'Resident Evil 2' Remake Review: Visceral Zombies, Limited Apocalypse

8/10 (PS4)

In its particulars, Resident Evil 2 is a fully new game. Many items and puzzles are different enough that guides and walkthroughs to the original Resident Evil 2 are pretty much useless. But for as different as the Resident Evil 2 remake is from Resident Evil 2, it can still feel hemmed in by the limits of the 1998 original.

There can be no faulting its polish. The Resident Evil 2 remake switches from the pre-rendered environments and static camera angles of the original to a third-person shooter pose, the camera locked just over Leon or Claire's shoulder. The focus is on accurate gunplay, a necessity when it can take 3-5 headshots to put down a zombie. The remake is astonishingly well-balanced, doling out just enough ammo that I always felt pinched, but never deprived. But it's in some ways a new gloss on an old form, with gameplay defined by the same cascade of tasks that have been with the series from the beginning: navigating a confined area, finding items, unlocking doors, securing medallions to move statues to reveal hidden stairs and so on. Herb combos and tedious inventory management still take up as much time as monsters. It's vintage Resident Evil, in other words.

resident-evil-2-gameplay
Yep, definitely a remake of an older game. Capcom

Resident Evil 2 stands out thanks to its incomparable atmosphere. The graphical overhaul can't be praised enough. Resident Evil 2 looks great. Using the RE Engine, which Capcom built for RE7, the new RE2 doesn't quite pack the graphical shock of the Gamecube remake of the original Resident Evilthe first RE game to get away from the more colorful, almost manga-y palette found through Code Veronica and settle the series near-permanently in realms of dust, faded wallpaper and burlap. But just because RE2 isn't some sort of graphical paragon doesn't make the flickering-lit hallways, rainy catwalks and oozing sewers any less scary. And it's more than graphical; there's an aesthetic vocabulary at work that wasn't available to the series' early entries.

Just as RE7 is a tribute to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Resident Evil 2 powerfully recreates the appeal of zombie movies. While the series has always starred zombies —in this entry Raccoon City citizens infected by Umbrella Corp's G-Virus—the original Resident Evil 2, released in 1998, didn't have the benefit of the early 2000s zombiessance and its aesthetic rebuild of post-apocalyptic carnage, swarming hordes and sinew-ripping violence largely absent from the 90s horror scene. Rather than moaning, shambling "Thriller" video zombies, some are ripped in half and still crawling. The Resident Evil 2 remake has some of the most grotesque undead to ever appear in a video game, with torn open jaws and volumes of blood usually reserved for Silicon Valley executives buying youth transfusions off the underclass.

resident-evil-2-remake-gore-gross
Gross! Capcom

Resident Evil 2 is scary; its improved graphics contributing more than an aesthetic gloss. I jumped, yelped, flinched and shivered often playing through both the campaign and the new game plus second time around. Zombies burst through windows, lickers fall through panels and just when exploring the Raccoon City Police Department—backtracking yet again through the library or press room—starts to get boring, the relentless, expressionless Tyrant appears and exploration transforms from deliberate to frantic. Incredible sound design kept me on edge, especially the Tyrant's awful, echoing footsteps, which I began to imagine as much as hear.

resident-evil-2-tyrant
You're going to get really sick of this guy. Capcom

For series fans, Resident Evil 2 is a must-buy, since it's simultaneously enough of a remake to stir 20-year-old feelings and updated sufficiently to be a new experience. But it's easier to recommend the Resident Evil 2 remake to veterans than anyone looking for a brand new, triple-A title. New game plus, bonus modes like The 4th Survivor and other ways to re-experience a roughly similar campaign in different configurations (such as re-playing as a giant piece of tofu) offer replay value and prove the developer's commitment to making the best game possible, but can't really disguise the game's relative brevity. My first campaign playthrough took about eight and a half hours. Getting an A rank requires blasting through it in five. The new Resident Evil 2 feels like a thoroughly modernized game, but not a modern one.

Maybe it's a strange thing to focus on, but RE2's fantastic map feels like a synecdoche for the whole experience of playing the remake. Every room is labeled and changes color once it's been partially and then fully explored. Items left behind appear as little icons. Unfinished puzzles as exclamation marks with more detailed text when cursoring over them. Like the map, the RE2 remake is elegant and works perfectly, even as its greatest strengths reveal its limits.

resident-evil-2-map-2
The "Resident Evil 2" map is small, but mostly makes up for it in intricacy. Capcom

In 1998, Resident Evil 2 sprawled, particularly compared to the mansion-bound original. Roving all over Raccoon City as the zombie outbreak rages, Resident Evil 2 felt expansive in a way that's simply no longer true. Now Resident Evil 2 feels small, its impact lessened. Refinements like the over-the-shoulder camera are welcome, but don't transform the game's focus on exploring relatively limited environments and solving simple puzzles into something different.

Instead, playing Resident Evil 2 involves reconciling the gameplay of straightforward configuration—where each steam valve has its crank and lock its combination—with the chaos of bloody hands, ripped throats and bullet-split heads. Resident Evil 2 feels deadly and vibrant, even as the terrifying allure of its monsters reveals by contrast an otherwise uninteractive world, built on the mechanistic inevitability of each item fitting in its perfect place. Resident Evil 2 is a clockwork world, in a way that no amount of action-oriented controls and overhauled graphics can make modern. This doesn't make it a bad game, but it does feel eclipsed by more expansive games released since, including other entries in the Resident Evil series. It's a fantastic remake with creaky, old bones.

Newsgeek Review Score Resident Evil 2
Newsweek
'Resident Evil 2' Remake Review: Visceral Zombies, Limited Apocalypse | Gaming