Resident Evil 2 Review: Survival Horror Revival

Article by: Greg Bargas on January 29, 2019
Resident Evil 2 Review: Survival Horror Revival

As I timidly started towards the gas station as Claire in the Resident Evil 2 remake, I’ll admit I was a bit torn. When the first few minutes of the story unfolded, it became easy to see that this wasn’t the game that I had become fond of in my adolescent years.

The most noticeable change from the original was the action-oriented playstyle. I’m not sure why this bothered me at first. I guess this might have been a lie I was telling myself. “If too many things are different, then there’s no way it could be as good as the original.”

As I continued to play, it became more apparent that many of the core gameplay mechanics were still present. Limited inventory space and scarce ammo still provided a steady stream of anxiety. I never thought a game that I would consider worthy of the masterpiece label could coexist with its modern rendition. That is, until I had played through Capcom’s new take on its own classic.

Operation Police Station

Resident Evil 2 Claire 2
In Resident Evil 1, much of the core exploration takes place inside a massive, puzzle-ridden mansion. There are a number of different enemies and obstacles to overcome as you fight your way out of this hellacious palace. Resident Evil 2 took that same approach, only this time trapping the main protagonists inside of a police station against the backdrop of a massive city-wide outbreak.

The important thing to note is just how much happens within the confines of a single inner-city police precinct. You’ll find weapons and ammo amidst the clutches of zombies. You’ll discover secret passages and rooms while an unrelenting creature (Mr. X, aka the Tyrant) tears through walls to get to you. The impressive thing is that the majority of the action and story happen in a single location. Through this design decision, gameplay becomes much more of a focus, almost demanding that it be the most polished setpiece within the experience.

The Heart Of The Beast

Resident Evil 2 Fire 1
As mentioned earlier, I didn’t quite know how I felt about Resident Evil 2 including more modernized controls and action elements. For better or worse, this provides a much broader spectrum of appeal, catering to those outside of the hardcore fan cliques.

There have been litters of Resident Evil titles that have come and gone since the release of the original Resident Evil 2. However, the one thing that I couldn’t stop thinking about was how much Resident Evil 4 offered new beginnings to the franchise with its change in gameplay, much like how Resident Evil 7 has done in recent years. Capcom then embraced concepts that made both of these titles great, surprisingly turning out something that wasn’t an abomination. Instead, this concept and execution have proven that this was the right time for a revival.

A Wider Exposure

Resident Evil 2 Item Discard
There’s more to a game than just adding pretty visuals and action game controls. There was a noticeable curation process in terms of balancing mechanics, action, and gameplay. This new design for the franchise has allowed it to reach a much wider audience, one that might have found the original tank controls and RPG elements not to their liking.

The Resident Evil 2 remake is still very much about deciphering puzzles, item scarcity, and reading through notes discovered as you explore. The game is a product of evolution, while still bearing many of the recognizable traits that made it unique in the first place. Things like inventory management are still part of the survival process, and limited ammunition can stir up panic in mere seconds. Other aspects like backtracking don’t seem as cumbersome without a fixed view, which was more representative of hardware limitations at the time than of design.

Prior to the full review, I had run through the game’s visual performance, also touching on its audio design. The game runs impressively well visually, and having Dolby Atmos support is a huge plus. These elements, coupled with solid gameplay mechanics, offer a story worth retelling. Funnily enough, it’s almost akin to the live-action Disney movies that have been coming down the pipeline. Although they may never be as good as the originals, they at least allow the viewer to see things through an alternate narrative lens, keeping most of the focal points in place that made the experience stand out in the first place.

Mostly Great

Resident Evil 2 Claire
I was surprised to see that the 1-Shot Demo was going to be something as brief as it was. There were 30 minutes of gameplay, offering you a chance to see the game’s character models and a snippet of what the NPCs would bring to the table. However, when the final game released, I couldn’t help feeling that some more time incubating could have fixed some minor woes.

Many of the character models of the game have changed to better reflect the timeframe in which the events occur. Leon S. Kennedy is visibly younger in the face, portraying a less-seasoned Mr. Kennedy than we are used to seeing. Claire, too, sports a different character model and voice. Both are welcome adjustments in order to provide a convincing timeline of events. However, these instances are interrupted with subpar facial animations that simply detracted from the dire sequence of events unfolding within them. Even the first run-in with William Birkin contradicted the production pedigree that the rest of the game boasts. These are but minor nitpicks, but the frequency in which they occur leave them too hard not to notice.

Final Thoughts

I had a very real fear that a reimagining of Resident Evil 2 would break something that I had grown to love since I was a child. Over the years, the franchise has gone through its ups and its downs (Resident Evil 6/Operation Raccoon City). However, the visuals and sound design guided this experience back to its roots, something that few franchises manage.

Although I felt it could have spent some more time in incubation for very minor details and polish, the rest of the game provides an experience for both newcomers and veterans alike.

This wasn’t the first time we’ve experienced the incident in Raccoon City or met Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield. However, Capcom has done this in such a way that it feels like the first time I stepped foot on those chaotic streets as Claire, feverish with fear, pistol in hand, barely ready for what lay ahead.

4.5/5
The core mechanics of the original are still very present, even amongst a more action-focused playstyle. If anything, this has widened the audience reach to those who've never played the original and want to enjoy a hearty helping of panic and inventory stress.

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