Ask anyone who played the original release of Resident Evil 2 back in 1998 what they remember most fondly about their time with the game and we reckon a lot of folk will gravitate towards the Raccoon City Police Department. Easily the best setting in a Resident Evil to date – although Resident Evil 7's hillbilly hellhouse runs it a close second – it was the crowning achievement in this blockbuster sequel, as much a central character as Leon, Claire, Mr X or William Birkin. Its sprawling nightmarish interior was where the original game was at its claustrophobic best and, fast-forwarding 21 years to this spectacular ground-up remake, this remains the case.
For all the modern bells and whistles that've been added here – and there are plenty of bells and whistles – it's once again the RPD that steals the show; the beautiful heart of the original game beating strongly from within its new and improved surroundings. It highlights the great level of care taken by Capcom in how they've approached this extensive "reimagining" of one of their most beloved properties. For as much as they've completely rebuilt Resident Evil 2 here – recreating the entire game in the stunning RE Engine, replacing static backgrounds with a fully three dimensional world, dumping tired old tank controls in favour of a more modern setup and reshuffling areas you once knew like the back of your hand - this is still very much the game you know and love.
The police headquarters may have had an almighty lick of paint since the last time you visited but it's still the self-same nightmare puzzlebox that bug-eyed gamers crept tentatively through back in 1998. This is a masterful update that manages to expertly weave together old and new, successfully excavating Hideki Kamiya's original vision using the latest gaming tech and resulting in an experience that's easily on a par with the very best that this storied franchise has to offer.
Things kick off here with a brand new, action packed opening sequence that sees central protagonists Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield join forces at a zombie-infested gas station before being separated by an explosive accident. At this point Resident Evil 2 allows you to choose which of these two heroes you'll make your first run through the game with, each one providing a slightly different journey through the game's campaign - before funnelling you as quickly as possible through the doors of the RPD and getting you right back into that classic survival horror groove - creeping slowly through dark, blood-spattered corridors, scouring the environment with your flashlight for precious healing items and ammo, micromanaging your inventory space and hoping against all hope that you don't stumble across a zombie or three - which of course you almost instantly will.
And what zombies they are. The undead here are a massive step up from what you'll have encountered back in the day, no longer a shambling mess of awkward polygons, they're brought vividly to life with what the developers quite unnervingly refer to as a "wet gore effect" that sees their staggeringly detailed bodies take visible damage and get into a real bloody mess as you pump bullets into their rotten flesh. They react in real time to your attacks, limping if you shoot them in the leg or spinning to one side if you catch them with a bullet in the shoulder.
They're also relentless, capable of bursting through doors and following you from room to room, weaving quickly from side to side as you attempt to aim at them and making sudden and super quick lurches in your direction when they get close. We also found them surprisingly hard to kill, randomly capable of soaking up a ton of bullets, it makes them a constant challenge to mitigate without expending too many of your precious resources - resources you'll want to hang onto for your inevitable face-offs with infected dogs, lickers, Ivys - a brand new enemy that's a combo of the original game's mutant plants and a run of the mill zombie - and the various, terrifying G-mutations you'll happen across as you attempt to escape the zombie apocalypse.
Of course, all of these foes pale in significance to this reworked game's big surprise, Mr X. Originally a threat that only popped up at certain scripted points in the original game, once this hulking grey figure arrives here he's a constant marauding danger who'll zero in on your gunshots and give chase, making you hightail it through dangerous corridors to the nearest safe room for temporary refuge. You need to consider how much noise you make as you dispatch lesser enemies as he'll be on you in an instant should he pinpoint where that last bullet was fired from.
You also can't kill this freak *nervous laugh* - he soaks up every bullet, rocket and grenade you fire his way. Your only option is to run, at which point you'll likely wish you'd taken the time to clear every single corridor of its shuffling inhabitants, as the zombies you let live now have the upper hand and waste no time in making you their dinner. As initially cool as Mr X is here, however, he is also perhaps our biggest gripe with this remake. Initially an absolutely terrifying presence, he soon becomes something of a relentless and repetitive pest and we were pretty relieved once we'd grabbed the necessary bits and pieces required to move on from the RPD and leave his constant nagging behind.
It's a situation that's compounded in your second run through the game. Once you've beaten the main campaign with either Leon or Claire here you'll get to play through a second time with the other character in order to unlock the game's "true ending". This second run sees you follow a slightly different critical path that also has items and enemy locations remixed - the foyer of the RPD for example, once something of a safe haven, is now full of zeds - and, almost as soon as you arrive back on the scene, Mr X shows up. He's immediately a pain in the ass and although he does undoubtedly add to the overall tension, we ended up wishing he was still reserved for certain scripted points in proceedings rather than constantly hounding us through the first third of the game.
Overall though, this is one pretty small gripe in an otherwise outstanding experience. From the explosive new opening sequence - which really sets the scene for just how thorough a modernisation this really is - to that beautifully reworked police station, expanded sewer section and almost unrecognisable lab area that follows, this is a remake that completely reinvigorates a classic. It's hugely replayable - we've whittled our play times with both Claire and Leon down from around the seven hour mark to just over three - and all of the modern additions and quality of life improvements that have been made here make it a joy to jump into time and time again.
We love how the map now pinpoints the locations of items you've discovered but not yet collected and the fact that entering and exiting rooms no longer results in any kind of loading screen. We also love the new sub-weapons that enable you to stab a zombie who's managed to get a hold of you or maybe shove a grenade into their mouths before pushing them backwards, taking aiming and making an unholy mess of their heads - that wet gore effect in full flow as they slump to the now blood-soaked floor.
Playing on normal difficulty now allows you to eschew the original game's ink ribbon saving mechanic, allowing to rock up to any typewriter you see and secure your progress as many times as you want. Of course Resi aficionados may baulk at this idea, and they can stick the difficulty up to hard if they wish to revert back to hunting down ribbons and taking a chance on losing progress when things go wrong, but we actually preferred to play in this slightly harder mode. It ratchets the tension up just that little bit further, forcing you to consider your moves, ultimately leading to some desperate safe room dashes to prevent yourself losing a significant bit of progress.
Alongside the total of four varying runs you can make through the game with its two central protagonists, you also get the Tofu and Hunk scenarios from the original game as well as The Ghost Survivors DLC. The latter throws you into three "non-canon" scenarios that charge you with taking control of various side-characters as they make their own rescue and escape attempts from the burning wreckage of Raccoon City. This really is a hefty and hugely replayable package that never stops being an absolute blast to whip through over and over again in order to max out your end of game score and achieve that illustrious S+ ranking - a feat that rewards you handsomely with the majesty of infinite ammo.
There's a beautiful balance here between the series' trademark tense survival horror, satisfying puzzles that do just enough to stop you in your tracks briefly and some breathlessly OTT all-out action sequences that look absolutely stellar thanks to the work handed in by the stunning RE Engine. Zombies have never looked or sounded better, the game's meaty armoury of weapons have never made such a glorious mess and, overall, everything that's been added and reworked in this remake serves only to enhance the very best elements of this 21-year-old game.
This is a remake that highlights the genius of Kamiya's original vision, retaining the heart and soul of the 1998 classic while shotgunning its shambling body right into the 21st century, resulting in what is easily one of the very best Resi experiences we've had thus far. Roll on Resident Evil 3.
Resident Evil 2 is a stellar remake of an all-time classic. It manages to perfectly combine old and new, taking the very best aspects of Hideki Kamiya's original vision and transplanting them into this comprehensive and thoroughly modern reworking. A staggeringly beautiful recreation of the RPD brings one of gaming's most iconic settings kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and a new control scheme and plethora of quality-of-life improvements combine to make this one of the most satisfying and hugely replayable Resi games in the entire franchise.