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November 2018

Resident Evil 2

Platform(s): GameCube, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: Jan. 25, 2019


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Resident Evil 2'

by Thomas Wilde on June 20, 2018 @ 2:15 a.m. PDT

Resident Evil 2 begins as Raccoon City continues to endure an onslaught of terror and fear as a mysterious, flesh-eating virus spreads into the town that turns everyone it infects into zombies.

Pre-order Resident Evil 2

The original Resident Evil, in 1996, was famously more of a tech demo than anything else. It still managed to find an audience, though, so a sequel was moved into production, which was a big improvement on it in every way. In 1998, Resident Evil 2 famously went through a near-total reinvention when its original version was about 80% done, but the final product ended up as one of the most well-regarded games on the PlayStation to this day.

In 2001, many of the original team remade the first Resident Evil for the GameCube, replacing its poorly aged graphics, notoriously cheesy voice acting, and first-gen level design with a more layered, atmospheric experience that, thanks to the use of pre-rendered backgrounds, has aged remarkably well. When Capcom rereleased that "REmake" a few years ago as Resident Evil HD, with only slight updates such as a modernized control scheme, it sold remarkably well, especially for a 14-year-old reissue of a remake of a 19-year-old game.

People have been asking about a similar remake/update of Resident Evil 2 ever since, and a couple of years ago, Capcom mentioned it was about to start work on one. It had been radio silence since then, until a short trailer for Resident Evil 2 showed up during Sony's pre-E3 2018 briefing the day before the show started.

A few days later, I got the chance to play it. I should say at the outset that I'm an easy mark for survival horror in general, and Resident Evil 2 is one of the games I've actually sat down and learned well enough to speed run. I am, by no means, an unbiased observer.

On the other hand, that also makes me, in a weird way, the remake's target audience. Much like the original RE's remake, there's a lot in the RE2 remake that's there specifically to mess with people like me. One room is a near-perfect HD reimagining of an infamous area from the original game; others have been vastly expanded or are brand-new. One area is the site of a famous ambush from the original version, but is now empty; it's full of the proof of recent violence, but no actual violence occurs, which sets you on edge from the start. This is by no means a subtle game, but as with the previous remake, it knows how to let its atmosphere do most of the work for it.

The plot's been changed to some degree. The original RE2 has a somewhat notorious problem with its own story, since several games came out afterward that retroactively bolted a lot on to the series's timeline, but the remake is working to streamline that. The broad strokes are still here — rookie cop Leon Kennedy and college student Claire Redfield come to Raccoon City, a Midwestern American town, in September of 1998, to discover that it's the site of a zombie outbreak and nearly everyone else is dead — but some work has been done to make it match more closely with what ended up coming afterward. Leon mentions at one point during the demo that he was warned to stay away from Raccoon City rather than report in for his first day, but eventually broke down and made the drive anyway. This throwaway line manages to close a plot hole — how did both Leon and Claire manage to get into Raccoon without hearing about a zombie outbreak in the city that had been going on for most of a week beforehand? — that just turned 20 years old.

The new Raccoon City Police Department is a much bigger and more thoroughly lived-in environment, showing the damage and debris from several days under siege by the undead. The power's sporadic, many rooms are bloody or damaged or half-covered with improvised barricades, and you can tell how desperate things have gotten by the time you show up. A lot of the building is dark, forcing you to rely on a flashlight to get around, and there's a mechanic that involves finding boards with which to reinforce broken windows. This was part of the original Resident Evil 2, but was a blink-and-you-miss-it "puzzle" that didn't actually accomplish much, especially once you knew your way around the police station. Now it's something of a big deal.

Even the puzzles, a mainstay of the series, mostly make more sense now; instead of a bunch of out-of-place statues that require emblems or medals or fist-sized gems, you're mostly fixing broken locks or figuring out combinations. There's still a big emblem hunt that forms your first real objective, but it feels more like a shout-out to the original version than anything else.

The most important thing, however, is that Resident Evil 2 is going out of its way to make individual zombies scary. The newly designed Raccoon City Police Department, as shown in a behind-the-shoulder third-person view like Resident Evil 4, is full of narrow corners, cramped rooms, and ambush points, perfect for a zombie to pop up out of nowhere or from the shadows, and once they're in your face, they're difficult to get away from. Even in the original game, a single zombie was basically a wall that you had to pay six to eight bullets to get past; now, each one is a threat, capable of shrugging off several clean shots to the head, and then it gets back up anyway the moment your back is turned.

Your combat knife can also be used as a personal defense item, saving you from a single zombie grab, but that costs you the knife, forcing you to leave it behind or kill the zombie to get it back. The knife also has durability, so eventually, it's going to break. They've upgraded the systems so you always have access to the knife at the touch of a button once you receive it, so you can keep it ready at any time instead of having to specifically equip it like you did in the original RE2, but you also can't be cavalier about using it. I was doing the old finish-them-with-the-knife trick to save ammo and never saw the knife get close to breaking, but for all I know, that's just the demo.

Some real work's been put into the gore effects, as zombies can lose limbs, get chunks of their head shot away, and get splattered across walls. The dead cops throughout the building have been torn to shreds, dismembered, impaled, and clawed apart, and at one point, you try to help a guy escape from underneath a security shutter and only end up with most of his top half. This may in fact be the single goriest Resident Evil game to date, and that's saying quite a bit.

I was supposed to get half an hour with the game at E3, and ended up playing 45 minutes. I only stopped because I hit a point in the story that marked the end of the demo. Right now, all I've seen is a taste of the first, second, and new third floor of the RPD, as well as a meet-up with the famously doomed cop from the first game, Marvin Branagh, who's been given a lot more to do this time around. I'm a little salty that the demo ended right as Claire showed up, since she's my favorite character, but you can't have everything.

What we got at E3 was a strong, eye-catching vertical slice of the game, set entirely within the Raccoon City Police Department, which hosted the first two-thirds of so of the original Resident Evil 2. We know from the debut trailer that we can expect much of the cast to return, such as Sherry Birkin and Ada Wong, but rumors persist right now that the entirety of the remake will be set in the RPD, and as of right now, it looks like it might be a big enough building to make that work.

Long story short, I really want to play more of the game now. The E3 demo feels like it ends right when things are getting interesting, when you've got some of the cast established, your arsenal's getting fleshed out, and the stakes are beginning to rise. There was a lot riding on the Resident Evil 2 remake, since most of the all-star cast of developers that made the original are still in the business but aren't at Capcom anymore, but this is a faithful half-reinvention of RE2 that manages to be scary without feeling artificially restrictive. Take what I have to say with a grain of salt, of course, because I'm really favorably disposed toward this sort of thing from jump street (ask me about the Outbreak shout-out in the west office! It's there!), but Resident Evil 2 was probably the best zombie game at E3 this year, and it had a lot of competition.

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