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For a very many people across the world, modernised remakes of their favourite childhood games are a dream come true. The way things are going, more and more games developers are starting to realise there’s money to be made in the art of recreating old classics for an audience of gamers eating it up like cake.
The latest, and perhaps greatest, of these remakes is that of Capcom’s 1998 survival horror all-star Resident Evil 2. A high-definition current-gen retelling of Claire and Leon’s jaunt through the ravaged streets of Raccoon City, I must say, is a very long time coming for this nostalgia-tickled reviewer; Resident Evil 2 was responsible for a lot of lost sleep when I was a kid, but now I'm all grown up it's one of my all-time favourites, and Capcom have made a dream of mine into a resounding reality.
Resident Evil 2 is an honest survival horror experience in its purest form–it has a driving story, dark, and foreboding settings, claustrophobic level design, dramatic music, monstrous enemies, lovable characters, and good ol’ fashioned blood and guts. It’s got everything you’d expect from a zombie-infested horror story, right down to the live-action teaser trailer based on the work of George A. Romero himself.
Series veterans and newcomers alike are due for a treat since Capcom well and truly set their priorities in the right places when they built this bar-setting example of how remastering old games really can be done well in the right hands. The development team have been pressing since the day it was announced that “RE make 2” was, and is, an experience that keeps everything important about the original game, and catapults it into the current-gen. Old school Resi players will feel tentatively nurtured by a never-ending sense of nostalgia, whilst all the while kept on their toes by the new twists and turns that weren’t there the first time around.
First things first–this game is bloody gorgeous. Resident Evil 2 uses Capcom's RE Engine, which is one of the closest milestones gaming's got to photorealism. Everything from character animations to skin textures is fantastic, to the point where close-ups of characters start to trigger an Uncanny Valley effect on me. The very first thing the player sees is an NPC eating a burger, and I honestly consider that to be one of the creepiest moments in the game, due to its sheer realism.
Moving on, the gameplay is tuned to perfection to suit the game's environments. The game handles in much the same way every Resi game has since Resident Evil 4 with a third person over-the-shoulder shooter perspective, and while some simple animations do feel slightly out of place, the pace and sensitivity the controls possess are utterly spot-on. In some cases it might take new players a little while to get used to the restrictive control scheme when executing a desperate room-to-room escape, but it’s all part of the charm–the sheer claustrophobia the gameplay creates is absolutely fantastic, and works effortlessly in scaring the living crap out of you at every turn.
The zombies and monsters are balanced perfectly. Zombies in recent games tend to be the fast-moving quick-thinking 28 Days Later style of zombie, but in 1998 zombies were pathetic shambling corpses that look like they might fall apart at any second–and so do those of Resident Evil 2. Zombies can take a serious beating, and even when they do eventually go down there's no guarantee they'll stay there. Then there's the larger, plot-centric returning monsters you know and love like the Tyrant and William Birkin, both of which will haunt your dreams long after they've haymaker'd you into a nearby wall. The remake also has a few new enemies, which returning players won't recognise, bringing the challenge to those cocky enough to expect a stroll down a familiar trail.
Some of the story, setting, and characters have changed a little from what vet’s may remember, but all the important bits are there. The plot is largely the same, and is still told in the two-part arrangement from the original with the entire ordeal only being unravelled after completing both tales. Any changes made to the story are mostly to do with setting, which makes more room for getting to know the game’s NPC’s. The characters themselves have been slightly revamped too–Claire and Leon in particular are in contrast to their original fearless personas, and they're made to be a little bit more human in the face of a zombie apocalypse. In the original, the protagonists barely bat an eyelid that everyone around them has transitioned violently into zombies, whereas the remake imbues them with a little bit more fear and humility. This does pave the way for some much needed character development though, with each character crossing the narrative finish line shouting “yippee ki yay” in an explosive climactic finish.
The voice acting is, for the most part, excellent. Leon and Claire’s casting works very nicely, which is good since most of the game’s audio is the sound of your panicked character shouting expletives at the game’s enemies. The story is told by a cast of both new and returning faces, with a meaningful vocal delivery that sounds refreshingly real. T.J. Rotolo in particular makes a dramatic return to the role of William Birkin to drop in on the player from time-to-time and scream “Sherry!” in your face, before rearranging it with a lead pipe.
The only thing that really falls flat is the quite limited content. After a few play-throughs the core content starts to show its age, as unlocks in the game are largely achieved by lapping the story with better completion ranks. What’s more, the story is very short, and leaves you a little bit wanting, but, even so, it’s still just as satisfying pressing "New Game," as it ever was. PC players also have the privilege of mods to keep the game fresh, including a recent stroke of genius that replaces some of the game's models with characters from GTA: San Andreas.
Finally comes the inevitable subject of micro-transactions. Yes, Resident Evil 2 does follow this trend, but it at least keeps its prices reasonable, and its content purely cosmetic, with each item setting you back only a couple of quid. One of my favourite little touches is actually the addition of the original soundtrack DLC. For a tiny fee, players can download the classic 1998 soundtrack to overlay every area in the game with the appropriate ambience from the original, which I myself haven’t been able to turn off. It’s the finishing flourish that further certifies Resident Evil 2 as a true remake, and an utter gaming masterpiece, whether you’re a current Resident Evil resident, or an aspiring RPD rookie.
If you’re interested in making a bid for the top rank, check out my Resident Evil 2 S-Rank Speedrun Guide here.