Resident Evil 2 Remake Review: Something Borrowed, Something New

Capcom's Resident Evil 2 Remake uses the same engine as Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, but has its own identity.

The most famous video game series in the horror genre is undoubtedly Resident Evil. The franchise began in 1996 on the PlayStation, and from there, the series would skyrocket in popularity. There have been numerous sequels, prequels, novels, and films. The most recent main title in the series was Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. That game was interesting because it appeared it was made in response to negative fan reception of Resident Evil 6. 6 was one of the lower-rated games in the franchise for its abandonment of survival horror in favor of a more action-oriented approach. Biohazard brought horror back into the franchise with its own new game engine called RE Engine, developed by Capcom. This same engine is used in the Resident Evil 2 remake.

The original Resident Evil 2 released in 1998. It is popular among fans for continuing the story of the Umbrella Corporation. Of course, it also introduced Leon S. Kennedy, one of the most famous characters in the franchise, and Claire Redfield, sister to the famous Chris Redfield. In 2019, the game has been fully remade with the RE Engine. Resident Evil 2 is a fantastic re-imagining of the classic title. It is atmospheric, genuinely scary, and features an engaging storyline. If you've never played Resident Evil before, or want to re-experience the original game in a new way, this is a must-have.

Although Resident Evil 2 uses Biohazard's RE Engine, the game is not played in the first person. It is instead played from a third-person perspective, similar to Resident Evil 6. You control primarily Leon or Claire as you traverse areas, such as the Raccoon City Police Department and the sewers beneath the city. Ammo is scarce, and there are zombies and monsters lurking everywhere. At each of the main areas, you must solve puzzles, such as finding keys and matching the frequency on a modulator. If you played Biohazard, you'll know what to expect when it comes to solving the puzzles.

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Resident Evil 2's story is split between Leon's campaign and Claire's. There are key differences that complete the overall tale, plus you must complete both to get the true climax and ending. So, Leon Kennedy is heading to the Raccoon City Police Station. It is about to be his first day on the job as a rookie cop. Before heading into the city, he stops at a gas station store, but comes across an unsettling sight: a barely alive worker pointing in the direction of a hallway. After entering, Leon sees a man eating a cop. Upon attempting to escape, Leon runs into Claire, and the two head into Raccoon City. A horrifying discovery awaits: it seems all the inhabitants have turned into zombies due to some kind of outbreak. From there, the story paths diverge a bit, but both characters end up at Umbrella Corporation...

Perhaps the greatest aspect of Resident Evil 2 is its emphasis on subtlety. There are few things scarier than not knowing what's behind a corner, or behind closed doors. The police station area did a perfect job establishing the mood and atmosphere that would accompany the rest of the game. This is not an action game where ammo runs freely. Rather, you're encouraged to conserve your bullets. It may feel satisfying to stand around and shoot at all the zombies you see, but it's often better to run past them to your destination, and save your ammo if possible. There is a great level of strategy because of this.

Bullets don't work on one particular enemy: the Tyrant/Mr. X. This is another example of perfectly generating horror. A bit later in the story, you can hear the Tyrant's footsteps at the police station. This adds a level of urgency because this enemy cannot be defeated; you are forced to flee. There is a part in the story where you return to the library, and you have to use a tool to move a bookcase. There is a good chance the Tyrant will follow you there, which means you have to use the room to your advantage in attempting to outwit him. Resident Evil 2 rarely lets players feel relaxed.

Another layer of strategy is considering what to carry in your inventory, and what to store. This is most prominent in Claire's, where you'll gain access to some useful things, but have to bench others. It may be invaluable to carry bullets, but it's also useful to have a hunting knife at the ready when the zombies grab you. It gets harder to consider which items to carry when you have to carry the necessary items for puzzles. Speaking of puzzles, they are smartly implemented. You'll be referring to your map a lot. In the police station there are areas you cannot access at first, but later could with the right key or item. It's a great system for this kind of survival horror game.

There are many similarities between the campaigns, but key differences that encourage playing through both. (Make sure to press "2nd run" after your first run.) In Leon's mode, we meet Ada, and we get to control her for a bit. Once again, there's a level of intensity because you have to hack an electrical device with the Tyrant on his way. Meanwhile in Claire's mode, a little girl named Sherry gets involved. The part where you play as her was really well done and captured a terrifying experience from a child's point of view. The scenery in this game are often dimly lit, evoking the feel of a true horror experience. The best example of this may be in the sewers beneath Raccoon City. There's an area in the sewers where you have to navigate waters populated by grotesque monsters capable of poisoning you.

The soundtrack is not bombastic, rather subtle in building suspense. This is perfect for a survival horror game. The best example of the soundtrack unnerving the player is at Umbrella Corporation. After leaving the safe, brightly lit reception era, the player heads into a dark hallway. After turning the corner, the player can see bloodstains on the wall, with the music suddenly building suspense. Despite seeing all kinds of horrors prior to this, the game still manages to build terrifying suspense. The soundtrack also features some fantastic choir during an encounter with William Birkin. Speaking of boss battles, you can expect memorable confrontations. One battle features strategy utilizing a crate, and another is a no holds barred fight near the end of Claire's run.

Resident Evil 2 remakes the classic title with excellence. The game utilizes the RE Engine, making the game similar to Biohazard, but also its own unique entity. The settings are grim, with zombies and monsters ready to attack the character. There is always a sense of dread hanging over the player as the character explores dimly lit areas with a flashlight. The puzzles are smart, never too difficult, but never too easy either. Leon is likable as the rookie cop, and Claire's relationship with Sherry is sweet. Playing the campaigns reveal the whole story, so it's definitely worth checking both out. Resident Evil 2 is overall a fantastic game.

5 out of 5 stars.

A copy of the game was purchased by The Gamer for this review. Resident Evil 2 is now available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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