America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 04th Feb 2019 | 6,018 views
For Capcom, remaking Resident Evil 2 was surely not an easy task. Ignoring the technical and mechanical demands of the project, the Japanese developer needed to confront its own impressive legacy in regard to the series; i.e., the survival-horror masterwork that is the original Resident Evil 2 and the 2002 reimagining of the first Resident Evil, one of the best and most transformative remakes ever made. Fortunately for Capcom and for consumers, Resident Evil 2 (the new one, that is) is both a great game and an excellent remake. Its plethora of campaigns, tense survival-horror situations, ad-hoc action-adventure gameplay, and impressive production values make sure of that.
The story in Resident Evil 2 will be familiar to anyone who played the original back in 1998. Pandemonium, death, and zombified humans have descended on Raccoon City, a large midwestern town. As Raccoon City burns and cannibalizes itself, two strangers approach the city limits, unaware of the carnage. One is rookie cop Leon Kennedy, warned away from his new assignment at the Raccoon City Police Department (RPD), but determined to go anyway. The other is Claire Redfield, a college student searching for her unresponsive brother Chris, one of the heroes of the premier Resident Evil game. The two meet at a gas station on the outskirts of town and drive in together. There they're separated by a horde of zombies and fight their individual ways to RPD headquarters, where fresh horrors and a greater conspiracy await.
Although the narrative in this remake remains mostly loyal to the source material, its moment-to-moment gameplay is quite different, thanks to a shift away from "tank" controls and fixed camera angles toward more fluid third-person movement and an over-the-shoulder camera (the default perspective of the series for 14 years). There is a time and place for fifth-gen staples like static camera angles and tank controls—there's a reason Resident Evil games that debuted on PlayStation and GameCube are among the best of the franchise—but with this revision Capcom proves the usefulness of modern third-person aiming and shooting mechanics. Make no mistake though: while these redone controls and camera are more responsive and flexible, they don't transform Resident Evil 2 into a shooting gallery. Aiming jitters, cramped and claustrophobic corridors, limited ammo, and shuffling enemies keep the game firmly in the survival-horror camp.
This is perhaps the game's greatest accomplishment: that despite a rather massive change in perspective and pacing, Resident Evil 2 is as unnerving as ever. No amount of three-dimensional maneuverability makes up for an empty magazine or a locked door, after all. So, just as in the original, players must collect and conserve ammunition and salves, solve puzzles to discover key items, and destroy or flee from powerful monsters. It's here, in this action-adventure loop, where the title finds its most spectacular moments. Resident Evil as a series is always at its best in its impromptu, unscripted events, and Resident Evil 2 is no different. Tiptoeing breathlessly past a sightless Licker, escaping the outstretched arm of the unstoppable Terminator-esque Tyrant, shooting a leaping zombie dog in midair—these improvised, deeply personal moments make the game sing.
As in the 1998 original, this remake of Resident Evil 2 features four campaigns, of sorts. When you boot up the game you can choose to play through the story as either Leon or Claire. Should you beat the game as Leon, you unlock Claire's "2nd Run," and vice versa. The 2nd run is a truncated version of the adventure through the eyes of the other survivor. These four scenarios multiply to eight if you include hardcore mode (no auto-save, fewer inventory upgrades, harder-hitting monsters) for each.
Careful, though: this framework is not a 1:1 recreation of the A/B setup back on PlayStation and N64. Without a "zapping" system, whereby decisions made in the first campaign directly impact enemies, items, and weapons in the opposite character's follow-up campaign, the 2nd run is more of a what-if scenario with very little connective tissue between Leon and Claire—a couple of handwritten notes between the two notwithstanding. The original Resident Evil 2 could claim to have four unique stories; this remake, truthfully, can only claim two. It's a missed opportunity.
That said, both campaigns are absolutely worth your time, whether you experience them separately or as a package in a first/second run (the latter is superior, as it unlocks a new boss, the true ending, and "fourth survivor" mode). While both adventures hit many of the same places and encounter similar puzzles and monsters, each has specific weapons, bosses, and NPC partners. Leon begins with a 9mm handgun and soon finds a shotgun, among other weapons; Claire starts her night with a five-round revolver, and emerges the next morning with an arsenal that would make an 80s action hero blush. About one third of the way into the eight-hour campaign, Leon meets a beautiful, mysterious woman named Ada; Claire, conversely, stumbles upon Sherry, a lost little girl.
Each of these partner characters are playable, in fact, although their segments are the weakest part of an otherwise great game. Ada's episode revolves around a hacking device and Sherry's chapter is all about stealth. Both embrace tedious trial-and-error gameplay to lackluster results. Gratefully, these side stories are brief.
What isn't brief is Resident Evil 2 in toto. There is an abundance of things to do in the game, whether its speed-running for better end-game scores; tackling fourth survivor mode, a challenging, no-save sprint from the sewers to RPD; testing out hardcore mode; or just revisiting the campaigns to find every last secret and weapon upgrade.
The production values in Resident Evil 2, as befitting a remake of this visibility and hype, are superior. RPD headquarters, in particular, is magnificently realized, with blood-spattered walls, shadowy hallways, and dozens of tiny details. Character animations, models, and motion-captured performances are stellar, and voice acting is solid across the board—despite some melodramatic writing. Sid Carton, who voices Brian Irons, steals the show. Audio design is top-notch also. The engineers at Capcom are wise enough to know that the distant footsteps of the Tyrant or the ravenous smacking of zombie lips are as scary, if not more so, than the eventual physical encounter.
As both a survival-horror experience and as a remake, Resident Evil 2 is outstanding. Modern graphics and controls combine with thrilling survival mechanics, personalized gameplay, and high replay value to create one of the best titles of the young 2019. The lack of meaningful connections between first and second run scenarios and Capcom's puzzling experiment with side character segments prevent it from eclipsing its predecessor, but it remains an essential piece of the Resident Evil canon.