If I’m going to be frank, I have to say Resident Evil 2 is absolutely horrifying to me. I made that pretty clear with my previous article. Having played the majority of the series, I think it’s without question that Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 is easily the scariest in the franchise. Even if it’s the scariest, does that mean it’s any good? The answer to that is a resounding “yes”.
Resident Evil 2 tells the story of the infamous Raccoon City incident. A rookie cop making his way to the police station. A college student searching for her missing brother. Tons of mysteries to uncover in one of the most iconic moments in the franchise. There are actually multiple campaigns in Resident Evil 2. Both the main characters, Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, have their own stories, as well as a variant story. You’ll also have a couple unlockable mini campaigns, and even now, fans can enjoy the new Ghost Survivors campaigns.
Much like the Resident Evil remake that originally released in 2002, Resident Evil 2 has a much needed reimagining. Made entirely from the ground up with the RE Engine, the fixed perspective cameras are now gone. Taking inspiration from the more modern gameplay style of the series, Resident Evil 2 opts for a behind-the-shoulder third-person shooter. Even though the game uses the same perspective, the playable characters are a bit more vulnerable. No more power punches and head stomps, or even ammo drops from enemies. It’s just pure survival.
Survival is key in Resident Evil 2. Much like the original, players will still have to explore and find supplies like ammo, herbs, and key items. Starting with a limited inventory, players will also have to be efficient with their items. Do you choose to take the ammo with you? Or do you keep it in the storage box to maintain space for an item needed for a puzzle? Survival is just one of the main reasons this game is much more frightening than modern Resident Evil games. Of course, as you play, you end up building upon that inventory and slowly become more fit for the challenge.
For anyone playing on normal or hardcore, they’ll notice enemies don’t go down so easily. You can shoot a zombie in the head a few times, but it might still continue to wander (sometimes losing a face in the process). Even if it goes down and stops moving, there’s a good chance that zombie is still ready to rise back up. It may even crawl on the floor and attempt to catch you as you run by. Resident Evil 2’s zombies are surprisingly formidable this time around, especially in large numbers. Without the melee attacks that developed in later games in the series, players have to be more resourceful in combat.
As grotesque and creepy as the zombies are in the game, one particular enemy stands out. It doesn’t take long for players to run into the Terminator-like tyrant, Mr. X. Something about this imposing figure sporting a hat and trenchcoat just raises your stress levels immensely. Even in a safe room, you can hear his footsteps pounding through the halls and it causes a certain hesitation. Even if you can easily avoid his attacks, just the fact his presence is known can be scary. Your heart can leap out of your chest in the moments he comes out to surprise you (which WILL happen). It’s also worth mentioning that Mr. X isn’t the only foe that can cause such a reaction.
Another aspect that brings true horror to Resident Evil 2 is the sound design. The game does a fantastic job creating a zombie apocalypse just on its sound alone. Zombie growls, barricades being beaten, Mr. X roaming the hallways; it’s all scary stuff. Even hearing the sounds from the playable characters can make a setting more tense. When they’re hurt, there’s a believable sense of pain and vulnerability felt. Even when you’re in a safe room, the sounds can still create an air of danger. All of this is amplified even more when using a headset, which may scare you just as much as it immerses you.
There are a lot of features that make this remake standout from the original. Players can find wood boards and use them to barricade windows to prevent unwanted intrusions. Sub-weapons gain new survival tactics (borrowed from 2002’s Resident Evil) with the ability to break free from an enemy hold. Using knives or grenades, players have a second chance to avoid damage. Granted, if you want your knife back, you have to finish off the enemy. There’s also the flashlight, which adds another layer of horror to certain dark areas in the game. The lighting in general adds to the atmosphere and makes the environment more immersive.
Lighting is just one aspect that makes Resident Evil 2 look great. The RE Engine does a great job with creating realistic animations and sold looking visuals. Textures are detailed and showcase a dilapidated display of horrors that are experienced throughout the Raccoon City incident. The level of gore is appropriately gruesome too, making the zombies that much more interesting. Reminiscent of Dead Space, body parts can be dismembered and zombies can even break off from their lower torsos.
Environments are familiar and yet redesigned to make proper use of the new atmosphere. Fans will likely experience it all with a fresh new outlook, making it feel like the true vision of the developers. The streets of Raccoon City are in a fiery turmoil one would expect in this situation. The various rooms of the Police Station represent a work force that wasn’t prepared. Sewers that show the filth and waste of a city filled with secrets. All of this, except now it’s full of zombies.
Puzzles are a big part of Resident Evil 2, just as it was in the original. These puzzles range from self-explanatory to occasional head scratchers, sometimes requiring a few passes to get right. One of the most interesting things about these obstacles is the fact that the game pauses to let you do them. It’s a nice way to remove the tension, even if finishing the puzzle will suddenly end in a zombie biting into your neck. The game can get pretty creative with the environment for some of the puzzles too. Leon’s “welcome party” is a solid example of things to come.
Getting into more detail with the combat, Resident Evil 2 isn’t your typical shooter. Never have I felt guns have such impact yet feel so powerless at the same time. Each gun feels right to fire, delivering the proper response. It’s how they’re used and when they’re used that determines their power. Yes, a shotgun can easily blow the head off a zombie when shot up close, but how does it do against a mob of them as they surround you? It’s not quite as powerful as one would expect when compared to your typical action games. Knives also have a durability gauge, meaning unless you’ve unlocked some perks, all your weapons are limited.
When players are done with the main campaign (and the two unlockable mini campaigns), they’re encouraged to tackle the additional free content that was added to the game. The Ghost Survivors is a set of mini campaigns that provide “what if” scenarios for key characters in the game. Each one offers a slightly different style of play, even introducing new enemy types. Enemies that need special ammo to kill, ones that spew poison, and even armored enemies will require all your skills. The presentation for these campaigns could be better, not really using cutscenes, but it sort of fills that Mercenaries mode gap that the base game was missing.
While The Ghost Survivors have relatively short campaigns, they can be tough as nails. It’ll really test players on how to use their limited weapons and resources wisely. Certain zombies will wear backpacks that will provide one of the primary sources of resupply items. Even then, there are little vending machines scattered around that provide a single item that players will have a chance to select. Continued play in this mode will unlock accessories, usually in the form of masks, which may or may not add some extra perks. Overall, this extra mode offers some great replay value to an already very replayable game.
When it comes down to it, Resident Evil 2 may not only be the scariest game in the series, but also the best in the series. Everything is presented with quality and has a level of polish that’s rare these days. Combat is smart and engaging and allows players to think before they shoot. The amount of content goes above and beyond, offering much more than the original game ever did. Before The Ghost Survivors DLC, this may have been a 9.5, but now, as an even more complete package, Resident Evil 2 deserves the highest honor as a solid contender for “Game of the Year”.