“Burn the f*ckers” screamed my girlfriend as a pair of fleshless, quadrupedal Lickers fell from the ceiling. Recomposing myself, I turned a corner into another darkened hallway, as a zombie lunged at me, its pale gore-soaked face looming forth, arms outstretched, jaw agape. Jumping in unison, my girlfriend let forth a harrowing scream evoking a secondary shock from me as I dropped my controller in fright. Finishing the zombie off with a knife to the jugular, I paused the game as we sat there, eyes wide, breathing laboured before bursting into manic laughter.
Resident Evil 2 Remake excels in capturing an old school breed of horror. A creeping sense of dread and desperation as slow and ominous as its lurching zombies. This horror feels all the more authentic in the gorgeous RE engine with glistening gore and vivid violence, while the over-the-shoulder camera brings intimacy to combat. However, the games age shows in its clichéd writing and convoluted puzzles.
Consisting of two protagonists, Leon and Claire, each with an A and B scenario offering slight variations on the same events and a “true ending”, Resident Evil 2’s is ambitious in how it structures its narrative. My first playthrough took roughly 5 hours, and with three more potential playthroughs, the ultra-hard 4th survivor mission, hardcore difficulty, and speedruns to complete, this remake is a comprehensive package, brimming with content and replayability.
Thus far I have only played Leon’s A story so can only speak first hand to his thread of the story. Leon is an odd protagonist; lacking enough personality to be relatable or likeable yet being too defined as a character for you, the player, to project onto. Despite a new voice actor and a vastly more lifelike appearance, Leon remains a dull character. He does feel genuine and actor Eduard Badaluta presents him with the disposition a naive rookie cop would likely have, but his dead-eyed stare and banal remarks make him annoying rather than endearing.
Ada is a similarly unlikeable character with her role and relationship to Leo and his story feeling forced. A fleeting interaction with a fellow survivor, a gun shop owner who has to deal with his own zombie daughter, provides the most affecting moment in the story. The game’s main antagonist also has a tragic tale which helps add humanity to his grotesque, abominable form. The upcoming Ghost Survivors DLC promises to explore some of these supporting characters, elaborating on their fates during the Raccoon City outbreak.
Written files and notes help out the world before the outbreak, but hammy writing often makes these accounts more comical than haunting. These human stories, which find poignancy amongst the fantastical horror, are generally neglected in favour of Leon’s generic action movie arc. Shady government research and biomutants are a staple of the series and while this signature absurdity is in full effect here, I found Resident Evil 7’s tale of the Baker family to be much more compelling. Despite narrative flaws, Resident Evil 2 exceeds my expectations in almost every way.
The labyrinthine layout of the police station and the vast network of tunnels which lay beneath it is sublimely designed. Exploring new areas often strikes a thrilling risk/rewards balance with uncharted territory both yielding precious supplies and harbouring ravenous foes. As your ammo dwindles and your health withers, tension builds, and desperation grows with each enemy acting as a potentially lethal obstacle between you and momentary safety. Unlocking a door to find a shortcut back to a familiar area offers immense relief and the MetroidVania structure of the game’s level design serves the dynamics of its horror the pacing of its progression excellently.
True to this formula, revisiting areas with new key items unlocks previously inaccessible rooms and pathways making exploration constantly rewarding. Yet in typical Resident Evil fashion the next section of the map is usually locked behind a Crystal Maze style puzzle mechanism, the solutions to which are often convoluted. However, the busy work involved in gathering X amount of parts to complete a puzzle is rarely tedious thanks to satisfying, responsive combat and methodical level design. An indispensable map which marks items and colour-codes cleared rooms also helps maximise efficiency when backtracking.
Resi 2’s zombies are terrifyingly lifelike, their pallid flesh and milky eyes concealing the human that once was. Tearing through limbs and viscera with your arsenal of weapons is satisfyingly gruesome fun and the extraordinary physics system allows shockingly realistic dismemberment and blood splatter. A newly added sub-weapons systems allows you to counter enemies with knives and grenades, giving you one more chance at survival whilst deepening the excellent combat.
Your pistol and shotgun remain your go-to firearms throughout, receiving upgrades at a perfect pace to keep encounters tense while ensuring you feel just capable enough to stand a chance of survival. Healing items, however, seem increasingly scarce in the late game making for some infuriating, cheap deaths. Regular autosaves do help lessen these setbacks and for the majority of the game survival feels fair. All of this horror is even more enjoyable when shared, and while the game lacks coop, my girlfriend and I had a brilliant time solving puzzles and braving blood-bathed hallways together.
An extra bullet or two to the head is often wise to prevent zombies from stumbling back up or crawling after you as their innards spill from their legless torso. Zombies are the meat of the game’s horror and prove the most consistently horrifying. Other enemies, including dogs, Lickers and mutated sewer monsters are hideous and deadly but fail to instil the same dread as zombies. Several more fantastical foes like a giant moth and a giant spider have wisely been removed in this remake, although a giant alligator and plant zombies remain but these feel novel and not too out of place.
Tyrant, or Mr. X as fans have dubbed him, poses a different sort of threat. Pursuing you relentlessly for over a third of the game, Mr. X makes for some of the game’s most exhilaratingly intense moments and some of its most frustrating. The 7ft behemoth stalks you, ducking through doorways and following you into spaces you once considered a safe haven, omnipresent and impossible to kill. Stepping into a room only to about-face as you spot the unstoppable force of Mr. X striding towards you triggers instant panic as you try to outrun him in a game of cat and mouse. His persistence can be irritatingly inconvenient at times though, with many a simple run to pick up an item turning into a tedious, frenzied detour.
Resident Evil 2 is at its best when it its rewarding exploration, visceral combat and thick, menacing atmosphere coalesce, creating a sublime, timeless horror experience. While a weak protagonist and inconsistencies in the quality of storytelling, paired with some frustrating design choices, prevent it from being a masterpiece, this is a near perfect remake of a horror classic.
Resident Evil 2 PS4 Review
- Overall - Fantastic - 8.5/108.5/10
Resident Evil 2 is an excellent remake of a horror classic. While the narrative shortcomings of the original game remain so does the inescapable menace of its atmosphere and the timeless horror which makes it so compellingly terrifying. Excellent combat and level design make it a pleasure to play while its multitude of campaigns and modes make this definitive edition rich with content.
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Reviewed using PS4 Pro.