Review: RESIDENT EVIL 2 HD - Playing with Claire

Since I have been able to properly play video games, Resident Evil has been an integral part of my life. For people who are not aware of the series, Resident Evil is the originator of the “survival horror” moniker. The original game released back in March 1996, originally told the tale of the Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical company that had covertly developed a deadly virus, the T-virus, that was accidentally released in the small town of Raccoon City. The S.T.A.R.S team, a band of covert ops working out of the local RPD station, went to investigate the disturbances on the outskirts of the city. Upon arriving, they are subsequently chased toward a desolate mansion, where they slowly discover Umbrella’s deadly agenda and aim to stop them before it’s too late. Ever since getting my grubby little hands on the original game on the Playstation back in ‘96, I have been a staunch advocate of the series through its many sequels, spinoffs, remakes and re-releases. I have collected almost every game release that the series has had, in addition to various strategy guides, novels, toys and collectibles. Hell, I even have a shelf in my computer room dedicated solely to Resident Evil merchandise. However, with the release of the highly anticipated Resident Evil 5 in 2009 and the utterly miserable Resident Evil 6 in 2012, the series had started to steer more toward an action-centric, Michael Bay-like direction, moving away from the true horror roots the games had been known for. Recently, and thankfully, the series has begun to take back the scares. In August of 2015, Capcom announced that they were going to remake Resident Evil 2 for a modern audience. While I was excited at the idea of a remake of part 2, considering their remake of the original on the GameCube in 2002 is my favorite game in the series, they werethere was skepticism that it would be scary or stay true to the horror roots, considering the recent two main games that were released were quite the opposite. That doubt began to crack somewhat with the unexpected reveal of Resident Evil 7 at the Sony E3 press conference in 2016. The games were getting rebooted, not in terms of story, but just about everything else. It became 1st person, it was set in a Louisiana swamp, and most importantly, it looked scary as hell.  Resident Evil 7 released to critical and commercial success in January 2017, but the information on Resident Evil 2 Remake (as I will refer to it going forward) went radio silent. Then, at the Sony E3 conference in 2018, it finally arrived. Revealed with a juggernaut of a trailer, Resident Evil 2 Remake was unleashed to the public, and given a release date of January 25, 2019.

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Now, here I sit, looking at my TV on a Friday in January, staring at the main menu screen of Resident Evil 2. Me and fellow Ghastly Grinning writer Mike Vlastnik have decided to do a dual review of this monumental release. The game, if you are not aware, comes with two separate campaigns that you can play to experience the story, each being unique in terms of the main character being controlled, people you interact with and the path you take through the game, similar to the original release. One is Leon Kennedy, a rookie RPD cop arriving into town as the T-virus has spread wildly through the city. The other is Claire Redfield, sister of original game’s protagonist Chris, a member of the S.T.A.R.S team that investigated the mansion incident, arriving in town to search for her lost brother. Mike will be handling the Leon campaign and provide his own review of that playthrough, while I am handling the reigns of navigating Claire through her nightmare in Raccoon City. Based on my experience as Claire, has Capcom delivered a masterpiece and satiated my personal hype, which is pretty intense and at an unrealistic height, on every level?

I can safely say, after spending two long nights finishing up Claire’s campaign, which was complete with sweaty palms, multiple jump scares and general fraught throughout, that Resident Evil 2 is another masterful return to form for the RE series overall. This is a near perfect remake that is on par with the skill and expertise that was put into the remake of the original Resident Evil, lovingly paying homage and respect to the original RE2 game, while also remaking it into its own beast, surprising newcomers to this entry, or players who are seasoned with the exploits of our two main leads. I will be avoiding giving away any spoilers for this game since, as a Resident Evil fan, I would not want to give away any cool moments or secrets this game has to reveal. In addition, Claire’s campaign differs in various ways to what a Leon playthrough might experience, so I may mention locations or people that you will not come into contact with if you are playing as Leon. Claire’s journey through Raccoon City to find her brother and make it out alive is spread across four main locations, with a couple of quick interludes through the city that act as connections between each main location. These places consists of the Raccoon City Police Station, which makes up the primary portion of the overall game length, the sewers of Raccoon City and a mysterious laboratory. The 4th location, which is completely new to the Resident Evil 2 remake, is an abandoned orphanage where you play as Sherry Birkin, a lost little girl that Claire befriends during her mission through the city. The reason she is there, and the primarily stealth gameplay sequence that follows, was a great example of a game (that I have beaten in its original form over twenty times) delivering a new unexpected experience with nail biting tension to boot. The original RE2 gameplay was delivered through the RE staple “tank” controls, complete with pre-rendered backgrounds that ensure the game stands the test of time, at least in terms of environment. This new remake eschews that in exchange for the more favorable over-the-shoulder view that was established with Resident Evil 4, and providing completely recreated environments using fully realized backgrounds. This game is a gorgeous one as well (courtesy of Capcom’s proprietary RE Engine), delivering a somber atmosphere with oppressive rain, extremely dark hallways and rooms, fires raging in the streets and creaks and mysterious sounds emanating all around you. Each main location in the game is beautifully recreated from the original, keeping elements that the classic RE2 players will recognize and love, while throwing in a few twists and turns to keep youthem on your feet. Honestly, this game feels like it was created specifically for the fans that enjoyed Resident Evil 2 all the way back in 1998. The story is told in the most basic structure possible, not providing any recap of what has transpired before the events of this game to catch people up on what the original Resident Evil was all about. We are immediately thrown right into the fold of zombies, mayhem, a city gone dormant, with no rhyme or reason given to the proceedings. I appreciated this as a fan to not get bogged down in exposition that is, frankly, not needed, since the story of what happened to this small town is beautifully told through documents, notes and emails that are littered throughout the world. That’s not to say that newcomers won’t get scared shitless and simply marvel at how awesome this game is (because they will), but the lack of narrative at the outright might confuse some people at first.

The variety of zombies, the most common enemy, in the original RE2 were pretty basic and essentially revolved around a boy or girl zombie, with a clothing change here and there throughout the game. Let me tell you, the remake really amps that up to 11. I felt like every single zombie in this game was different in some manner from the one just before. They wore completely different clothing, had various hairstyles and mannerisms. Women had their hair up or down, men had crew cuts or hair that was in dire need of a cut. The zombies were even ethnically diverse, coming across a multitude of people from various backgrounds, which really does a great job of grounding the city in reality, showing the population mix one would expect from a normal town. The grotesque zombie dogs also make a return in this remake, as do the fast moving, exposed brain, extreme tongue length creatures known as the Lickers. Every enemy in this game looks absolutely fantastic, with great care and detail painted across every single inch of their programmed physique. Now, let’s talk about Mr. X. At some point during your travels through the police station, you will come into contact with a large creature wearing a trench coat and a fedora. When he makes his grand entrance, all hell literally breaks loose. He is in constant pursuit of you, following you into any room you happen to be in (except one kind of room – see if you can figure it out…) and is just laser focused on making you dead. Ladders, stairs, even zombies in the way are no match for his one track mind. I have never in a Resident Evil game been so scared to just walk around the environment. I found myself running from this “safe room” toward a single objective, complete it fast, and hustle back to the safe room ASAP. It clearly extended my playing time being so cautious and scared, and made me burn off more saves than I’d care to use on a normal run. As for the main boss in this game, let’s just say you face him on more than one occasion and every time, it’s a white knuckle experience that is not to be taken lightly. Everything in this game is a loving nostalgic hug to the fans for sticking with the series since the mid-90’s, and I can happily say that it sticks the landing.

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What else can I say? Resident Evil 2 from 1998 was a classic survival horror game that still holds up remarkably well today, especially to a RE nut like myself, and Resident Evil 2 remake is a perfect example of how to update a classic game to show respect for the original, but still bring enough new to the table to warrant its existence outside of mere fan service. Don’t get me wrong, there is TONS of fan service in this game, and I appreciate it all, but it feels like the developers were genuinely excited in working on this remake, and it shines throughout every inch. I am about to launch myself in the Leon 2nd run campaign playthrough as soon as humanly possible (In the remake, you have to play both campaigns to get the full story and the “true” ending of the game), so suffice it to say that RE2 remake is a success. Run, don’t walk to your nearest store and get this game immediately, and show Capcom that you appreciate the love and care they show for their owned properties, and to never change…..and now I leave you with a photo of my completed time and ranking for my Claire campaign completion. As you can see, I saved more than a human man should, but I loved every single second of it. RE for Life!