I had a plan. It was a simple plan. I would buy up all the videogames I hadn’t yet played for Xbox One at a rate of about one a month, complete them, maybe review them, and get as many Achievements as possible, all so that I could justify buying Resident Evil 2 (Capcom R&D Division 1, 2019) on release day. As you have gathered, that plan got a bit side-tracked as I ended up with every single Resident Evil title for Xbox One; though I managed to get through four of these (I didn’t actually do a review of Resident Evil 4 (Capcom Production Studio 4, 2005)…my bad), I’ve had to put the last two on the back-burner to play this highly anticipated game.
And it really was highly anticipated, especially by me. Resident Evil 2 (Capcom/Rockstar San Diego/Factor 5, 1999) was my gateway into the franchise; an essential purchase during my Nintendo 64 days and I used to waste entire weekends blasting through the different story modes as quickly as possible thanks to the infinite health and ammo cheats made available in the N64 version. I had an equally enjoyable time with the GameCube remake of Resident Evil (Capcom, 2002) and segued into playing the titles without the aid of cheats but the question remained as to whether I would actually be any good at the Resident Evil 2 remake without infinite health, ammo, and factoring in the new graphics, layout, and over-the-shoulder perspective.
Resident Evil 2’s story is largely unchanged from the original; rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and college student Claire Redfield arrive in Racoon City just as the entire population is turned into zombies due to exposure to the Umbrella Corporation’s new G-Virus. Taking shelter in the police station, both characters are pursed by a hulking Tyrant variant (“Mr. X”), encounter a constantly mutating creature (“G”), and run into various other characters as they try to survive the horror and escape the city with their lives. First of all, as you may have heard, read, or seen, Resident Evil 2 is an incredibly gorgeous creation; graphically, the game has no equal right now and the characters, environments, and creatures of the franchise have never been more realistic and frightening. The game’s use of light is fantastic; there’s hardly any areas of the game fully lit, so Leon and Claire are dependant on their torch to scan their environment for resources and enemies.
This makes simply exploring rudimentary areas incredibly tense in a way that is so beyond the original game’s fixed camera angles; this tension is expanded further through the winding, claustrophobic nature of the environments. The police station has very few open areas and those it does have are either poorly lit or eventually become hazardous when Mr. X comes plodding along; the cell area, sewers, and laboratory are all equally closed in, meaning that you’re never quite sure what will be waiting around the next corner.
Resident Evil 2 is a fantastic return to form when it comes to item management and conservation of resources; fresh off of three of the more modern titles, the sudden return to having very little in the way of ammo and health was jarring. Leon and Claire have a very limited inventory, so you’ll want to make use of the magic Item Boxes and multiple pouches to expand your inventory wherever possible. You should also take every opportunity to combine herbs and gunpowder for additional ammo as you’ll definitely need it in the game’s later stages. Because of this, you can’t just run around blasting zombies like fish in a barrel; the game actively discourages this as these zombies are built to last! A headshot may, if you’re very lucky, result in a one-hit kill but, nine times out of ten, you can empty an entire clip into a zombie’s head and it’ll still get up and keep coming for more. Discretion is definitely the better part of valour in Resident Evil 2 but you’ll be forced to make some tough choices when Mr. X starts chasing you through pitch-black corridors filled with zombies or Lickers!
Fortunately, there are other methods at your disposal; you can board up windows to stop zombies breaking into the station and counterattack any enemy with a knife, flash grenade, or hand grenade. These can also be used as regular weapons but the knife won’t last forever, so you can’t just go stabbing away without a care in the world. None of these weapons have a hope of killing Mr. X, though; unlike in the original game, he can only be momentarily stunned and will pursue you, even through doors, until you manage to give him the run-around.
You’ll also encounter a few boss battles, mainly against different forms of “G”; in the more modern games, these may have included quick-time events or button mashing sequences but, here, you are forced to go old school, dodging his attacks and waiting for the right moment to shoot his massive eyeball. It’s an exhilarating return to form as you’ll only have yourself to blame for not conserving your ammo or stocking up on healing items. Other boss battles, such as the one against the giant alligator and when you face “G” in the sewer, require you to set traps to win the day to help mix things up, while disgusting G-Virus monsters take the place of the giant spiders and appear as tougher enemies in the sewers.
Also returning from the original game, but greatly expanded upon here, are the classic Resident Evil puzzles; as a former museum, the police station is full of weird shit, items, and mysteries that you’ll have to find, solve, and piece together in order to progress. One thing that is a bit odd is that, unlike every single Resident Evil title ever, you do not automatically discard items or keys once they’re no longer needed; instead, you have to do this manually, which is the only negative thing I have to say about the game and it’s purely because this has never been necessary in the past, but it’s an extremely minor complaint really. Navigation is pretty easy thanks to the map screen, which clearly shows you rooms you’ve been in, doors that are locked, and other points of interest, though it doesn’t hold your hand like some of the later titles and you’ll be required to use your brain and remember the layouts pretty well to get around obstacles or Mr. X and reach new areas.
There’s a lot of variety at work in the game; at certain points, you’ll switch to playing as either the mysterious Ada or the adorable Sherry, both of whom play very differently to each other, not to mention Leon and Clear. Completing the game also unlocks variant costumes (including classic attires) and the “Second Run” mode, which tells the story from a different perspective, swaps around a lot of the item locations, and features different boss battles. Completing the game on each of these playthroughs is essential to battling the true final boss and seeing the game’s true ending; it’ll also unlock the “Fourth Survivor” mode, where you take an Umbrella commando through an infested police station, and the “Tofu Survivor” mode (…where you play as a piece of tofu) makes a welcome return.
You can also unlock in-game models, concept art, Achievements, and even infinite weapons if you dare take on some of the game’s more challenging options. Resident Evil 2 has three difficulty settings: Assisted (aim assist, weaker enemies, health recovers a little bit), Standard (no aim assist, no health regeneration, normal-strength enemies), and Hardcore (no aim assist, no health regeneration, tougher enemies, Ink Ribbons are needed to save at Typewriters, no auto-save points…basically the classic Resident Evil formula, meaning all of us old school gamers must be Hardcore by default!). To get the best weapons and reap the best rewards, you’ll be required to beat the game under a strict time limit on Hardcore mode but, with trial and error (or a handy online guide), you will find that the game can be beaten in under three hours. However, this doesn’t make Resident Evil 2 any less desirable to play; the tension and atmosphere alone are worth the price of admission as the game finally returns the franchise to its survival-horror roots. Newer gamers may struggle with this; enemies don’t drop gold or resources, you can’t punch boulders, and there’s very little hand-holding throughout the game. Either you stay sharp and be smart with your resources and pick your battles, or you get injured, waste your ammo, and die in short order, just like in classic Resident Evil tradition.
Resident Evil 2 is nothing less than a masterpiece, from the graphical quality of the game to its gore, soundtrack, and the amazing job it does staying faithful to the original title, and the time period it was made, while still bringing everything a quantum leap forward using modern gameplay mechanics and capabilities. The game is a solid five-star effort and I can only hope that, going forward, Capcom leans more towards this formula for future Resident Evil titles and away from their more action-orientated approaches.