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Resident Evil 2: Remake Review - Redefining Horror

Resident Evil 2 was first released in 1998 where it went on to become one of the greatest games of all time, and is a title that's still loved by many to this day. The real question is, did it need to be remade for the present gamer, and more importantly, does this remake do the original justice or is it just another cash-in to add to the pile?

The worst first day of your life.
It's hard to believe the original Resident Evil 2 released 21 years ago this April. I would have been 11 at the time, and though I didn't play it myself until roughly two years later, it was quite apparent I was far too young to be playing it. My parents were pretty good at sticking to the age ratings, even if I tried my hardest to find ways around their ruling and so, more often than not, my only option was to play at a friends house, and one who had far less responsible parents.

My most prominent memory within the series however, is that of Resident Evil 3. We laugh about it today, but taking my copy of RE3 around another friends house became somewhat of a traumatic experience for him, as proven by his unwavering determination to avert his eyes from the screen, where he instead opted to play with his Action Man figure. Me being me, I carried on regardless and looking back at the graphics now, it's hard to believe anyone could be terrified of the title, and yet it was intense enough to keep me on edge the whole way through, and ended up giving my friend nightmares for two weeks straight, almost banning me from his house for good.

As for Resident Evil 2 - It wasn't until my late twenties that I played the game in full, starting with Leon and working my way through to Claire's campaign (Leon A - Claire B). Just last week I learned that wasn't even the canon path and so to not break tradition, at my current time of writing,  I have finished all four campaign scenarios of Resident Evil 2's modern remake, starting with Leon route A, so let's jump straight in.

Seem familiar? It should do.
To start, this is one gorgeous looking game and a grand departure from the series of old. Graphics are phenomenal and though we're still not at a level where characters look as real as you and I, we're not far off and it's clear to see the development team working on this remake have put an incredible amount of blood, sweat, tears and love into their latest title. You can see it in the subtle movements of each character model (whether idle or active), and with the new gore system, fighting the undead has never been so sickeningly brutal. It's also incredibly satisfying.

Without giving too much away, the Lickers and Birkin are exceptionally disgusting, helping to create what I'd describe as one of the greatest and most immersive horror experiences to date, if not the greatest. I mean being completely honest, for a very long time Resident Evil 4 held the title of best Resident Evil ever (to me, at least) and though this is far more believable, it's certainly a contender for the best Resident Evil title Capcom have ever released.

If you've not had the chance to play this for yourself yet, my word of advice is to start on standard difficulty and I cannot emphasise this enough. I'm a guy who craves a challenge - I platinum'd Modern Warfare 2, Resident Evil 5 and Dead Space 2 and am near the end of Metal Gear Rising on Revengeance difficulty. I love a challenge. I crave it. I need it. I don't however, crave or want it here. Easily swayed by the option to play on Hardcore difficulty with Ink Ribbons for limited saving (true to the original RE2), I began on Hardcore, only to quickly discover your standard Zombies can kill you in one to two bites, and so I reset back to standard difficulty and couldn't be happier.

In Resident Evil 2, you need to keep your wits about you at all times.
As a reviewer, I generally aim to test all of a games features, but my stubbornness to avoid the easy route means I didn't give the assisted difficulty a go, but can still summarise the difficulty settings as follows - Assisted: Easy Difficulty, Standard: Hard Difficulty, Hardcore: Extreme Difficulty.

That's right, the Resident Evil 2 Remake isn't an easy game by any stretch. The more you play it, the more you grow accustomed to the layout and with both ammunition and health in limited supply, you're going to really want to choose when to fight and when to evade each encounter. If you're anything like me, your first playthrough will be around the 10 hour mark, but with each scenario, this will get faster and faster, because the game is relatively short, and  like anything great in this world, there's always a downside that keeps things balanced out and Resident Evil 2 is not exempt from that.

As I mentioned above, I began on Leon A, then went through Claire B (which is named "Claire 2nd" this time around), only to find all but one of the bosses I faced as Leon had returned a second time in exactly the same location I last defeated them, only this time with Claire. It made no sense for this to happen and really broke my immersion within a story I was so happy and eager to buy into. That said, the fact Leon A to Claire B was not the canon route, made me immediately run through with Claire A upon completing her B scenario. I had hoped that by starting Claire A and working my way up to and through Leon B, I would be presented with a much more believable turn of events, along with a more consistent story. I was wrong.

Did you jump the first time you saw this?
Unfortunately, the only real differences between Leon A - Claire B and Claire A - Leon B are the intro scenes/starting locations and one or two lines of dialogue (Leon and Claire's route A interaction with Marvin Branagh is slightly different). Adding to this, though both route A and B are different, every cinematic (minus the intro scene) remains the same regardless of who you play as. To be clear though, route A does continue into route B - you just have to finish both of these scenarios before you can reach the true ending.

Due to this, it doesn't matter which character you choose to play, for the events of route A and B are fixed. Sure, both characters are swapped into the fixed cutscenes of each route, but with only slight differences to their dialogue and an interconnected plot featuring non-canonical events (the shared boss fights, some of which had already been defeated by the previous character) that would work better as four separate disconnected scenarios, I really feel something else could have been done to heighten the experience here. Instead, it's clear that Capcom wanted to shift their focus to a singular story, where the route swaps do little more than reverse the starting positions of Leon and Claire.

Having said that, many of the events are actually exclusively tied to the characters themselves. In addition to the fixed events of route A and B, the most important events are tied to each of the two specific characters. The key events tied to Leon are playing as Ada, fighting Mr.X and a certain encounter with a certain creature in the sewers. The key events linked to Claire are finding a cure, running into Chief Irons and playing Sherry's side-story. Whether you play route A or route B with Claire, these plot points always occur in exactly the same way and the same can be said for Leon and his key events, which is why I feel so strongly that having the option of two different routes is next to pointless.

Hopefully that explains the issue a little clearer. Route A and B more than anything just determine the order in which these events all play out, swapping both characters into the cutscenes where necessary. Though this is virtually the only downside to RE2, it means some of the alternate events of the original didn't make it into the game. Leon and Ada's interactions are always the same. Claire and Chief Irons interactions are always the same. Route A or B, these interactions remain the same.

In fact, due to this, playing Claire (A) first seems to imply Leon (A) is canonical this time around because trying to avoid spoilers here, Mr.X gets wrecked, yet he's back to normal when you get around to running through Leon B. It's an odd one and I'm not too sure why the team went in this direction, but the repeated bosses and having to find keys to several (but not all) of the doors of which the previous character had already been through makes little sense to me. I mean who's running around and hiding them again? Why can you loot safes and lockers for the same gear the previous character looted? Yea, it's not a big deal, but it is a missed opportunity and my only real gripe with this otherwise exceptional remake.

Yes, it's somewhat disappointing, having known first hand how the events of the original Resident Evil 2 went down, but in short, the route you choose to play is irrelevant. Aside from a slightly different opening scene and character specific dialogue with Marvin, all the route choice really does is determine who you play as first, so just go with your gut and have fun. Personally, I found Leon A - Claire B more enjoyable, because it felt so badass going into the NEST with Claire armed up to the teeth with Grenade Rounds and almost, at times, reminiscent of Ripley at the end of Aliens. One thing's for sure - This was Claire's time to shine and boy did she shine.

The end for Umbrella...or is it?
On the flipside, the story that is told has expanded massively upon the source material, turning past interactions of only a single sentence or less into full on conversations with many of the key characters featured within the game. Not only that, Sherry has her very own side-story now, Chief Brian Irons has a deeper and more sinister plot hook, and Ada's playable segment feels a lot more unique, thanks to her handy hacking device, allowing her to escape grave situations in a pinch.

The RE2 Remake also really likes to test you and for more times than I wish to count, you'll find yourselves just hanging about in one of the many Safe Rooms dotted across the map. You'll be patiently waiting, listening out for the footsteps of Mr.X to gauge whether you should leave or not, because the last thing you want is to be chased down a hallway while two Lickers are currently on the prowl. It'll hurt and undoubtedly force you to burn through your restoratives, as you try and dodge your way to the nearest room for a breather. It won't go well for you. The Lickers hit incredibly hard and fast, and if you haven't previously dealt with the shambling Zombies that populate the halls and rooms of the Raccoon Police Department, you'll wish you had. All I can say is when you find yourself in this situation, you'd better have those shortcuts open, else it'll really suck. Just don't do it.

I'd also like to add the majority of areas that made the original RE2 so memorable/iconic have made a return, only everything you came to know and love previously has now been revamped and re-imagined, remaining to be just as instantly recognisable as it was 21 years ago. The only real difference here is the order in which the sequence of story events play out. For example, you no longer run through the Kendo Gun Shop at the beginning of the game, nor do you have to traverse through a bus to get further into town. These memorable moments are still within the game, but for story purposes take place much later on and serve a different purpose.

The root of all issues.
If you had the chance to play the original RE2, you'll know that visually it hasn't aged well. Thankfully, this remake ramps up the visuals 100 fold, delivering what is quite possibly the best looking game of this generation, and most certainly the best looking Resident Evil of all time.

This modern take on Resident Evil 2 is incredibly atmospheric. It has exceptional lighting, sickeningly realistic gore, believable characters, solid acting and some of the best textures and character models I've seen in gaming. The zombies are the most believable yet and this comes down to not just how they look, but also how they move, act and sound. If you get grabbed by one of these hungry flesh-eaters, there are even mechanics in place to allow other Zombies to take bites out of you. One, you can deal with, but two will send you straight to the floor as they both bite chunks out of you.

How do you get around this? Simple - Carry a knife, a grenade or simply kill them before they can even get near, though granted this won't always be an option for you. Flash Grenades are great against pretty much anything and will give you enough time to compose yourself even against bosses. QTE's (Quick Time Events) still exist, but unlike RE4, they only come into play under dire circumstances, such as being grabbed by one of the many foul creatures awaiting you.

Once grabbed, pressing L1 during this time will either stab said creature in the neck (freeing you from its grasp) or shove a grenade in its mouth, giving you time to escape. You can either shoot the grenade triggering the explosion early, or leave the creatures to explode in due time. My advice to you is to keep at least one full heal on you at all times, plus either a knife or grenade of your choice (you can hold up to three grenades in one slot). You need to survive and this is Survival Horror at its finest.

Corporate lies at their finest.
Depending on your weapon of choice, Zombies can take a lot or very limited amount of damage before they go down for good. The first two pistols do the job, but can take around 8 shots just to kill one Zombie, and in a place infested with the undead, that's less than ideal. The .45 calibre is a little better, but it's the Shotgun that'll get the most use, and my personal favourite of Leon's campaign. The Magnum, while amazing at blowing heads off with a single shot, has very limited ammo.

Combining standard and high grade gunpowder together will get you a good deal of Shotgun ammo, but your best bet is to store these items in your storage box, ready for when you find a large batch of gunpowder. At point blank, the Shotgun will instantly blow a Zombies head apart, but it's a risky weapon to use up close, especially if you need to reload. Any gun can land a critical though, so as long as you keep tabs on your inventory, health and ammunition, you should be fine.

Claire has the best weapons in the game however, with a repeating Revolver she fires so fast she deserves the title of Quickdraw Queen, along with a Grenade Launcher that can fire both Acid and Flame rounds, and oddly a two-handed overpowering stun gun. Oh, and she also gets a Minigun. Yea, a Minigun. I guess all of that brotherly training from Chris growing up paid off.

Inventory space is always limited, but if you fully explore each location, you'll eventually find enough side packs (inventory expansion slots) to become Rambo. Some of the bosses can rinse your ammo, so explore as much as you possibly can and be sure to open up every safe, locker and lockbox you come across. Item storage will be your best friend here, as no matter the safe room, you'll always have access to your gear and let's face it, being made to forcibly move your gear from one box to another would suck, regardless of how unbelievable it is to have your gear within every storage box in existence, at any given time.

You're not going to escape that easily, Leon.
If you're playing on Hardcore difficulty, saves are limited by how many Ink Ribbons you possess, where as on standard or lower difficulty, you're free to save as often as you like. With ample checkpoints however, saving isn't even necessary and the only reason you'll need to is if you wish to turn the console off or have no desire to play through the entire campaign in one sitting.

Combining items is also a large part of Resident Evil 2's core gameplay mechanics and is essential to freeing up slots from the get-go. It's not just herbs and ammunition you can combine either - Dotted and hidden around the map are upgrades for your weapons, giving them a higher capacity of ammunition, muzzle breaks, stocks for a more precise aim and other such attachments. Being able to hold 8 rounds in your favourite Shottie is going to help you a great deal, so search, search, search.

So, what about the sound design? Again, this is great and if you purchase the Deluxe Edition from the online store, you'll also have access to the original soundtrack. Capcom were kind enough to provide us with a code for this very version and it's hard to say which soundtrack is better, but I wholeheartedly recommend playing with both if you get the chance - I ran through the Leon A route with the modern soundtrack and then went through Claire A with the original, along with both her and Leon's original costumes. In fact, on Leon B, you can even change outfits at a storage room locker in the outside basement area of the RPD. It's a shame the black biker jacket from the original isn't able to be worn, but the Deluxe Edition of Resident Evil 2 more than makes up for that with the original, new and even Noir styled outfits (monochromatic gameplay overlay and all). Plus, you get to see Claire wearing the Resident Evil 1.5 Elza Walker biker gear. What's not to like?

There are a lot of subtleties that make Resident Evil 2's remake an absolute (stressful) joy to play, and one of these is the clarity of other characters communicating with you through your PS4 controller. The sound is incredibly crisp and I'd argue that RE2 utilises it to the best of its abilities. Sure, it's been done before, but not with such clarity and ultimately, I just feel it's a really nice touch.

All of the iconic locations are back.
There's also "The 4th Survivor" mode - An extra gameplay feature unlocked after you've run through the game once or twice, where you play an elite Soldier who's been left behind to fend for himself. This Soldier is named Hunk and I know, it was weird then and it's still weird now. The objective of his mission is simple - Reach the extraction point with the gear you've got and don't die. The only issue is, unlike in the main story, there are no pick-ups and you really do just have to work with the very limited supply of gear you have on you. He can thank Leon and Claire for picking everything up, I'm sure.

Giving The 4th Survivor mode a go, I managed to reach the first extraction point, only to find it was blocked off (to be expected really, but it gave me an idea as to when this takes place within the story). I made it a little way further, but with Mr.X, countless Zombies and multiple Lickers in tow, it wasn't long before I became Zombie chowder myself. Seriously, there are two to three times the amount of Zombies you'd expect to see within the halls of the RPD and they're all on the same path as you. That said, if you're successful in completing this, you can unlock the Tofu character, which makes things even harder as you're limited to an inventory full of knives and the tiniest supply of curatives.

All things considered, I expect you're wondering by now how long the campaign is, so I'll give you a rundown of my own play time for each scenario - My first run with Leon (A) was 9hrs 45 minutes and I'd saved 59 times during the course of the game. Why? Because it can get so incredibly tense that at times you'll worry about what's lurking around the next corner. That and I didn't realise checkpoints were in play. My time spent playing through Claire B had shortened my play time considerably, right down to the 7hr 30 mark. By this point, I had fallen back into my old habit of treating anything relating to Horror as an action game, now playing Claire's route A in the same way I did way back when I ran through hardcore mode of Dead Space 2 (fantastic game btw). My final time on Claire A was a swift 5hrs and 5 minutes, while my Leon B run was even faster at 4hrs 56 minutes, during which I had only saved the game four times, as you can see from my own personal screen grab below.

My final playtime on Leon B. Ironic.
At the end of each scenario, you're ranked for time and likely a number of other factors hidden behind the scenes. To get an A Rank you're meant to finish the game in under 5 hours and as you can see above, my Leon B run, though impressive, still only rewarded me with a B. I felt cheated. Was it fun though? Absolutely.

With Trophies such as "Complete the game without using the item box", "Complete the game without using restoratives" and "Complete Leon and Claire's campaign with an S Rank", Resident Evil 2 will make you work your butt off for a Platinum, but if that's a challenge you're up for, there's absolutely hours of fun to be had here.

It's time to get the hell out of dodge.
Capcom have also released weekly challenges for players to complete, rewarding you with Gold, Silver and Bronze badges. What purpose these badges serve, I'm unsure of as unfortunately I didn't get a chance to participate in them myself, though I'd guess these are just bragging rights for the most hardcore Resident Evil fans out there.

Rewarding us even further, Capcom have just revealed via Twitter that three new and upcoming story DLC's are to be released. Offering fans of the series a more detailed look at the events that transpired for three of RE2's side characters, this new DLC will be completely free and is a part of many future updates Capcom has planned to support this title, so don't trade your copy away for Kingdom Hearts just yet!

Overall, Resident Evil 2 is a fresh and exciting new experience for fans both new and old. It takes everything the original did well and makes it so much better. It's one of the best gaming Horrors of all time and though not quite surpassing my excitement for Resident Evil 4, this modern day remake of Resident Evil 2 is a stand out title that will undoubtedly be remembered for years to come. Resident Evil is officially back to its roots and is one seriously grotesque, yet absolutely thrilling adventure from start to finish.

Can Dino Crisis now have this same treatment please, Capcom?

"Must Play!!" is the highest review stamp we can give a game. Resident Evil 2 is a fantastic title and one that I personally feel should not be missed.

If you've had the chance to play it, what did you think? Did you enjoy it as much as we did? Let us know in the comments below or hit me up on twitter @CaptainCortez.

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