Oh the things I yelled out when the Resident Evil 2 Remake dropped a zombie on me from the ceiling. Who puts zombies in the ceiling? I’m also sure I developed an entirely new dimensional plane of swearing at several points. This lovingly-crafted remake perfectly recaptures what made the original great, which is mainly putting you in a small room with too many monsters and not enough bullets; seesawing from tense exploratory poking through dark blood stained corridors one minute, to oh so much screaming and flailing the next.
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What’s good about this modern reincarnation is how it honours all the original’s ideas but builds on it using today's gaming capabilities and vocabulary, taking the essence of the 1996 PS1 era Resident Evil and making it feel like it was always on PS4. Just as in the original this follows rookie cop Leon S Kennedy and motorcycling student Claire Redfield as they get caught up in zombie outbreak and uncover the truth behind the pharmaceutical company, Umbrella, that's responsible for it. The plot, characters and locations are all largely the same, the Remake has just spruced up the looks, camera and gameplay to better suit today’s 4K standards.
The Walking Dead
As you’d hope, the zombies are the real stars here. They moan, they shuffle, they peel: skin sloughing off and cracked bones releasing broken limbs to the floor as flesh stretches and snaps. A few well-placed bullets leave wet, schlepping meat bags that relentlessly drag themselves towards you. It’s beautifully horrific, creating some of the best undead I’ve seen in anything for a while. It captures both the obvious and immediate threat of a ravenous undying corpse, and the sad sight of a broken, roadkill mess of meat dragging itself pitifully towards you; mewing as a useless jaw works for a meal it can never reach. I’ve wasted so much time just watching them scrape around, just to enjoy the spectacle. Or to see just how much damage they can actually take. (If you’re interested it’s possible to have a zombie with no arms and legs that still writhes on the floor trying to reach you.) Other, more dangerous monsters, like the Licker (a predatory, skinless beasts with a lengthy, razor sharp tongue) are just as terrifying but will always play second fiddle to the true stars of the series.
When the undead aren’t jumping out at you, or leaving a trail of themselves as they advance, they add a persistent tension by their unpredictable inability to completely die. Corpses can lie, unmoving for hours, on the floor, all but forgotten until you hear an ‘Uhrrrrrrrrr’ in the dark and the sound of something getting up. It creates a constant unease that bubbles in the background of the quieter sections - long moments of peace that lull you into a false sense of security just long enough to mess you up. Because you’ve got limited supplies - scarce reserves of ammo and healing - it forces you to think carefully about how you deal with threats. For the most part you’ll be balancing careful resource management, jump scares and the tense, unpleasant promise of a new, dark room - all of which can collapse into chaos with one misstep or when the indestructible Tyrant appears, stomping relentlessly after you. All those undead you thought you’d save a bullet on suddenly become obstacles as you panic, and it’s moments like that you really get a sense of just how likely you’d be able to survive an actual zombie apocalypse.
In the first half the atmosphere this creates is wonderfully macabre and jumpy, full of classic Ghost Train-style scares you totally knew were coming as you trundle along its rails. The initial police station is a beautifully crafted area full of blood splattered walls, debris strewn corridors and smashed windows, creating a pensive atmosphere as your narrating torch tells a story with questioning sweeps. Then something moves in the shadows and there’s shooting, yelling and frantic searches for an exit - at times Resident Evil 2 Remake plays like the best season of The Walking Dead we’ve had in a long time.
Key to the door
As you crisscross the game’s various areas repeatedly to solve things and open doors you realise what an intricately designed puzzle box it all is. Rather than opening Door 1 and moving on to Door 2, this is more about discovering Object A exists, and that it opens Cupboard X, which gets you Thing B that, when examined, pops out Key ‘Who the fuck designed this?’ for Door C waaaay back where you found the first thing. This interlocking design loops back and forth across the map, expanding and accessing new areas with each step you make in the right direction. It rarely wears out its welcome either, because everything is so compact and efficiently laid out. You get lost occasionally, scanning the in-game map searching for some clue or corner you’ve missed, but rarely for long and the challenge is always a rewarding one when that light bulb goes off.
The opening intricacy of the Police Station is a peak though. The later areas have a similar sense of design and are great to explore and work out, but lack the scale and finesse by comparison. As you progress, levels decrease in size and complexity, which does help to keep the focus and pace up but also feels like the later stages were curtailed in some way. For example, there are Blue Herbs scattered throughout the entire game that can cure poisoning, which is an effect that literally only happens in one single room. Were there more reasons to have them originally?
As with the original game you’ll need to play through twice to see everything, as completing the game with one character opens up a slightly altered playthrough with the other. You’ll get different weapons, altered puzzles and new cutscenes, as well as skipping or swapping some sections and steps to speed things up. Both Both Leon and Claire have different secondary characters they encounter, with their own playable sections. So there’s enough new stuff and variation to make a replay feel fresh. Plus what you learn from the first time around radically changed your approach and awareness when you go back.
There's about to be a... boss fight
12 essential Resident Evil 2 Remake tips to know before you play
In terms of other callbacks honouring the old games the boss fights are still… well, basically a bit shit. The slow, methodical controls that work so well in fostering a sense of manageable vulnerability against zombies become fumblingly sluggish against faster moving enemies and bosses. In those scenario it’s less about vulnerability and more about howling at the screen as your character corners like a Roomba stuck on a rug and fails to dodge a huge swiping claw from off screen. Classic Resident Evil has always been a bit like that though, making these encounters more about taking a couple of goes to get the ‘trick’ you need to win rather than pulling off a slick set of moves. There’s also one encounter involving a swinging shipping container that’s a disaster. It takes place in a tiny area barely bigger than the monster you’re fighting and really highlights the limits of the controls.
But one kink doesn’t kill a classic and it’s interesting to see how much of the old game comes through. Limited movement that leaves you exposed, scant resources and meticulous puzzle solving layers are all mainstays of the original and after the total reinvention of Resident Evil 7’s first person reboot this proves that those ideas still have legs. Now, let’s talk Dino Crisis...