RESIDENT EVIL 2 Review – Resurrected To Perfection
Developed and Produced by Capcom LLC.
Available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC
Rated M for Mature
Avialable for $60
As I jog through the halls of the Raccoon City police station, bobbing between zombies while an unstoppable brute in a swanky hat ceaselessly pursues me, I can’t help but reflect on how the Resident Evil franchise has forever shaped the horror gaming landscape. Considered by many to have launched the survival horror genre (yes, I know that Alone in the Dark came first, but Edward Carnby’s adventures have hardly carried his own franchise, let alone an entire genre), Resident Evil is such a monolith of gaming that it has reshaped what to expect from horror games multiple times. When the first Resident Evil decided to de-emphasis combat in favor of fixed cameras and limited ammo, Silent Hill and Dino Crisis followed suit. When Resident Evil 4 went all Jean Claude Van Damme spin kicks and action, Dead Space decided to add more dismemberment to the mix. Resident Evil 7 is only two years old, and already we are seeing many first-person spooky house simulators like Visage. If the next Resident Evil game decides to cash in on the digital card game craze, you bet your ass we will see dozens of new horror-themed card games.
With the hallowed station, the franchise holds in the hearts of many gamers, it’s easy to forget that the series is not without the baggage of controversy. I’m not talking about, “the bad ones,” i.e. 5, 6, Umbrella Corps, and Dead Aim. No, there was a time when Resident Evil 4 was at the center of its own debate. Despite being the closest you can get to Christ returned in video game form, there were many that bemoaned RE4 as the death of the survival horror genre. It makes sense, as the game did forgo the classic tank controls, obtuse puzzles, and cumbersome inventory for more headshots and explosions.
There’s enough to that debate for an entire series of breakdown articles (which I will never write), but people basically fell into one of three camps. The first group thought that survival horror was forever changed for the worse, nothing would ever be spooky again, and that we would soon all be enslaved in the EA graphics mines. The second group could care less that the genre was changing, seduced by the promise of more dank headshots. The third group, mostly comprised of enlightened intellectuals with excellent hygiene and chiseled abs, figured that this was all a necessary evolution. The tank controls needed to die and, as a byproduct, the old, slow, plodding gameplay with it. Sure, the game was less spooky, but that was just the wages of progress.
A whopping 14 years later, Resident Evil 2 is reopening that debate. Does it turn out that all those enlightened paragons of rationality and intellect were wrong, and you can actually have your action camera and spooky horror, too? As the silent Mr. X lifts me from my feet with a single hand and a fresh stream of shit launches through the legs of my pants, I have found my answer. I was so wrong all those years ago. Yes, you very much can have a truly scary horror game with all of the trappings of modern action expectations. Once again, Capcom has proven just what Resident Evil—and survival horror as a whole—is capable of.
It feels pointless to recap the plot of a game as iconic as Resident Evil 2, but for those of you new to the genre here’s the abridged version. You play as either series heartthrob Leon Kennedy or alternate heartthrob Claire Redfield. Unfortunate fate has led these two to Raccoon City at the climax of a zombie infestation. As this is 1998 and the telephone had yet to be invented, neither are aware of the zombified status of a major American city prior to their arrival. Soon surrounded by legions of undead, they must fight their way through hordes of mindless ghouls while solving bizarre key puzzles, all in service of saving the world.
Overall, there are four different “campaigns” to play through. You can play through the first run as either Leon or Claire, after which you can play through the second run as the other. This second run serves as a companion to the main story, showing what the second character was up to in the meantime. It doesn’t really fit perfectly, as several of the puzzles you would have had to solve in the first playthrough remain mysteriously unsolved in the followup. It’s best to think about it as a remix, with different pathways and sequencing to the same stuff you did in the first run. Overall, it means there are four different ways to experience the main story, after which you can unlock two bonus “runs” that serve more as mini-games than full experiences.
Plot has never been the strong suit of the Resident Evil franchise, and newcomers need not be dissuaded if they haven’t played the first Resident Evil. Playing Resident Evil first will provide some context, but it’s not necessary to enjoy yourself. With how bizarre and nonsense the series has become, ignoring the plot is almost a requirement. I’ve played every game in this franchise multiple times, and even I cannot tell you just why the fuck the evil Umbrella Corporation thinks that mass zombie outbreaks are a preferable military tool to missiles and tanks.
That being said, if you take Resident Evil 2 as its own thing, the internal story is pretty decent. There are plenty of supporting characters to add intrigue, and even the bit parts die with satisfying spectacle. Claire’s story, in particular, is strong, as she finds herself charged with the care of a young girl alone and abandoned during the outbreak. Leon, on the other hand, teams up with the enigmatic Ada, because she is pretty. Priorities.
As I said, the soul of Resident Evil has never been in the narrative. So how is all the zombie/puzzle/key management action? As a man who has played through the old-school fixed camera games to the point where I see visions of speedruns as I drift off to sleep, this is the absolute best classic Resident Evil experience to date. The puzzles are familiar, yet updated to take advantage of the new technology. Most encounters and puzzles have been altered to make the game so much more than just a fresh coat of paint. It’s fresh without being alienating to older fans. For new players, just be aware that examining the items in your inventory will more often than not yield hidden secrets and clues.
Now, There’s only so excited you can get about creative use of oddly shaped keys. So how’s the combat? When I said that Capcom has once again proved what the entire genre is capable of, I wasn’t exaggerating. While not as groundbreaking as taking the game into third/first person, the design proves that a game can be both action-packed and terrifying.
Every element of Resident Evil 2 has been fine-tuned to be as tense as possible. Ammo is scarce, which is only exacerbated by the fact that the zombies are extremely hard to kill. As a survival horror veteran, I’m accustom to memorizing how many shots it takes to down each foe. 10 shotgun shells well-placed means 10 kills, 30 pistol rounds delivered to the skull equals 5 dead zombies, etc. Resident Evil 2 throws a wrench into this whole equation by highly randomizing just how robust each enemy is. The basic mindless ghoul can take over ten headshots to bring down. What’s more, just because a zombie is down doesn’t mean it will stay that way. The undead have a nasty habit of getting back up, meaning you’ll have to pump precious rounds into possible corpses just to test if they’re finally ready to be forever-dead.
Now all of this would fall apart of there was an easy way to tell which zombies are actually dead and which are playing pretend. While there are some instances where you can tell (once a zombie corpse got wedged between a chair and a desk in a jackknife pose that was frankly too embarrassing to come back from), there’s no easy to spot visual cues. Even stabbing a downed corpse sometimes won’t coax it into revealing its intentions.
Now I’m no slouch when it comes to placing shots directly into eyeballs, but even I was having trouble steadying my hands. The way the zombies movie is just fantastically macabre and menacing. They’ll crash over obstacles and lurch in a truly inhuman manner. Watching them stumble over railings and tables would be funny if it weren’t just so terrifying. Zombies haven’t been scary in a long time, but I’ll be damned if Resident Evil 2 didn’t make zombies great again.
While zombies are the bulk of what you face, they aren’t the only foe. There are zombie dogs, the agile and deadly Lickers, some sewer dwelling giant turd monsters, and infested plant zombies that can only be killed with fire. The variety isn’t numerically high, but each foe will require a different kind of tactic to bring down. Lickers, for example, are blind and can be entirely avoided if you just walk (which can be tough when pursued by even more zombies). The plant zombies can only be put down with fire, but a few well-placed shots on their glowing pustules will knock them down for a time. Zombie dogs require you to turn on auto-aim, because they are—as always—complete assholes.
That isn’t even mentioning the elephant in the police station, Mr. X. Though unnamed in the game, the fan-named Mr. X is as persistent in my nightmares as in the game. A Tyrant class boss-monster, Mr. X appears at several points in the game to relentlessly pursue you. He’s not terribly hard to avoid, but his ceaseless plodding footsteps will come to instill a sense of dread right up there with the motion detector ping of an incoming Xenomorph. I remember running into this guy when I first played Resident Evil 2 as a kid. I launched all the ordinance I had scrounged up into him, breathed a sigh of relief as he took a knee, and audibly screamed when he got back up. No joke, I turned off the game until a day where an older and braver Ted would dare face him again.
It’s a lot of words that all add up to the game being genuinely scary. What’s more, it’s not the kind of set-piece forced scares of most horror games. Every enemy is a threat and, as a result, every moment tense by nature. I’m not scared because some cutscene shocked me with a display of gore that would make Quentin Tarantino blush. I’m scared because I’m running low on ammo, and behind every door is another potential death sentence.
One more thing to mention before I get into the negatives is just how fantastic this game looks. Utilizing the Resident Evil 7 engine, the game is simply gorgeous. Chunks fly off of enemies gloriously, shadows crawl up the walls menacingly, and everything just looks so damn polished. PC gamers are in for a treat, as there are a plethora of graphical customization options that let you ramp up the pretty to processor melting levels. It’s simply stunning to behold.
Now I’ve been all lavish praise so far, but there are a few spots that could use improvement. First, there aren’t many bossfights in the game. There are only like three in each of the runs, and it’s always one of the two main baddies. There’s also some shoddy design in the second run mechanics, as the new weapons they give you aren’t fully supported with add-ons. I could also have used some more enemy variety, but at this point, I’m making more of a wish-list than leveling genuine criticism.
There is so much to love about Resident Evil 2. Between the four different campaigns and the excellently tuned mechanics, this game has as much to offer as it is a joy to experience. It never feels bloated or cumbersome. It never feels like you’ve hit a lull or weak segment. There’s no “bad level” you dread, or stupid puzzle you wish you could just cut out. A gripping experience from start to finish, I enjoyed every hour I sunk into this game. It transcends the original, taking a firm spot as a must have in every horror gamer’s library.
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