Resident Evil 2 Remake Review: Gameplay Impressions and Speedrunning Tips

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2019

Capcom

The original Resident Evil 2 had the gargantuan task of somehow following up on a genre-changing debut, yet it took the challenge in stride and became one of the most beloved entries in the long-running series.  

Some 20 odd years later, Capcom has revived the classic with the long-awaited Resident Evil 2 Remake. Not only is it bold to attempt a remake these days, but doing so two decades later with a classic while trying to please old-school fans, and implementing modern updates, might classify as more challenging than the original task. 

Yet, after extensive time with Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield under these new conditions in familiar environments, it's safe to say this edition of Resident Evil 2 might be the best video game remake of all time and a blueprint for those to come. 

                    

Graphics and Gameplay

Resident Evil 2 doesn't take long to show players it is one of the greatest graphical feats of gaming to date. 

And it does so via the best looking hamburger to ever appear in a video game, from the way it looks to the way it moves and squishes—not to mention the sounds to go with it. 

Kidding aside and chef hat off, the burger is a serious preview to this game's best-in-class presentation. 

Zombies have never looked this good, and without going into too much detail, neither has gore. And this is a gory affair, though it is hard to not appreciate the realism accompanying it. 

Graphical detail combines with gameplay incredibly well. Shoot an approaching zombie once, and the damage shows on its face as it resets and starts approaching again. Ditto for the second shot and the third—provided the player doesn't miss, because the zombie's balance and trajectory change with each impact. Between the latter two shots, Leon or Claire will react in surprise that the enemy hasn't gone down. And once the zombie falls at the player's feet, your character gives it a swift kick out of frustration. 

It isn't out of the player's control or intrusive, but it's the little things that count. 

The little graphical things is where Capcom flexes with the technology. When Leon runs by a pile of garbage aflame in the street, he recoils from it. There's also the droplets of water from the downpour on his leather jacket that move realistically along with his reaction. 

And the palette and tone it sets are immeasurable. There aren't any cheery visual breathers. Rather, just an onslaught of violence, dark corners and dangerous blind turns in an uber-detailed labyrinth. The only thing offsetting the dread is some of the dialogue and Leon's amateur innocence, which we know from sequels hardens and goes away in a hurry. 

Yet, as good as that all sounds, even the stunning graphics fall behind something else—the sounds.

The sound design is a shining feat for Capcom. Directional noises with the proper pitch to indicate relative closeness is a masterful stroke of an addition a horror game needs.

If a player has headphones on, a simple stroll down a hallway one knows they've already cleared is still a tense affair—and Leon or Claire will comment on it to let the player know, too. At times, the sound alone makes the player feel helpless or akin to a puppet on strings and the atmospheric detail only becomes more stress-inducing when a certain roaming monster is added to the mix. The constant footsteps and their increase in pitch as a monster nears is one of gaming's most tense moments. 

As for the gameplay, Capcom seems to have found the sweet spot between old and new. 

Your inventory shows on screen, which is a stark contrast from the older-feeling inventory system. As opposed to pausing to check and see what a player has available to them in the heat of battle, the grenade or flashbang is right there. Controls for switching things around are intuitive, too. Perhaps the only negative with the whole system is item management. While this has been revamped, it is quite easy to run out of inventory space and find yourself facing tough decisions, as dropped items are gone for good. 

Gunplay follows a similar trajectory. It feels good, if not a little basic, and each shot has a satisfying kick and result—provided the round hits a target. Attempting a melee is a little clunkier, but at that point, being in close enough to swing in the first place means the player is in trouble, anyway. 

Skill and a risk-reward balance play a role as guns are significantly more accurate while the player stands still. One can see why this might cause some tension when a flesh-eating zombie with an eyeball dangling out of socket is barreling toward the player. Call it a nice modern compromise between the old, tank controls and a modern approach that still feels true to the series' core. 

One thing that has stood the test of time and still excellently weaves the entire package together? Scarcity. It isn't hard to nearly run out of ammo for all weapons. And it's all too easy to forget to retrieve a knife the player stuck in the gut of an attacking zombie while fleeing his friends. Where some games try to nail this dynamic down for tension but come away merely aggravating players, Capcom has done here to make it an enjoyable facet of gameplay that weighs heavily on every decision. 

Since we have gone this far without a mention, it should go without saying, but the revised over-the-shoulder camera update for this classic is buttery smooth and only strengthens immersion. Capcom has had this right for a long time in the series, so it isn't a surprise to see it translate well to this classic.  

       

Story Mode and More

Even general gaming fans likely know the backdrop for this one. 

Leon and Claire find themselves in Raccoon City during the T-virus outbreak, a biological weapon tied to Umbrella Corporation. The city has plunged into chaos with zombies and other monsters at the forefront. Leon is the rookie cop, and Claire is the surprisingly resilient college-aged kid with ties to one of the protagonists from the first game. 

Like elsewhere, Capcom has decided to modernize where it sees fit when it comes to narrative structure. There are only two campaigns this time around as opposed to the original's "A" and "B" storylines for Leon and Claire. These storylines are true to the original—with some modernizations. Claire's relationship with Sherry is more fleshed out than before and gave off a The Last of Us vibe, which is a great development. Dialogue and outright character design alterations are welcome changes, too. 

The flow of this remake might be a bit different, but from a narrative sense, it is a mark in the plus column to simply have two different campaigns to choose from each time a player starts the game. While some of the story beats and results won't shock longtime fans, those same fans also know one playthrough isn't enough. Varying difficulty settings and bonuses await those willing to dive back into the experience. 

Raccoon City Police Department is a living, breathing character all on its lonesome, too. One set of notes within the game explains it used to serve another function before becoming a base for the police, which explains some of its oddities. It's a maze players have to figure out and memorize. They have to pick their battles, and if done poorly, getting cornered by multiple enemies leaves no escape.

The department would be a beautiful thing to explore, even with the smatterings of gore everywhere, were it not for the player constantly being the one hunted by zombies who can now open doors and even inhabit the main lobby, where a save station doesn't mean safety. 

Other interesting marriages between old and new are worth a mention—both in the good and bad column. 

For those who played the original, well, good luck trying to breeze through this without jumping out of a chair. Capcom clearly didn't want longtime fans to know where each scare was going to come from because some of the most well-known scenes are gone (sometimes with a teaser acknowledging it). In their place are a new round of scares in different areas and forms of execution. 

From a big-picture standpoint, progressing through the Raccoon City Police Department and its surroundings in a Metroid-esque way combined with the power of modern graphics and functionally is exciting for not only the future of the franchise, but also other notable game series—whether they be remakes of old favorites or completely new iterations. If this is what Capcom is capable of, it will need to get on remakes of other games in the series ASAP.

And for other storied franchises, the bar has now been set. 

        

Speedrunning Tips

Resident Evil 2 was a speedrunning hit as soon as it arrived on store shelves. 

The maze-like environment with puzzles to solve and enemies to move past in one fashion or another made it an obvious speedrunning candidate. Any percent, low percent, normal and hard speedruns were all categories, and it spanned 11 different systems over the course of its life.

Rest assured the remake will shove into the same space and grip speedrunners for a long time. 

Don't believe it? Speedrunners were already dissecting the fastest way to blow through the 30-minute demo—and did so in under three minutes: 

But one doesn't just get the any-percent record of about 48 minutes on PC (Leon A) by giving it a random whirl, nor will one hit comparable speeds in the full-length game to that demo speedrun. 

Notice in the demo speedrun the player was shooting at the wall to decrease time by inching closer to the zombie and dodging it, if not also trying to fool the adaptive difficulty of the game by missing shots. Also, at the 58-second mark, he moves into a filing cabinet to avoid two zombies in close range. Accuracy and memorization of map layout and enemies also play a key role. 

Those things will all apply to the full game, though the skill level needed to pull them off will vary. It sounds counterintuitive, but like in the original, it's possible to manipulate the zombies and dodge them in close range. Aiming for the right spot of the head could result in a critical hit and insta-down a zombie, too, though either way a speedrunner can take advantage of the stumble created by the shot to slip past. 

Item management will play a big role in a possible solid speedrunning score, too. Outright ignoring picking up certain weapons and items (especially those locked behind puzzles or requiring the player to backtrack) will shave off time. One of the staples of older Resident Evil runs was ignoring interacting with health items because...it's a speedrun that shouldn't have the player taking a ton of damage anyway, right? Ditto for weapon upgrades in most cases. 

Other speedrunning staples apply, as spamming through cutscenes is critical. Mastering the inventory system without having to stop and look at what is actually happening is key. Along these same lines, map memorization, enemy habits and boss weak points all need to be memorized and practiced. 

If this all sounds like it will take an incredibly long time to master over countless playthroughs and trial and error, well, it will. But that journey is made for outlets like Twitch these days, as watching a pro nail it down into that one perfect run can at times be just as appealing as playing the game itself. 

       

Conclusion

This remake doesn't do anything terribly new in the innovation department. But it arguably does something more important: It perfects the balance necessary to pull off a quality remake that can live up to the high standards of the original while also pleasing gamers accustomed to current standards. 

It's no easy feat, especially when taking the time to simply look at the original and the remake side by side. 

Somehow, Capcom found a way to translate the pixelated third-person affair into a monster of a game fit with a barrage of best-in-class sensory overload and unlimited replayability. The puzzles are fun, getting to know the police station is a treat and the consistent threat of being the hunted, not the hunter, creates what is easily one of the year's best experiences.

Add in adaptive difficulty, modernized mechanics and speedrunning appeal, and newcomers won't have a problem diving into the game. Keep in mind this a straightforward experience brought to modern times but missing the usual suspects of the industry such as DLCs, microtransactions and games-as-service additions. 

Taken as a whole, the Resident Evil 2 remake deserves just as much acclaim as the original as it takes a seat as the best game in the series. 

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