I remember very clearly my initial reaction to the official announcement of the Resident Evil 2 remake: I was watching E3 with a friend when a trailer came on depicting a rat’s-eye-view of some sort of storeroom. “Oh boy! They’re finally making Rat Simulator!” I jested enthusiastically, for Rat Simulator is genuinely a game I would very much enjoy if it was done well. My friend and I continued to express our excitement up until the moment when the trailer showed its first zombie, at which point I said, with no small measure of disappointment, “Aw, another zombie game? This isn’t what I wanted. I wanted Rat Sim…”
And then Leon S. Kennedy showed up.
“Oh my god!” I exclaimed, instantly recognizing him despite his updated look, “It’s what I wanted! It’s better than Rat Sim!”
I relay this anecdote to give you some sense of how excited I was for this game to come out. Now that it’s arrived, my excitement for it has hardly diminished – even now I feel the urge to go back for my fourth playthrough.
One of the common criticisms that have been levied against Resident Evil as a series in recent installments is that they’ve drifted further and further from being horror games and closer and closer to being action games. Unless you’re playing on the lowest difficulty setting – which, hey, no judgment – Resident Evil 2 doesn’t feel very action-y. For starters, this title does away with enemies dropping items for you (or depending on your point of view reverts to that style). Every resource in the game is predetermined, placed in specific locations, and once you eat through them that’s it. A particularly reckless player could probably find themselves stuck later in the game, having exhausted the world’s supply of healing items and low on health. That said, this probably won’t happen. The game isn’t completely stingy with giving you what you need, but there’s enough scarcity to keep you on your toes, creating a good balance.
Additionally, the sound design is absolutely phenomenal. Early on in my first playthrough I would jump at every little noise, still uncertain what was and was not a sign of imminent danger. After a while, I got a bit more comfortable roaming the police station where much of the game is set, but immediately afterwards the game introduced Mr. X, an invulnerable enemy that stalks the player relentlessly and forces them to be very deliberate with their actions lest they attract his attention. Running or getting into fights draws him to the player’s location, so once he shows up every encounter with run-of-the-mill enemies becomes a decision over which threat is greater. What’s more, Mr. X’s sound cue is heavy, clomping footsteps that sometimes echo from several rooms away, which put me right back on edge over every little noise.
In addition to not drawing Mr. X’s attention, evading combat brings a strange satisfaction by itself. Every time I just barely managed to slip past a zombie’s clutches my heart would beat a little faster and I’d silently congratulate myself on momentarily staving off death. Even greater is the satisfaction of evading lickers – as intense as slowly creeping past one is in the actual moment, once it’s over it’s quite a rush.
Another point that adds to the tension is the game’s small size on more than one level. Most rooms and corridors are tightly packed, cramped, claustrophobic – the player has little room to maneuver, which informs every encounter you have with an enemy, but it never feels unfair in that regard. On the whole, too, the world is small. Initial exploration is a joy, and it can certainly feel like there are lots to see, but after a while, you come to realize that there really isn’t that much to it – something which works overwhelmingly in the game’s favor. Resident Evil 2 is a concise, focused, and polished experience that isn’t interested in wasting time on a hundred different things to do, and that’s fine. Honestly, I find it comforting to play a game that has a playtime under fifteen hours (in fact, it can easily be completed in less than three or four once you know what you’re doing).
As a final note, I’d like to discuss Resident Evil 2’s tone. One of my biggest issues with the last release in the series, Resident Evil 7, was that it didn’t feel tonally consistent with other entries. One of my favorite things about Resident Evil is it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The plot and dialogue in the average Resident Evil game is cheesy in a delightful B-movie sort of way, and they know it and lean into it. 7 had a few over the top moments, but by the end, it felt much blander. Resident Evil 2, on the other hand, is appropriately campy and fun, albeit with higher production values than its predecessors.
Overall, it’s hard to find anything to take issue with in Resident Evil 2. It is a superb horror experience that should delight series fans and serve as a fantastic introductory point for newcomers.
And yes, it is indeed better than Rat Sim.