As a virus sweeps its way through the streets of Raccoon City, a place that first haunted the nightmares of gamers 21 years ago, we follow two familiar heroes as they battle their way through the hordes of the undead to get the hell of out Dodge.
Before we get started, you're probably well aware that it's not a remaster and nor is it your standard remake. What Capcom has given us is a remake that adds to the game with new areas, NPCs, and interactions. It can't be classed as a clean reboot like Doom, however, much like id's demonic shooter, Resident Evil 2 (1998) was an iconic game of its era that has been fully updated using modern technology.
And with that in mind, we might be looking at a near-perfect remake. There are enough similarities between the original and this new version to get the nostalgic juices flowing, while it looks polished and modern enough to usher in a whole new generation of fans, and there are a few new surprises thrown in to keep returning players on edge throughout.
The story is pretty similar to that of the original, with a few twists along the way. Once again you take charge of two characters, Leon and Claire, as they follow different paths around the city. One criticism we could lay down is that way too much information was released before the game came out, and unless you live in a black hole, many of the things that happen in the game have already been made public.
If you have dodged the spoilers Capcom has released through videos and interviews, and haven't played the original, you may want to look away now for the next three paragraphs. After an altercation with a few members of the recently deceased, Leon, a rookie cop, and Claire, who is looking for her brother Chris from the first game, find themselves thrown together and decide to head to the local police station in search of answers.
You can choose whose story to follow, and while the first act in the police station has some different dialogue, it's fundamentally the same story of running around, opening doors, finding keys, solving puzzles, and tooling up. Of course, it's not long before enemies are replaced by the more complex foes in the form of Mr X.
While he might sound like a porn star, he is, in fact, a tyrant who dons a hat and chases you pretty much for the rest of the game, especially if you're in Leon's story. Both of the characters visit different areas, but eventually both find themselves under the city trying to stop a G-virus infected monster.
Your favourite characters and enemies (well, most of them) are back but are a little more rottenly fleshed out. The man in the gun shop, rather than becoming instant zombie fodder, has an emotional story to tell. Marvin feels real and someone you genuinely want to make it out, although fans who played through the game 21 years ago already know what fate befalls him. Even a certain reptile in the sewer makes a brief comeback.
The characters really do come alive through great voice acting. That, and the stunning graphics. Of course, it's all made using the RE Engine which means that the environments are photorealistic. The fixed camera of the original is gone but rather than first-person like it was in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, it's the over-the-shoulder view that was seen in Resident Evil 4 - and it works really well here.
The controls and aiming of the weapons feel natural and intuitive. There are three modes: Standard, Hardcore (where you need ink ribbons to save in the typewriters), and Assisted. Assisted helps you aim the weapon and get more hits, and considering there's a distinct lack of the ammo required to kill everything, it's a nicer, more relaxed way to play, especially when you're playing in near total darkness. In fact, the lighting effects help to set the scene perfectly. There are periods of time when it's very dark and the flashlight has to come out, and these parts of the game are particularly unnerving as your field of view is limited, especially when you hear that groans of zombies echoing around the corridor.
The zombies themselves look fantastic. They keep getting up until, well, they don't. You can blow their legs off and they keep dragging themselves along the floor, relentlessly. They burst through doors and smash through windows. You never feel safe. The only sure-fire way to put them down is to shoot them in the head. Even then there's a chance they can get back up. We loved this as you can never relax because as at any time one of them might reanimate.
Once dead, the bodies stay exactly where they are for the rest of the playthrough. Sometimes we found ourselves thinking the bodies had disappeared, only to find they'd got back up again for another bite.
Another fan-favourite that makes a comeback is the licker. A skinless, long-tongued creature that walks and crawls up walls and ceilings. It turns out through one of the many documents littered all over the place that they are blind, which means if you're very slow and quiet, you can sneak right past them. This is absolutely terrifying, as they follow you without attacking.
There are so many jumps and scares, such as bodies falling out of cupboards and zombies bursting out of nowhere. It was one worry that was addressed by Capcom, as the originals used fixed cameras to hide jump scares, but they've adapted the camera well for the shocks this time around. Similarly, the quality of the audio help a lot with this, and the moans of zombies seem to come from all around and panic you. The snarls of dogs or the growl of the lickers have you flicking the screen around in pure panic.
Once the main campaign is over, it opens up the second run for the other character. It means that effectively you have four versions of the same story to play through. The puzzle items are in different locations and they've switched up the starting point to make it different. The tyrant, Mr X, also appears much sooner along with beasts found in different locations. That doesn't include the fact that Capcom has already confirmed Hunk (an Umbrella soldier) and Tofu (some food with a knife) are back for their runs as bonus characters.
If we're totally honest, we probably enjoyed Claire's campaign a little more than Leon's, and this was mainly down to the locations visited, the story that was told, and the end boss fight. Leon's was still a lot of fun. However, in the original, it was generally accepted that Claire's main story followed by Leon's second run was canon, and it could be the same here.
The only real issues we saw with the game were minor ones. The fact you couldn't shoot zombies through glass, or that they couldn't wander into certain areas (for example, they couldn't enter the main hall). It didn't really detract from the experience, but it was maybe a minor tweak that could have been made. The only other thing was that we thought that the end was a little abrupt and could have lasted a bit longer with a bit more dialogue when you finally escape Raccoon City.
The last thing we want to mention is Easter eggs. Resident Evil games are usually full of them, and this remake is no different. One of our favourites (spoiler) was that in the original version, Welcome Leon was spelt wrongly with two Ls, and this time the banner is correct, but if you look on one of the desks there's an extra L and a space in the banner where it had been removed. The Elza Walker costume and hat on the tyrant are both nods to the unreleased code known as Resident Evil 1.5.
When it's all said and done, what we have here is a great game that will win over new fans as well as satisfy veterans looking for some nostalgia. It's satisfying to control and the story is amazing, and the whole thing is wrapped up with great sound and excellent visuals. It's a timeless classic which has been brilliantly resurrected from the dead and brought back for a whole new generation of gamers, and it's a must play for anyone who loves survival horror regardless of whether they're familiar with the original or not.