With the recent release of Resident Evil 3, Capcom has released the appropriately titled Raccoon City Edition. The bundle includes both recent Resident Evil remakes including Resident Evil 2 and the aforementioned Resident Evil 3. With this in mind, it is the perfect time for a retrospective review of Resident Evil 2.
In order of release, Resident Evil 2 is the second game of the series. With that said, the events of both Resident Evil 0 and Resident Evil 3 actually take place before. In terms of narrative, it is a reimagining of the original Resident Evil 2. With gameplay in mind, it is also something of a prequel to the world-renowned Resident Evil 4.
Can Resident Evil 2 bring new life into a half-dead franchise?
An Inciting Incident
Resident Evil 2 tells the story of rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy. It also tells the story of Claire Redfield; sister of Resident Evil main Chris Redfield. At the start of the game, players are given the choice between which campaign they want to play. With that said, clearing both is required to uncover the game’s complete narrative.
As the game begins, fate brings Leon and Claire together. The rundown gas station where they meet is almost immediately overrun by zombies, forcing the two to escape together. As luck would have it, both share the common goal of reaching Raccoon City. Leon S. Kennedy wishes to report to the Raccoon Police Department. He is a new recruit yet has been ordered to stand by for the past week. Claire meanwhile is in search of her brother.
Unfortunately, both are completely unaware of the ongoing Raccoon City Incident and the events of the previous game. Their beginner’s luck runs out once they arrive in front of the police station. A runaway truck causes a near-death experience as it crashes into Leon’s car. This results in their immediate evacuation of the vehicle. Separated by hordes of the undead, they each enter the R.P.D. alone.
When compared to the rest of the franchise, Resident Evil 2 is somewhat light on the story. With that said, in-depth stories have not always been in Resident Evil’s favor. Resident Evil 6 is proof of that. Both Leon’s and Clair’s scenarios play out mostly the same through the first half of their respective stories. Post-separation they spend the game attempting to find each other as well as a convoluted secret escape. This leads to each of them playing “typewriter tag” and continuously missing each other throughout the game.
Each path eventually bears fruit as they soon-to-be heroes hit the streets of Raccoon City. Whereas Leon joins forces with a mysterious woman who may or may not be a government agent, Claire finds herself finding an equally complex little girl. While Resident Evil 2 quite literally ends with a bang, its raising level of rediculous is never too distracting from the overall narrative of the game.
Outside of the bookends of the game, most of Resident Evil 2 is told in the form of journals, emails, notes, and developed film negatives. This means that it is easily missed and never disrupts the horror. Each character’s climax is admittedly more action-packed and story-driven than the remainder of the game. As many of the twists and turns are foreshadowed earlier in-game, however, it doesn’t feel too out of place. Just as it is for Leon and Claire, it is ultimately up to the player to uncover the secrets of the R.P.D. and the affiliated Umbrella Corporation.
Days of Future Past
Proceeding the Resident Evil 2 remake, the series was easily broken up into three eras. Each era represented varying controls and gameplay focus in addition to its original release date. The original trilogy, or tetralogy when counting Resident Evil 0, was purely survival horror complete with infamous “tank controls.” Resident Evil 4 through Resident Evil 6 became increasingly more action-oriented and played like third-person shooters. Most recently, Resident Evil 7 returned the series to a survival horror roots with first-person gameplay likely inspired on Konami’s PT. The Resident Evil 2 remake is an amalgamation of the series thus far.
As with Resident Evil 4, the camera is positioned behind Leon’s shoulder in Resident Evil 2. This is consistent when playing as Claire, Ada Wong, and, to an extent, Sherry Berkin. Despite this change of perspective, the halls of the R.P.D. are quite horrifying. The over-the-shoulder camera angle makes it impossible to see around corners. Despite the scale of the environments, they all feel surprisingly claustrophobic. While it is certainly easier to shoot than the previous Resident Evil 2 incarnation, even a gun cannot shake off a feeling of helplessness throughout the majority of the game.
Unlike in a majority of the series, characters in Resident Evil 2 can “run and gun.” This means that they do not need to stop dead in their tracks to shoot. To aim, Leon and Claire first need to raise their weapon. While they can still move like this, their pace slows to a crawl. That said, it can sometimes be just enough to dodge an incoming attack. Weapons include many series classics, from Samurai Edge to a Flame Thrower.
Despite controlling like a modern title, the difficulty stays true to the classic. Ammo conservation is a must. Unless a player has the aim of an angel, there simply aren’t enough bullets to go around. This is something that separated the classics from their modern contemporaries. Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6 groomed players to eliminate the enemy. Such a mindset can lead to a bad time once Mr. X shows up.
Firearms are not the only iconic weapons the series has to offer. The generic Combat Knife has been a mainstay since the original game. Generally, the knife is one of the keys to saving bullets. After temporarily downing an enemy, the Combat Knife is generally the best way to ensure they stay down. The Combat’s Knife’s worth has only improved as it can now be used to defend against enemy grappling. Unfortunately, this also comes with a potentially fatal flaw.
In all the games thus far, the Combat Knife was a permanent tool. Unfortunately, that is not the case in the “new and improved” Resident Evil 2. For reasons unknown Combat Knives are disposable and can actually break quite easily. With this in mind, players seeking to complete a “knives only” playthrough are sadly out of luck. While there is an indestructible knife available in-game, it is not easy to unlock without multiple playthroughs or a $5 deposit.
The main focus of Resident Evil 2 is its Story Mode. This is broken into both the Leon and Claire campaigns. Upon completing one of these, players will also have access to New Game [2nd Run]. This New Game+ option allows players to play as the unplayed hero. Leon’s campaign unlocks Claire 2nd Run and vice versa. Each 2nd Run is considerably harder than the “1st Run” proceeding. Puzzles are altered, typewriters are relocated, zombies become sponges, and ammo becomes even more scarce. To make matters worse, the infamous Mr. X also appears much earlier in the campaign.
In the original Resident Evil 2, Mr. X played the part of the Boogieman during a second playthrough. For better or for worse, he now appears in all runs of the game. Mr. X is a Tyrant and serves as something of a predecessor to Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis. For those unfamiliar, he is a giant man in a top hat and trench coat. After his initial appearance, he will relentlessly pursue Leon and Claire throughout R.P.D. In a world where the undead lives, Mr. X is possibly the greatest threat. While bullets and grenades can bring him to his knees, nothing outside of a well-placed cut-scene can ultimately finish the job.
Aside from 2nd Run, Resident Evil 2 offers five unlockable Extra Modes. These vary in difficulty and length but all do a good job at presenting a “what if” twist to the game. All of the options outside of The Fourth Survivor are ultimately non-canonical. Despite its name, The Fourth Survivor tells the story of a secret fifth survivor of the Raccoon City Incident. This is set up as something like a speed run and can be enjoyed after completing both the Leon and Claire potions of the game. Additionally, Resident Evil 2 also features The Tofu Survivor. The Tofu Survivor is a self-parody of The Fourth Survivor in which players take the role of a living block of Tofu. As funny as it sounds, the mode means business.
The Evil Within
It’s almost scary how beautiful the Resident Evil 2 remake turned out. As with Resident Evil 7 before it, Resident Evil 2 was developed with Capcom’s RE Engine. This allows the game to display graphics unlike many other survival horrors on the market. With help from the RE Engine, Resident Evil 2 features a photorealistic design. Lighting is reflected, shadows are dynamic, and sewage sludge looks more putrid than ever before.
The majority of Resident Evil 2 takes place within the Raccoon Police Department and the sewers below. The game chooses quality over quantity in terms of its locations. The R.P.D. especially is beautifully terrifying in the best ways. As with the Baker Estate before it, the R.P.D. is surprisingly spacious. There’s hallways, offices, storage rooms, secret passages, and even a cell block complete with murderous intent. Despite being a single location, the R.P.D. is a complete package in the horror department. While the sewers aren’t able to offer quite as much variety, if any at all, they make return trips to the R.P.D. all the more enjoyable.
Perhaps more impressive that the detail of the levels is that of the characters themselves. The RE Engine excels in recreating clothing, hair, and skin. Arguably, Resident Evil 2 takes advantage of this even better than its sequential successor. Leon and Claire look better than the Baker Family in every way; from the way that they dress to the way they smile. To be fair, this may be more of a subject matter than technological improvement. The Baker family looks straight out of a scary movie, body horror, and all. Meanwhile, Leon and Claire are easy contenders for Cutest Video Game Couple of 2019.
“X Gon’ Give It to Ya”
In terms of horror, audio, and visual go hand in hand. This is perhaps more important than any other genre. Even if the “sound” at times is silence actually the lack thereof. Impressively, Resident Evil 2 gives Resident Evil 7 a run for its money. The R.P.D. is almost a character in itself. At the best of times, the floors creak and pipes leak. It is not uncommon to hear the sounds of upcoming enemies. Zombies moan, dogs growl, and Lickers do whatever it is that they do. And then there’s the elephant in the room.
Without a doubt, the most intimidating enemy in Resident Evil 2 is none other than Mr. X himself. He not only looks the part but sounds just as terrible. As he patrols the halls of the R.P.D., his echoing footsteps can be heard throughout the building. Each step beats like the heart of his next helpless victim. To make matters worse, he loves to remind players that can open any door in his way. Hearing an old iron door open in front of Leon or Clair is one thing. Knowing that Mr. X figuratively or literally behind it is something else altogether. As Mr. X is an unstoppable object, his unending movement is heard during the majority of the game.
Effects are not the only sounds the halls of the R.P.D. have to offer. As with the 1998 classic, the 2019 Resident Evil 2 remake features a seriously suspenseful soundtrack. In fact, owners of the Deluxe Edition or paid DLC can even swap to the original version. For the most part, most individual tracks of either soundtrack do not stand out much as their own identity. This is because Resident Evil 2 fades each musical number into one another as the game is played. As the action heightens, as does the speed and pitch of the soundtrack. The boss tracks are easily some of the best musical offerings with their increased sense of urgency. Once again Mr. X steals the show as his reoccurring theme can be a prelude to an early Game Over screen. It is the masterful mixing of music with accompanying effects that create the unending dread of Raccoon City.
Voice acting in Resident Evil 2 is about as scarce as the story. A majority of the vocals in the game are Leon and Claire cursing at Zombies or Mr. X. During the rare character dialogues, the game is well written. While not without its trademark camp, it is not as cringeworthy as a Jill Sandwich or boulder punch. Despite the series’ ongoing legacy, a majority of the characters have been yet again recast.
Sadly, Matt Mercer does not reprise his role as Leon S. Kennedy. With that said, series newcomer, Nick Apostolides, does a great job at portraying a young and unseasoned Leon S. Kennedy. Likewise, neither Alyson Court or the mysterious James Baker return to voice Claire Redfield. Instead, another newcomer, Stephanie Panisello, steps into Claire’s biker boots. While it is still hopeful that Mercer and either Court or Baker may return in the much-rumored Resident Evil 4 and Code: Veronica remakes respectively, Apostolides and Panisello are arguably the better fits for these incarnations of the roles.
Overall 2019’s Resident Evil 2 is a rare example of a remake done right. In many ways, it stays true to the source material. Additions effectively flesh out the Resident Evil existing lore, no pun intended. The Resident Evil 4 through Resident Evil 7 game mechanics have built Resident Evil 2 into a brand new game. The remake may succeed in pleasing old fans and newcomers alike. The infamous Mr. X is reason enough to try it out. Did we also mention that Claire is pretty dang cute?
HEY! HEY!! LISTEN!!! gives Resident Evil 2 9.9 Tyrants out of 10.