Review: RESIDENT EVIL 2 HD - Playing with Leon
Reviewed on PS4 -
Like all my reviews, I’ll try my best to keep this as spoiler free as possible while still giving as many details as I can.
It’s been 20 years since Resident Evil 2 first released and I can still perfectly remember the day I got it, took it home, and played it for the first time. Twenty years is a long time, and for a piece of media - especially a video game - to stand decades worth of time and still be heralded is one of the best of its kind, is nothing short of impressive. Yet, for the past 20 years, gamers have held Resident Evil 2 up as one of the greatest horror games of all time. So after years of rumors, speculations, leaks, and anticipation the remake of Resident Evil 2 is finally here to answer one simple question: is it as good as we all like to remember?
Fans have been clamoring for a rerelease of resident Evil 2 for years, while we’ve gotten HD versions of Resident Evil and Resident Evil 0, countless ports of Resident Evil 4 and even digital releases of rarer titles like Code Veronica and the Chronicles titles (not to mention the stellar Resident Evil 7), it seemed Capcom was happy to make us wait for RE2. In an age where polishing up older titles with HD shine and releasing them all over again is a big trend with publishers, Capcom went bigger and better.
Resident Evil 2 is not an HD release or a “remaster” this is a full blown from the ground up remake. Capcom’s team really strove to make this a new experience even though it is a two decades old game. Starting with the actual presentation, this game is stunning. The art direction, design, and animation is top notch. It is so easy to get caught up and absorbed in the environment and atmosphere.
A large portion of Leon’s story takes place in the Racoon City Police Department, which is effectively one of the best haunted houses in gaming. The sound design and lighting really help to set the tone and suspense of the areas. There is little score in the game which really boosts the level of immersion one feels. Levels are built tightly, confining and constricting the player, developing a strong sense of anxiety about what is hiding in every shadow, and around every corner. Like any horror game, Resident Evil 2 has its share of programed jump scares (I am not too proud to admit that a few of them spiked my heart rate) but the real fear comes from an ever present sense of dread and uncertainty. This has long been one of the strengths of the franchise, one of the elements that sets Resident Evil apart from its peers, and this game delivers in spades.
One of the shortcomings of Resident Evil has been the narrative. While on the surface the overall story has seemed somewhat simple in concept - morally ambiguous pharm-tech company develops bio weapons and zombies - the longer the games go on the more convoluted it all has gotten. Resident Evil through Resident Evil 3 explored the initial outbreak of the T-virus and G-virus and the various monsters that made their way from the Arklay Mountains into Raccoon City. BUt as the series wore on things got downright shaddy, confusing, and difficult to follow. Happily I can say that Resident Evil 2 wraps things up in a more concise and easy to follow way. While you’re only seeing a portion of the overall narrative, it is simple and easy to follow. Capcom gives you your character's POV and the information they glean, and that is about it. While it is clear that you only get a portion of the greater story, of which there are small hints and tidbits, what you get in Resident Evil 2 is a simple, easy to follow campaign about surviving an engineered zombie apocalypse. What this means is that Resident Evil 2 is great for newcomers to the series. Anyone can step in and play without previous knowledge of the series or the convoluted lore behind it.
So the question still remains, is Resident Evil 2 one of the best horror games of all time? Undoubtedly. This new version of the game mixes things up just enough to keep long time fans on their toes, while preserving and improving on all of the elements that originally made the game great. It still has some of the best monster designs in the franchise. It still has arguably the most terrifying boss, being endlessly chased my Mr X creates a level of stress and tension few games can ever match.
In short, Resident Evil 2 is a masterclass in how developers should approach putting new life into classic games. Using modern tech to revitalize, and improve upon the things that made a game great to begin with. And, with five separate story campaigns to play through, and upcoming free DLC stories as well, there is a lot here to love.