‘Resident Evil’ remake modernizes a survival classic

In the “Resident Evil 2” remake, characters, environments and the story have all been rebuilt from the ground up to create a terrifying world that feels both nostalgic and new.


By GIESON CACHO | The Mercury News | Published: February 1, 2019

Capcom never lets a good idea go to waste, and if it’s popular enough, the company isn’t afraid to use it twice. The company has released reworked editions of “Street Fighter II” and gathered the “Mega Man” games and sold them in collections.

With the “Resident Evil” series, the publisher has opted to revamp the titles from the ground up. Beginning with the excellent original, the company has updated the visuals and design for several chapters.

“Resident Evil 2” (2019) follows the same path but comes with a caveat. This chapter is arguably the best entry in the series, and that sets the bar high for any update. Capcom can’t just update the graphics and tweak the camera, a remake has to substantially improve the experience.

This entry does enough to clear that hurdle. It accomplishes the feat by renewing the focus on scares while also making the game more accessible to modern audiences.

With the upgraded visuals, Capcom R&D Division 1 heightens the scares, making the game more visceral. The team playfully uses shadows and flashlights in dark hallways to build atmosphere and fear. Zombies may break through windows and grab players, or they can fall over a stairway banister. Despite a free camera system, the team manages to hide monsters and maximize the fright.

The other element that raises fear is the presence of Tyrant, which players run across in the Raccoon City Police Department. It’s nearly indestructible and hunts players throughout the campaign. When it enters the room, players should run or die. Capcom does an excellent job of using sound to build the tension as Tyrant wanders the police department. Players can hear its heavy footsteps pounding on floor as the monster looks for the two main characters, Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield.

The two protagonists are backed by two support characters. The mysterious Ada Wong has a bigger role as she helps Leon through the sewers. Meanwhile, Sherry Birkin is a girl who holds a secret and becomes a ward of Claire. Her section escaping an orphanage doesn’t have zombies, but it’s nonetheless one of most terrifying aspects of the game. Expanding the roles of these secondary characters breaks up the gameplay and helps with the flow of the second act in the sewers.

As far as the gameplay goes, it borrows the over-the-shoulder camera made popular in “Resident Evil 4” and combines it with the classic structure. Players have to conserve ammo because it’s scarce, while also managing a limited inventory for all the supplies and items needed to solve puzzles. The saving grace is the series of item boxes scattered in “safe” rooms. That design has been a staple of the series and it evokes a sense of nostalgia and comfort for longtime fans.

To its benefit, the “Resident Evil 2” remake is surprisingly faithful to the original up to a point. The team redid puzzles and modernized many of them. Many require players to examine random knick-knacks while others require careful observation.

What’s notable, though, is how the team handled the Zapping System, which was the innovative gameplay wrinkle that made “Resident Evil 2” (1998) so iconic. Like the original, the remake should be played twice. The first play-through shows the perspective of one protagonist while the second run shows the other, offering a complete picture of the narrative.

The magic of the “Zapping System” is that players had to think ahead. Decisions in one campaign affect the second, so if Leon took a hip pack, it wouldn’t be there for Claire in her campaign. In the “Resident Evil 2” remake, actions in the first run often don’t carry over to the second. If players board up windows as Leon, they’ll still be open when Claire goes through the same hallway. Enemy and some item placements change as well. Unfortunately, the lack of consistency between the two play-throughs breaks the coherence of the game.

On the other hand, the two campaigns have distinct styles. Leon’s adventure has fewer weapons and avoiding Tyrant is easier than expected. Claire’s run is more difficult because she had to deal with multiple weapons and a Tyrant that seemed more adept at using sound to find her. It requires players to add a touch of stealth to how they played.

Although the differences add to the replay value, having the option for a Zapping System like the original would have been great. It would have added to the strategy and enhanced the realism of the remake. It’s a big flaw but not a game-breaker. The “Resident Evil 2” remake still has plenty to offer, giving fans a fuller and deeper experience of survival-horror classic.

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Online: www.residentevil2.com