Resident Evil 2 (Xbox One) Review

By Renan Fontes 05.02.2020

Review for Resident Evil 2 on Xbox One

Like any long running franchise, Resident Evil has gone through phases since its inception. Between 1996 and 2002, the franchise was staunch survival horror. While each new entry would up the action considerably, the spirit of the series was very much in its slower paced, "puzzling" horror. Although Resident Evil 4 remains well regarded, Resi as it was between 2005 and 2012, lives in a cloud of its own infamy, each main instalment taking a cleaver to the series' penchant for horror, to the point where Resident Evil 6 was a full blown action game. With the release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard in 2017, however, Capcom ushered in a new creative age for the franchise; and if Resident Evil 2 remake is anything to go by, the franchise's future is looking mighty nice.

The idea that a remake of all things could be evident of a franchise at its creative peak is, frankly, laughable. More often than not - and regardless of medium - remakes signpost a lack of creativity. When all the good ideas are exhausted, turn back to a classic property. To leave it at that, however, would be ignorant. There are good remakes. There are great remakes. But it's hard to define a good remake, let alone a great one. The original Resident Evil notably had an incredible remake on the GameCube, so expectations were already in place for the sequel's long awaited remake. Where the original essentially presented itself as a much improved director's cut (really only enhancing and expanding what was already there) Resident Evil 2 opts to experiment, and reimagine far more than its predecessor did. As far as remake philosophies go, the two couldn't be more night and day.

...But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Instead, both remakes stand as two sides of the best case scenario when it comes to remaking a title. Resident Evil (2002) presented a definitive version of a survival horror classic, improving upon the original in every way imaginable. Resident Evil 2 doesn't seek to replace its base game. Rather, it twists and reimagines its source material into a fresh experience that never strays from the tone or spirit of the product it's remaking. The changes made between the 1998 original and the 2019 remake aren't insignificant, but they're not bad changes either. The fixed camera is gone, but the level design ensures that movement is methodical, and more in-line with the pre-Resi 4 titles. There's a greater emphasis on action (and the original was already pretty action heavy), but zombies are much more durable, easily eating through the ammo of any careless players.

Changing how much damage zombies can take alone fundamentally flips the gameplay loop. In the original, it certainly wouldn't be unreasonable to spare some ammo in order to kill all the zombies in a room. Doing so for every room would be foolish and a waste of ammo, but it was a viable strategy. Here, it's a death sentence. Trying to kill everything runs the risk of throwing away ammo that would be better spent on bosses. Worse yet, headshots are not a safe bet this time around. Even if a zombie seems dead, chances are they're just waiting for an opportunity to lunge back up. Bullet sponge enemies are normally a source of frustration, but Raccoon City's revamped zombies really help the gunplay shine. Zombies actually react accordingly based off of where a player shoots them. Take out their elbows, and their arms will fall. Kneecap them, and they'll drop to the ground, left to crawl. Movement plays an important role as well, as allowing the reticle to focus while standing still can result in extra damage, while walking away and trying to fire at a moving target generally lowers accuracy. Instead of killing everything in their path, a smart player will cripple as many zombies as they can, conserving ammunition and creating new pathways. Of course, this approach still requires maneuvering around zombies carefully - a downed zombie is not a dead zombie - but it's a smart alternative for the focused survivor.

Screenshot for Resident Evil 2 on Xbox One

Saving as much ammo as possible also just pays off considerably during boss fights. There are only six major bosses, but they're all some of the series' most memorable - fitting considering the original is home to one of the best set of bosses in the genre. Like zombies, bosses are much more durable this time around, but, like any good video game boss, weak points are easy enough to identity, and well integrated into the actual character designs. With boss arenas always intelligently built around creating tense set pieces within combat, all six serve as potential roadblocks on one's path out of Raccoon City. Like any good survivors, playable characters Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield head into Raccoon City post-infection, looking for answers in regards to some personal matters. Claire wants to find her brother Chris - one of the series original protagonists - and Leon more simply wants to know why the Raccoon City Police Department has gone dead silent leading up to his first day. They're compelling enough motivations that cleverly get resolved almost immediately, allowing the rest of the story to linger on the horror of the situation.

Resident Evil as it was in the late '90s/early '00s wasn't really scary. Nemesis was the most overtly terrifying of the bunch, but the general tone of the series was action heavy from as early as the second game's opening. The remake douses Raccoon City and the R.P.D. in an overwhelming layer of terror. Tight, long hallways are dimly lit, every turn an opportunity for fear. Zombies can open doors, break through windows, gnaw on Leon or Claire like they were nothing. Capcom's managed to create one of the scariest depictions of zombies in the genre, to the point where it's painfully evident how Raccoon City could fall so quickly and so effectively. These are killing machines that simply do not let up. From a gameplay and narrative standpoint, zombies are utterly horrifying. Worse yet are different variations of undead stalking the city. Blind Lickers actively sniff out their prey, dogs violently run around barking, and the Ivy Zombies will latch onto a player to try to bite their face clean off. Even well equipped, the inventory system helps keep tension high.

The initial inventory for both characters only holds eight slots. Although items typically only take up one slot, a few key items eat up two - notably especially plot sensitive and fully upgraded weapons. Although Leon and Claire can find hip pouches to upgrade inventory by two slots, each for a max inventory of 20 slots, you need to juggle weapons, ammo, healing items, subweapons, and key items, while leaving room for any pick-ups along the way. There's also the matter of puzzle solving to account for. Most of the time, Leon and Claire will be driven by the need to find some item that'll let them solve a puzzle in order to proceed. When this isn't the case, the goal is usually just exploration under the universal motivation of surviving and escaping. Puzzles are no better or worse than they were in the 1998 original, but most of them are different. Like their original counterparts, however, the remake's puzzles make use of the environment, reward exploration, and are clever enough to always be rewarding without being obtuse.

Screenshot for Resident Evil 2 on Xbox One

Of course, this also means that players will need to carry puzzle relevant items on them. At the same time, that's a waste of an inventory slot. Thankfully, Item Boxes make a return, and allow for the heroes to access their stored inventory at any box. While it's time consuming, and veterans will find ways to get by without needing to do so, overwhelmed players can always plan routes from an Item Box directly to where they need to go next. Routing is important in general, especially on Hardcore. This Resident Evil 2 has two difficulties: Standard and Hardcore. Standard serves as a traditional play-through. Players can save whenever, there's a generous enough amount of ammo scattered, and enemies aren't too overwhelming on their own. Enemies on Hardcore are far more dangerous, tearing through a player's health with next to no effort, auto-saving is disabled, and Ink Ribbons are now required to save at Type Writers. Not just that, Ink Ribbons now replace items on the overworld, requiring more strategic item management than on a Standard play-through.

Resident Evil has always handled replayability well, but the second game arguably did the best job at incentivising return play-throughs. The 1998 sequel notably made use of the "Zap System," a design concept which allowed for four distinct play-throughs between Leon and Claire. Players choose a character at the start of their run, who they then control as they head to the R.P.D. Upon clearing this first adventure, players then play through it again from the perspective of the other character. Instead of being a retread, however, this second scenario tells a new story with new bosses and new gameplay scenarios, filling in gaps and resulting in a much richer experience overall. These scenarios are generally referred to as "Leon A/Claire B" and "Claire A/Leon B" and add an incredible amount of replay value just conceptually. Unfortunately, the remake doesn't make use of the Zap System as it was, instead featuring two stories for both Leon and Claire that share the same skeleton and deviate only in a few key areas. The second scenarios for each character are still present, but there's no narrative or gameplay cohesion in-between scenarios anymore.

While this does sound like quite the indictment against the remake, it actually ends up being its greatest strength. As each playthrough keeps most puzzles and elements consistent, players are encouraged to intimately learn the layout of the R.P.D. Each new play-through is an opportunity to better optimize an escape plan. A room players may have cleared out on their first try might be left untouched on a second. On the flip side, a room players may have spared zombies in during their second playthrough may be deemed "clean-up" worthy on a third. Solving the same puzzles, avoiding the same zombies, and fighting the same bosses never gets tedious across the many play-throughs this is bound to inspire. Perhaps it should, but the level design is so tight, and players are allocated so much variety in their approach that experimenting with getting through the R.P.D. never stops being engaging. Of course, it certainly helps that the title itself is one of the better paced entries in the series.

Screenshot for Resident Evil 2 on Xbox One

The first half is dedicated to escaping Raccoon City through the R.P.D. - a set piece the remake shares with the original. For the most part, this half of the game is less narrative-driven, and instead allows players to explore the police station to their heart's content. There are optional weapons to find, minor sequences to break, and a shocking amount of leeway when it comes to approaching the early game. The back half picks up the story, but also starts peppering in bosses more frequently. It's also here where Capcom reintroduces Mr. X for a modern audience. Where in the original he was only a presence in each character's B play-through, here he's in all four scenarios. Notably, Mr. X is only a consistent presence in Leon's playthrough, with Claire getting off a bit easier. A nice little detail, considering Leon was the "easier" character in the original.

Mr. X keeps wrapping up the R.P.D. frantic, especially since this portion of the adventure is actually quite short. It mainly involves solving a few simple puzzles, but Mr. X's presence adds an overwhelming layer to a task that would otherwise be painfully simple to check off the list. The level design gets a bit more constricted once Leon and Claire leave the R.P.D., but there are always plenty of optional rooms to go through, and plenty of secrets to find. From the nauseating sewers down below, to the anemic hallways of Umbrella's lab, Resident Evil 2 always manages to provide a grounded scare. It's worth mentioning that the remake is considerably less colourful than the original release. Given the limitations of the technology, Capcom couldn't quite afford to go all out with creepy lighting while also keeping the gameplay coherent. As a result, the original Resi 2 is a very vivid title, one whose colours pop, and honestly help define a good chunk of the title's identity. The remake is noticeably gloomier with no real regard for vibrancy. The lighting isn't drab, and the colour palette pairs with the new atmosphere perfectly, but fans of the original should temper their expectations in this regard.

It's also hard to ignore how much less character-driven the remake is in comparison to the first game. The downside to losing four unique play-throughs is that audiences lose four unique opportunities to get to know the cast. Much more time is spent with Leon and Claire than was spent with Chris or Jill. The remake's two play-throughs don't allow for much in the way of character interactions, with Leon and Claire no longer interacting with one another as frequently - if at all, for 95% of their runs. It's admittedly disappointing, especially since the two have fantastic chemistry, but that chemistry is never really used in the remake, which is bad. Although Leon and Claire interacting less is certainly a downgrade, performances across the board are much, much better. Leon himself also comes out in the remake as a more fleshed out, and dynamic character. While his cool confidence in the original made him a very fun protagonist to follow (plus his chemistry with Ada), Leon in the remake is a more relatable and grounded main character. He gets scared, he panics, he has a code of honour only a rookie cop could have in a zombie apocalypse, and he's got a decent sense of humour.

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His relationship with Ada, along with the overwhelming horror of a zombie apocalypse, slowly break down Leon's more naive qualities by the end of the game without breaking him. It's a nice little arc that fits the tone of his story as well. Leon's a bit more reactive than Claire is, responding in fear more often. He's also less in control, requiring Ada to save him across the first two acts. Claire doesn't develop as clearly as Leon, but she's just as entertaining as a protagonist and arguably has the better story. Sherry Birkin sees an enormous upgrade from the original to the remake. Where she was harmless, albeit a bit annoying, before, she's now a highlight of the story. Claire's dynamic with Sherry is a fantastic motivator, and Anette and William end up having tighter narrative and thematic connections to Claire as a result. Claire's play-through also features the better "partner" section. In both playthroughs, control will briefly switch to Ada or Sherry. Ada's segment features a series of hacking puzzles while featuring the core gunplay, while Sherry's opts for pure stealth and puzzle solving. The latter not only makes for a far more memorable set piece, it stands out as one of the scariest segments in the entire franchise. That said, Ada's set piece isn't bad - just worse.

Beyond the four main scenarios, Resident Evil 2 is home to a host of unlockables. There's plenty of concept art to wade through, but The 4th Survivor returns from the original release. By completing a full playthrough (Leon/Claire [2nd], Claire/Leon [2nd]), players will unlock a side-mode starring Hunk; an Umbrella mercenary tasked with escaping a fully infested R.P.D. with a very limited inventory. Hunk can take more damage than Leon or Claire, and is generally well equipped, but The 4th Survivor tests players mastery of the core mechanics and knowledge of the level design. The 4th Survivor would be an excellent final challenge if it weren't for the fact that it unlocks another mode, The Tofu Survivor. A goofy reimagining of The 4th Survivor, The Tofu Survivor has players controlling a piece of tofu armed solely with knives and herbs. It's brutally hard, far more so than The 4th Survivor is, but The Tofu Survivor features its own set of unlockables. The unlockables alone are enough for The Tofu Survivor to have its own replay appeal, independent of the main experience.

Better yet, Capcom has since updated the game with a series of free DLC: The Ghost Survivors. Made up of four campaigns, The Ghost Survivors is a series of "what if?" scenarios focusing on characters who otherwise met tragic fates over the course of the story. Each campaign also introduces a unique gimmick, features a forgiving training mode, and shares a massive roster of cosmetic unlockables. For free DLC, The Ghost Survivors is shockingly generous. Regardless of which mode players get addicted to, the fact of the matter is that Capcom have gone all out in remaking a survival horror classic. No, it isn't a 1:1 remake, but it doesn't try to be. It's a remake that seeks to reinterpret a work of art, while always understanding what that work represented. The remake brings out the original's latent horror and puts it on full display, while also shining a spotlight on the franchise's best gameplay elements. Replayability is at the heart of every good Resident Evil, and Resident Evil 2 is one of the best.

Screenshot for Resident Evil 2 on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

This Resident Evil 2 doesn't replace or overwrite its source game in the way 2002's Resident Evil did, but that doesn't mean it's a bad remake. Rather, it's one of the best the medium has seen; amplifying the underlying horror and replayability at the core of the franchise. Capcom has outdone itself in an era where they're not hurting for successes. Not for the faint of heart, but a survival horror masterpiece nonetheless, Resident Evil 2 sets a standard for good horror, good action, and damn good game design.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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