Resident Evil 2 Review: Gruesomely Gorgeous

Ah, Resident Evil 2, the 1998 survival-horror classic adored by millions! And now the 2019 survival-horror classic-in-the-making adored by ever growing multitudes. Two games, both excellent, but how does this new RE2 compare? Thankfully, it retains the original survival-horror charm while also delivering a modern experience. Unfortunately, a bit too much outdated design causes it to occasionally stumble and fall like a clumsy zombie. Read on to discover the joys and bugbears of 2019’s RE2.

Atmospheric Horror-Delight

By far the most brilliant thing about RE2 is the stunningly immersive world built for you to slowly explore and unravel. There’s a palpable feeling of despair mixed with hyper-focus on graphical detail making every room, passageway, and crevice a wonder to discover.

The famous S.T.A.R.S. room. So much 1990s detail! Much pretty!

The moody vibes of the abandoned city and desperate plights of the few survivors meshes perfectly with a spectacular visual presentation. Get ready for one visual and aural treat after another.

Setting Up the Story

You begin on the dark, rainy city streets outside Raccoon City, a fictional US city with a disturbing history. By way of one ill-fated event after another, you go from surreal police station, to the sewers, and beyond. Thanks to the cutting-edge graphics engine and superb game direction, delving deeper and deeper into this twisted underworld is gruesome, gorgeous, and mesmerizing.

Never before has such an iconic and impressive survival horror world been crafted, and RE2 exudes character and personality from the very floors, halls, and walls of its macabre locations.

Just another pleasant stroll through zombie-infested sewers. It’ll be fine! (Run!)

The story is presented through excellent cutscenes with extremely detailed characters and facial animation combined with smooth motion capture and top-notch voice acting. There’s some standout performances here, but just know there’s only handful of story cutscenes. RE2 gives you just enough plot to make sense but not enough to sink your teeth into, similar to the original 1998 game. That’s not a fault per-se; it’s just its style.

As far as the actual story goes, it’s best you discover it for yourself. There’s zombies, an evil corporation, corrupt authorities, and experiments gone wrong. All the usual stuff.

Update: a commenter pointed out just how many plot-connecting scenes this 2019 version removes compared to the original. Numerous key story scenes are totally removed or illogically modified in this modern RE2. This is worth noting for super-fans of the original game.

Bloody Zombie Survival-Horror

Besides the immaculate RE2 world, the enemy design is absolutely incredible. The attention to detail in each shambling zombie, ferocious dog, and other creature is best in class. Particularly impressive is the zombie dismemberment system that keeps you finding creative ways to eliminate, outmaneuver, and overcome the undead underlings found all across the environments.

This zombie’s just been hit by an acid round. He’ll be fine…feel the burn.

These ghastly and imposing enemies sometimes seem too much to contend with. At first, you often don’t have enough ammo and perhaps question how you can survive. After a while, you learn how to think quickly and overcome RE2. This empowering feeling of increasing mastery is just like how I felt when I played the original back in the day. Speaking of which, let me address this topic.

Disclaimer: RE2 is Special to Me

I should disclose that 1998’s RE2 was my first Resident Evil game. This was back when 3D graphics were young, and I adored this “realistic” PlayStation CD-ROM work of art.

I remember going over to a friend’s house and playing late at night, slowly inching forward through scary hallways on the edge of our seats. It was creepy, scary, and fascinating. I have wonderful memories of playing and replaying the game, finally unlocking the extra weapons and modes, feeling like such a pro.

Even to this day I consider RE2 one of my defining video game experiences. Just keep in mind that a new player to this remake might have that same “revelatory” experience I had in 1998, while I may be more critical of this remake than someone who doesn’t know the brilliance and joy of the original game. Back to the review!

Third-Person Puzzling Exploration

The heart of RE2 is a puzzle-like level design that sees you exploring, discovering, unlocking, backtracking, and going around in circles as you attempt to piece together the mysterious reason for all this horror. The game is quite cerebral in how you must pay very close attention to what items you need, where to use them, and how to make the most of your limited resources.

Fortunately the game provides a very helpful map, without which you’d probably go insane. The map does an excellent job of indicating which rooms are unexplored or still have items left in them.

You’ll be spending quite a lot of time deciphering the map. At least it’s a nice map.

At this point, a large warning should be issued: this is not a typical third-person shooter where you are pushed forward from one set piece to another. No, RE2 retains the sometimes obtuse 1998-style item and level design that seems to revel in hindering the player.

Each item has a specific and often unclear purpose much like an old point-and-click adventure game. For example, you might find yourself going to the lounge room to find a metal tin you must examine to find a film roll to develop in the dark room to reveal a puzzle about a lion statue that unlocks a key to a door to a secret room. Because obviously that’s what the metal tin is for! Duh!

At least the items all have wonderful detail! I love shiny medallions! I want to bite them hard!

Some players will love this esoteric puzzling retained from the original game, but there will surely be times you’ll leave an essential item back in storage and find yourself out of ammo, isolated, and possibly very dead. Speaking of items and storage space…it’s time to discuss one of RE2’s more tiresome aspects.

Inventory Woes Like It’s 1998

For all the graphical and controls modernization in RE2, what’s confusingly archaic is the inventory and item design. For those of us who played the original PlayStation era Resident Evil games, we all remember the massive headache of organizing a far-too-small inventory with far-too-many items. Sadly, this headache is back in a lesser but still frustrating way.

Sorting through items is way more fun than actually playing the game! NOT!

Most bizarrely unforgivable is how RE2 does NOT bring forward all the excellent quality-of-life changes included in the last 14 years of RE games (over six titles). Faithfully recreating what people loved about RE2 makes sense, but purposefully taking us back to the bad-old-days of Resident Evil inventory design is not cool.

Irksome Item Issues: A Story

So what are these serious inventory issues? Let’s start with an easy one: you can’t use items directly from the pick-up screen. Think this is no big deal? Let me take you on a very scary true RE2 story that’ll have you weeping and gnashing your teeth by the end (or not).

Picture this: you’re one hit from death as you finally limp to a First Aid Spray (fully heals you). So glad to have finally found healing, you attempt to use the item immediately. Sorry, you can’t! Your inventory is full! You confusingly exclaim, “Um, I don’t need to put it in my inventory…just pick it up and use it!”

Being an imprisoned zombie is how it feels to engage in full inventory item management.

The game smiles and patronizingly says, “Nope, sorry, we didn’t build ‘Use’ into our interface…you’ll need an empty inventory slot, you pathetic player.” As the game mocks you, you attempt to find a solution. Every second gone by you can feel the dehumanizing horror of 1998 item management coming back to haunt you.

Suddenly a brilliant idea sparks your mind. You guardedly ask, “Ok…well, can I quickly drop another item to make room and then pick that item back up from the ground?” RE2 begins boisterous, unnerving laughter… “No, silly player! Feel free to drop an item but it’ll be PERMANENTLY deleted as punishment for your full-inventory sins!”

Now you’re livid. You shout furiously, “What about RE4, RE5, RE6, and Revelations 1 & 2?” [Deep breath…] You begin to speak in a low, quivering tone: “This idiotic conundrum was solved years ago in 2005 with a simple ‘Use’ prompt upon item-pickup! How do you not know that?! How, RE2?!”

You continue and defeatedly plead, “Heck, Resident Evil 0 Remaster from 2016 even let us drop items and would display them on our map to be picked up again later! It was the best feature ever introduced to Resident Evil!”

Claire is repulsed at RE2 removing all the inventory improvements from prior RE games.

But RE2 doesn’t respond. It merely smirks, knowing that you’re going to have to PERMANENTLY sacrifice one of your items just to immediately heal yourself…and then you’ll have to stare at that newly created EMPTY inventory slot because “this is old-skool survival-horror.” More like “this is real bad design.”

Item Woes Continued

Ok, maybe I went a little off the rails in the last few paragraphs. But seriously folks. RE2’s inventory system is obnoxious, and I’m not done yet describing the issues!

Did I mention you also can’t use items directly from the storage transfer screen? Then there’s times the game isn’t smart enough to automatically combine the same ammo types when using gunpowder. Just weird.

Another bizarre design choice is how the game forces you to manually discard items with no further use. Past games like the RE0 and RE1 remasters would do this for you because why waste the player’s time? It’s strange that RE2 is so polished overall but has these dumb, rough inventory edges.

This is engineer Claire. She loves trains. Let’s be happy and forgot our item woes!

Some players will defend these design choices saying all this is “part of the experience” and it “builds tension” and challenges you. Yeah, it builds artificial and nonsensical tension. Maybe you’ll disagree, but I feel all these issues do nothing but frustrate and slow-down the actual playing of the outstanding game.

Basically, all this dubious design needlessly complicates what should be simple player-to-game-world interactions. It damages immersion and angers players. RE2 would be a VASTLY better game if it included all the excellent inventory improvements the series has seen in the 20 years since 1998’s RE2! Enough said on that.

The Stylishness of RE2’s Story: Multiple Playthoughs

Exactly like the original RE2, this modern incarnation keeps the same story-framing style: multiple playthroughs. Most modern games try to fit everything in to one playthrough, perhaps having a New Game Plus mode just for fun. RE2 defies this approach and asks, nay, dares you to play over and over to unlock the full experience.

Let’s explain RE2’s campaigns real quickly. RE2 is broken into four main campaigns, each telling the story from a slightly different angle with modified items, enemies, locations, and puzzles. Upon first playing, you have the choice of two main campaigns: Leon or Claire. Leon’s campaign is what 80% of players have chosen to begin with, according to Capcom.

The game nicely tracks your various playthroughs, urging you to go faster next time!

Upon completing Leon’s campaign, the game abruptly ends and you unlock a “2nd Run” mode, which is a slightly shorter remixed version of Leon’s original campaign that must be completed to reveal the true ending.

However, most players will want to play Claire’s campaign after finishing Leon’s first campaign, in order to break up the Leon-monotony. Claire’s campaign features a large amount of unique content, including important characters and entire environments not found in either of Leon’s runs.

Getting confused yet? RE2 doesn’t do a great job of explaining these four campaigns, and the menu system isn’t so helpful either. It makes sense that some players will get confused as to the “proper” order to play everything. Basically, the most common pattern will be Leon, Claire, Leon 2nd Run, and then you can choose between Claire 2nd Run or Extra Mode 1.

Will you be able to unlock the secret “Tofu” mode? Do you even want to try?!

Speaking of Extra Modes, if you complete the campaigns fast enough, you unlock two semi-silly modes that each take about 10 to 15 minutes and are pure run-and-gun/survival modes. There’s no saving, and you either die or reach the end. Honestly, most players will attempt these modes a few times and quit in frustration because they’re not particularly well-balanced and rely on memorizing enemy locations and behaviors.

All told, it’ll take you somewhere between 13 to 20 hours to unlock the true ending, at which point what’s left is completing optional objectives, speedruns to get that coveted “S” rank, and Achievements if that’s your thing. So RE2 is definitely a premium title, giving you short but memorable gameplay as opposed to the larger, more expansive action/adventure/RPG/sim games.

I’m so proud of my “S” rank. Let’s celebrate, Resident Evil style! (Just don’t invite the Tyrant.)

Audio: Crisp Creaking and Much Moaning

On the aural front, RE2 deserves special praise for the atmospheric audio touches placed all over the locations. From creaking floorboards, flickering and shorting electrical panels, pouring water, shattered windows, and other horrific matters, this game builds a wondrous world for your ears. It all works extremely well, although the combat sound effects aren’t quite as good as the world sounds.

And the music is very forgettable…you can buy DLC (yuck) to unlock the original PlayStation soundtrack and effects, which some may enjoy for nostalgia reasons. Regardless, RE2’s music isn’t a highlight.

Technically Near-Perfect

On the technical side, RE2 is a dream. The load times are often just one or two seconds even on a non-solid-state drive install. Seriously, how does this game load so fast?! Overachieve much? Please also note I never once had a crash or glitch, and the game alt-tab’s like a champ. Basically RE2 is too legit to quit (working).

There’s only a few slightly odd graphical shimmering effects with the lighting engine, but that’s very minor. Occasionally the game will freeze for a split-second upon entering new areas or finding collectibles, but it’s not a huge deal.

For new players, who could this mysterious lady be? For fans of the series, look who it is!

The game also features a very robust graphical customization menu. It’s wonderful to see the robust configurability that the PC platform deserves. Being able to adjust the FOV, motion blur, depth of field, lens flares, and chromatic aberration is much appreciated. So kudos to Capcom for creating such a native PC experience!

Zombie Bullet Sponges & Damage Issues

Another contentious point is how unexpectedly tough zombies are. It’s clear RE2 is trying to be a “hardcore” survival game rather than an action game, but there’s something profoundly unsatisfying when you put six to nine bullets directly into the head of a zombie and it still gets up again.

As detailed as the zombies are, they’re heads don’t realistically deform when shot with bullets. They simply have blood textures applied instead of starting to cave in and lose parts. This is an unfortunate lack of detail. Also missing are blood pools around some dead zombies. Fans of the original game will lament this omission.

Especially galling is how occasionally you can pull out your shotgun and directly blast a zombie in the head an arm’s length away and sometimes still not kill it! In this shotgun case, you only can truly count on a one-hit-kill with a fully upgraded shotgun. This makes sense in “video game progression land” but it’s contrived and unsatisfying. Watch the GIF below in abject horror.

When a shotgun at point blank can’t explode a zombie’s head on Normal difficulty it brings to mind the meme: you had one job, shotgun, one job! Zombie’s head should go boom.

What’s also missing is the satisfying (but unrealistic) blood spurting when you decapitate a zombie with a powerful weapon. The original RE2 was so enjoyable in this way, and RE2’s “head split” animation is just not nearly as enjoyable as the original. Oh well…

Dinky Combat & No CQC

What makes the zombie bullet sponges even more unfortunate is the little sense of power and lethality of most combat engagements, which is perhaps intended to once again “heighten tension” but doesn’t feel very good to play. Your aim is inaccurate. Bullets hitting zombies can feel more like foam darts. Your knife slashes are imprecise and feel like you’re attempting to slather butter on the zombies rather than expertly slash and murder them.

Sometimes scripted sequences override player actions, which is a big sin. At one point several zombies were around me, and one  grabbed me. I used my equipped flashbang to stun it, but another zombie grabbed me a split-second before the flash detonated. Despite a flashbang going off right next to it, the zombie played its scripted grab animation and badly damaged me. These conflicts between player input and scripted results happen too often.

Another huge issue is the player has zero close-quarters-combat (CQC) skills. You would think you could at least have basic self-defense moves when your ammo is gone. Nope. You can’t kick, punch, push, or otherwise repel zombie attacks. You just stand like a fool as zombies lunge at you.

Yes, true, the game gives you some defense items like knives and grenades, but those are basically simple button prompt usages once you’ve already been grabbed. There’s no inherent CQC attacks because the developers have artificially limited your ability to respond to threats. This makes the game a lot less fun to play.

Claire was never taught to KICK when a zombie chews your leg. Another poor education.

It’s just too jarring to have Leon and Claire, both fit and athletic young people, be unable to duck, weave, roll, dodge, and quickly outmaneuver zombies…unless it’s in a cutscene when suddenly they stop being movement morons. I personally hate when games have characters do things in cutscenes that are taken away from you when you actually play. Not cool.

So once again some of the combat improvements in the more modern games have been stripped out…an unfortunate design decision perhaps done because Capcom was too afraid to deliver “an action feel” after the utter disaster that was RE6.

Some Kind of Tyrant

I’m not going to say much, but during the game you’ll encounter this one guy who follows you around and tries to kill you. You might enjoy these segments. More likely, you’ll find them a bit annoying by the end. I personally found these segments to be fairly brief, so I’m not knocking or praising the game in this regard.

This guy is not the Tyrant, but this guy is also disturbingly scary. He needs serious therapy.

Keyboard and Mouse Issues

If you’re using a controller, you can move very slowly by barely pushing the analog stick (like nearly every third-person game). Sadly Capcom forgot to include a keyboard binding for this “slow walk” style, so if you’re playing with keyboard and mouse you’ll be unable to avoid detection in certain important areas. All it would take is a menu option to press down “Ctrl” or whatnot to get your creep on and safely avoid serious consequences. Needed more PC testing.

DLC Costumes, Unlockables, & Promised Content

On the very negative side, one thing they haven’t kept from the old days is quality unlockable costumes. Rather, they’ve opted to modernize things with unacceptable DLC outfits. You only unlock the original 1998 outfits by playing. The interesting outfits…you need to pay for them. I will never condone this practice in a full-price release.

No! Charging for what used to be free unlockable costumes is NOT cool! A terrible practice.

Also sad is how much more annoying it is to unlock the good infinite ammo weapons in this modern RE2. It’s just silly to lock the best stuff behind modes about maybe 2% of your players will finish.

On a brighter side, Capcom has promised three mini-stories to be released for free in the future. They’ll probably be very short, but free post-release content is nice.

Other Minor Annoyances

There’s a 20 save-game slot limit for some silly reason. This means you won’t be able to keep all your save games from the four different campaigns (eight counting the Hardcore modes), which makes hunting down missed Achievements or unlockables a bit more tedious. I don’t see why the game couldn’t keep separate save “folders” for each playthrough…this isn’t 1998.

Here you play as a little girl. It was the most terrifying part for me. Play it to find out why.

While you can skip all the major cutscenes (thankfully), for some bizarre reason you cannot skip other short cutscenes such as certain item placements and death scenes. When you’re playing the game for the fourth time you really don’t need to sit through a 10 second sequence seeing yourself torn to shreds…just let me load my game already.

It’s also too bad that RE2 lacks a photo mode since this would be a perfect fit for a game as visually attractive as this one! Oh well.

Overlooking Faults: Yes or No?

In reading the overwhelmingly positive Steam reviews and mostly glowing critic reviews, I think it’s fair to say most players are choosing to overlook the larger issues of RE2: less-than-stellar combat, lack of CQC, muddy maneuverability, and tedious item management.

Accepting these issues perhaps out of nostalgia or relief that Capcom mostly delivered makes sense since RE2 is a really great game overall.

Another gorgeous, breath-taking scene. Amazing what 20 years of technology can do.

As a critic I can’t overlook any issues, even if I also love RE2. Therefore, what we have here is a faithful and gorgeous remake that retains the original’s mood but lacks the fluid and intelligent modern gameplay it truly deserves.

If you can overlook the faults, RE2 is as perfect a recreation of the 1998 survival-horror experience as you’ll ever get. I still love the original RE2 and the remake brings back all that I love, even if it also drags in a bit too much less-lovely archaic design.

  • Perfect atmosphere & mood
  • Optimized & efficient engine
  • Gorgeously detailed world
  • Balanced survival-horror
  • Super-fast loading times
  • Immersive locational audio
  • Extremely faithful remake
  • Free content updates

  • Inventory annoyances!
  • Lack of CQC defense skills
  • Some flimsy/quirky combat
  • Bullet-sponge zombies
  • Some obtuse item puzzles
  • Semi-short campaigns
  • Pointless 20-save slot limit
  • Good costumes are all DLC

Playtime: 26 hours total. Nick completed Leon’s “scenic” playthrough in 7 hours. Next was Claire’s in 4 hours. Leon’s 2nd Run took 3 hours, and Claire’s 2nd Run came in at a quick 2.5 hours. Nick proceeded to unlock Achievements and collectibles for a good while more. He’s looking forward to maybe attempting Hardcore mode someday…maybe.

Computer Specs: Windows 10 64-bit computer using an Intel i7-3930k CPU, 32GB of memory, and a nVidia GTX 980 Ti graphics card.

Also read the Resident Evil 2 PC Performance Analysis.