Resident Evil 2 is certainly an oddity in the game market of 2019, an outlier that decided to buck the trends plaguing the industry this generation in order to become a creative masterpiece. As I'm sure most of you know, Resident Evil 2 is a remake of the classic Survival Horror game of the same name that was released in 1998 on the PlayStation. Remaking it in its entirety is the same approach which Capcom took 17 years ago with Resident Evil, a Gamecube title that was a remake of the original game, a remake that is far and wide considered as the best Survival Horror game of all time. It looks like Capcom took that formula and ran with it, allowing lightning to strike twice and created another classic. By stripping away crowbarred in co-op, lazy multiplayer modes, "live services", and microtransactions they were able to focus entirely on a complete and well-crafted story experience.
I will explain the plot of RE2 in brief, mainly due to the fact that you probably know it already. Hell, Resident Evil 6 came out 7 years ago and understanding that plot hinges entirely on you understanding the plot of RE2 to begin with. For the sake of thoroughness, it's worth going over, and also worth noting that the plot is probably the weakest aspect of the game. You play as either Leon S. Kennedy ( a rookie police officer coming into town for the first day of his new job) or Claire Redfield (a student searching for her police officer brother) as they make their way through the Raccoon City police station in an attempt to escape the city and the ravenous zombies inhabiting it. Along the way you will meet another cast of characters, unravel the origins of the viral outbreak, and uncover the mysteries of an evil mega-corporation. As events unfold and progress it's made clear that the story is well-written and well-acted, but the foundation the plot builds itself on is very campy and definitely requires an appreciation of B-movie scripts to really enjoy. Despite this, the story moves along at a good speed, never gets too convoluted, and brings itself to a satisfactory conclusion.
From the moment you boot up the game you'll see how beautiful it actually looks. The environments are incredibly detailed and well-realized, the facial animations of the characters look great, and the gore is phenomenal. For those of us who played or watched the demo, we were awestruck by the body cut in half and the destroyed face during pre-animated scenes, but the level of viscera and juicy detail is fully present throughout the game. Zombies can lose limbs from gunshots, leaving stumps that leak blood as they shamble to you. Lickers, G, and Embryos all seem to ooze with a coat of slime that adds to how off-putting everything feels. The RE Engine does a great job of distinguishing items you can pick up in the environment while still maintaining a minimal HUD, and they even fixed the problem with characters hair that was really bothering me in Resident Evil 7. I can definitely say this was one of the best looking games I ever played, it likely looks even better on an Xbox One X hooked up to a 4K TV.
What do those fancy graphics all add up to? Helping to build an immersive atmosphere, something the horror genre arguably hasn't seen since Outlast in 2014. The sewers really give the impression of a filthy and confined space, the station itself feels like a building in the midst of a crisis. The visuals are accompanied by great audio work, specifically in the music and sound design. The music gives a creeping sense of unease that ebbs and flows depending on the monsters around, particularly Mr. X. This does a great job of creating tension and atmosphere as you make your way through the game. The moans of the zombies are chilling, particularly when they're aggressive and attacking you. These sounds, layered on top of the music, really paints an amazing picture using only the audio spectrum.
As we all know, graphics and sound are only worth so much to the game as an experience. What truly matters is gameplay, and this is where Resident Evil 2 absolutely nails it. Unlike the previous remake the fixed camera style was completely thrown out in favor of an over-the-shoulder camera like Resident Evil 4 introduced, a change that is very welcome in the modern era. The shooting is very smooth and precise but also requires skill to master, you have to know how to quickly pull up your weapon and take shots in order to get out of deadly situations quickly. The movement is also smooth and accurate, a large improvement over tank controls, and the button layout is very intuitive. Gameplay will also be broken up by short sections in which you play as other characters to help keep things fresh around the halfway point of each campaign. You will never be stunlocked or caught in a situation you can't escape from, though sometimes you can get passed from zombie to zombie as they take turns chewing on you, which can certainly be frustrating.
The framework of the plot takes place in 2 scenarios, simply called A and B. You can play either scenario with either character, giving you 4 distinct routes to play through the game. Not a whole lot changes in terms of story, but the police station will be accessed and navigated through a slightly different path. Leon will always cross paths with Ada Wong and Claire will always meet with Sherry Birkin, weapons will always be the same, but some item placements and routes through the early game will be altered. This will also determine which bosses you fight, which can really add a sense of challenge to certain playthroughs. After completing an A and B side scenario you will unlock the "true" ending, which is an incredibly intense and fun fight.
The first time you play through the game you'll be doing the regular Survival Horror stuff like picking up keys, scavenging for weapons and ammo, and generally being pummeled into the ground by large groups of common enemies and bosses. Make no mistake, Resident Evil 2 is not an easy game. It's not exactly the Dark Souls of video games or anything, but it can certainly be punishing to players that rush into things unprepared. Throughout the majority of the game you will be stalked and assaulted by a large humanoid named Mr. X. He will pursue you relentlessly through the police station, knocking down doors, zombies, and walls that get in his way. He can't be killed, only slowed, and can beat you to death very easily if you engage with him in close quarters. You are able to outrun and outmaneuver him, but just knowing that he's somewhere in the building tracking you down is enough to add another layer of fear and tension to the game as a whole.
When you get an occasional break from X you will be relentlessly attacked by a mutant called G, and if you make it a point to go around the station killing every zombie in between these encounters you will not have enough healing items or ammo to survive these fights. The game teaches you from the very beginning that strategy is key, while also preserving the fairness of mandatory boss fights. Zombies are slow and can be easily dodged, but you also have the ability to expend defense items on them if you get grabbed. Lickers are fast and powerful, but due to their blindness can be quietly snuck by or disoriented by a flash grenade. These mechanics also factor into a save system which grants you checkpoints in addition to the ability to manually save at typewriters, a throwback to the old games which allows you to make "safety saves" in case you ever find yourself backed into a boss fight with no health or bullets later on. I wouldn't call the game forgiving, but I would call it fair, which is all that difficulty should be.
With 4 campaigns to play through there's plenty of variety on display, the game moves at a good enough pace to never feel like a chore. The sewer section does seem to drag slightly, but time spent in the lab more than makes up for it. The highest praise I can give this game is the factor of replayability for organic reasons. When fumbling your way through the game for the first time you'll likely find the environment unique to you, you'll take the time to explore and backtrack often to open new doors, look for more items, or visit safe rooms. The more you play the game the more familiar with the police station you become, giving you the opportunity to always think on your feet and plan strategically. There came a point in my 6th playthrough where I found myself thinking "I unlocked the door on the 2nd floor, so I can cut across to the library, drop down, and go through that hall. That'll let me pick up the herb next to the medallion, grab the last piece from the laundry room, discard the key, pick up supplies from the S.T.A.R.S. office, then finish off by going downstairs to drop off the 2 missing pieces and pick up the inventory expansion". It's so rare that a game can be linear and open ended simultaneously, it really brought me back to the days of Silent Hill 2 and felt delightfully natural.
Replay value is also found in post-game content, with plenty here to strive for. The 4th Survivor mode is back, along with The Tofu Survivor once you manage to beat it. Completing Tofu unlocks a variety of more Tofu characters, each with different inventories and levels of health. Additional difficulty modes are also unlocked after finishing the game, which also have incentives such as alternate costumes, character models and dossiers, and infinite ammo weapons for beating them with good scores. The Ghost Survivors mode was also added in after launch to provide more post-game content, though I feel it doesn't come close to the quality of the base game.
So with everything added up, how is Resident Evil 2? I can say without hesitation that it is my personal favorite game of this entire console generation, with only 3-4 titles even coming close to it in terms of overall quality. It's a beautiful looking, atmospheric, terrifying experience. If you're an old school Survival Horror fan there's enough reminiscent of those days to fall in love with. If you're a fan of newer horror titles such as Dead Space you'll find that the controls and combat feel very familiar. While the initial difficulty may turn off newer players I promise that sticking with it will result in one of the best gaming experiences you will ever have.