Release Date: January 25, 2019
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Note: Be sure to play RE2 Remake with headphones on. The binaural sound adds a distinctly terrifying layer to an already terrifying experience.
Horror games are a kind of magic spell. The best ones conjure up a mind-bending world and throw us into our own nightmares, forcing us to adapt or die. Beset with impossible odds in impossible situations (like a city overrun with undead ghouls), horror games make the player negotiate pockets of hell while trying to remain physically--and mentally--intact.
The byline of Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes to mind: Who will survive and what will be left of them?
I can honestly say Capcom's Resident Evil 2 Remake has changed me as a gamer. That might sound dramatic but it's actually true. After playing the game I feel like I survived some great character-defining event, the kind of trial a hero faces as an ultimate test of survival.
Thanks to Capcom's incredible attention to detail and development prowess, the events of Raccoon City seemed real, felt real, and afterwards, I felt like some of the terrifying magic had rubbed off on my psyche, staining it the way ink will stain a white shirt.
This is the hallmark of a good horror game.
No other game made me sweat with a kind of ecstatic anxiety and anticipation as I ran through its hallowed depths, ever-chased by a fate worse than death. The only other one that's come close is Outlast, and that had more frustration rather than the outright panic, awe, and a kind of tantalizing fun that RE2 Remake inspires. The ravenous maw of hell itself threatened to clamp down at every turn, and only my wits and sheer willpower to survive saved me.
Although Resident Evil 2 Remake is the scariest game I've ever played, I couldn't stop myself from playing more. No matter how high the terror spiked my heart rate, no matter how many times I died or how many puzzles I failed, I kept coming back like a moth to a flame. Get too and close you could get burned, but that thrill is magnetic, that vicarious thrill that let me experience a new kind of terror without the direct consequences.
But make no mistake, there are consequences.
A day after I played the Resident Evil 2 Remake I had a hellish nightmare about zombies, the kind where all hope is abandoned and the black veil of death is slowly blinding your vision. It was a bleak dream where walls closed in on me, barricading any exit, trapping me the same way Leon and Claire were trapped in Raccoon City.
The game not only haunted my waking playtime, but invaded my dreams like a saboteur hellbent of warping my mind. Again, all of these things are hallmarks of a great horror game, and I couldn't be more impressed with what Capcom has achieved here.
RE2 Remake isn't just a remaster, or even a simple remake. It's like stepping into the true vision of what Resident Evil 2 was always meant to be. In many ways, it feels like a twisted experiment, as if Capcom are gods that unleash all kinds of havoc and hell for us to deal with.
To understand why RE2 Remake is such an incredible experience for horror fans, we need to dig a little deeper into the grave and unearth its hallowed secrets.
The Formula of Fright
Horror opens up a new dimension in our minds. It's a place of what-ifs, a place where monstrosities slither in the dark, a place where we go to unearth some great immortal evil to see what we're really afraid of. But Resident Evil 2's horror isn't so clearly defined. It's a vast, multi-faceted experience where everything is connected, and every single part of the game serves the whole.
Everything from the puzzles, the lighting, the sound design, and even the running animations all bleed into the main theme of otherworldly terror. Capcom's approach here is nothing short of masterful; they've created a complex webwork of horror that transcends jump scares and grisly mayhem, and with RE2 Remake, they've opened the door to another dimension of fright.
The real magic of RE2 Remake lies in Capcom's incredible dedication to every little thing. Armed with the flexibility and sheer might of its proprietary REngine, the team creates the strongest form of interactive terror I've ever experienced. It's a kind of creeping terror, though, one whose formula is worth investigating deeper.
The formulaic approach sees Capcom becoming a master of everything that's scary. There's a deep psychological bent to everything you do in RE2 Remake, from the jump scares to the sense of impending dread. In many ways the game feels like a dream; the lights have a kind of blurry, semi-unreal quality to them, the environments are both defined but off-kilter and out of place, as if formed by a scrambled imagination rather than a cohesive real-life world.
And like any bad dream, there's this blanket of doom that encompasses everything.
The game teaches you early on to expect the unexpected. Is that a shadow or a zombie hiding in the dark, ready to chomp your flesh? The very city feels like it's alive and very, very hungry. Environments are out to get you, enemies are out to get you, hell, even your own shaky hands and terrible panic-induced aim is against you. But even with all of these forces trying to take a bite out of you, there's this dire need to dredge onward.
Every achievement you make, whether it be solving a puzzle or surviving a literal prison packed with zombies, is always punctuated by humility. The game always finds a way to knock you off your stride and put you back to square one. A single mistake can wreck your progress completely, a terrified run through the wrong corridor, a few missed shots or badly executed dodge attempts. Maybe you forgot your Blue Herb mixture and Leon is slowly dying from poison, or maybe you accidentally mixed the wrong gunpowder together and only have one shotgun shell left.
This adds an extreme sense of caution to every move you make, adding this very heavy weight to every decision. Things have this sense of finality to them in RE2 Remake. Even though you do get resources and eventually learn to adapt out of sheer necessity, the game still punishes you for mistakes...and sometimes the punishment is more long-term and not immediately noticeable.
It's a seesaw of empowerment and debasing that both wears on you and actually propels you even further. Part of me wanted to keep going just to see what weirdness lay in wait, while the other part needed to take a break and do some breathing exercises.
That kind of psychological effect is rare to find in games. Few games test your mettle like Resident Evil 2 Remake, not simply because the developers don't want to, but because they don't have the finesse or ability. Capcom achieves something that most game devs simply can't, and it does so extremely well.
The most pervasive sense of psychological terror is made possible by the game's visuals and sound effects.
What you see isn't the most terrifying thing about the game. What you think you'll see...what you think is around that next corner...that trepidation is the true essence of RE2 Remake's sheer power. The game taps into your imagination and turns your own mind against you, making you anticipate some untold chaos that's behind the next door.
The macabre gore that you actually see and experience is only fuel for your own twisted imagination, the same way a roaring inferno is fueled by a small piece of lumber. It's a kind of cycling snowballing that sees you imagining your worst nightmares shortly after living them in the game, causing every next step to be a careful and thoughtful one.
The sound design is also immaculate. A lot of my fear wasn't sparked from jump scares, blood and guts, or even Mr. X's appearance (more on him later), but the sounds of the game itself. The hissing and screeches of the zombies chilled my bones and made me involuntarily run across the Raccoon Police Station. The shambles, the weird slithering of the lickers, Mr. X's foot-stomps as he trudged ever-closer to my location.
Every place has some background noises that keep you on edge. There's always something rumbling against a door, some weird unseen monster slithering against a pipe or splashing in some water somewhere, some hissing from a vent or an ominous hum from a generator or machine. It's as if Capcom has perfectly captured every single eerie sound and jammed them creatively into one package.
But what scared me the most wasn't these noises, but the weird silence that sometimes permeates in areas. Because that's where my imagination crept in once again, feeding bizarre scenes of death and fright into my psyche.
In this way, Capcom has successfully tapped the power that all horror movies have.
But RE2 Remake is beyond a horror movie because you actually control the outcomes and interact with the world itself. You become an instrument for the horror, a delivery vehicle, a mechanism for the weirdness and creepy visuals. The game often feels like it's playing you, but a lot of the time you don't actually mind. You're here for keeps regardless of what happens.
There's this kind of exciting anticipation, this thrilling enjoyment that comes from being scared of the unknown. It's fun, but it also seeps into your mind and makes things more real than the seem...and soon you forget you're playing a game. Soon you feel like you're actually there, as if you are Leon or Claire, as if you're trying to find your way out of this impossible situation and solve weird complicated puzzles and retrace your steps.
Rat in a Maze: Mechanics, Environments, and More
Raccoon City is a big haunted house that's enshrouded in mystery. The labyrinthine environments are just as fascinating as the monsters and the story arc, and in many ways, the city itself is the star of the whole show.
The game is layered in a way of indirect progression. There's lots of retracing steps and going back to areas you've already visited to unlock doors. But the game is dynamic enough where the areas change; a hallway you cleared out is now scouted by wall-crawling blood beasts, or the zombies you killed simply come back to life to gnaw on you a bit.
The areas you revisit are reactive, as if the haunted house knows you're getting closer to escaping so it sends out more monsters to get you.
This is also nightmarish in its own way simply because you get lost often. Raccoon City's various locales, from the Police Department to the Sewers and the Laboratory are all maze-like and can quickly overwhelm your senses. That's a big part of what makes RE2 Remake so scary: it overwhelms your sensory input and taps this deep, primal part of our humanity. It reaches that part where blind fear and panic take over, that electric pocket where fight or flight reflexes rest.
Getting lost a tomb is disorienting and creepy enough, but add in marauding ghouls, and you've got a recipe for total dread. This adds another layer to that psychological terror that Capcom is so adept at.
The puzzles only add to this mix of frustration and disorientation. You get mixed up a lot, and the puzzles aren't always straightforward. Capcom once again tests your mental fortitude with clever puzzles of logic and management skills. Capcom gives us clues and tidbits, but sometimes you simply just don't know what to do and keep experimenting until you figure it out.
Resident Evil 2 Remake's game mechanics have been refined to a tee. The REngine allows for RE4-style over-the-shoulder aiming (gone are the days of tank controls!). The aiming is great, but the reticle is quite slow at shrinking, so you'll always have to carefully time your movement and your shots...which is a lot easier said than done when you're getting overrun.
Shooting is tactical and requires finesse, skill, and oftentimes luck. It's satisfying getting that perfect headshot, but most of the time you simply want to avoid altercations altogether and make a rush for the exit and hope for the best. Sometimes it works, other times you get chomped, slashed, or mauled.
Inventory management is still in, but it's more forgiving this time. Players always need to be mindful of what they're carrying and of how much. Paying attention to what you have (and don't have) is a must, so only carry what you know you need. Mixing the right gunpowder and herb concoctions takes some anticipation, but the game is constantly throwing curve balls so its hard to predict what you might need. Often there will be subtle clues, like a Blue Herb near a particular entrance, or some shotgun shells on a shelf.
Movement is funky and kind of janky but nothing like the awkward old-school tank controls. Rather than taking away from the experience, though, the movement scheme adds to that sense of dire helplessness at times. Often you feel like you're moving in a dream, sludging through ooze and trying to escape some freaky hellspawn intent and chewing your guts.
Mr. X the Tyrannical
I couldn't do the Resident Evil 2 Remake justice without talking about Mr. X, aka Tyrant. He's such an opposable force that I thought he deserves his own section.
There are few things in video games that outright disturb me and give me a kind of building anxiety, but Mr. X definitely brought these chills in spades. This hulking monstrosity is like a walking force of awfulness; he constantly chases you, making you feel like prey in a labyrinthine slaughterhouse full of booby traps. Every thumping step those mammoth feet take are like nails driving into a coffin. He sometimes matches your movements step-for-step, acting like a shadowy mimic, but the worst part about the Tyrant is that he's always somewhere waiting for you.
There's whole sections of the game where this walking wall of death will stomp around the entire level just to find you. And he always finds you. There's no escaping him for long, there's only avoiding him for the short term. It's like this countdown clock has triggered and you only have X amount of time before Mr. X shows up to wreck your day (and your face).
Tyrant's presence in the game adds this intense thrill that's punctuated by fear and a kind of predatory revulsion. The music kicks up whenever he's nearby, raising your heart rate and kicking that instinctual fight or flight reflex this game so loves to manipulate.
You can't really fight him, though, and you can't stop him--the only thing you can do is slow him down by throwing off his pursuit or blasting his rock-like skullcap with bullets. But even then he gets back up. He always gets back up.
He both propels your journey into this bloody, dank and haunted city and impedes it. Like a slowly moving wall he forces you to go the other way, and like a wall, he'll often block your progress. Mr. X is easily one of the most fascinating things about the game simply because he inspires deep frustration and awe all at the same time. You have to respect Tyrant and understand his nature, or else he'll terrorize you across Raccoon City.
Everything about this silent automaton is eerie and magnetic. When Mr. X shows up you're repelled from him because you don't want to die, but somehow attracted to the weird thrill he brings. There's a true sense of panic when he's near, ominously stomping and smashing open doors. How close is he? you ask, as the thumps get louder and louder, almost as loud as your beating heart.
No matter how many times you evade his lumbering swipes or cap his dome, encountering him always brings that spike of cold dread...and as a horror fan that's something I actually welcome.
Wrap-Up: Macabre Mastery
Playing the Resident Evil 2 Remake is like watching a marathon of the best horror movies. The greats are all here; disgusting Cronenberg monstrosities fused with humans and writhing slimy tumors, the dark cinematography of Craven, the stark colors of Hitchcock's noir style, the ominous mind-warping slaughterhouse fear from a Hooper flick, the raw paranoia of a Carpenter film, and the classic overwhelming shambling presence of Romero's immortal Night of the Living Dead.
This game shoves you in your own cinematic slice of hell and you're directing the scenes, and it's so immersive you often forget you're actually playing. With this game, Capcom prove to be the undisputed kings of terror and have found a way to perfectly encapsulate the thrilling magic of everything scary.
The developers have clearly spent an incredible amount of time immaculately crafting the game's environments, visuals, lighting, and sound--everything is oozing with atmosphere and blends perfectly into the overall experience. This is Capcom's macabre masterpiece that's painted in blood, psychological terror, and all the other dark hues and colors that all interactive horror media strives to achieve.
Not only does the RE2 Remake harken back to the golden age of PlayStation gaming, but it revitalizes it in a way that's easily accessible and consumable, and redolent with fear-inducing action to keep us up at night.
If you absolutely love spooky movies and enjoy putting yourself in mental duress for entertainment, then you absolutely can't miss this one. Play it with the lights out, with headphones on, and try not to warp your mind too much.
Resident Evil 2 Remake ignites that primal excitement within all of us and feeds that internal hunger for razors-edge chaos. Raw silvery fear cuts through the fog of the game's abandon-all-hope malaise like a scalpel, letting a kind of strange corruption bleed through. It's here where we revel in the terror and weirdness Capcom has summoned, and here where the true curse and magic of all horror lies.
- Amazing graphics and visuals
- Stellar sound design adds new dimension of horror
- Visceral, brutal gore and mayhem
- Boss fights are a rush
- Facial animations are incredible
- Multi-dimensional terror that goes beyond simple jump scares
- Mr. X is utterly horrifying
- Refined running and shooting mechanics
- Unique environment layouts keep you on your toes
- Mr. X can be super annoying at times
- Aiming can be wonky
- Easy to get lost
|Visuals and Graphics||95%|
|Game Mechanics & Combat||95%|
The Bottom Line: Resident Evil 2 Remake is the most terrifying game I've ever played, and is a must-have for any horror fans. Play it in the dark with headphones on.
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