Remasters, remakes, and reboots are all the rage now, but few manage to meet fan expectations like Resident Evil 2. The recently released reimagining of the 1998 survival horror classic takes the 2D pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles of the original and translates them to a fully 3D over-the-shoulder adventure to subliminal effect. I was nervous that the stark, blood-covered halls of the RPD wouldn't have the same feeling they did when I first met Leon and Claire two decades ago, but in a rare move, Capcom has produced a product that surpasses the original, even if it doesn't supersede it.
The perfection of the Resident Evil 2 remake is in it knowing when to make changes and when to remain faithful to the source material. Leon and Claire both still meet on the outskirts of town, this time in a gas station instead of a diner. The two still end up being separated by a runaway semi, and they still decide to rendezvous at the RPD as the first step in their search for safety and answers.
The Raccoon City Police Department, arguably the most iconic in the original Resident Evil 2, retains its art museum origins, and the halls and rooms you remember are still there, this time lovingly rendered in 3D. However, the game starts introducing surprises right off the bat. While the Main Hall of the RPD will be intimately familiar to anyone who has played the original, you'll notice some changes.
The front desk of the RPD is actually placed near the front doors, and the Goddess Statue is now moved to the rear of the hall to be flanked by two new staircases leading to the second floor. Instead of seeking out a path to the sewers and unlocking the way with chess plugs or stones, you'll be trying to find three medallions to open a passage under the Main Hall statue.
It's in this way that the Resident Evil 2 remake becomes a game that is truly enthralling, both for those who have played the original's four scenarios 20 times apiece and for those who have never picked up a game in the franchise. The RPD is familiar, yes, but items are in different locations, a whole third floor has been added, and areas from the original have been expanded. This extends to the other places in the game too. You might think you know the sewers and the labs like the back of your hand, but this remake is quick to throw you a wink and a nod before throwing you down a completely different path.
The switch to a third-person camera led some fans to believe the Resident Evil 2 remake would be taking a more action-oriented path than the original. However, even though you have much more control over your weapon and camera movement than in the original game, RE2 is still very much a survival horror game. Ammo and healing items are scarce and require careful management if you want to survive.
Zombies return as the most common enemy in the game, but they're much deadlier this time around. They're highly resilient to gunshots, which means killing them can use up a whole clip or more of handgun ammo. However, the new dismemberment system allows you to think more tactically than in the original. Know you're only passing through an area once? Just pop a few rounds in a zombie kneecap, and their legs will buckle and fall off. Now they're stuck crawling and are much easier to juke around.
One of the most startling differences between the original Resident Evil 2 and the remake are the graphics. In 1998 RE2 looked great. The pre-rendered backgrounds gave it the detail that few other games could match at the time. However, while those looked great on my old 20-inch tube TV, their low resolution leaves them looking muddled and blurry at even 720p. Games from the PS1/N64 era that used pre-rendered graphics just aged poorly, unfortunately, and that's one of the factors that makes the Resident Evil 2 remake so vital. It brings the original back to life in a way that has to be seen to be believed.
They say you always remember your favorite games through rose-tinted glasses. With the Resident Evil 2 remake, the gory, horrific creatures and incredible use of light and darkness pair with highly detailed environments to make Leon and Claire's adventure match on-screen with what it looks like in my head. Capcom's dedication to making this a game that fans of the original could love wholeheartedly is absolutely amazing, and the Resident Evil 2 remake is an early contender for game of the year.