Resident Evil 2 2019
The 2019 Resident Evil 2 remake (which I will call Resident Evil 2 2019 for the sake of clarity) is a game that wants you to be mindful toward it. From the change of camera angles to the updated character designs, the goal of Resident Evil 2 2019 is not to do a one-to-one preservation of the original but rather re-imagine it. While those hoping for a more faithful remake are going to naturally end up disappointed with the final product, if you can get behind the changes made, then you’ll end up finding the remake a worthy remix of the original.
As a remake, Resident Evil 2 2019 can be described as what would happen if Capcom made Resident Evil 2 today. This feels most evident in how the new technology and engine allowed the developers to integrate stuff like seamless room transition (because back in 1998 opening a door meant entering a load screen where the character walks through the door). It’s nice being able to just walk from room to room without interruption, especially when zombies are able to do the same when pursuing the player. However, that last bit can lead to immersion-shattering moments where the player enters a save room and the zombie can’t enter it because of an invisible wall protecting the player. Look, I understand why save rooms are safe from zombies, but if we’re being realistic, a zombie is not going to care that you enter a save room if an actual zombie apocalypse were to happen.
Beyond the more seamless environment, the new engine also leads to some neat modifications to audio and visuals. Resident Evil 2 looks gorgeous with dark, atmospheric hallways to navigate with detail that makes the world feel devastated, gore effects that lend a nice sense of impact to shots, and enemy design that unsettles. The sound design is also top notch with enemies able to get players anxious when they are not in sight by producing sounds and powerful shots that assist the gun feel. Beyond the visual and auditory, the new engine also expands on the enemy design. The Lickers from the original release, for example, are now sensitive to sound, which makes sense because they are suppose to be blind, and are able to run up on the walls and ceiling.
A lot of the game, as with every classic Resident Evil, is spent exploring a haunted locale, managing resources, and solving puzzles relating to inventory items. These elements have not lost their appeal given the strong foundation that dates back to the original 1996 Resident Evil. Exploration is where the game shines as players decide where to go next, contend with routes that might be packed with zombies, and decide which items are the most important to have on hand. While exploring the Raccoon City Police Station does feel more sequential than, say, the Spencer Mansion in terms of mandatory objectives due to how key items are doled out, there are at least a bunch of optional items to seek out (some of which in optional puzzles) that help provide a sense of exploration to the experience.
As you explore these hallways, you’ll have to at some point deal with the undead. Traditional Resident Evil combat has always been pretty simple but at least made interesting by the choice you are given on whether to use ammo you may need later or not. Resident Evil 2 2019 retains this simplicity while integrating new mechanics that fit in with the survival gameplay. A favorite mechanic is slowing down zombies by shooting them in the leg enough times that it falls off, allowing for easier evasion and attacking. Other cool additions include boarding up windows to make sure more zombies do not enter the precinct and zombies faking their death, adding a layer of tension to fallen foes. Another neat change is made to the reticule. It basically works in that you can either choose to move around and have shots be more likely to miss or stand still with the benefit of more precise shots. It works for what it is, but it’s not on-par with the laser point from previous games that gave shots a nice level of precision and exposes how, admittedly, loose the shooting feels.
Although the combat against the standard enemies is able to provide interesting decision making and tension derived from resource management, the same cannot be said for the boss battles. Given their mandatory nature, fight-or-flight decision making is absent and instead replaced with hoping you can take down this menacing foe with your limited ammunition. The fights overall leave a lot to be desired because while their placement in the story does help the pacing, certain design decisions like “aim here” weak points and the method of victory being out of the player’s control make them unsatisfying to take down.
Beyond the game play is the story which retains the same premise as the original: You play as either rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy or motorcyclist Claire Redfield as they end up in the middle of a zombie outbreak in Raccoon City and are trapped in the local Police Department. Along the way they meet other characters like the mysterious Ada Wong, the young Sherry Birkin, and police Chief Irons. The characters are the highlight of a story that is otherwise not engaging due to a script and cutscenes that are passable at best, meh at worst. The most satisfying writing on display can be found when reading notes scattered throughout the adventure as they help flesh out the world.
However, if there is one benefit to the story structure, it’s how it lends the game some strong replay value. Like with the original, players are given the option to play as either Leon or Claire for the first playthrough and are able to unlock a second playthrough of the same story from the others perspective. This new playthrough, called 2nd Run, again like with the original, changes up the order of when rooms are entered, when items are obtained, and even when and where enemies are located. While the changes are minor since they don’t experiment too much with the structural changes (which is a shame because I enjoyed the first part of the 2nd run more than the first part of the normal run due to its expanded non-linearity), it does manage to justify replaying the game as who you did not choose the first time.
That said, the 2nd run does unintentionally create problems with the story. In the original Resident Evil 2, story elements would alter depending on whether you play the Leon A/ Claire B route or the Claire A/ Leon B route. This is done to account for the different structures of each campaign so a cohesive continuity can take place between both scenarios. Resident Evil 2 2019, with a few exceptions, does not swap the story elements and the result is moments where you think to yourself “wait, weren’t you somewhere else entirely in the other campaign at this point in time,” and as such both makes the storyline less satisfying as well as causes the 2nd run mode to feel lazier than the B-scenarios in the original. I can forgive solving the same puzzles again, but the inconsistent plot sticks out like a sore thumb.
Of course, the multiple campaigns are not the only bits of content on offer. The unlockable 4th Survivor mode makes a comeback and provides a great test of skill for those who wish for a challenge outside of playing through the main game on hardcore. Though that said, the bonus costumes, Albert Model Samurai Edge firearm, and retro soundtrack that have been relegated to pre-order bonuses and downloadable content (DLC) should have been included in the game as unlockable content or at least be free DLC like The Ghost Survivors DLC. Having them appear outside the game overall makes it feel like a lesser package that yet again serves as a reminder to how pre-order bonuses have done more harm than good to the industry.
In conclusion, is Resident Evil 2 2019 the definitive way to play Resident Evil 2? I ultimately have to go with no as the different camera system alone is going to make playing it feel different. Plus there some of the modern conveniences, from an auto-save system to discovered items and landmarks labelled on the map, that feel out of place in a survival horror game and are not present in the original. That said, judged by its own merits, Resident Evil 2 2019 may not be the faithful remake dedicated fans of the original were hoping form, but that’s acceptable as the classic survival horror game play, new mechanics, and visual and audio design help create a package that works as a remix of a beloved game.