Resident Evil 2 – Raccoon City, 21 years later – Review

Gare – Thursday, February 21, 2019 1:17 PM
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It’s been 21 long years since players first stepped through the doors of the Raccoon City police station – since then, Resident Evil 2 has become a classic entry in the franchise, one that represented everything the series should be. Well, the game’s much-anticipated remake is now here, ready to terrify fans both old and new with a reimagined – yet still very much familiar – rendition of 1998’s Raccoon City incident. Can it live up to expectations? And will it become the modern classic we want it to be? It’s time to once again enter the world of survival horror and find out.

1998… I’ll never forget it

Resident Evil 2 opens its story on a rainy night in September 1998 – due to a deadly viral outbreak, the population of Raccoon City has turned into cannibalistic monstrosities, leaving the town on the brink of destruction. Two survivors, rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, a university student looking for her brother, flee into the seemingly abandoned Raccoon City police station to seek shelter, only to find out that the station itself had also been overrun by vicious, mutated creatures. The RPD building will look familiar enough to old-school fans of the series, but it’s been given a complete makeover: its hallways are dark and foreboding, its floorboards old and creaky, and – most important of all – the monsters roaming its corridors are scarier and deadlier than ever before. Zombies are aggressive and resilient, able to take several headshots before falling – but even if you do take them out, there’s a chance they’re simply playing dead and will get back up for another bite. They’ll swiftly lunge after you when agitated, and can even potentially tackle you to the ground if there are other zombies around to “help out”, so to speak, making almost every encounter with the remake’s living dead a nerve-racking experience that can lead to serious injury or even death for unexperienced players. What’s more, fleeing into an adjacent room no longer means you’re out of harm’s way, as the undead are very much capable of opening doors or even breaking through windows from the outside.

The hulking, invincible Tyrant – a special type of enemy nicknamed Mr. X – also makes a return in the remake and poses a much more persistent threat compared to its 1998 incarnation. This time, it dynamically stalks and pursues the player throughout the police station in a way that feels sort of reminiscent of the Xenomorph’s behavior in Alien: Isolation – you can even hear the Tyrant’s heavy footsteps in the distance as it makes its way through the station in search of you, resulting in an atmosphere of constant tension and dread. Its ability to open most doors and home in on you should you make too much noise makes the Tyrant a terrifying adversary that, once introduced, will likely force you to change the way you approach exploration and puzzle-solving. It’s a great mechanic that manages to make an already intense game even scarier, and one that neither outstays its welcome, nor does it become too frustrating to the point of harming the pacing of the campaign.

This is war – survival is your responsibility

Having made the transition to an over-the-shoulder camera angle, Resident Evil 2’s gunplay also plays out in radically different ways compared to what we were used to in its classic forefather. Being able to aim precisely means a number of things. For starters, it’s now easier to miss headshots as you frantically try to take out a zombie shambling towards you. On the flip side, though, RE2 takes note of where you’re shooting your enemies and will respond accordingly: blast a zombie’s legs off and it’ll only be able to crawl after you at a snail’s pace, take out its arms to prevent it from opening doors, or even fire off a close-range shotgun blast to the head to instantly put the thing out of its misery. RE2 has also been influenced by RE1’s remake, as knives and even grenades can be used as last-minute defensive items to fend off a zombie that’s grabbed you – the downside, however, is that you need to defeat said zombie to recover the knife stuck in its throat or chest, and that the knife itself will break once its durability bar is exhausted after repeated use. This puts an interesting spin on the game’s already prevalent resource conservation mechanic, as you can potentially run out of not just bullets, but melee weapons as well.

Narrative-wise, the remake takes the basic concepts of the original and evolves them in meaningful ways: there’s still a viral outbreak, with Leon trying to stop the Umbrella Corporation alongside the mysterious Ada, and Claire’s story still revolves around helping a young Sherry while also dealing with a police chief of questionable sanity. In terms of actual plot points, the story is nothing to write home about and is pretty much on the level of your average action movie – when it comes to cinematography and acting, though, the remake pulls out all the stops, with characters that feel far more alive and relatable compared to the original. Indeed, the game’s well-executed cutscenes often make it easy to forget that one is playing a video game and not watching a Hollywood blockbuster: the relationship between Leon and Ada, the added emotional drama with Kendo’s character, or even the sinister nature of Chief Irons all make for a very movie-like experience. There is, however, a painful lack of interaction between the two main leads: Leon and Claire only meet face-to-face once or twice during the adventure, and aside from leaving brief notes for each other, they don’t particularly try to stay in contact. As a result, it doesn’t quite feel like they’re attempting to escape Raccoon City as a team – in fact, playing as either Leon or Claire, you’ll likely forget that the other main character even exists until the literal last minute of the campaign when they do manage to meet up again.

Separate ways

As implied before, the remake uses two primary protagonists, much like the original, and it also features four individual campaigns depending on the order of your playthroughs: Leon first and Claire second vs. Claire first and Leon second, or – if you’d prefer the original’s terminology – Leon A/Claire B and Claire A/Leon B. Now, in order to see all the story cutscenes and unlock the real ending alongside the true final boss, you do need to play through an A scenario and then follow it up with a B one. The B campaign, dubbed “2nd Run” employs a notably faster pace compared to its A counterpart, giving you access to a number of areas much faster. It also places key items in different locations, makes puzzles slightly more complex (though still not difficult) and adds a few surprises by changing up the way certain enemy encounters play out – to give you some examples, a room that was completely, 100% safe in the A scenario would now spawn a surprise enemy in the B scenario; or an area that was devoid of enemies previously will now be infested with zombies, and so on. It’s just different enough to make your second playthrough feel somewhat fresh while also keeping you on your toes. The two scenarios also come with their own side characters: in Leon’s story, you get to very briefly play as Ada during a segment that I found a little too gimmicky for comfort, while Claire’s campaign gets a decently enjoyable – and similarly short-lived – stealth-based segment featuring Sherry and Chief Irons at an abandoned orphanage.

With all that said, though, one of the few things that genuinely disappointed me about an otherwise excellent remake was the fact that the A and B scenarios don’t actually differ all that much in the grand scheme of things. The puzzles may have slightly different solutions, but at the end of the day, they’re still essentially the same exact puzzles. You also go through mostly the same locations, and with the exception of each character’s respective final battle, you face off against the exact same bosses in both Leon’s and Claire’s campaigns, which further diminishes the value of consecutive replays. The remake also feels somewhat lackluster in terms of enemy variety – for the majority of the campaign, you’re mostly just fighting zombies and the occasional Licker. There are, of course, a few more unique monsters to be found at specific parts of the campaign, yet one can’t help but feel like the game desperately needed just a couple more different types of boogiemen to make its lineup a touch more varied. The removal of enemies that were already in the original – such as giant spiders and moths – is a similarly regrettable design choice, and I also wasn’t particularly fond of how the traditional mechanic involving Ink Ribbons (finite consumables required to save your game) was only present on the highest difficulty mode. Fully customizable difficulty settings would’ve been a welcome addition, but alas, RE2 remake includes no such feature at the time of writing this review – and who knows if it ever will.

The Ghost Survivors

RE2’s extra game modes (Hunk/Tofu) have also been added back into the remake, alongside brand-new DLC modes collectively titled The Ghost Survivors. In Hunk’s mode, titled The 4th Survivor, you’re tasked with making it to your extraction point with limited ammo and healing items as a staggering amount of enemies try to block your path. The key is, of course, to try and avoid as many of them as possible, and only using your ammo when absolutely necessary – in essence, The 4th Survivor tests how well you can speedrun the various areas of the main campaign and should provide a short but extremely tense gauntlet run for those looking for a challenge. The Ghost Survivors, unfortunately, doesn’t offer anything too different compared to what we’ve seen before – although it adds a handful of new enemies and gameplay tweaks, at its core, it’s essentially yet another Hunk mode with a new coat of paint. This is especially disappointing as the so-called Ghost Survivors themselves, particularly Kendo and Katherine – the mayor’s daughter – could’ve been fleshed out in these scenarios to give them a bit more backstory and development, but were instead relegated to an arcade-like shoot ‘em up mode of little substance.

Raccoon City, 21 years later

Resident Evil 2 (2019)Platform: PC, PS4, XBox OneGenre: Survival HorrorDeveloper: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease: 01/25/2019Despite its aforementioned flaws, though, Resident Evil 2 is still a delightfully triumphant reimagining of a survival horror classic. Its rock-solid gameplay, genuinely frightening monsters and locales, as well as the addition of an Alien: Isolation-esque Tyrant all contribute to an experience that both newcomers and fans of the original will likely be happy with. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want the A and B campaigns to be more distinctly different with a better lineup of enemies, and removing the Ink Ribbon mechanic from every difficulty mode except for the hardest one is certainly an annoyance, but at the end of the day, RE2 does so many things right that its stumbles are easily dwarfed by its numerous successes. All in all, Resident Evil’s brand of survival horror is far from dead – in fact, it’s now back with renewed force.

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