Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Windows PC
Release Date: January 25, 2019
In this humble player’s opinion, few games are more deserving of a big-budget remake than Resident Evil 2 – and not just because I indirectly credit it for my choice of career, where I live and even my family (a long story for another column).
With its bar-raising graphics, brilliantly schlocky B-movie tropes, and deftly crafted atmosphere and pacing, the original 1998 game helped define what the nascent genre of survival horror would be for decades to come. Leon and Claire’s pulse-pounding adventure through Raccoon City’s zombie-infested streets, police department, sewers and hidden laboratories stands as a staunch and undeniable classic in the medium of interactive entertainment.
The problem with games, though, is that they don’t age very well. Unlike movies, music and books, revisiting a game released 20 or more years ago is often a painful experience, as our modern gaming sensibilities are forced to contend with antiquated technology.
Case in point: Resident Evil 2‘s presentation, while outstanding for its era – I actually remember telling my friends at the time that it was so lifelike that I felt like I was playing a film – is now laughably outdated. More than that, it has clunky controls, terrible aiming, annoying loading screens between every room, a frustratingly restrictive camera … the list goes on.
The none-too-easy task assigned Capcom’s remake team was to keep everything that players loved about the original while cutting or improving everything else. They had to give us the game we remember through rose-coloured glasses, not the one we actually played.
And, by golly, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
2019’s Resident Evil 2 captures the vibe of the original perfectly, thanks largely to outstanding production values.
Its visual design stands toe-to-toe with any contemporary work, with fantastic character models, dramatic motion capture performances and extraordinarily detailed and refined environment design. Just about everything is worth looking at a second or third time, either to catch a potential game clue or simply to appreciate its beauty.
The audio is just as impressive, featuring a talented cast, wonderfully creepy ambient sounds that help make you feel like water is pattering on tile in your living room or fire is burning in the next room, and a minimalistic but powerful score that always rears its terrifying head at just the right time to send one’s pulse racing and make you wish you hadn’t switched off the lights.
It’s the tweaks to how the game plays, however, that show just what a careful and loving a hand was applied to remaking this beloved work of interactive art.
The restrictive camera is gone, replaced by an over-the-shoulder perspective that feels natural by modern standards but still allows for the sort of tight direction and jump scares inherent to the Resident Evil experience. And Capcom’s gamesmiths have managed to keep the original’s stop, pivot and aim shooting mechanics – something I’ve always felt was far more realistic than the running and gunning found in most games – while adjusting movement and targeting so that it feels natural and unrestricted. I felt empowered to track and aim at both lumbering and fast-moving enemies.