Resident Evil 2 hands-on: a new standard for remaking and preserving all-time classics

By Alex Donaldson
15 June 2018 19:52 GMT

The Resident Evil 2 remake stands a chance of being a masterclass in how to respectfully and smartly update a classic.

Rebooting a game as beloved as Resident Evil 2 isn’t an easy job, but if any company should be confident in the attempt, Capcom is it.

Resident Evil 7 was all about the new – a new perspective, new characters and even a new strain of the zombie virus that powers the series’ story lines. In a sense it now makes sense for Capcom to look backwards: after forging a gripping new format for the series, there’s a desire to return to the source. That carries extraordinary risk, but this is the headline you need to know: Capcom is nailing it. While dedicated fans can still pop in their original Resident Evil 2 discs, this remake is shaping up to be a great way for new players and hardcore fans alike to experience an all-time classic.

It’s in feeling where the greatest victories of this remake are – it’s ultimately quite a different game, but it truly feels like Resident Evil 2.

During E3 2018 I got to play the same twenty-minute slice of RE2 that’s been widely circulated online in video form, though truly appreciating why it’s so special does require you to lay hands on the controller and experience it first-hand. Feeling is where the greatest victories of this remake are, you see – it’s ultimately quite a different game, but it truly feels like Resident Evil 2.

There’s a VG247 interview with the staff of RE2 remake coming soon that’ll touch on the decisions the producers of the remake have made in more detail, but what I want to note here is just how smart those decisions are. A lot of the decision making process seems to be about finding a reasonable, sensible level of compromise between elements that made the original 1998 RE2 beloved and including quality-of-life improvements common now, 20 years later.

A tightly drawn-in third person camera finds a strong middle-ground between the claustrophobic, corridor-creeping pressure of RE7 and the sometimes helpful, sometimes obfuscating camera angles of the PS1 original. Leon’s movement is more like a modern third person action shooter game, but there’s also a slight sluggish nature to his movement that approximates the infamous ‘tank controls’ of the PS1 Resident Evil titles without submitting modern players to anywhere near the same level of frustration. When aiming the reticule is huge unless you plant your feet and stop moving, thus affording further accuracy. A good player will thus move methodically.

Generally speaking the controls are a good window into the design approach to the whole game, in fact – something that’ll closely resemble how players remember the original RE2 – even if it’s been significantly tweaked and improved. The aim is clearly to match the rose-tinted memory rather than the harsher reality.

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The producers explain to me that the new Resident Evil 2 will have the same adaptive difficulty that’s been fairly standard in the series since the fourth entry, meaning that players who constantly do well and score headshots and the like will see zombies subtly become more intelligent and aggressive. When I mention the ‘power creep’ in RE7 – where protagonist Ethan starts out quite weak but is carrying a veritable arsenal of weapons and skills by the end of the game – they indicate that for RE2’s remake the plan is to have a structure that ensures an ebb and flow between tense, fearful fights for your life and moments where the player gets to feel like the bad-ass heroes we know Leon and Claire will become.

It’d be all too easy to create a remake that simply follows the same story with the same characters but is unrecognizable in how it plays. This is not that. The lineage from the original is strongly and brilliantly present.

All of this honestly sounds pretty refreshing. I absolutely loved RE7, and I actually think the manner in which you gear up and slowly begin to no longer fear enemies that’d terrified you in the early hours was a perfect fit for that game’s narrative, but RE2 definitely deserves something a little different. This is back to the source: zombies tend to shamble towards you slowly, and in these early police station based sections of the game, never number more than a few at a time. A few is enough, however, as they’re bloody deadly – and even the knife you can use to get zombies off you in melee range has a specific, limited use that makes it easy to be overpowered if you’re not careful.

Having fewer zombies on screen also allows for some fun with the undead – and thus Resident Evil 2 remake features some of the most impressive reactive damage to the bodies of your foes I’ve seen in any game ever. Arms can be blown clean off, and bullets will cleave off chunks of flesh liberally as you let rip. It looks gross – and great. This is perfect for RE2 with its human-like zombies – it’d be much less impactful on the monster-like ‘BOW’ type zombies seen in games like RE7. All of this is ultimately something of a special reward, however – bullets are pretty rare, just as you’d expect, and you’ll certainly find yourself hoarding them.

The atmosphere is laid on thick as you trudge through the hallways of Resident Evil 2 remake’s Raccoon City Police Department. This feeling is familiar, but the graphical update is necessary – the original just wouldn’t be nearly as frightening now. When the action kicks off is when the real effort becomes clear, however, as enemies shamble towards you and even with modern controls you feel a huge sense of dread as your bullet count is drained down. There are other promises in this remake, however, like a suggestion from the developers there’ll be more options for fans to explore outside of the linear path and even more in-depth cross-overs between the two campaigns for the two heroes of the game.

Precious resources can be spent to board up broken windows, for instance – potentially stopping the flow of zombies from one area but also quite possibly diverting them into the path of the other character on their play through. These are examples of the sort of features that could’ve fallen by the wayside, but they remain as important as ever in the remake. It’d be all too easy to create a remake that simply follows the same story with the same characters but is unrecognizable in how it plays. This is not that. The lineage from the original is strongly and brilliantly present.

I see Resident Evil 2 and I can’t help but think about Final Fantasy 7. Based on this E3 presentation, the team at Square Enix now have their work cut out for them: Capcom is raising the bar for what a respectful, thoughtful and modern-feeling re-imagining of a classic game should be. I left the E3 demo impressed on all fronts – with how faithful it is to the original, but also how brave the development team are being in their approach to and willingness to deviate from the source. If you’re an RE2 veteran or not, this is looking a lot like a must-play for early next year.

Resident Evil 2 was a winner of one of VG247’s E3 2018 Editor’s Choice awards.

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