Resident Evil 2 isn’t the same game I played in 1998. After going hands-on with just 20 minutes of Capcom’s upcoming revamp of the seminal survival horror classic, that much is clear. It’s prettier, yes, and there’s a new camera perspective that makes your encounters with the T-Virus-infected coffin dodgers that much more intimate, but the differences extend far beyond mere aesthetics. In many ways, it’s a whole new game.
My Resi 2 demo had me slipping on Claire Redfield’s biker boots, complete with her signature red jacket and the iconic ‘Made in Heaven’ logo. She looked...different. Not bad, just different. It’s still unmistakably Claire, but something’s changed; the young Redfield sibling has a greater air of authenticity about her, not just down to the sumptuous facial animations afforded by Capcom’s proprietary RE Engine. Chris’ sassy sis actually looks like a 19-year-old college student and biker aficionado, as opposed to what a middle-aged Japanese bloke thinks one should look like. Gone are the denim shorts and lengthy pony tail, instead replaced by more realistic attire that complements her determined, youthful features. In short, she looks badass.
Claire’s armed with a pistol, submachine gun and grenade launcher as the demo opens, in what is presumably Chief Brian Irons’ office, or thereabouts. To be honest, I’m not really sure. As I said, Resi 2 subverts expectations: areas that I thought I recognised have been completely revamped; new cutscenes have been added; and just when I thought I knew where we were heading, Capcom throws something fresh in my direction. I make my way through the well-furnished room, down an elevator, and into what seems to be a power room or generator area, somewhere in the guts of the Raccoon Police Department. The area has a labyrinthine feel; jets of steam obfuscate my sense of direction, sending me to dead ends, some of which cough up valuable ammunition and supplies. Eventually, I find the right path and stumble into a cutscene introducing us to Sherry, one of the key characters who accompanied Claire in the ‘98 version.
Unfortunately there’s not much time for a chinwag, as we’re interrupted by a boss fight. It’s not just any old ruck though; it’s the fight against William Birkin, or rather, his pipe-wielding, eyeball-spurting mutated form that has a penchant for, well, smashing shit up. The fight takes place in a maze of steam-spewing generators, and ammo is limited. Birkin’s weak point is easily discernible as the massive eyeball on his shoulder, but actually hitting the thing isn’t an easy job. The boss lumbers and lurches around the place as he tries to clobber Claire, resulting in some sweat-inducing gunplay as I attempt to land my crosshair on the gooey, yellow tumour. Pleasingly, the controls are spot on. Anyone who has played any modern shooter should feel at home here: aim with L2 and then give R2 a squeeze to fire off a shot, while the ubiquitous 180 degree turn gives you a chance to get out of a tight spot.
Thankfully, my shots reach their mark, and I’m rewarded with a satisfying wash of yellow… stuff. Birkin recoils in pain, making him feel less like a pissed-off bullet sponge and more like a living, human(ish) monstrosity baying for spewing claret all over the gaff. Headshots aren’t as lethal, but they still deliver a satisfying result as the boss is stunned momentarily. I’m grabbed a few times, but a quick punch of L1 has Claire shove her combat knife right in the eye socket, or lob a grenade at Birkin’s feet to spare me a head-squishy death. It feels good, adding a nice layer of strategy into the mix when compared to the original, which was more about pointing at your target and shooting until it toppled. Resi 2 remake makes you work for your victory, and it’s a bloody gauntlet.
And fuck me, let’s just talk about Birkin himself. Capcom’s really gone to town in making the floppy-haired scientists look like an absolute demon. There’s a great juxtaposition in the design between the human side of howling horror, with its ripped lab coat and unkempt hair, and its monstrous form comprised of sinewy, muscular growths and an abnormally huge arm. Even through a guttural growl, it’s possible to hear Birkin call ‘Sherry’ as the remnants of his humanity slowly begin to succumb to the virus that’s warping his body. It’s not just disturbing, but incredibly visceral and somehow feels more grounded in reality.
Some of the classic beats of Resi 2 remain in place. There’s the item boxes to stash any gear you don’t want to lug about. Inventory management returns, albeit with a Resi 7-style menu that pops up by hitting triangle. And there’s no status screen as such; if Claire takes a hit, your ECG will flash on-screen briefly to let you know you’re in bad shape. It’s this marriage of two worlds, the fusing of old and new, that gives Resi 2 an overwhelming sense of both familiarity and freshness that should ensure it appeals to both old farts like myself and newcomers.
Sadly, the demo wraps up soon after Birkin is defeated. Reunited with Sherry, Claire makes her way up into the RPD’s underground parking garage, where another cutscene triggers, and a familiar face seriously shits all over our progress. This is a completely new scene and one that I’m interested to see play out in the full game – it ended immediately after, leaving me chomping at the bit for more.
Capcom looks like they’re onto another winner with Resi 2, and providing they can keep honouring the original version while keeping things fresh, then there’s no reason it shouldn’t top Resident Evil Remake as the quintessential series entry.
Resident Evil 2 is due out on January 25, 2019 for PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One.