Out of all of Resident Evil’s many phases – the old-school, fixed camera angled, tank controlled approach of the original three; the less restrained roaming camera of Code Veronica; the over-the-shoulder third-person action of Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6; and the gruesome first-person of Resident Evil 7 (not counting the series’ many, many spin-offs) – my heart lies in the original three’s oppressive survival horror.
I miss the careful, deliberate framing of scenes, the importance of pre-planning routes and inventory management, the near-instinctual understanding of your surroundings developed by smart, productive backtracking, and the obscure puzzle solving that can make something as mundane as a police station feel like a terrifying gothic castle. Based on my 30 minute demo, the Resident Evil 2 remake – officially titled Resident Evil 2 – strikes an elegant balance between these old-school elements and the more modernized format of recent entries.
And it looks and feels fantastic so far.
So far, Resident Evil 2 feels like a very loving and faithful remake.
My section of the Resident Evil 2 demo was part of Leon’s route, and began just after the rookie cop reaches the Raccoon City police station. The RPD HQ is just as dreary as it is in the original. Dark, narrow corridors wrap tightly around abandoned briefing rooms and wood-paneled offices, all branching out of a spacious main hall with that iconic marble statue standing tall and eerie as ever in the center. In this precinct, antique card-suit-themed keys and engraved bronze medals are as commonplace as key cards. Resident Evil has always had a knack for bringing an ornate grandiosity to the most ordinary places, from the first game’s gothic mansion in the woods to the narrow, winding alleys of Resident Evil 3, which feel so alien in a North American city. That deep understanding of architectural horror and heavy, tense atmosphere is all expressed clearly in what I’ve played of Resident Evil 2 so far. What I saw of the police station map was near-identical to the original’s, which certainly helps. So far, this feels like a very loving and faithful remake.
Puzzles see the most exciting return for me. While Resident Evil 7 did some things well in its bold interpretation of the series, it left me in want of the early games’ near-comedic level of medieval traps, keys, and riddles. I want my Resident Evil games to bury me under weird coins and medallions and crests. I want to flip switches under paintings and rearrange statues and mix chemicals and fill rooms with poison gas when I push the wrong suit of armor. I want to play Moonlight fucking Sonata. Without silly adventure game puzzles nestled in some elegantly designed levels, Resident Evil loses a key part of itself. Resident Evil 2 seems to get that, and that makes me very, very happy. In my short demo, I found myself fiddling with padlocks and portable safes, lining up weird symbols to secure important items, and returning loose number pad keys to access lockers full of ammo. I came across many of the same items from the original Resident Evil 2, namely the Spade Key and the Unicorn Medal. Not everything is an exact one-to-one – which is good, as it keeps things feeling fresh – but for fans of the original, things are feeling pretty familiar around these parts. Item boxes and safe rooms complete with typewriter make a return too, though I had no use for saving in such a short demo.
Resident Evil 2 takes the core of what made the original good and modernizes it in just the right ways.
When you strip away the striking updated graphics – which look great – the most substantial difference is the combat. Tank controls are out in favor of an over-the-shoulder, Resident Evil 4-style hybrid of action and horror. The updated perspective might lose the ability to pull off iconic scenes like the outside-looking-in Licker tease, but it still lends itself to some dynamic and unpredictable action sequences. Zombies burst through windows and doors off-screen and from all directions, forcing me to whip around, frantically trying to land the narrow ray of my flashlight onto potential threats. A combination of sparse ammo, claustrophobic environments, and zombies that take four headshots and about eight body shots to take down keeps the action more methodical and restrained. Each gunshot fired leaves a nasty wound on your undead targets too, which – in addition to being a gloriously gory addition for fans of more gruesome horror – is actually a useful indication of where an enemy’s been hit or damaged. It isn’t all visual either. In one particularly close call, I opted to blast a zombie’s leg off to incapacitate it and put my combat knife to use, saving my rounds for a bigger threat. I sadly didn’t encounter any Lickers in my demo, but that only gives me something to look forward to as we await more gameplay and trailers ahead of its January release date.
If my short demo is any indication of what the rest of the experience has in store, Resident Evil 2 does for Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield’s original adventure in Raccoon City what the 2002 Resident Evil remake did for the first Resident Evil. It takes the core of what made the original good and modernizes it in just the right ways, leaving most of its beloved elements in-tact for old fans and enticing a new generation of players with a sleek new look and updated controls. I absolutely can’t wait to see more.
Chloi Rad is an Editor at IGN. Follow her on Twitter at @_chloi.