resident evil 2
Resident Evil 2 returns the series to its roots, reworking a 20-year-old classic and bringing survival horr or back to its best. OXM got hands-on and found it scarily familiar…
It’s been 20 years since this writer was last in Racoon City’s sprawling police station. It was another time, another console. Returning to it now is as if the years have melted away. Of course, usually what happens when you revisit old games is that you realise you’ve remembered it through a rose-tinted filter, but not this time. Resident Evil 2’ s even better than you remember.
That’s because, of course, survival horror innovator Capcom has chosen to revisit its classic second ResidentEvil game, updating its visuals and mechanics for 2018. Gone are the fixed camera angles and the blockier, pixelly graphics in favour of the now familiar
ResidentEvil4- style, over-the-shoulder action camera, and Xbox One X-enhanced sharply realistic character models, backgrounds and effects. It’s a treat for the eyes and thumbs alright, but it’s also a game that pays serious fan-service by changing very little else.
Younger gamers might find some of the game’s 20-year-old ideas other-worldly. Firstly, there’s the ’90s setting with quaint concepts such as saving your progress with typewriters, rolls of film that need developing in a dark room, and complete lack of smart phones. There are also the fundamentals of the game mechanics – devised, ingeniously at the time, out of technical constraints and limitations on the size of the play area possible, but retained faithfully and somehow still made to feel fresh here.
The genius of Capcom’s first two games was in that these limitations were used to also convey the claustrophobia and fear that helped the games feel like interactive horror movies. It’s weirdly refreshing that
ResidentEvil2’ s puzzles and gameplay devices still follow the same ideas they did 20 years ago. Keys, crank shafts and combinations to door locks must be found in order to open up areas of the game’s central Police Station location, and consequently you’ll often find yourself returning to an area time and again as objects are found, puzzles solved and doors opened up. It’s certainly not an open world game – quite the opposite, in fact. It’s as claustrophobic and limiting as it ever was, and we love that.
“We had requests from the fans for many years to create a remake of ResidentEvil2,” explains producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi as to why the time was right for a new version of the game. “We wanted to not only respond to our passionate fan base but also deliver a whole new zombie horror gaming experience that utilised the Capcom in-house proprietary engine, RE Engine, to bring it to life on current gaming consoles and also attract a whole new audience that may not have been around for the original release in 1998. We also wanted to have players feel new kinds of possibilities for ResidentEvil by combining the Metroidvania-style exploration and survival horror of the original game with the latest modern game experience.”
And they’ve delivered that in spades, if OXM’s playthrough is anything to go by. Our hands-on time with the game begins with rookie cop Leon S Kennedy, who’s turned up for his first day on the job only to discover that everyone’s dead, or undead. We’re starting somewhere in the middle of his campaign – both Leon and student Claire Redfield each have their own distinct playthrough, echoing the original.
Leon meets the enigmatic Ada Wong in the underground car park, and we leave with her to go out into the pouring rain in an eerily silent Racoon City street.
A quick word about the rain. It’s awesomely cool. We love everything about it from the atmosphere it conveys to the way Claire puts her arm up to shield her eyes from the downpour, and the way Leon shakes his sleeves of excess water when he enters a building from outside.
It’s not just the weather that’s improved though, but the game’s story beats. Leon and Ada need to pass through a gun shop, and it’s here we see a strong example of the remake’s newly emotional depth for the first time. The gun shop owner emerges with a shotgun trained on Leon and Ada, in a beautifully-worked cutscene in which it becomes apparent he’s protecting his daughter, who’s turning into a zombie. It’s harrowing,
emotionally, and also provides a motivation for Leon to continue to risk himself in the outbreak, rather than just getting the hell out of Raccoon – something that was just not really considered too much in the original. It also helps in showing real dimensions to the main protagonists Leon and Ada – something that the series has occasionally strived for, particularly in the heavily story-led episodic
Revelations2, which also stars Claire. Here, the writing of the new Resident
Evil2 is top-notch. But rest assured, if you’re a fan of the series’ schlockier, B-movie aesthetic, there’s still some of it lurking below the surface as Leon still delivers choice lines like, “Chew on that, you son-of-a-bitch!”
Down and dirty
We follow Ada down into the city’s sewers. They’ve never looked so disgusting. As Leon slops his way through the city’s subterranean crappipes, we’re ever-alert for monsters of course – and it’s not long before we get an earthquake-level rumbling and a glimpse of… something huge… passing by in an adjoining sewer.
It’s another nod to the original, in which Leon is chased down a sewer by the giant alligator. It’s a nice touch for all those who remember it the first time. The alligator is not the only faithful return. Ada Wong’s impractical heels and slip of a red party dress (did she come from an actual party? Does she always dress like that?) also return, as we take control of the mysterious agent for the next section of our playthrough. This focuses on puzzles as Ada chases evil scientist Annette Birkin, the wife of T-Virus creator William Birkin. Ada has some neat tech that can be used to hack into and change the flow of fuse boxes and power terminals, and trace power cables to their source.
Pretty soon, Ada’s stuck in a locked control room with no way out, and a single zombie. This is the first time in the playthrough that we actually get close to one of the shambling dead, and it’s quite the eye-opener. Ada only has a handful of rounds in her handgun. No problem we think, remembering how easy it usually
“No matter how many times we shoot this zombie, it gets back up again”
is to off a solitary zombie with one well-aimed bullet through the brain. These zombies just won’t stay down. They’ll godown, but no matter how many times we shoot this one through the eyes, it gets back up again. We try shooting out its legs, but it’s still crawling around trying to nibble Ada’s high-heels. And now we’re out of ammo. We have to locate the source of the door lock’s power, so we can switch it and escape – not easy when you have to keep one eye on where the little ankle-biter is while he crawls around trying to snack on our calves.
It’s a nice turnaround for the series which had at times become more about the action, particularly with 5 and 6. Now, one single zombie is enough to cause you significant problems, and a fair degree of scares.
Exiting the room is out of the frying pan and into, well, a room full of zombies. Here we really struggle, as we have to use Ada’s device, called an EMF Visualizer, while trying not to get eaten by half a dozen of the things. After a number of deaths and restarts (punishingly back to the first room again), Ada solves her puzzle and we’re on our way. But now we’re out of the frying pan, via that room full of zombies, and quite literally into the fire. Annette Birkin has Ada trapped in a furnace. The clock is ticking down – we have one minute to stop its ignition using our very best puzzle-solving skills. Can anyone smell burning?
Things get Claire-r
The next part of our playthrough puts us in Claire’s shoes, and begins in the same parking lot as Leon’s. This time Claire’s being followed around by Annette and William Birkin’s little daughter Sherry – an ally by this point. Unfortunately, we meet an Umbrella stooge who wants to take Sherry back to her parents against her will, and she only agrees when he threatens to kill Claire. He, we later discover from a picture in a newspaper that’s lying around the police station, is Police Chief Irons – though 1998 gamers will recognise him instantly, with an HD makeover of course. Irons takes Sherry away, but we notice that there are some convenient-sized access hatches and holes in walls that a small person can crawl through – as with Natalia, the child who helps Claire in Revelations2 by accessing such spaces – so we’re thinking that Sherry may have a similar role. We’ve been
teased that there is a new section of the game involving an orphanage, new to the remake and likely a part of Sherry’s story.
Back and forth
Now we have access to the Police Station proper, and this is where we begin the familiar gameplay mechanic of finding keys and other objects to progress through the many rooms, returning to the same ones often to find there are new monsters present. Actually, how many rooms does this bloody station have? Honestly, we’ve seen enough cop shows to know US police stations are never this big.
First we need to retrieve a diamond-shaped key (one of a familiar set of heart, diamond, spade and club-shaped keys), for which we first need to get through the kennels. We brace ourselves for zombie dogs, of the kind that gave us nightmares after the first game. Instead we find Lickers (oh sure, that’s much better) – the game’s iconic, grotesque and visually challenged wall crawlers.
Claire has her trademark grenade-launcher with flame rounds, so we’ve soon barbecued the horrible things. Taking a look through Claire’s limited inventory, we find more familiarity. Flame and Acid Rounds return for the grenade launcher, with ammo craftable from found gunpowder. Those red, green and blue potted plants are back too. Green ones heal, blues detoxify; reds are combined with the others for extra-strength. There are stash boxes where you can store stuff you don’t need on your person – useful as your inventory is limited; and things like the grenade launcher, or extra-large cogs or bits of puzzle-machinery, take up two slots. It’s another part of the mechanic that will have you running back and forth across the map to retrieve that thing you found earlier, that you’ve now discovered a use for. This is very much in keeping with the series as a whole, and something we fondly remember about the 1998 game. “The team always wanted Resident
Evil 2 to stay true to the original but also deliver the best zombie entertainment experience to date,” says Hirabayashi. The RE Engine was created for ResidentEvil7, and Capcom were keen to use that to its full potential here. Hirabayashi explains that the mission was to “fine tune the modern horror experience
“One single zombie is enough to cause you significant problems”
that we saw critics and fans respond so well to with ResidentEvil7. We know that one thing our fan base is really into is the lore of the series, so for us it was important to retain that classic ResidentEvil2 storyline and classic gameplay experience – whilst still making small design tweaks that allows it to match modern gamers’ expectations. For example, the addition of the sub-weapon allowing you to escape attacks, custom creation of ammo, weapon modifications and so on are game mechanics we’ve added that will make the experience even more exciting.”
Exciting, yes. Scary, definitely. In the morgue there are a number of cadaver trays just waiting to be opened. Some are empty; one of them, and it actually made us jump, is full of enormous cockroaches. A couple of trays have corpses on them… which are in no way going to get up and bite us. No, definitely not. One of them has something glinting in his hand. We take it, and we’ll let you guess what happens next…
We can now access the frankly over-the-top Police Chief’s office. As in the original, Chief Irons has a thing for taxidermy, and his offices are stuffed with stuffed things, even a tiger. It’s also so gorgeously and faithfully recreated that if you played the 20-year-old game you will feel a sense of deja vu, albeit in much higher resolution. But as we’re running back and forth all over the cop-shop, things are getting increasingly frantic as ammo runs short, and the zombies start to overrun the police station.
Arguably, the series’ toughest monster is the trenchcoat-wearing Tyrant sometimes known as ‘Mr X’, and his appearance now stirs in us a long-dormant terror we’ve been suppressing for years. This big bastard is like the Terminator – an unstoppable mutated super soldier that you can do nothing but run away from. He’s not too hard to evade, as he’s quite slow – but try to run past him and he grabs you by the face and throws you across the room; get cornered by him and he pounds you into the floor with his fists. He’s now on our case, and that’s going to make things difficult – especially as there are now loads of Lickers around the place, and more zombies than ever.
When you’re grabbed, if you have a knife, a tap of LB enables you to escape by sticking your blade into the creature. It’s wise to finish it off just so you can retrieve the knife, which acts as a ‘get out of jail’ card for when
“We have a lot of respect for the original game and want to treat it with care”
you get overwhelmed. Grenades can also be rammed into zombies’ mouths, useful for taking a few of them out. Zombies are relentless and have never looked better or moved more frighteningly to brainlessly overpower you. At one point we were taken down by two of them at once – it’s pantwetting stuff; discovering that zombies are even-worse than you thought.
We barely have time to admire the recreation of the police station’s iconic front desk, locker rooms and offices as we hare around trying to find the objects we need – constantly having to go back into a room we know is full of bad things. Meanwhile the Tyrant is following us, we have no ammo, and so our playthrough ends in inauspicious defeat. The game, when it opened up to us, also threw so many monsters at us that we began to really, seriously regret not conserving ammo earlier on. It’s actually a really key element of the original Resident
Evil games that we’d almost forgotten about – the series invented ‘survival horror’ after all, and each decision you make, particularly regarding resources and routes through each room, the limited ammo and tactical approach needed, is still key to that.
“We have a lot of respect for the original game and want to treat it with care,” stresses Hirabayashi. “But at the same time, we felt the need to bring something new both to new players and those who have experienced the original. So we kept some key parts of the game the same, while rebuilding the gameplay, story, puzzles and the route you take through the game around those parts. As for fan service, yes, we definitely wanted to keep as many of those iconic moments as possible which we know everyone remembers fondly.”
There’s no doubt Capcom has pulled off a fan-pleasing remake of a fondly remembered classic. But more than that, the game’s visual and gameplay updates should help it to become a true modern classic when it lands in January 2019.
above Leon and Claire are the stars once more.
above Cutscenes are superb, with convincing animation and voice acting.
ABOVE Claire’s never looked lovelier, or dirtier, than with the benefit of Xbox One X’s visual capabilities. BELOW It’s a Tyrant, and it’s bloody difficult to kill… help!
above The Tyrants return, and this time they’re wearing hats.
above We tried not to stare at his boil, we really did.
above Oh my word, just what did you eat, Raccoon City?