Resident Evil 2 review: Return to Raccoon City

This slick, action-packed remake of the survival horror classic is Capcom at its finest, but is it worth making a trip back to the zombie-ridden R.P.D.? Our review.

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For the most part, you should never remake a classic. It’s been gotten wrong too many times in the past to count, whether we’re talking movies, songs, video games, or other forms of media. There’s a reason why it’s a classic, after all – and messing with what made it that way in the first place is often a bad idea.

However, Capcom has proven in the past with 2002’s GameCube Resident Evil remake that, under the right circumstances, the new product could possibly surpass the original. It’s not often this happens, and it’s hardly ever fair that the new version could ever replace what came before it, but it can get pretty damn close. That’s the case with Resident Evil 2, Capcom’s latest stab at revitalizing the long-running survival horror series. Instead of taking the existing game and slapping a fresh coat of paint on it for a quick buck, Capcom took its time to create something new, different, and sublime while aiming to preserve the greatness of the past.

Resident Evil 2 is one of the best games the series has ever seen, and should be held in as high regard as the original PlayStation classic, in fact. Here’s why.

First day on the job

The game has been transformed entirely from the ground up, though it still retains important narrative cues from the original. Leon S. Kennedy is on the way to his first shift as a member of the Raccoon City police force, but upon arriving at the R.P.D., he very quickly realizes that something's amiss. On the flip side, college student Claire Redfield is searching for her S.T.A.R.S operative brother Chris Redfield. Upon meeting in Raccoon City, the two attempt to team up, to combat the zombie threat, but are immediately divided, setting the stage for the dual campaign you can play through one after the other.

This full-on reboot has shifted from fixed camera angles and tank controls to a polished, more fluid action game that's smooth like butter. Leon and Claire move slowly and methodically through labyrinthine, nearly claustrophobic environments, with some of the best handling the series has seen since Resident Evil 7. The action-oriented over-the-shoulder play is tweaked to perfection here, swapping in third-person shooter methodology that instills gut-wrenching horror in every step you take.

The atmosphere is unbelievable, as is the tension that permeates every inch of the game. This is Resident Evil, distilled to its finest form, and you’ll want to drink every single bit of it up. It’s lush, it’s visceral, it’s morbid. It’s the culmination of what the series always has been and could be, and then some.

With the darkness washing over everything and your flashlight acting as the only beacon in a world rife with bloodthirsty zombies, you feel the chill of this new vision of Resident Evil right away. Moans and blood-curdling shrieks can cut through the silence at any moment. One wrong move, and the deteriorating corpse at your feet may spring up to greet you. You can unload an entire clip in it, sure, but it may still keep coming for you.

That’s why it’s such a boon that you can now blow limbs off to cleave through a zombie’s leg or ankle and slow them down, or give them a shotgun blast to the face that, for the first time in recent Resident Evil history, actually looks like you hit them at close-range with a powerful weapon. We’re not talking chunks flying everywhere, but believable model destruction that could very well give you nightmares if you’re not used to sinewy-faced shamblers reaching out for you in the dark. It’s a beautiful thing, seeing a horror franchise embrace everything that makes it terrifying in the first place, and this was one of the game’s biggest highlights for me.

Yes, the zombies' gore factor this time around has been ratcheted up to 100, and the game features, quite frankly, the best blood, entrails, and disfigured corpses I've ever seen in a game, even from those that purport to be "horrific" and "disturbing." It’s fun to just sit back and pump the zombies full of lead to see what you can do to them as they’re lying there because it’s so ridiculously detailed. There are also encounters, such as with the always painful-looking William Birkin, that really drive home how much work was put into making every inch of this game look as detailed as possible. Mmm, guts.

Of course, we can't forget about the Tyrant, also lovingly referred to as Mr X. The persistent boss character's threatening presence, stature, and demeanor are even creepier than the first time we made his acquaintance, and actively attempting to avoid him is nerve-wracking in the best possible way. Somehow, he's even more imposing than ever before. Perhaps it's that hat, or that slow, sure gait. He knows he can crush you like a tin can, and he wants to. Whatever it is, it's a signal to get your butt moving and get gone before you're pulverized.

Thankfully, his appearances aren’t random, and he isn’t a consistent threat throughout the entire game, but when he’s out and about, you need to hightail it out of there to somewhere he’s not, unless you want to lose quite a bit of game progress. He’s always been one of the most intriguing parts of Resident Evil 2 by far, and the terror he strikes in the hearts of players is only magnified here. He adds an incredible amount of tension to the game, which makes it even more of a pleasure to play through.

Most of the threats you’ll face are zombies and other variations thereof, of course. Some classic enemies are nowhere to be found, however, such as spiders and crows, which may bug series purists. In their stead are a spread of interesting new enemies that'll have you shaking, though, so it's no huge loss. It's still something to keep in mind if you're looking for those big fuzzy arachnids and wondering how nasty they look in HD.

For those looking for more cerebral action, fear not – it's not been turned into a third-person shooter by any means, though you'll have your fair share of zombie slaying to deal with. There's a wide variety of puzzles to contend with, some similar in scope to the original Resident Evil 2's, and a selection of others that are completely new. You won't be able to rely on old solutions (or old guides) here, and may find yourself stumbling until you figure things out, but that's part of the fun. Being forced to figure out which key goes where and if item X needs to be used for area Y has always been an integral part of the series, and that's still here in full force.

So nice, you’ll do it twice

Just because you’ve finished one campaign, that doesn’t mean you’re completely finished. It doesn’t matter who you start with. Go back and do it again with the other character for your next playthrough, otherwise you’re not even done. Both Leon and Claire's campaigns feature a wealth of completely different scenarios that are integral to experiencing the whole of Resident Evil 2. While you’ll explore a modicum of the same areas and complete similar objectives, a good stretch of each campaign is totally different. For instance, there are entire blocks of time you'll spend with or as different characters, such as Ada Wong with Leon and Sherry Birkin with Claire.

Ada is on her way to catch up with the enigmatic Annette Birkin during her portion of Leon’s campaign, utilizing her EMF visualizer and pistol to get past the obstacles in her way. She can hold her own, of course, but you’ll have to be smart about when and where to use the EMF tool so you can progress to the next area. Sherry is a stealth-oriented character, with no way to defend herself beyond flitting behind cabinets and desks to avoid being slaughtered by Chief Irons. You’ll only switch off to these “partner” characters with extended one-time scenarios, so it’s not a tag-team affair. 

Originally, you took control of both characters a few times, so the campaigns have been condensed a bit to streamline the switch-offs. While Ada’s action-packed segments are entertaining of course, it’s Sherry’s section that really caught my attention, as it takes place in an entirely new area: the orphanage. Police chief Brian Irons is after the young girl, and he’s up to no good, for reasons I can’t spoil here. He takes Sherry to the orphanage, where she’s dead set on getting out and getting back to Claire.

There are a variety of disturbing sights and sounds found there, too. In one area, he has Raccoon City’s Mayor Warren’s daughter spread out on a table with the intent to stuff her, calling back to his profession as a taxidermist in the past. The scene has chilling implications as you wonder what Irons was up to before the young girl was tied to the table. Sherry has to hide from Irons in a section not unlike something you’d see in games like Outlast, where you’re being chased by an unbeatable enemy that’ll send you hurtling toward an instant Game Over if you’re spotted. It was an excellent stealth section that really communicated what a piece of work Irons was, and elevated Sherry’s character for me, personally.

You’ll also come across quite a few surprises in terms of boss encounters and scenes that definitely weren’t in the original game that I won’t spoil here, but suffice it to say, you’ll be left with your jaw hanging open. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t take the opportunity to flesh out or expand on some of the more ambiguous parts of the Resident Evil lore, which I would have liked to see, but given that it does deliver with new content all its own, that’s not a huge issue.

Made in heaven

Beyond its main components, everything about Resident Evil 2 is an absolute joy. From the updated character models to the voice acting and everything in between, you can tell this was indeed a labor of love pieced together painstakingly in a way that Capcom knew would appeal to even the most hardcore fans.

It's a small touch, but I appreciated the fact that both Leon and Claire would occasionally utter phrases like "Oh, what the f*ck?" and other incredulous exclamations while traipsing around areas positively riddled with zombies. It’s not often you hear these organic sound bytes in games, as most protagonists wade calmly through hordes of monsters and enemies, usually stopping to comment on the situation when they receive a call or something like that. Leon and Claire love to talk about what’s going on around them, unprompted, which will always get a giggle (or equally horrified line) out of you.

Then there’s the extra content aside from the game. When you finish the game, you'll unlock The 4th Survivor, a brief side story featuring series mainstay Hunk. Complete this mission and you'll be rewarded with the Tofu Survivor mode, which lets you take on The 4th Survivor once more as the adorable, gelatinous blob of bean curd. There are other surprises that come out of Tofu Survivor, but you'll have to play to find out what they are.

Beyond conquering both Leon and Claire's paths and improving your rank with each run-through, there's a series of fun in-game "achievements" you can unlock that grant concept art, character models, and other goodies. There’s a series of Weekly Challenges that are set to come to the game soon, but I couldn’t access them during my review period as they weren’t yet available. Selecting the option went to the Resident Evil website, as the option was linked to an address that obviously wasn’t live at the time. It’ll be interesting to see what these bring to the table and what sort of rewards they offer as well.

For those wondering, there are no microtransactions whatsoever, nothing you have to pay extra to enjoy, and nothing you can’t unlock with a little bit of effort. Leon and Claire’s campaigns can be completed in about 7 to 10 hours total, but you can get through them both a lot quicker than that. For my S-rank playthrough of Leon’s campaign, it only took under four hours, and you can shave plenty of time off from there.

End of the road

Don't labor under the delusion that, if you played the original Resident Evil 2, that you should skip this one for some reason. There’s no excuse of “I’ve already played the original, so I don’t need to grab this one.” You couldn’t be more wrong if that’s your line of thinking. From top to bottom, this is already an early contender for Game of the Year 2019, and one of the greatest reasons ever to be a survival horror fan. This incarnation of Resident Evil is nearly like playing a wholly different game, and in fact stands on its own as an excellent analogue to one of the greatest survival horror games of all time. Whether you're a Resident Evil fan or you're looking to delve into the terrifying world of horror gaming, you owe it to yourself to make this iteration of Resident Evil a day one purchase.


This review is based on a PlayStation 4 code provided by the game’s publisher. Resident Evil 2 will be available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on January 25, 2019.

Senior Editor

Fueled by horror, rainbow-sugar-pixel-rushes, and video games, Brittany is a Senior Editor at Shacknews who thrives on surrealism and ultraviolence. Follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake and check out her portfolio for more. Like a fabulous shooter once said, get psyched!

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Pros
  • Satisfying dual-campaign narrative with heart-pounding action for both characters.
  • Tight controls and visceral action
  • Excellent visuals with decadently gory zombies and fantastic character models.
  • High replay value with The 4th Survivor, Tofu Survivor, and unlocks available.
Cons
  • No further development of series lore.
  • Some fans will be disappointed by missing enemy types.
From The Chatty
  • reply
    January 22, 2019 8:00 AM

    Brittany Vincent posted a new article, Resident Evil 2 review: Return to Raccoon City

    • reply
      January 22, 2019 8:43 AM

      Great review, Brittany. Looking forward to playing this!

    • reply
      January 22, 2019 8:47 AM

      Nicely written, can't wait till Friday!

    • reply
      January 22, 2019 8:54 AM

      Give it to me now!

    • reply
      January 22, 2019 8:57 AM

      Demos and reviews prior to a game release....what is this, the 90s? And then a positive review that makes me want to play the game? I just don't know how to handle all of this pro-consumer action.

      Is there any kind of new game+ or such for the main campaign after finishing? That play time is a bit shorter than I'd hoped, though certainly not awful but I guess I was hoping for ~RE4 length.

      • reply
        January 22, 2019 9:12 AM

        The first 2 RE games weren't particularly long. I figured it wouldn't be like RE4. :(

      • reply
        January 22, 2019 9:27 AM

        I mentioned this in the review, but you get The 4th Survivor after completing the game and then Tofu Survivor after finishing that. Obviously you finish Leon or Claire first and get their A/B scenarios after that, but no New Game+ in a technical sense. There is a new DLC package coming at some point (I covered today on Shacknews) which appears to be adding a randomizer for free, so that's good news. There will also be weekly challenges, but we don't know what they'll entail yet.

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          January 22, 2019 10:33 AM

          Interesting, that ghost dlc (which I did read about in your other post) almost sounds like it makes a rogue-lite mode. Either way, it seems like there will be plenty to do after the main game as excuses to enjoy the engine. Good stuff.

    • rms
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      January 22, 2019 10:58 AM

      Yay! A good read, I still plan on finishing the 'original remake' before getting this one

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      January 22, 2019 3:11 PM

      Great review, but does it need a spoiler warning?

    • reply
      January 22, 2019 3:19 PM

      Did you get the Deluxe copy, and did you try the original soundtrack if so?

    • reply
      January 25, 2019 3:40 PM

      thanks for the review, I really liked it, great job !