Wednesday, 13 March 2019

We'll meet up at the police station

Resident Evil 2 (2019 remake)



Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Also on: PC and PS4
Released: 2019


Review


Introduction


Although the first Resident Evil lay the foundation of the second game, Resident Evil 2 was an even greater success when it finally arrived in 1998. It opened the survival horror genre to a broader audience, focusing on a more user friendly experience; easier puzzles, a lot more zombies to shoot and dramatic action scenes. This movie-like approach made RE2 hit the record of the fastest and most sold title of any Capcom game prior to it's release. It would put the series on the gaming horizon for years to come. A welcome surprise then, when Capcom announced they would remake the second game entirely after RE7 was released.


Roughly two years later and here we are with the final copy. So can Capcom fill it's rather big boots when it comes to the successful remake of the first game? The RE1 remake was only a six year jump from one generation to the next, this time it's a massive 21 year gap. It's quite a leap in graphics technology combined with gaming evolution and design that has passed under the bridge since 1998. Lets take a look at what Capcom have accomplished with this big budget remake and have they succeeded as brilliantly as they did with REmake on the Gamecube?







Plot and setting 


New or old; RE2 builds it's story on two brand new characters rather than staying with Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield from RE1. Here we are introduced to Leon Kennedy, who's driving to Raccoon City for his first day on the job as a cop and motorbike riding Claire Redfield who's looking for her brother Chris from the first game. They meet by chance and realise the whole town is infected by a zombie virus. I enjoyed when I began this game that it makes Leon and Claire's accidental meet at the gas station playable, in a sort of pre-intro training level. Once arriving at the familiar Raccoon Police Department you need to find out what is going on and find a way to escape the infected city. Conflicts and new characters are introduced throughout and plot twists galore. It's a story we have played before in '98, but with new ideas and sub-plots!

Luckily this time around the developers have opted to let the player get more familiar with survivors at the RPD, you interact and dialogue more with them than in the original. It helps give more depth to the characters you meet and small glimpses into what happened before Leon and Claire arrived. The parts where you play Ada and Sherry have also been vastly improved and feature their own little takes on surviving the apocalypse with some neat and varied gameplay ideas.

Just like it did in '98, the remake depicts a zombie outbreak out of control perfectly with a more believable and chaotic RPD building this time around. You can really tell that the people that have passed away tried desperately to block entrances and keep themselves alive. The fairly empty hallways and rooms are much improved here, and the actual layout of the whole building has been carefully altered to cater for a larger area to explore.



Gameplay and features 


Familiarity blended with new ideas and design is key here; this is not a 1-to-1 remake with the old pre-rendered backdrops and camera angles. Gone are the tank controls too, replaced with a third person angle across the shoulder. What immediately becomes apparent though; is how wonderful the team has accomplished blending new and old ideas with modern gameplay. Right up from the introduction level at the gas station, to when you arrive at the RPD and see that main hall once again; you realise how it's like taking a time machine back 21 years. Yet, you're seeing everything in glorious ultra high resolution 3D that couldn't even be achieved back on old hardware. It's a wonderful feeling and a soothing one to see that, although many elements have changed, they're altered in a manner that brings back familiar nostalgia.

For me it was like I'm seeing the world RE2 pulled me into in back in '98 in a brand new angle. It's how I imagined it actually being there when I was a teenager, with such vastly improved visuals. It's wonderfully nostalgic and at the same time offers different puzzles and layouts making it possible for me to feel how it was way back in '98 to play this game again for the first time!

Gameplay feels like you'd hoped for. Precise third person shooting, but vulnerable and limited by ammo reserves. Nicely balanced as to not give the player a huge advantage over the slow zombies and becoming too fast paced. At times it even feels harder than the original, perhaps due to more random encounters and less obvious areas that are safe. Zombies now follow you into rooms and behave anything from slow to fast, lickers are way more agile and the layout of police station feels less linear and larger. However, I would have been happier with less bullet spongy enemies. At times it feels like the guns aren't doing anything, but then again the whole RE series is like this. Both this remake, RE7 and RE: REvelations 2 are on top of the game when it comes to understanding well-controlled and modern gameplay.

The menacing Mr.X, whom was air dropped in the original to wreck havoc on Leon and Claire, has also been largely improved in his behaviour. Mr.X works as a sort of Jack from RE7 in this game; constantly hunting you through rooms if you are spotted. He suddenly pulls you out of the comfort zone of your safe routes traversing the RPD. He brings a frightening and unsettling feeling which the game needs. RE2's action focus won't give you the scares and creepiness of RE7, not even close as a pure horror game, but Mr.X at least makes you feel unsettling and is vastly improved over his scripted role in the original RE2.


Graphics and technical


What seems like a push to get people to play on the enhanced consoles, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, is the fact that both these versions keep very close to 60fps. While the base PS4 and XB1 hover in the 40-50s mark, making the framerate inconsistent and as such the flow of the gameplay. PC players can enjoy adding even more effects, but this X version I played puts in the effort to lead the pack on console with a lot of the high settings enabled from PC. It would have been nice to see the game reach a native 4K resolution, it resides at a healthy 1620p versus 4K's crisper 2160p, giving it a slightly soft look. However this game packs in a lot more visual detail than RE7 that reached the native 4K, so it's understandable.

Nothing takes away the fact though that Capcom have beautifully realised a modern day remake of the famous RE2 setting. Zombies and characters look really detailed and have lots of small effects when they are shot and wounded. There's a lot of visual variation in the RPD, and while the sewers are really bland and boring like the original, I enjoyed the new high-tech take on the laboratory area at the end of the game. It makes it stand apart from the grey and dull sewers and improves on how the original game looked.

Capcom's RE engine showed it's strength with RE7 and it shines even more here. It looks and runs great, I really appreciate the focus on getting it running at 60fps for a smoother and better gameplay experience. Although we probably should have seen a 30fps cap for the base consoles as the framerate on them really aren't consistent. So to get the proper gameplay flow and visual flair go with PC, Xbox One X or PS4 Pro.


Sound and music


I had my hopes up for the soundtrack in this game, hopefully being something close to the original. My disappointment was huge though, the end result is such a missed opportunity and the soundtrack is forgettable at best. I really wish they'd remastered or remixed the old music tracks from 1998, but alas we get a soundtrack that nobody will hardly notice. Luckily you can swap it out for the original soundtrack, though this is a payed DLC for a small fee that's totally worth it. Once I activated the original OST everything sort of clicked, it was the one main thing this remake was missing. The original soundtrack DLC even helps out for nostalgia in the sound department; it puts in classic menu sounds and the item box opening sound!

When it comes to actual game audio I would have liked punchier and more heavy sounding guns, they're way better than the simple sounding ones in the original, but they sound a little weak here and lack a satisfying punch when they impact zombies. Otherwise the Dolby Atmos 3D sound added to the Xbox version is a nice and welcome touch that gives you more sense of direction as to where enemies are, even in floors above you. It is especially creepy when you hear Mr.X thudding about outside a door or in the floor above you.






Summary


Sure there some bumps in the road with this remake; the most obvious being the incredibly forgettable music score. I also miss having explanations of the helicopter crash and Mr.X's arrival, which are completely unexplained here and just sort of happen. The original game had CGI sequences explaining these events, it's a strange omission indeed.

My main issues though are some of the locations. Take for instance the route from the intro to the RPD should have been longer like the original, here you simply walk down an alley and around a corner to arrive.I preferred how the original game depicted the scenes of post-apocalyptic streets to build the tension towards arriving at the RPD. The later outdoor environments in Claire's story do show some of these classic outdoor areas from the beginning of the original; the basket ball court and a bus full of zombies. However they're sparsely and simply modelled. Like randomly placed objects in a 3D landscape. Like I mentioned earlier too, the sewers are not only a bland area to traverse, but also a confusing maze like area with a lot of backtracking. I didn't like the area in the original RE2 and I don't like it here either.

These aren't major complaints though, I guess I'm just picky because I have a lot of love for these original RE titles, and they don't take away the fact that this is a phenomenal remake. I mean it's like how REmake was versus RE1; there are good and bad sides with both. Making a remake will never hit every high note perfectly, yet at the same time improve things that were weak originally.

From the gas station level, to the arrival at the RPD and the reunion of all the famous RE2 characters in brand new graphics has been an incredible experience. The gameplay is just what I wanted, the visuals bring back hazy memories of how the original looked but in so much more detail. Leon and Claire are superior reenacted and look better than ever with more personality to them than the simple polygon models of '98.

From new and curious players, that have never touched the series or the legend that is RE2 is, to old veterans of the game: this is a must-buy without doubt. It's an equally fantastic remake as REmake was back in 2002. Once again Capcom have taken care of and nurtured a beloved classic and made us relive a memory and experience that's 21 years old. Highly recommended, especially if you find that more old-school layouts of games are nice to revisit!


Rating

★★★★