In 2019, Capcom Pulled Off the Impossible
How do you remake a game that’s already perfect?
In 1996, Capcom permanently altered the survival horror genre with an iconic game that snowballed into an enduring global phenomenon. What started with Resident Evil quickly became a full-fledged franchise with Resident Evil 2, leading to countless more games, movies, books, comics, and more. But five years ago, Capcom pushed its beloved zombie franchise to impressive new heights.
While the original Resident Evil sparked a revival of the zombie genre, its sequel redefined what it meant to truly survive the mutating undead. Looking back now, the graphics and archaic tank control mechanics of the original Resident Evil 2 definitely feel dated, but the game’s intricately woven and taut central narrative still works over two decades. Players can choose between two protagonists — rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and college student Claire Redfield — as their respective storylines seamlessly feed into one another, creating interconnected perspectives of a city-wide catastrophe. Both for Leon and Claire, the aim is to navigate horrific environments, preserve ammunition while avoiding zombies, and trudge forward with smart inventory management and puzzle-solving. But in a clever narrative twist, the game lets you choose who to play as, with the other character’s perspective only unlocked after your initial playthrough.
Resident Evil 2 has its flaws (a cumbersome inventory system, cheesy voice lines), but it still retains the value of nostalgic replayability, especially concerning its characters, who have significantly evolved over the years. So when Capcom announced plans for a remake slated for January 25, 2019, fans were unsure what to expect. RE2 was already such a satisfying experience. Could a modern remake surpass a widely loved franchise favorite?
Except, 2019’s Resident Evil 2 was never meant to be a conventional remake. It is a complete reimagining of the PlayStation classic that honors its predecessor’s most intriguing qualities, repackaged with state-of-the-art graphics and gameplay overhauls. Even the dual-protagonist narrative has been retrofitted for a modern setting, fully rendered in 3D instead of pre-rendered pixels. Moreover, the remake upgrades one of the most criticized aspects of the original: it foregoes the fixed camera for a smooth, over-the-shoulder view that can be manipulated freely (even mid-combat), facilitating a more intense, anxiety-inducing experience.
As zombie survival horror was no longer a novelty in 2019, Capcom imbued the RE2 remake with low-light, claustrophobic environments. Every eerie click or ghostly footstep reverberates to induce atmospheric terror. While Leon’s playthrough features more of the undead, granting relentless, fast-paced thrills, Claire’s campaign is somewhat trickier, as she has to protect a child survivor named Sherry Birkin and fight off Umbrella Corporation virologist William Birkin (aka, Sherry’s father) in a challenging final boss fight. Both paths unlock different pockets of Resident Evil lore, which together form a compelling portrait of a city doomed to be devoured by the G-virus.
Just like the original, the remake offers different weapons and abilities to Leon and Claire, who are molded by their respective journeys and grow into more fleshed-out versions of themselves. As both characters encounter different types of enemies, Leon relies on shotguns and other heavy weaponry, while Claire is quicker on her feet and gets to fire a grenade launcher and the electric Spark Shot. Both characters also get standard Resident Evil crafting and weapon items, such as herbs, first-aid sprays, combat knives, and the iconic red bolt cutter (the true MVP in most RE games).
Although the Resident Evil 2 remake is original enough to carve its own space within franchise history, it consciously appeals to nostalgia by bringing back The 4th Survivor and The Tofu Survivor bonus modes — timed minigames crafted just for the players to have a blast. There’s also the free Ghost Survivors mode, which posits intriguing what-if scenarios, where canonically dead characters are brought back to life and players are given the chance to ensure their survival. This mode is meant to be fun, of course, but it also provides player buffs once cleared, such as increased inventory space and assisted combat during primary playthroughs.
The success of Resident Evil 2 remake is the result of a delicate balancing act, one that banks on immersive, character-driven gameplay without sacrificing the beloved quirks of its predecessor. Whether you choose to play as a naive rookie cop who grows more jaded with time or an optimistic, badass college girl in search of her brother, five years later, the game remains unforgettable for the right reasons.