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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Review: Resident Evil 2 (Sony PlayStation 4)


Review by Lachlan W.

I’ve never been flighty or easy to scare. I’m not bragging – it’s just kind of a fact. Like most Australian boys, I got my first exposures to real horror media through illicitly obtained VCRs from the local Video EZ secretly watched at night with my friends at whoever’s parents were silly enough to leave teenagers alone with a TV. Even young, I never jumped where my friends did. Demons. Ghosts. Vampires. And, my personal favourite: zombies. I endured them all, unmoved and eager for more.


I was around 13 and I can remember the first time I jumped at horror.

I was sitting on my friend’s white tile floor on a sunny afternoon, eyes intent on the screen in front of us. The protagonist had just fought his way past a disgusting monstrosity and was running down a silent barricaded corridor he’d run through before, familiar and safe. Rounding a corner, he gets a little too close to the boarded-up window and, unlike the last few times he’d been past it without event, suddenly the reaching hands of the undead grasp onto his shoulders, pulling and flailing as he struggles to break free.

Nothing I had seen up to that point had ever made me jump like that.

That was my first exposure to Resident Evil 2, and I was hooked.


It’s been 21 years and four days since Resident Evil 2 was first released for the PlayStation in Japan and, after over a decade of desperate pleas and rumours from the commentariat, Resident Evil 2 is finally getting a remake. Fans of the 2002 remake of the first game saw how Resident Evil could be updated and expanded without losing any of its charm – can the 2019 version of the sequel live up to such high expectations?

In case you haven’t played the original, Resident Evil 2 is a survival horror game where a mysterious virus brings the dead back to life as zombies and causes rampant mutation in living creatures. Its main tenets are resource restriction – ammunition, health, inventory space – and strong enemies. You scramble around a map full of puzzles, filling and emptying the limited slots in your inventory, and gradually opening the world and encountering new horrors to avoid or fight.

Like the original Resident Evil 2, players are placed in the blood-sprayed boots of either rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy or college student Claire Redfield during their exploration of a zombie-infested Raccoon City. Like the original, the path you take, people you meet, and enemies you encounter change based on which character you choose. And, like the original, the stories that are told for Claire or Leon are different in the detail with a single unifying idea – Umbrella is a bad, bad pharmaceuticals company. The story follows the same beats to a slightly different tempo. In terms of plot, there is little new for fans in the meat, but the way it’s served keeps things fresh.


Resident Evil has always been schlocky camp in its frankly ridiculously convoluted plot. Super viruses, lying spies, and improbable architecture litter the series. RE2make has stripped back much of what made RE2 1998 so weird and rebuilt it from the ground up. There is still a super virus that creates impossible creatures. There are still ideas of corporate espionage and secret militaries. And by God is there still a sewer system that will confound even the greatest chess grand masters.

But everything makes slightly more sense now. There are justifications, reasons, explanations, and an effort to be at least a little serious. Raccoon Police station is littered with hasty fortifications that justify finding the long way around. Of course the submachine gun is locked in an armoury that requires special access codes. And of course the secret basement power plant entrance is hidden behind ornate medallions locked in elaborate statues that require codes made up of zodiac symbols.

Hang on…

Perhaps the biggest issue with RE2make is that it takes itself a little too seriously. All the gritty dialogue, realistic gore, and comprehensible (if not understandable) construction loses… something. Resident Evil was always schlocky camp. It was always B-grade horror at its absolute outlandish best. And RE2make does away with most of it in an attempt to bring the game down to Earth.


I don’t hate this new direction, and RE2make runs with it while still managing to make the more absurd parts feel grounded in its new fiction. It’s much simpler in a lot of ways. Quieter. More focused on a serious scare. And what it does it does superbly.

Changing from fixed camera angles to an over the shoulder perspective ties you closer to the action, allowing for tighter tension and lavish detail. Zombies close in fast, filling the screen and quickly reducing you to panic shooting. Enemies soak up damage and two bites will put you in danger, so anything more than two zombies can quickly become unmanageable. The aim soon becomes containment rather than killing, since some zombies can take nearly 20 headshots to fully pacify. RNG plays a part here, as sometimes a handgun will pop a head right open like an ichorous tulip in a single shot. More reliable is the point-blank shotgun blast, which is also capable of rending a zombie completely in half, spewing a grotesque aftermath of entrails.

Thankfully, the game’s new dismemberment system comes in extremely handy for the hard to finish foes. A handful of shots to a knee will remove a leg – which sloughs off with a satisfying squelch – and drop a zombie to a much more manageable crawl. You can remove arms, hands, and feet this way too, and it’s quite edifying watching a fully dismembered torso wiggle pathetically on the ground still trying to bite you. Which they still can.


Enemies across the board have received some extra steroids, enhancing durability and power. Gone are the two shotgun blast Lickers of the good old days. These formidable, flensed mutates are blazing-fast and capable of putting a hard stop to whatever your plans were. Lickers are blind and it’s possible to pass them completely at a walk, saving you the copious resources it requires to take them on. Combined with zombies, which require you to run or shoot, however, forces you to make strategic decisions or prepare very thoroughly in advance. Luckily, Lickers can’t open doors, which gives a much-needed respite. But that's not the case with other beasties.

Doors add a new element to how you tackle the undead. Zombies can open doors and chase you through several rooms now, limiting your safe areas drastically. It can be terrifying to hear the thudding of a zombie against a door you just rushed in, chasing after your tender flesh-bits. Tactical use of doors, though, are a huge boon, allowing you to trap zombies in side rooms never to be seen again. Not all doors can be opened by enemies, however, leading to jarring moments ripe for AI exploitation that take you out of the game.

Not just zombies are on the chase either: Mr X makes his glorious return. An unkillable superweapon, Mr X, or Tyrant series T-106 designation T-00, hounds you in the main scenario from one side of the RPD building to the other. While RE2 98 thoughtfully dropped him in predetermined locations in the B scenarios only, RE2make’s Tyrant is dynamic and reactive, using his own initiative to search for you. Once he catches sight, he’ll chase you with unrelenting purpose, knocking aside zombies and following you through room after room until you lose him. He can be knocked down temporarily with slightly too much ammo to be a comfortable solution, but his invincible, unrelenting nature puts him back on the chase in minutes. I was worried that Mr X chasing you would shift the mood of the game too far away from its slow and contemplative roots towards a frantic chase, but his appearance is placed well enough to provide a happy change of pace at the right place.


Like enemies, fan favourite weapons make their return with a new twist. There’s a slightly more expanded weapon upgrade system this time around, with more parts for more guns. New are sub-weapons like the combat knife, frag grenade, and flash grenade. Using one of these as a defensive item when grabbed by an enemy will cancel their attack and counterattack, just like in the original Resident Evil remake. You can even use these as regular weapons, and they’re much more powerful and useful used this way.

I have an issue with the knife, though. Default knives now have durability and can break. This leaves you with around 70 to 80 slashes, or three defensive uses per knife. It’s entirely possible to run out of bullets and knives and be completely stuck with no way to take down an enemy, whereas the original games at least let you have a fighting chance with that unbreakable knife.

In fact, the entire game as a whole is a lot harder than the original ever was. I never felt like I had enough ammo, and even ran out of base ammo entirely one or two times. It’s necessary to use the new gunpowder mixing system wisely to stop yourself running dry in the least opportune moments. Couple that with stronger, tougher, more relentless enemies and RE2make is not easy at all. I didn’t notice the dynamic difficulty system – which I suppose is the point – but I did notice that I was consistently picking up ammo boxes with only a few bullets so I guess it was doing its job in the background. You can choose your base difficulty too, with the hardcore difficulty making enemies tougher, as well as eliminating checkpoints and limiting your saves to ink ribbons – just like traditionalists are used to.


If you are familiar with the original, you won’t be at any advantage at all over new players. Locations have undergone a massive overhaul, presenting old ideas in a new way. It starts familiar enough, but the longer you play the more the original and the remake’s maps diverge and the less familiar it feels. The classic backtrack-and-open gameplay is on full display though, and unlocking shortcuts and reopening areas with new tools just feels right. There is perhaps a slight dip in the middle of each scenario as one area drags on just a bit too long, and one has a loathsome but thankfully brief instakill stealth section, but these very few missteps do little to interrupt the rest of the game.

The game does seem to lack those immediately iconic scare moments like the original’s infamous interrogation room. It gets one or two good licks in, but some of the moments with more potential waste it by turning into cutscenes, completely telegraphing the scare. Instead, the focus is on the stress of resource management in the face of an unrelenting enemy, and later the frantic chases at the meaty paws of Mr X. There are even a few well-used set-piece moments, which add just the right amount of adrenaline action.

The 15 or so hours it took me to finish the whole main story across the scenarios on normal difficulty rarely felt like a slog or repetitive. There was one particular boss battle that includes a tricky instakill gimmick that had me banging my head against a vending machine, but that was just a small bump. There is a distinct lack of puzzle randomisation, meaning if you know the solution for one character you know it for the other, but there is an added layer of remix and replayability for some puzzles later on.


For those hungry for more fresh flesh, Hunk and Tofu are back and expanded. These post-game modes are interesting, but lack the longevity and variety of other recent Resident Evil’s Mercenaries or Raid modes. There is also no Extreme Battle. Besides the extra game modes, there are plenty of things to unlock in the main story. Tasks like killing three enemies with a sub-weapon, or finding hidden collectables, or developing all rolls of film will see you unlocking costumes, concept art, and models, and harder tasks like S-ranking hardcore and the like unlocks new weapons for use in the main game.

Above reproach is the presentation. The Resident Evil 2 remake looks stunning. It’s not just jaw-dropping; it’s jaw torn open, muscle rent, bone held by threads of dripping sinew and leathery flesh slowly parting from cleaved skull to slosh languidly in a puddle of spilt viscera. Every layer of gratuitous gore is rendered in such loving detail that you can practically smell the glistening guttiwuts. It's repulsive. It’s excessive. And I love it.

Equal detail was paid to characters, with the cast delivering a top rate performance, both vocal and mocap. There is an entirely new cast with a brand-new script that diverges somewhat from the original, but nostalgia fiends will get a kick out of the soundtrack, which features reworked versions of the original tracks.


As a fan of the original game, this Resident Evil 2 remake has been an utter joy to play. During my time with it, I was constantly in awe of the love and reverence the developers clearly have for the original. The spirit of Resident Evil 2 has been distilled down, concentrated, and reconstituted into this beautiful, hideous experience that completely undermined all my preconceptions.

Resident Evil 2 remade is not the cheap B-movie of its predecessor. It eschews the horror-kitsch stylings that made the original games instantly memorable, cuts down the weird, and plays it entirely straight. It can be off-putting. It can feel too serious. But this package delivered by Capcom is undeniably brilliant in its own right.

It’s a love letter to survival horror, delivered direct like a bullet to the head.



- Lachlan W. 
Contributor
Review: Resident Evil 2 (Sony PlayStation 4)
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