How Resident Evil 2 Reanimates Classic Survival Horror

Leon Kennedy In Resident Evil 2.

When Resident Evil 2 launched 20 years ago, it scared the daylights out of an entire generation of gamers while simultaneously creating a template for the survival horror genre. So when a from-the-ground-up remaster finally shambled onto the scene during PlayStation's E3 2018 showcase, it's easy to understand why it stole the show for many viewers. Now that I've had an opportunity to go hands-on with the game, I can confirm that this newest take on the horror classic plays just as well as it looks. Even more important, it reminds me why the original was so damn frightening in the first place.

Last week, I had the opportunity to take Resident Evil 2 for a spin while visiting the Capcom booth at E3 2018. They had me walk down a creepy, zombie-infested hall just to get to the game, which did a good job of creating the proper mindset. The demo room itself looked like a blood-splattered office at Raccoon City Police Department, with gameplay stations set up on rickety desks.

While having a dude dressed as a zombie pop out from behind a wall was creepy enough, what was truly surprising about my visit with Capcom was just how much time and care has clearly gone into this RE2 remake. It felt eerily familiar but completely new at the same time.

If you're a younger gamer, or perhaps you simply missed out on Resident Evil 2 when it first launched back in 1998, you might have some trouble understanding what all of the fuss is about. That goes double if you tried to boot up a copy of the original PlayStation game, as the tank controls, stilted dialogue, and janky animations make the game appear far less frightening by modern standards.

But you have to remember that, in 1998, there weren't many survival horror games on the scene and, as tame as the original Resident Evil 2 may seem today, it was considered cutting-edge technology in the late '90s. And what really set the game apart was the setting, the atmosphere, the wonderful sound design and the tough balancing act that comes from limited supplies while facing unfavorable odds. All of those things still make for a fantastic horror game, which is why Resident Evil 2 is still held in such high regard.

That's also why so many fans were so excited to learn that Capcom was working on a remaster that took the original's skeleton and piled on muscle and flesh provided by more modern technology. Still, I'm not sure anyone was expecting the game to look as good as it does, which we now know is due to the fact Capcom decided to recreate the fan favorite using the same engine that drove last year's horror hit, Resident Evil VII.

So, obviously, this new Resident Evil 2 looks fantastic, which is important for a horror game. It's far easier to buy the scares if everything looks crisp and clear.

Outside of the visuals, the first thing that caught my attention in this play session was the soundscape. The demo kicks off as Leon Kennedy arrives at the seemingly deserted Raccoon City Police Department. While exploring, my hollow footsteps echoed ominously off of the large corridors and, somewhere just out of sight, I kept hearing things clink, slide or go bump in the darkness. I found myself constantly spinning Leon around, certain a zombie was sneaking up from behind.

Also hugely important is the lighting. I was quickly thrust into sections where I was left to explore with nothing but my flashlight to guide me. If you've ever played RE7, you know exactly how tense those sections of gameplay can get, and they carry over nicely to a police station where all hell has broken loose.

Finally, it doesn't appear Capcom has decided to give players additional resources. I can't swear to it since it has been several years since I played the original, but it seems like pretty much everything is exactly where I remember it being and, yes, I was frequently left scrambling to escape a room filled with the undead rather than spend my precious few bullets trying to bring them down.

That familiarity was probably my favorite thing about this demo. It felt like I was playing the Resident Evil 2 I know and love, but with fresh visuals, haunting sounds, zombie animations, and voice-over work. I've seen all of this before, but never quite like this. It makes the argument that what scared us in 1998 can still be terrifying in 2008, and it looks like Capcom has taken this opportunity to prove exactly that.

Resident Evil 2 launches for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on Jan. 25.

Ryan Winslett

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.