here, and it is every bit the masterpiece that I heard it was… but it’s put me off horror titles again for a while.
Without the affinity for the game that most others who play Resident Evil 2 have, I felt I could come at this remake, a drastically different gameplay experience from the original, differently to most of my peers. Without the prior knowledge that countless millions of you all have, I was able to assess Resident Evil 2 on its merits, without that nagging “Well it’s better than it was on the PS1” thought in the back of my head, that natural bias that can cloud one’s judgment. Well, in spite of that clean slate approach, I’m happy to report that the remade game is every bit as brilliant as you all tell me the original is, and it’s high time I explained to you why.
I’ve done a lot of reading and watched a lot of gameplay clips since I completed the game, I wanted to absorb all the knowledge I could about the story, and the moment-to-moment action of the game, and pop it in a time capsule, but I came away concerned. As I watched the game get played there were some things that I noticed, many of which were handicaps of the era but they worried me nonetheless. The original Resident Evil games, 1-3 were hampered somewhat by the camera angle and the tank controls. The combination of these two limitations meant that combat largely felt impersonal, and the threats less intimidating, while screen transitions made things even messier to coordinate. Flash forward to 2019 and the picture looks very different. The third person perspective introduced with Resident Evil 4, coupled with superbly masked background loading means the immersion never breaks. The threats persist and feel immediately more dangerous than they did before. With everything feeling more compacted together, the simple act of walking through dark corridors, treading carefully not to collect the attention of a nearby infected monstrosity becomes a pulsating experience. RE2 Remake creates an atmosphere that I simultaneously panicked through, and revelled in, as I went from desperately running from a pursuing hoard to bursting into a new room, finding the all-important ammo I needed, turning, blasting my assailants away, only to begin the cycle a new with the next bunch I encountered.
I never felt truly safe in Resident Evil 2, and the brooding tension that Capcom has produced meant that I was on tenterhooks for the entirety of the experience. Funnily enough, though most things (save for a small handful of exceptions) were signposted in enough time for me to line up a target before it lunged my way. In the end, the tension that gripped me was released by my dog’s barks or baby monitor buzzes; these were all real-life things that I ordinarily wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at but instead had me shooting out of my chair in fright. It’s a testament to the incredible audio/visual design of the game that such a response could be extracted.
The story of Leon Kennedy, Claire Redfield and the mystery centring around the Raccoon City Police Department Building has by and large remained intact, though, for the betterment of the experience it’s been the recipient of some tweaks and changes to flesh the narrative out further. All inclusions feel meaningful and expand the greater narrative, while some slight event re-shuffling occurs to improve the pacing somewhat. Of course, as was the case in the original game Leon’s and Claire’s paths converge and diverge on a number of occasions throughout the experience and repeat playthroughs are the only way you’ll come to understand all that the game has in store. The A and B playthroughs have been retained so expect to be picking your way through the R.P.D multiple times if you wish to get the fullest, truest RE2 experience.
This Resident Evil 2 Remake is the perfect example of how to remake a game. The core framework of the original, from the design of the R.P.D building to the games many underlying systems remain in shape, but then everything else has been reconstructed to elicit the most powerful reactions possible. There’s an air of foreboding with every move you make and as you enter every room, even one you thought you’d cleaned out. The sound and art design underpinning the experience are also top tier with the dancing shadows, the creak of plumbing or the distant footsteps of the Super Tyrant all wreaking havoc with your emotions. All of these aspects have been carefully considered to create a constantly intimidating cocktail. The Tyrant itself maybe features a bit too prominently. Used as a mechanic to keep you on your toes, he had a tendency to emerge whilst I was still exploring distant rooms, the problem was that these were often connected to long corridors, and with his hulking body, I couldn’t squeeze past without being the recipient of a significant bashing.
Though I do ask Matt to stop torturing me as he has been, I must admit that Resident Evil 2 Remake is another entry to the franchise that I’ve adored. It hates me, and it makes me want to shrivel into a corner and eat as much chocolate as I can whilst watching the most upbeat of television shows, and yet it continually pulls me back in. Just when you think that the game might be asking too much of you, you make a discovery, or you find some ammo which opens up an abundance of opportunities and your continue to serve as the games glutton for punishment. A master-stroke from Capcom, the benchmark of what to aspire to when remaking and reimagining a classic and a title that will leave you forever on edge; Resident Evil 2 Remake is a cruel, but incredible master.