Review: Resident Evil 2 HD Remake

Resident Evil 2 HD Review

Humble Beginnings

Resident Evil 2 is an anomaly in my gaming “career“. I had a strange start with the Resident Evil series. I first played the Sega Saturn original when I couldn’t have been much older than 4-5 and distinctly remember deciding that turning the machine off and vacating my room was the only way to stop the first zombie in the mansion’s dining room from munching on my shoulder. After that, I didn’t get a second chance at the genre until a bootleg copy of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis turned up in my Dreamcast (thanks, Dad?) that I was sure had some kind of glitch or DRM that halted my progress — though I probably just sucked at finding a specific key item.

Some time later, I picked up REmake for my Gamecube to finish what I started all those years ago. I was hooked. It was already difficult to catch up with the series at that point, and the only one that slipped me by for any reason other than console exclusivity was Resident Evil 2. It just seemed rare and expensive at the time.

So, depsite my love of the franchise, Resident Evil 2 remake is my first real shot at the game. I did pick up a used copy of the PS1 title a few years back now but never managed to find the time to stick it in the ol’ PS3 for more than an hour or two. Either way, I liked what I saw back then, but Resident Evil 2 remake has more or less confirmed my fears; it’s a great game, but I still think 3 is the worthy successor to the original.

A Remake Like One Other

Resident Evil 2 HD review

Resident Evil 2 takes you down two almost identical paths with two different characters; Claire Redfield (the sister of Chris from the original), and Leon S. Kennedy, who arguably brought the series to the mainstream as the protagonist of Resident Evil 4 later down the line. You get your choice of which of the two character’s campaigns to play first, but since Resident Evil 6, playing Claire’s first is consisdered the canon choice given the slight change of events that plays out depending on this initial option.

It was a fairly revolutionary design decision back in the day, but one that just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny today, sadly. No matter which road you travel first, the events of the game just don’t make a ton of sense. Leon and Claire cross paths numerous times throughout the canon and non-canon runs, but even in the one the franchsie considers gospel at this point, the decisions and actions of one character aren’t always properly reflected in the other.

You’ll face off against certain bosses or come across locked doors and key items that should have been dealt with by the other character much earlier on like they haven’t even been touched. I can understand the idea from a gameplay perspecive, but the lack of a proper sequence of events really damages the potential of what I think is a solid narrative before things get a little too wacky in later games. You may think you’re getting two distincly different campaigns here, but you’re not. You’re still getting plenty of content for your money thanks to some extra game modes and forthcoming free DLC, but the main story isn’t as bountiful as it first looks.

Resident Evil 2 HD review

As for the efforts of the remake itself, there’s a lot to like here, but it falls flat in a few key areas of detail. Raccoon City, the police station, and the rest of the key locations you visit in Resident Evil 2 look nothing short of spectacular. It’s a chloastraphobic game by design, so don’t expect any sweeping vistas or panoramas, but distressed backgrounds, bleeding rays of light seeping through the windows, and character models all scream quality here. The team knew exactly how to translate the original game’s static backgrounds into fully-functional 3D spaces without sacrificing the feeling of dread and despair they brought on in the past. Even music remains a staple of the experience as it ramps up to warn of a specific threat as it inches closer to punching you in the back of the head.

It looks like they’re still struggling a tad with believable female facial expressions, but the progress made on the male characters over 2017’s Resident Evil 7 (which runs on the same engine) is clear. Zombie dismemberment — which may actually be censored in your region — is a welcome touch of detail, but it’s a shame the team didn’t find a way to stop falling zombies from hilariously clipping through moving doors, or bothered to add a few more voice lines for Leon and Claire to react with. Shouting “What the?!” at the 30th zombie you’ve seen is potentially worse than saying nothing at all.

A Franchise Reanimated

Resident Evil 2 HD review

I’m not going to pad this out to a 2000 word essay, so let’s wrap this up now. Resident Evil 2 is a faithful recreation of classic 90s video game, and one I’m incredibly happy to see get the love it deserves. It steps a little too close to feeling like a Resident Evil 1 add-on in terms of areas explored, but it pushes the narrative in a way that kept us all wanting more back then and even now.

It’s a great AAA horror title that can easily be enjoyed by series newcomers without any real knowledge of past titles, but I still think Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is the REmake we really need right now. Raccoon City is in ruins, and it’s a real shame players aren’t able to rescue, sympathize, and mourn over the catastrophic loss of innocent live endured by the decimated city for more than the 30-second walk between the game’s opening sequence and the police station.

The sad groans of the city’s infected and hand-written notes of turmoil scattered throughout the streets leave a longer lasting impression than the notes of Umbrella employees in yet another underground lab, and I can only hope the continued good fortune of the Resident Evil franchise in recent years will fast-track work on a similar RE3 project.

Disclaimer: My copy of Resident Evil 2 HD remake was bought and played through Steam. Capcom, the game’s publisher, did not approach me with review code, nor did I attempt to acquire it in such a way.

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