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Resident Evil 2 (Check on Amazon.com) is an extraordinary remake, in many ways a fascinating case study. It is obviously not easy to match up with the memories and the nostalgia factor of those who experienced it back in 1998, but Capcom didn’t shy away from the challenge and, indeed, delivered. A precedent was there: two years ago Resident Evil 7 Biohazard demonstrated how it was possible to revolutionize a franchise so popular and rooted in the collective imagination, without going overboard: the first-person view and the cut scenes had left many players baffled, but these were just a piece of the puzzle for a game that turned out to be more like the classic than it appeared at first. In the case of Resident Evil 2, however, the task was even more complex and daunting. They had transported the historic chapter to the present day, completely redesigning its aesthetics and adopting a series of gimmicks that could somehow preserve the iconic mix of choppy gameplay and tension, without resulting in action sequences that were slow and with no suspense. Mission accomplished?
Plot and gameplay
The initial sequence of Resident Evil 2 is probably the most distanced one from the original, since Capcom wanted the remake to offer a cinematic experience which is also very engaging: the preamble with the distracted truck driver, the omen of disaster that is about to hit Raccoon City, the arrival of Leon Kennedy for his first day of service at the police department and the shadow of something gone wrong a few kilometers out of the city center, at a gas station. The two protagonists meet by chance and decide to continue together to try to understand what is happening, but soon after fate divides them so they have to face the nightmare on their own.
As you probably already know, the game actually includes four variants of the single player campaign, with the ability to play as Leon or Claire and watch the events unravel from their point of view. By completing the campaign with Leon we can unlock the alternate and parallel story of Claire and vice versa. The first run will take you between eight to nine hours at the intermediate difficulty level, while subsequent ones are shorter since you already have an idea of what to do and where to go.
It is worth specifying that Resident Evil 2 is similar to the 1998 version, when it comes to the average degree of challenge, which is substantially higher than current standards. In short, the frustration of some sequences has remained intact and underlines how times have changed. Zombies take forever to die even when you hit them in the head and the knife has turned into a wear-prone tool, which can be replaced from time to time if you’re lucky enough to find another, taking away the confidence of always having a weapon in your hands.
At the same time, however, in boss fights ammunition magically appears, the map shows clearly the uncharted rooms and the objects present, and finally the inventory marks things that have exhausted their usefulness, so that they can be discarded.
Similar to the original, the Raccoon City police station is an important set of the adventure: it is an ancient building, with a dark past, full of secrets to discover, and dark corridors to walk through holding a torch, hoping not to hear the unmistakable verses of a zombie (or, worse, the heavy footsteps of you-know-who).
There are also completely new locations that we do not want to anticipate, but in general the game retraces and revisits the 1998 chapter with a new approach, style and direction that turns out to be amazing.
The gameplay is at the same time old and new: taking inspiration from the evolution that the franchise has experienced with Resident Evil 4, Leon and Claire can move and watch around, with a camera placed behind the shoulders that takes advantage of every good opportunity to artificially shorten the distance from a target, thus creating a sense of constant tension. This also affects the aim system, which is precise only when the protagonist is stationary and does not lend itself well to close combat, where you end up wasting a large amount of valuable ammunition. This is also due to the zombies and their movement at times slow at times quicker: a very convincing approach, which renders head shots more complicated than you think.
The use of the knife seemed rather tied to tradition, but all secondary weapons (therefore also grenades) can be exploited during special quick time events to move away (or eliminate) an enemy after he grabs you, so as not to lose vitality. Once you run out of ammunition, however, the game becomes really hard: you will find yourself always running away, devoid of any offensive capability, and this situation can continue for some time; at least until you change scenery and move to the second half of the campaign, certainly less intense in terms of atmosphere and enemies, and with a more sci-fi feeling. We were worried that Capcom would not be able to legitimize these very peculiar stages of the adventure but instead even some minor flaws, seemed to us really negligible.
The same goes for the enemies: zombies are certainly the most characteristic and creepy ones, but there are dangerous lickers and other mutant creatures both scary and deadly. Sadly the birds and the giant spiders were eliminated, but the dogs are still here, unfortunately their rendering is not the best. Boss fights are certainly inspired by those in the original Resident Evil 2, but they have also been revolutionized, resulting in discreetly challenging and engaging encounters.
Finally, a few words for the other playable characters besides Leon and Claire, that are protagonists of some short but very interesting sections, ranging from stealth, to pleasant puzzle mechanics.
Structure and technical realization
We have already talked about this: the four Resident Evil 2 campaigns have differences (mostly narrative) that justify the time required to complete them all, changing the location of objects and modifying some of the puzzles, but they are mostly identical scenarios. This kind of solution necessarily affects involvement, because it is clear that from the second playthrough onwards you do not experience the same tension while investigating certain areas of the map, and at the same time it is possible to complete some stages more quickly since you know what you need to do. That said, each playthrough is rewarded with interesting extras, ranging from alternative costumes to additional play modes, like The 4th Survivor which is a survival mode where you take command of an Umbrella soldier, Hunk, that has to take the reverse-path in the map and eliminate a huge amount of enemies with limited resources. In short, this is a game that will keep you busy for several hours.
The sound compartment is also very good, with a design that exploits the binaural audio in a surprising way.
Resident Evil 2 (Check on Amazon.com) is an excellent remake, able to respect the original work but at the same time reinvent it, adopting intelligent and effective solutions in order to reproduce the peculiar mix of controls and tension that made the survival horror film famous at the end of the 90s.