Resident Evil 2 is Back

Are you ready to return to Raccoon City?

Fans of Capcom’s seminal Resident Evil series have been clamouring for a remake for years. The original game — which is also probably the most-beloved — has had plenty of love and attention from Capcom over the years; you can buy “REmake” on the PS4 right now, and it looks great on a modern HDTV.

But what of Resident Evil 2?

It’s worth pausing for a moment to remember just how significant Resident Evil 2 was when it first launched back in 1998. The first game was obviously a massive success (and at the time I remember it feeling like a next-generation experience), but the sequel did a few important things. For one, it opened up the world — we were now able to explore at least part of Raccoon City, focused primarily around the Raccoon City Police Station and surrounds. For the first time, we left the gloomy Spencer Mansion, and we could really get a sense of how devastating the T-Virus had been for the city itself. Resident Evil 2 was a triumph of environmental storytelling, too; I remember that the experience of simply exploring the police station was incredibly eerie, because you could see where people had thrown up hasty barricades at the last minute, where they had blocked doors, and where their defenses had ultimately failed. It’s also worth pointing out that Resident Evil 2 cemented the series’ unique absurdity, especially with its puzzles — let’s just say, no police station in the world is quite like the one in Raccoon City (what police station do you know of where the security system involves a complex interplay between statues and precious gems?)

Resident Evil 2 also marked the directorial debut of game designer Hideki Kamiya. His experience with the game was a baptism of fire (the original version of his project was cancelled — there were strong creative differences between series’ creator Shinji Mikami and Kamiya). Kamiya himself now says that his youthful exhuberance — combined with a lack of experience — led to the first project being canned, with Kamiya and his team starting all over again to produce what would ultimately become the Resident Evil 2 we all know and love. Of course, Kamiya himself has gone on to become a legendary game director in his own right, having created Devil May Cry and then helmed both Viewtiful Joe and Okami during his time at Clover Studio.

That’s obviously the very brief version of Resident Evil 2’s history — obviously, it has a storied past, and it has well and truly earned its revered place in the hearts of survival horror fans.

For all these reasons, it’s no surprise that people were blown away by the reveal of Resident Evil 2 at Sony’s E3 press briefing. Best of all, what we saw isn’t a mere “remaster” — there are no static 2D backdrops here! No, what we saw was something far more elaborate, sinister, deeply considered.

Raccoon City Police Department is looking very different.

So, what’s different here?

Well, everything, it seems, at least from the announcement trailer above. Yes, Leon and Claire are still there and presumably we’ll be able to play through the game with each character and see the events unfold from their different points of view. But it looks like this remake isn’t attempting to do a by-the-numbers re-telling of the original Resident Evil 2 story. At the very least, it looks like we’ll get a lot of completely different sequences and events — and, unless I missed something (which is very possible) — I didn’t see any signs of Ada Wong. Will she play a role in this remake? If she doesn’t, that would definitely signal a huge plot change, as she was pretty central to the original game.

From a gameplay perspective, it looks like Capcom is implementing its learnings from all of the previous Resident Evil titles. For example, the camera perspective and movement look very close to Resident Evil 4. Several parts of the police station look like they don’t have power connected, too, and so the use of the flashlight is vital — these segments feel a bit closer to Resident Evil 7, in the sense that you’re in an almost completely pitch black environment relying on a small cone of light to navigate.

There are some fascinating and wonderful little touches, too. In one video I saw, Leon accesses a desktop PC in the reception area. On it, he can access security cameras dotted around the building and he can also bring up a police station map. Like the original game, the police station appears to consist of a large lobby with east and west wings — however, if you pause the video and look more closely, the map appears to be quite different than the original game. There are more rooms and corridors; it looks like a more complex setup.

By the way, here is a a 21 minute gameplay video courtesy of IGN:

It looks like some of the classic Resident Evil puzzles return (there are plenty of fuses and locked doors), but at least from the tiny glimpse we’ve seen, these do seem a little more grounded in reality than the original game.

There are also a ton of great little scripted moments. Everything from Leon commenting on the environment around him, to an absolutely horrific moment when a police officer calls for help from outside the building — Leon pulls up a large metal security door and tries to drag him into the police station; zombies eat him alive as Leon tries to pull him trough the gap, resulting in only his torso making it through. Ouch.

The zombies themselves have never been so terrifying, too. Let’s start with the fact that when they get close to you — close enough for a nibble — the camera zooms right in over Leon’s shoulder and shows the struggle close-up. Because the zombies are so detailed (even to the point where some of them have realistic hair that moves around), each one almost seems like mini-boss. As well, there’s something about their inertia that is creepy. They have this sense of real weight and movement to them, which gives them a feeling of genuine presence within the world. Take a look at the videos to see what I mean.

As GameSpot said, this game is gross. I mean, it’s sort of generally gross, but there’s a specific kind of grossness around shooting the zombies. I could be mistaken here, but it looks like Capcom has gone to a whole new level in terms of visually depicting damage on zombies. Sure, in past games, it was novel that you could hit a zombie’s arms, legs, torso or head and damage would be displayed on those specific body parts (if you damaged a leg severely enough in Resident Evil 4 onwards, that would actually cause the zombie to fall down, which was very cool). But in this remake of Resident Evil 2, it looks like specific shots to the face are individually displayed. I’ve noticed that the game specifically understands when you shoot a zombie in the cheek, or the forehead, or directly front-on in the face; blood spurts out, flesh breaks away, and the zombie’s face shows highly precise damage from these hits. It’s a small, thoroughly disgusting detail…but it’s so cool.

There are some really wonderful nods to the original game littered throughout; small things that made me smile. For example, when you pick up items in the world, the way the pop up and drop into an inventory slot feels like a snappier version of the old-school inventory management screens. Even the sound effects are very similar. And when you take damage from an enemy, your health meter will briefly appear on the screen and then fade away again. Presumably, you can get some indication about your health through your character’s visible damage and their movement, although I didn’t see indications of that in any of the E3 footage so far.

There are a ton of other things to mention here — everything from the music (which feels like it perfectly captures the atmosphere of the original while still being fresh and new), to the way the rest of the UI and menus are a strange combination of the old and the new.

It really feels like Capcom are putting enormous effort into this remake of Resident Evil 2. It’s the ultimate love letter to Resident Evil fans, while also perhaps being a brilliant game for a slightly younger crowd who might have played Resident Evil 7 but never played the early PlayStation games and don’t know what all the fuss was about.

I can’t wait to play Resident Evil 2 when it launches on January 25h, 2019 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.