It’s rare to see a direct sequel live up to or surpass the original, but Hideki Kamiya’s Resident Evil 2 (1998) not only matched the quality of its predecessor, but arguably surpassed it to become one of the greatest of its genre. The original RE2 was the perfect sequel — an outstanding science-fiction thriller that put players at the edge of their seats. Scene to scene, encounter to encounter, its tension builds unrelentingly.
It isn’t, however, so rare to see a game remastered or remade outshine the original, especially given how far technology has advanced over the years. That’s not to say that all games remade are winners, but there are plenty of reasons why Resident Evil 2 (2019) has gathered high praise. If the original RE2 was a perfect sequel, the new Resident Evil 2 is a prime example of how to remake a classic while staying faithful to the original. Dare I say, it’s a near-perfect remake?
While the word “Remake” doesn’t appear in the title, Resident Evil 2 (2019) is, in fact, a remake of the PS1 original. Capcom built the game from the ground up, changing a few things here and there, and for the most part those changes have improved what was already a great game. Much of the critical acclaim has centered on RE2’s gameplay and thick atmosphere, and much like Resident Evil 7, Capcom has made a game that is visually stunning throughout. Resident Evil 2 has just the right amount of retro appeal, capturing the spirit of the original without being bound by it.
There are no longer any loading screen doors, and Claire and Leon no longer move like tanks thanks to a new claustrophobic, over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective that helps elevate the action and opens up new possibilities for the series’ classic puzzle-solving. Resident Evil 2’s controls are incredibly intuitive, and while the classic static angles may be missed by fans of the original, I’d argue that the new camera system actually heightens the tension. By allowing the player to have more control of what they see, more often than not a player will unintentionally put themselves in danger. For those who enjoy tight, tense, graphic horror, this game offers an ample helping, something that might not have been possible without such a major overhaul.
Sorry folks, but RE2 has a great story …
What hasn’t changed much is the story, which is a good thing since I’d argue the plot of Resident Evil 2 is actually great. Story-wise, Resident Evil 2 follows a model of low-budget filmmaking, with a tight script, appropriately tight-lipped actors, and atmospheric location shooting. Resident Evil 2 (2019) unravels in a slightly different fashion than the original, but for the most part everything remains intact — simply shuffled around. Picking up a few months after the events of the first game, RE2 sees Raccoon City hit with the devastating outbreak. You once again control rookie cop Leon Kennedy and college graduate Claire Redfield (sister of Chris Redfield), united by a chance encounter only to quickly be separated by a swarm of zombies. What follows is a fight for survival, as both Claire and Leon try to escape the city alive.
Most Resident Evil games find interesting ways to pair characters, but Resident Evil 2 is by far the most successful at connecting the wider narrative. The original Resident Evil featured two playable characters, although the differences between the two were incredibly slight. What made that game special was that in order to get the true ending, both scenarios must be played back-to-back. In the recent remake that still remains true, but the two intersecting stories diverge quite a bit before getting to HUNK, making for a more exciting playthrough. This time around, the zapping system from the original has been removed, and the journey the two heroes take have been divided into different adventures. Much like the original, the new mode (called “2nd Run”) allows you to play through the campaign a second time with the other character, and only during specific interludes will the characters cross paths. What makes this change different, however, is that Leon and Claire’s stories are far more different, adding an extra incentive to play through the game a second time.
As they encounter mutated scientists, giant alligators, unstoppable super soldiers, killer man-eating plants and hordes of zombies, it becomes abundantly clear that Umbrella Corp is an evil pharmaceutical corporation intent on destroying the planet. Along the way, both Leon and Claire will also come across a diverse supporting cast, and players will once again take control of the now-iconic FBI agent Ada Wong and meet the young Sherry Birkin. Part of what makes Resident Evil 2 so fun is its flair for the dramatic, such as when Ada mysteriously arrives to save the day, or when the giant alligator chases you through the city’s sewer system. It helps that the writing and acting are sharper than the original, although some supporting characters like Commanding Officer Marvin Branagh aren’t given enough screen time. Claire’s story, however, is the real standout here. Redfield shares the same sheer will and determination as Leon to make it out alive, but the stakes in her journey are raised due to how Claire steps in as the guardian for the innocent Sherry Birkin.
Despite some questionable dialogue, Resident Evil 2 boasts a really good script, and one has to wonder why Hollywood, despite several big-screen adaptations, hasn’t yet remade this game scene by scene. That said, I’d urge you to play with the Japanese voice acting turned on. The Japanese actors do a far better job of making the reactions, actions, emotions, and responses of each of the characters feel far more nuanced, and playing Resident Evil 2 without the Japanese voiceover would be the equivalent of watching a Japanese film dubbed with British or American actors. It just doesn’t work.
In Resident Evil 2, Hell is an Abandoned Police Station
As good as the characters are, Resident Evil 2 wouldn’t be the same without its incredible setting. The forbidding, neo-Victorian police station (serving as this game’s mansion), should be a safe haven for its heroes and a perfect place to protect yourself against a zombie apocalypse given its prison walls, tight security system, and the stockpile of weapons — only it’s not. Claire and Leon arrive weeks after the outbreak, only to find all but one of the city’s entire police force dead. It’s a brilliant set-up — and an even better set-piece — that boasts a claustrophobic intensity, putting players in the shoes of overmatched but determined protagonists who are trapped in the besieged building overrun by the walking dead.
The remake recreates much of the iconic setting while adding in new details to give it a more modern flair. For example, thanks to modern technology, the graphics and the lighting are sharper this time around, allowing some areas to be much darker than in the original, thus forcing Leon and Claire to utilize a flashlight in order to safely navigate the oppressive environment littered with dead bodies and pools of blood. RCPD may not be the traditional Gothic horror setting that the Spencer Mansion is, but the police station was once a creepy old art museum, and it too holds its own dark secrets.
Capcom’s new Resident Evil 2 — which was released twenty-one years after the PlayStation original — is everything one can hope from a video game remake. It preserves enough of the source material to feel like a respectful tribute, yet changes just enough to warrant its existence. This is one of the best horror games ever made — and proof that cannibalizing old material sometimes works fiendishly well. While I have fond memories of the original game, RE2 (2019) is smarter, tighter, and far scarier — start to finish. It’s a masterclass in environmental design, sound design, level design, and atmosphere. All of that and more makes Resident Evil 2 one of the best remakes — er, ‘re-envisionings’ — of a horror classic (game or otherwise). Ladies and gentleman, we have an early game of the year contender for 2019.
Feel free to read my other feature, Resident Evil 2: Bosses are Among the Most Iconic Villains.
- Ricky D