It's been over 20 years since Resident Evil 2 came out on the first PlayStation, and Capcom is back with a Resident Evil 2 remake running on the same RE Engine that powered last year's critically-acclaimed Resident Evil 7. And if Resident Evil 7 was a return to form for the series with a fresh perspective, the Resident Evil 2 remake feels like the future of the series from a familiar perspective.
Resident Evil 2 stars rookie Raccoon City Police officer Leon S. Kennedy during the worst first day on a job he could ask for. The game also stars Claire Redfield, Chris Redfield's younger sister and all around badass. But my demo only let me play Leon's portion of the game, which takes place in the world's most baroque police station. If only every metropolitan police station came equipped with grand libraries, classical marble statues, and opulent foyers.
Until now we've only seen the RE Engine (Reach for the Moon Engine, not Resident Evil Engine FYI) used in Resident Evil 7. With the Resident Evil 2 remake we finally see what a third-person Resident Evil game looks like running on the engine, and it is sublime. The fluidity and naturalism of Resident Evil 7 are back, but the dynamism of a third-person perspective makes the entire experience even richer and scarier.
One of my favorite things about Resident Evil 7 was how natural it felt. Opening doors, using weapons, examining objects, and interacting with the world in general had a level of detail and realism that also made it perfect for more immersive experiences like VR. That level of detail is back in the Resident Evil 2 remake, and manifests in some really cool ways. It blends all sorts of actions like exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat so seamlessly that it's hard to imagine there was once a time Resident Evil games loaded the next room by cutting to a shot of a door opening.
Doors open as they do in Resident Evil 7, with Leon being able to slightly peek in before opening a door fully to venture in. Solving puzzles or examining objects zooms the camera in so that you can interact with them more directly. The subtle shift makes Leon's action continuous and the same as yours.
The Resident Evil 2 remake ditches the original's fixed camera perspective for a more modern, over-the-shoulder third-person perspective. This invites comparisons to Resident Evils 4 through 6, but the remake iterates on the action from those games so completely that Resident Evil 4 is to the Resident Evil 2 remake as the original Resident Evil 2 was to Resident Evil 4.
The shooting feels smooth, but the game maintains an overall slower pace. Limited ammo and a restricted inventory means that bullet conservation is a necessary skill for survival. And it really does feel like a struggle for survival. Zombies won't die after being put down once and will rise again after about a minute, but it's up to you if you're willing to waste those extra bullets to double-tap a zombie or if you just want to get the hell out of dodge. But if you leave too many zombies unattended in a certain area they can mob up against you. It's when you face four zombies in a group at once that the game feels closest to an action game, but overall the game maintains an atmosphere of dread and fear.
The Resident Evil 2 remake's strength also stems from the fact that it's such an evolved version of the original Resident Evil 2, that when you encounter something familiar but so modernized, it's literally breathtaking.
For instance, one zombie encounter in the original Resident Evil 2 where Leon shoots off a few bullets and crumples a zombie is much more different when you're playing the remake, shooting at the same zombie in the same hallway. Instead of crumpling a mess of polygons now, you're chipping away at the flesh of a fully realized zombie. Each bullet tears away a little bit more of its pallid skin until you start seeing cartilage and sinew. It's gnarly stuff and you can feel the memory of the original Resident Evil 2 being rewritten, like a new entry on the typewriter.