Undead Again: Resident Evil 2 Gameplay Impressions

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For those out of the loop, Capcom recently dropped (and is soon to retract) a 1-shot demo for their upcoming reimagining of the classic title, Resident Evil 2. Players are given thirty minutes to navigate the iconic Raccoon City police station’s various twists and turns – facing droves of stubborn undead and uncovering secrets as they go – in a desperate bid to reach the demonstration’s conclusion before the timer ticks zero.

While many bemoan the inability to replay it, what’s clear from this short slice of the game is that the team behind RE2 not only understands what makes the series great, but what made its latest iterations disappointing. This is pure, unadulterated survival horror in every sense.

Straight off the bat, what’s most striking is the new coat of paint. The strides Capcom have made with their RE engine since Resident Evil 7 are immediately apparent and most evident in the environmental detailing, the incredible lighting and the general quality of the animations on display. The second most noticeable is the perspective and feel of movement. It once again dons RE4’s over-the-shoulder view, but is far more fluid and less restrictive –taking more cues from Dead Space than anything else – allowing players to walk and fire at the same time, turn smoothly and flip one-eighty degrees.

The result is a scenario where Leon feels capable, yet not overpowered and nowhere near the speedster he is in RE6. Capcom’s latest is solidly grounded in the horror elements of the franchise and its controls feel right at home therein.

Much of this is owed to light and sound design. Dark hallways abound in the demo and the way Leon’s flashlight contrasts against the blackness in a realistic fashion as his only reprieve – moving with his arms and being more focused at its centre – is nearly enough to colour one’s drawers alone. The haunting wales of the undead announce their presence and invoke dread consistently.

The atmosphere is one of near constant paranoia. The impact of firearms is palpable too: each accompanied by a satisfying sound and brilliant representation of damage on the enemy thanks to RE2’s new gore and body degradation system, which, in addition to ragdoll with some real weight, results in some of the most realistic and location-specific violence ever depicted in this type of game.

This is not to say, however, that RE2’s standard enemies are slouches of any sort. One of the demo’s greatest successes is that it actually manages to make zombies frightening after decades of pervading popular culture. This is largely due to their sheer persistence. Though their bodies may whittle away with every bullet taken, they are still capable of absorbing upwards of 6 or 7 shots to down completely. And even then the player is never allowed to feel truly safe. Corpses of enemies are consistent and may arise at any given moment for a surprise attack upon one’s return.

In addition, they are no longer confined to specific rooms or hallways like older entries in the series. Just as Leon can smoothly transition through doors (ala RE7), so can his bloodied opponents. RE2 clearly encourages a crafty playstyle where one conserves their limited resources and finds the smartest ways to move around the level without having to put every single enemy out for good.

The tools provided in the demo included a pistol, (brilliant) shotgun and the classic defensive knife. The use of the latter has changed somewhat since its earliest implementation in the series. The player can hold the left bumper/L1 to draw the knife and slash much the same as in RE4, but can more importantly be used as a saving grace should the player be grappled by a zombie – at which point the knife remains attached to the NPC until downed, when it can be retrieved.

At its core, RE2 is very much a Resident Evil game in design: challenging the player to slowly uncover a sprawling area of locked-off zones and interconnected areas through a series of light puzzles, though it does make changes and offer more clear directions on objectives in an attempt at modernisation. The lack of loading screens between rooms makes this more immersive than it’s ever been, while the secrets, notes and gated items littered throughout the environment encourage exploration despite the dangers at hand.

While the game does occasionally take control away for a cutscene, these are short and effective thus far – transitioning smoothly back into gameplay without robbing from the horror experience. And on that note, the original schlock has been (more or less) gracefully rewritten into a more contemporary script. The performances are competent too, though my personal preference is easily the Japanese voice-track.

The only obvious gripe with the demo was the abundance of ammunition. The title uses the adaptive difficulty introduced in RE4, where the challenge rises according to player performance; increasing enemy strength and lowering item drop-rates for skilled players, while naturally decreasing the challenge for players who may need a hand. Only time will tell how well this feature is implemented and how much of a challenge die-hards will be able to extract from the final experience.

There is a lot for fans to be excited about when it comes to Resident Evil 2. Whether or not one has ever touched the original title, this appears to be a more-than-worthy experience. It takes the best of its inspirations from the series and other survival horror stars to create what is likely to be the best (only??) iteration of the genre in a very long time. 2019 is once again geared to be a year stuffed with incredible Japanese games and to see a title from a long line is this in tune with its roots is satisfying on so many levels. RE2 is sure to be a hit amongst longtime fans and lovers of all things horror when it drops on the 25th of January.

Last Updated: January 14, 2019

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