Resident Evil 2 could not have arrived at a better time.
In the lull following 2018, a year packed with highly-polished, cinematic experiences like God of War, Red Dead Redemption II and Marvel's Spider-Man, it's going to take a lot to gain the attention of an audience that might be a little played out. But Resident Evil 2 may snap gamers out of their daze because it will clearly be a standout for 2019 -- and the year has only just begun.
This from-the-ground-up remake of 1998's Resident Evil 2 throws players back into the hell scape of Raccoon City, with the player piecing together the aftermath of a deadly virus dispersal that turns the city's residents into people-hungry walking corpses. It's a zombie story, yes, but it's one told in a way that feels a bit "choose your own adventure" and a bit like traditional horror.
Right off the bat, the game gives you your first choice: Who do you play as?
Your choices are Leon Kennedy, a budding, self-righteous recruit to the Raccoon City Police Department, or the motivated, inventive Claire Redfield on the tail of her brother, the first Resident Evil's Chris Redfield. Resident Evil 2 is a game that must be experienced multiple times to get the whole story. At the time of its original release, this kind of storytelling felt revolutionary; now, it just feels refreshing. Claire's and Leon's stories weave in and out in very specific ways, and portions of their campaigns are well-aligned, but their motivations, some of the characters they meet and even the game's final moments are affected by your choice of character -- and via a second play-through.
Rest assured, there is enough difference in these "Scenarios" to warrant a replay (or more), especially because the game's running time is a little on the light side, with runs being completed in as little as five hours. But these runs don't feel like a chore, mostly because the game's setting begs to be explored, deeper and deeper. Resident Evil 2 bleeds atmosphere, and despite its handful of jump-scares and grotesque enemy designs, the game is inviting in a way that is incomparable. Its darkened hallways, spent sewage systems and clinical laboratories are magnetic to the player, and you will check every corner, drawer, desk and pantry in this game for just a little bit more lore. There is so much narrative woven into the edges of this game that it becomes an achievement that it can balance its backstory with compelling gameplay.
For a series with new entries nearing double digit territory, it's nice to see this aspect on the upswing. Whereas 2017's Resident Evil 7 painted a first-person exploration-based survival horror experience, Resident Evil 2 takes the panned tank controls of its namesake and turns them over, revealing an intricate third-person mystery that is easily on par with the series' highest point, Resident Evil 4. This isn't a series pushed toward obscurity anymore, it's the Fast and the Furious of gaming franchises. And that's meant wholly as a compliment.
The gunplay feels deliberate and weighty, even as the weapons grow more powerful and less grounded in reality. Every hit you land on an enemy feels empowering, and every miss feels debilitating. Boss fights are littered throughout, and the enemy AI will make you believe the game truly has it out for you. The game's consistent antagonist, codenamed "Tyrant" on your first play-through, haunts the Raccoon City Police Department, a location where you'll still spend a good chunk of time. They'll surprise you when you least expect it, and after your first encounter with them, you'll hear footsteps in the most inopportune of places.
This game feels so alive, you're hard pressed to believe its DNA is rooted in 1998. Even the game's inventory management system, which could have easily felt archaic, reads like just another of Resident Evil 2's many puzzles to solve. Though, it would be nice to load ammo into your weapons from that screen, rather than have to spend what you've got to store more.
For fans of survival horror, you will feel right at home in Resident Evil 2. For those that may have bounced off of the scarier entries in the series, rest assured that this game is well-nestled between the action of a game like Resident Evil 5 and the creeping feeling of Resident Evil 7 or Resident Evil 4. This is a celebration of what makes the Resident Evil series special, and it doesn't spend time on brooding protagonists or outlandish concepts, but rather touching character moments and introspection. It's a fairly grounded horror story that becomes so much more, and it'd be a disservice to call it a remake in the first place.
Resident Evil 2 is now available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. A review copy was provided by the publisher.