There are two phases of Resident Evil: the set of games before Resident Evil 4, and the set of games after it. Post Resident Evil 4 games present a more action-based series (with the exception of Resident Evil 7), while the games before this shift had more horror and puzzle elements to it. I am very familiar with the second phase of this series because I have played through them all. The first phase, however, is less familiar to me because only a few of these games can be played (legally) on modern hardware. Not too long ago, I tried out the remaster of the original Resident Evil, and ever since I have been wishing for more games like that. Fortunately for me, Capcom remade Resident Evil 2 from the ground up, and it is everything I wanted out of this style of game and more. This is Resident Evil 2, and it’s time to shoot zombies like it’s 1998.
The disaster of the first game has spread to Raccoon City. After a pit stop gone wrong, police rookie Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield’s sister Claire find themselves going to Raccoon City in hopes of help, only to find that the situation is dire. After a car crash, the two are split up, and both end up trying to find a way out of the city while stuck in the police station.
Before I get in any farther, I want to say that I haven’t played the original Resident Evil 2. Because of that, this review will not be a comparison between the original and the remake or anything like that. Also, other than the obvious changes, I can’t say what are the differences between the two. With that out of the way, let’s get into it.
When it comes to the story of this game, Resident Evil 2 is a bit more complicated than most. You get the option to play as Leon or Claire, but what character you choose first will alter the story for both that character and the other one. For my playthrough, I played as Leon first because I heard that was the canonical way to play the game. In terms of the story, I found it to play out like most other Resident Evil games, which is expected considering this is based on an older game in the series. The game consists of three acts that are split up by location (police station, sewers, and labs), and your character figuring out what is happening the whole way through. The main thing I want to talk about, however, are the changes of story between characters. When I tried out Claire after Leon, I was surprised to find myself in a different story altogether. I was interacting with different characters, found a different ending that adds onto the first one I experienced, and followed the story path for a different reason. The only thing that connected the two stories are a few moments where Claire and Leon talk to each other, which is where my one complaint lies with the story: it’s inconsistency with time. After the car crash, all Claire did was walk to the fence, while Leon did a whole slew of actions before hand, yet both meet up at the same time. There are other moments like this that made me stop and think about its inconsistency, but the story overall is a solid rehash that falls right in line with other Resident Evil games.
After playing through Leon A/Claire B, I tried it the other way around to see what is different there. For the most part, it’s mainly a mash up of the two story-wise. While I was interacting with certain characters that Leon normally interacted with, I ended up mostly following the same story line with the characters tied to Claire’s story. I don’t think playing the game the other way is worth it on story alone, but there are reasons to go back and play through the game flipped.
While the story is pretty solid overall, the main thing I wanted out of this game is some solid gameplay. Ever since Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil Remaster, I have been wanting to play a game that was more about horror and puzzles than karate-kicking action. Fortunately, I got exactly what I wanted out of this game and more, and the switch to third-person feels like a meaningful change that kept me going.
I can’t say how much of the gameplay has been changed between the two versions on the more minute details, but I can tell you the obvious change is definitely worth it. Even though I think tank controls would be a neat challenge for me, I am glad that the game takes a third-person perspective. It modernizes the game and offers just enough shooting action to keep the game fun. Even though that change did happen, the developers added enough challenge to the combat to keep it from being too easy. Zombies sway erratically and may come back to life at random times, the knife (which is a tool that gets out of being damaged) has durability, a big invincible man named the Tyrant chases you around the map which keeps you on the move, ammo is limited as always, aiming for most weapons takes a few seconds to dial in, and other monsters come into play that changes up the strategy. While not all of these aspects are fun to deal with, I found them necessary to keeping the combat challenging. Also, Leon and Claire have their own sets of weapons that are better equipped at dealing with certain enemies. Leon’s flamethrower is better to use against the plant monster than Claire’s grenade launcher, but Claire’s grenade launcher is more effective against lickers than anything Leon has. The only two complaints I have for the combat side of things are lickers and whatever the monsters in the sewers are, as well as the second boss fight. The two enemy types are equal parts challenging and annoying to deal with, and the second boss fight in the game, which consists of lining up the boss to be hit by a cargo container, felt like it somewhat relied on luck to complete. Despite these shortcomings, I had a fun time with the combat aspects of the game.
The main thing I am attracted to with this game is the level design and the puzzles, which both strike a perfect balance. I enjoyed the level design of the first Resident Evil, which had me constantly scanning my environments to find new ways of unlocking previously-locked areas. The issue I had with the first game, however, was that it was too difficult and required too much backtracking. Fortunately, Resident Evil 2’s level design is a perfect level of challenging, and backtracking never felt tedious or frustrating. One way they keep the game from being tedious that is worth mentioning is how the map is handled. Each room will display the items you missed so long as you have seen them, and the room will be marked red until you have completed and picked up everything in said room. The puzzles are also a perfect level of challenging, as for they all are engaging without being hair-pulling. The elements that I have come to want in Resident Evil games are perfect here, and what more could anyone want? Oh right, the horror.
I wouldn’t solely classify this game as a horror game, but I think it pulls off its horror better than most horror games I have played. Instead of relying on pop ups or cheap tricks, Resident Evil 2 brings in the horror with audio design, atmosphere, and erratic and random enemies. Looking up to see a licker on the ceiling or seeing a zombie I thought I killed suddenly re-animate scared me more than I thought it would. The mix of an enemy’s sudden appearance and the challenge it will offer creates a great blend of horror that I think is scarier than pure horror games.
After playing through Leon’s campaign, I went through Claire’s to see what is different. I talked about how the story is different for each character, but gameplay changes can be found as well. Along side the new characters and story are new areas and different weapons. The new areas are mainly smaller rooms and areas attached to the map that Leon couldn’t normally access, with the exception being the extra level in the middle of the campaign that each character visits. Claire also has a different arsenal, which includes revolvers, a grenade launcher, an uzi, a shock gun, and others compared to Leon’s pistol, flame thrower, desert eagle, and shotgun. Each arsenal is better to tackle certain enemies, but I found Claire’s arsenal to be much more helpful than Leon’s. Also, some other smaller changes can be found between the campaigns, which include different end boss fights as well as lickers spawning and the Tyrant dying earlier on in Claire’s campaign than in Leon’s. I did, however, run into some issues along the way with the second campaign. Just like the story, the gameplay is also inconsistent between each of the campaigns. Despite knowing Leon’s story is happening around the same time, it never felt like Leon was actually there. Enemies and bosses that he dealt with are also enemies and bosses I had to deal with, and more. Also, the Claire campaign was when the user interface started to slow down. I think the cause of this is the amount of play time and not the Claire campaign specifically, but interacting with objects or opening the map took a few seconds for me, which got annoying fast. Despite these shortcomings, I think enough new content is added onto the experience to make playing through it again worth it.
On top of the campaign with its challenges to complete and fast times to obtain, Resident Evil 2 also offers a few extra modes. All of them play out the same: get from point a to point b as fast as possible with the tools provided. These extra levels are very hard, but overall a lot of fun. The first one is called “4th Survivor,” and it involves playing as my favorite Resident Evil character: Hunk. The others came as free DLC called “Ghost Survivors,” and that is about playing as a few different characters who are trying to escape for various reasons. They are all different levels with different mini-stories, but they all play out the same. On top of that, these missions also have challenges to beat and fast times to obtain, giving reason to go back.
In conclusion, Resident Evil 2 is a great lesson on how to remake a game by offering a great blend of old and new that keeps the core of the game while modernizing it for a larger audience. It has what makes the classic. While it does falter in a few areas, I found my experience with the game to far outweigh any shortcomings I had with it. Capcom has been killing it recently, and this game is a perfect example of that.