‘Resident Evil 2’ Review: A 1998 Survival Horror Classic Modernized

By Tanner Mondok

There are three zombies in front of you, arms held out, sights set on your neck and you only have five bullets. The heavy footsteps of Mr. X are getting increasingly louder behind you.

You could decide to run but then they’d always be there in that hallway later on when you realized you missed an item in a room or you might just bump right into Mr. X. You could also try to take them out with your five bullets, but with the pressure mounting and their heads slowly swaying, there’s no guarantee you land those necessary headshots to take them all out.

It’s in these moments that I found myself genuinely terrified while also having a fantastic time planning out my escape or attack plan. I don’t want to waste these bullets but at the same time I need to find these three medallions so I can escape the police station and progress the game’s story.

“Resident Evil 2” represents the survival horror genre at its finest.

Known to be hit or miss, for over 20 years the “Resident Evil” franchise has experienced some high highs with titles such as “Resident Evil 2” (1998) and “Resident Evil 4,” but also experienced some low points with games such as the poorly received Resident Evil 6.

After releasing “Resident Evil 7” in 2017, one of the best games I played that year and a title that received plenty of praise from critics, Capcom seemed to be back on track and I was excited, although nervous, to see what they would put out next.

In 2015, Capcom announced that a “Resident Evil 2” remake was in the works and at E3 last year both a trailer and gameplay footage were met with excitement and praise from fans and eventually went on to win the “Best of Show” award at the 2018 Game Critics Awards.

Immediately after the unveiling, it was obvious that “Resident Evil 2” had a chance to be really special, again.

Raccoon City is being overrun with zombies and rookie cop Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield find themselves having to fight off hordes of zombies from the game’s opening minutes.  

While the game’s two protagonists experience the same overall story, the order in which they experience it, the weapons they receive and other minor details are different. They split at the beginning but bump into each other throughout the course of the game.

So whether you decide to play as Leon or Claire, you’ll still experience basically the same game either way although playing through the game several times is definitely worth it.

Before I get into the game’s details, there will be minor spoilers ahead but no major story related spoilers, even though this is essentially a 20-year-old game.

The first thing I noticed about this game is how fantastic the level design is. This is especially prevalent in the Raccoon Police Station.

Walking through the dark hallways with your flashlight as the only light source, players are met with an overwhelming combination of both fear and a desire to explore what’s around every corner and inside every room.

You never know when a seemingly dead zombie might come back to life or an incredibly annoying licker might be crawling across the ceiling waiting to pounce at any sound it hears, you must swallow the fear and push on. You need to survive.

The game does a great job making players want to explore every inch of the spaces they find themselves in while rewarding them in the process.

If you run through the game with only your objective in mind, you’re going to miss out on storage improvements and highly valuable items such as ammo.

Thoroughly searching through every room and reading every piece of paper results in the game rewarding you with the codes to unlock safes and items you may have missed if you just breezed through the room.

The same goes for backtracking. While going way back to an area, you thought you were done with a half hour ago might seem like a waste of time, there’s a good chance you might find something valuable, especially if a room is colored red on your map meaning there’s still more to discover in that area.

The game effectively elicits real fear in the heart of the player and truly makes you believe that you’re trying to survive.

While the unknown of what might be around a dark corner creates real fear, the game’s design and attention to detail is just as effective.

There was a situation where I was in a sense of panic as three zombies were fast approaching me, I quickly unloaded far too many rounds in hopes I would at least slow them down. I took notice when one of the bullets hit one of them in the hand and I was in awe as I watched the hand slowly separate from the arm, like ripping apart a slice of bread, and then being followed by a steady stream of blood falling to the floor.  

I had the same kind of experience when I downed one of the bizarre plant zombies in the greenhouse section of the NEST lab. Knowing it was bound to get up again, I pulled out my flamethrower and expected it to just quickly succumb to the flames but instead it writhed in pain and screamed as it slowly burned to a black crisp.

Before the game’s release on Jan. 25, Capcom released a demo and players were exposed to one of the more graphic scenes in the game and it was quickly spread all over social media.

What looks to be just a motionless body of a fallen police officer leaning against a wall, Leon approaches the body and places a hand on their head and as he lifts it up a large gash is visible going across the man’s face. Eventually it begins splitting in two as it’s being lifted up so you can see if they’re alive or not.

The game has plenty of moments worthy of being shared online but none more than the ones getting frequently posted courtesy of the absolute terror that is Mr. X, also known as Tyrant, a giant hulk-like bioweapon developed by the Umbrella Corporation.

Mr. X is encountered at random after a certain point in the story and he never disappoints.

You’re frantically trying to finish your objectives as his footsteps can be heard all around you and if you can’t hear them anymore that can be a good thing or a bad thing. He’s either gone or standing right behind the door in front of you.

Whether he’s chasing you or bashing through a door to grab you, the only option is to run because there is no way you’re defeating him. All you can do is slow him down with a couple shots to the head and then hope to find a decent hiding spot.

Despite the game constantly searching for a new way to scare you, there were times where the writing actually contains a lot of charm that made me feel connections to the characters and feel for the people affected by the zombie outbreak.

While playing as Leon, you learn that it was supposed to be his first day on the job as an officer for the Raccoon Police Department.

In one of the rooms in the police station you find the desks of all the officers who work there. On the ceiling located above them are streamers and a “Welcome Leon” sign.

On Leon’s desk is a note from an officer about how he and some other officers decided to play a prank on the new guy.

Two locks are on each side of his desk and with clues from the note, Leon is tasked with trying to unlock his desk to obtain the helpful items inside leading him and the player to think what his first day on the job would have been like if it wasn’t for all of the zombies killing most of his fellow police officers.

With the writing being basically straight out of 1998, it feels like a breath of fresh air. There are certain sequences in the game that feel so bizarre, but I really enjoyed them because they’re writing qualities you just don’t see in modern video games anymore.

One that comes to mind is when Leon and Claire meet up outside the police station with a fence separating them. Behind Leon is a flaming helicopter that just crashed into the station and behind Claire is several zombies slowly making their way towards her. Instead of talking in a panic and expressing their fear of the situation, they instead ask how they’re doing and say how nice it is to see each other as if they just bumped into each other at the mall after years of not being in contact.

At first the game’s story is slow to develop and really all you’re worried about is defeating the zombies in front of you and trying to escape.

After you get through the police station you start to learn about the Umbrella Corporation and their role in the zombie outbreak. The story of how the zombie outbreak came to be is told effectively and at times through creative methods such as emails left on computers or papers found around the various locations.

However, as soon as the story starts to open up, the level design takes a hit once you arrive in the sewers. It’s here where the desire to explore disappears for awhile and is instead taken over by just wanting to get out there.

This was just one of two complaints I have with the game.

While it was disappointing to have the sewers be a low point in the game, it was ultimately redeemed by the unique but also challenging chess piece puzzle and improved once you advance past the sewers.

There were a lot of effective puzzle designs in the game and challenging situations of storage management but the chess piece part was arguably the strongest.

The other part I found to be disappointing was how the boss fights began to feel repetitive until the last one. Each one was basically the same fight. While they were all exciting and challenging, compared to how inventive the rest of the game felt over and over again, fighting the same boss battle several times was certainly disappointing.

Capcom clearly took a lot of aspects from “Resident Evil 7” and applied them into this one such as the combat. Despite 7 being first person and 2 being third person, they actually both play rather similarly and I was happy to discover that.

Just like “Resident Evil 7,” this game feels incredibly polished with zero bugs and a great attention to its mechanics with all aspects working as they should and smoothly.

Ultimately, “Resident Evil 2” does a fantastic job at honoring the original game while also creating its own unique experience at the same time.

This is a game I can recommend to a lot of people. Even if you’ve never played a survival horror game before, I think there’s enough thrilling moments and effective storytelling present here to please anyone.

Whether you’re a fan of the original or even the “Resident Evil” series in general, then you’ll have no problem enjoying this game immensely. It represents everything that “Resident Evil” was always supposed to be while also taking the series to a level of quality I can only hope Capcom can continue to deliver on after two strong releases in a row.