When developers decide to remake beloved games, there are several possible avenues they can go down. They can take a largely hands-off approach, preserving the experience as much as possible while making it more technically palatable for modern audiences. They can throw the original game out of the window and use its concept as a framework for something entirely new. Or they can go for something in between.
Capcom’s new Resident Evil 2 — which comes out this week, 21 years after the PlayStation original — is a more radical remake than most. It’s an intense, terrifying experience that rebuilds the game from scratch and doesn’t at all feel out of place on high-end modern hardware. But it preserves enough of the source material to feel like a respectful tribute. The result is one of the best games in the Resident Evil series.
This is the second time Capcom has attempted an ambitious Resident Evil remake. The first, 2002’s Resident Evil for the GameCube, was a visually astonishing reimagining of the first game in the series. But for all its graphical artistry and gameplay tweaks, it played more or less the same as the original, with 3D characters superimposed on 2D backgrounds and a charmingly 1D script.
Resident Evil 2 is different. And really, how could it not be? The GameCube Resident Evil remake came out well before Resident Evil 4 revolutionized the action game genre, let alone Resident Evil 7’s bold first-person reassertion of the series’s horror relevance. Those two games were by far the best received in the series since the original Resident Evil 2, and it’s appropriate that they form the basis of the new remake.
Resident Evil 2 is an over-the-shoulder action-adventure game that dials down the pace and forces you to wallow in your own fear. You don’t have to fight clunky tank controls when you’re backed into a corner — like in Resident Evil 4, it’s pretty easy to blow off a zombie’s head with a shotgun — but you also never feel like an empowered, overarmed badass. Similar to Resident Evil 7, items are scarce and death could be behind every door you open. The fact that the game plays so effortlessly makes it all the more stressful when you can’t find a single bullet anywhere.
This remake sticks to the broad outlines of the original Resident Evil 2 plot, which is to say it expands beyond the first game’s creepy mansion and plunges you into a city overrun by zombies and other mutated monsters. Resident Evil 2 is kind of like the T2 to Resident Evil’s Terminator, with more enemies and a stronger focus on action, but many of the series’s arcane puzzles and mechanics remain. Much of the game takes place in a vast police station where you’ll have to hunt for obscure objects and combine them to open doors so that you can find keys to unlock new areas. You still have to find a typewriter to save your game, although at least you don’t have to use up an ink ribbon every time (unless you play on the hardest setting).
Despite the old-school nature of the game’s basic design, it never feels outdated or frustrating. Capcom has kept just the right amount of retro appeal and nostalgia within the framework of what is ultimately a modern, big-budget blockbuster, and the result captures the spirit of the original without being bound by it. This is, without question, one of the scariest Resident Evil games yet, and that wouldn’t have been possible without such a major overhaul. It’s still incredibly tense to plot your route through the environments, making bets with yourself as to how many shotgun shells you’ll need or how many bites to the neck you’ll be able to survive.
In truth, Resident Evil 2’s moment-to-moment flow isn’t a huge departure from the less-heralded Resident Evil Revelations games, which similarly combined third-person action and slow-paced horror. But adding in arguably the most iconic Resident Evil locations, characters, and story beats makes for a tremendously satisfying experience. The series’s cheesy tropes occasionally felt out of place in the otherwise fairly grounded Resident Evil 7, but here, they’re entirely appropriate and entertaining.
While the script is better than the original’s, delivered with voice acting that does sound like it plausibly could have been spoken aloud by humans rather than text-to-speech machines, neither is too good to the point of puncturing the hammy atmosphere. I particularly like it when Claire Redfield yells, “What the hell is up with you?” and “Asshole!” at ex-humans whose brains have been turned to porridge by a biologically engineered virus.
Although there are various optional paths and puzzles, this is mostly a very compact and linear game, and it took me just under seven hours to finish it the first time. Playing through once only gives you half the story, however; after you complete the campaign as Leon or Claire, you can play a second version of the game with the other character where a significant amount of the content is completely different and items have been moved around. Resident Evil 2 has a high level of replayability and content to unlock, even if you can blast through the main story in a few evenings.
You’ll want to play Resident Evil 2 multiple times. Capcom has gotten almost everything right with this remake, and the game it reminds me of the most is another of the company’s titles released almost exactly a year ago: the hugely successful Monster Hunter World. The two play nothing alike, of course, but Capcom had to walk a similar line in reinventing a much-loved yet somewhat clunky formula for modern-day consoles. It’s tough to know what to keep and what to ditch, especially when you have a devoted fan base that could easily be disappointed by change.
In this case, fans shouldn’t worry. This version of Resident Evil 2 doesn’t have everything from the original, but it’s a passionate, thrilling love letter to one of Capcom’s most fondly remembered titles, and it’s as good as the series has ever been.
Resident Evil 2 launches January 25th on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.