Zombies, lickers and Tyrant — only two are killable, the other is a nightmare that shakes me to my very core.
Release date: Jan. 25, 2019
Platforms: PC [played], PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
The original Resident Evil 2 came out in 1998. With this remake, the game’s developer Capcom updated many components, such as the camera perspective, which was previously fixed like a security camera on a wall, to an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective. This brings the action closer to the player and immerses them further in the setting. Of course, being released 21 years later, dramatic graphical improvements were also made.
So what is Resident Evil 2 all about? Leon Kennedy is a new recruit to the Raccoon City Police Department. However, before he even begins his first day, there is a zombie outbreak in the city and everything is now on fire. On his way to the police station, Kennedy meets a college student named Claire Redfield at a gas station during the introduction sequence of the game. After surviving a zombie attack, they escape together and make their way to the police station. However, Redfield and Kennedy get separated after a car crash and then ambushed by a hoard of zombies. Kennedy manages to enter the police station while Redfield presumably is surviving around the station somewhere.
This is a good time to mention that there are two distinct sections to Resident Evil 2. When Kennedy and Redfield are ambushed by the hoard at the beginning of the game, the player can choose to play as one of the two. After completing one character’s section, you’re meant to play the other character to discover what happened to them. The characters’ paths intersect a few times throughout the game, but generally, they’re off doing their own thing. Each character can also access unique weapons, such as Redfield finding a grenade launcher, while Kennedy finds a pump-action shotgun. I only played six hours as Kennedy, so I can only assume that Redfield’s path takes her to different areas of the police station at different times.
The three core components of Resident Evil 2 are combat, inventory management and navigation. Kennedy and Redfield’s main goal is to find a way out of the city, but almost the entirety of the game is spent inside the police station, which for some reason is also a converted museum. That last part is a real oddity but is intrinsic to how the player progresses through the station, since it’s not in the best state of repair. The first major obstacle the player must overcome is finding the three medallions corresponding to statues of a unicorn, lion and maiden. Inserting those into three slots beneath a central statue in the station lobby then opens an underground passageway. This isn’t like any type of museum I’ve ever heard of, but hey, it’s best to just go along with it.
Combat is a tense affair with the player forced to wait a few seconds for the crosshairs to constrict and be accurate. The player has the option to not wait for the crosshairs to constrict, but that’s best saved for emergency situations when there is a zombie right in your face. Ammo is extremely scarce, so it’s best to pick your shots carefully. Three headshots will generally down a zombie, but there are some real survivors out there who will take twice as many shots or more to take down.
If the player is bitten by a zombie and takes damage, they can heal themselves with herbs that can be picked up around the station. Don’t ask me why the police are growing so many herbs. It definitely sounds highly suspect, but maybe they just wanted to throw Kennedy a really good welcome party. Anyway, there are green, blue and red herbs that can be combined to produce beneficial effects — stay with me here — such as completely restoring health or healing poison.
There are a few boss fights throughout the game, but the first and only one I encountered was extremely lackluster. A zombie with a massive mutated right arm with a giant eyeball in its shoulder serves as the first boss. I’m not kidding when I say massive; it’s almost the size of the rest of his body and looks like he skipped every other day at the gym besides right-arm day. That’s a day, right?
The boss fight merely serves to drain the player of most of the ammo they accrued before it. I had about 40 rounds of pistol ammo and eight shells for the shotgun and left with less than one -fourth of that. The actual fight involves running around in a circle of walkways, avoiding the boss’s melee swings and shooting the eyeball until a cutscene plays and the boss falls off a railing into a pit. My only issue with the fight is that it’s boring. Building up a stockpile of ammo and then firing it all at once could be a fun experience and a good way to to make sure the player doesn’t have too many resources to feel comfortable, but slowly walking around the same narrow limited area with very little threat if I keep enough distance isn’t engaging boss design.
Inventory management is incredibly important because of how limited it is. The player must balance what supplies to take with them, while leaving enough room to collect additional items found around the station. Each item, whether it be pistol ammo, an herb or a key item needed to unlock another area, requires space in the player’s inventory. The inventory is laid out in a grid of 4×2 slots to start out. Each item takes up a certain amount of space, typically one square. The player can also access a larger stash to store unneeded items and make room in their inventory. These stashes are located in safe rooms along with a typewriter, which is the only method of saving the game.
Eight inventory slots may sound like enough at the beginning, but as the player acquires new weapons, requiring unique ammo and items, expanding their inventory becomes a concern. Thankfully, there are hip pouches scattered around the station that will expand the inventory by two slots for each pouch. These upgrades are usually found right when you feel like you need them. A couple of the pouches are found in locked containers, requiring the player to complete a memorization mini-game to open them. The player must carefully manage their inventory to make sure they bring enough supplies, but also leave enough space for items found in the station.
Learning efficient ways of navigating the dimly-lit station will help the player avoid unnecessary encounters with zombies. Thankfully, the player has access to a map that reveals the floor plan of the station as they explore and find maps. It’s an incredibly useful resource that shows locked doors and which rooms haven’t been fully looted. Some locked doors require special keys to open, such as the heart or spade key. Remember that the station was originally a museum? The map will also show which key is needed to open certain locked doors. It’s certainly one of the best maps I’ve ever seen in a game. That’s a good thing too, considering the player will be using it a lot to figure out where they need to go next and where that much-needed ammo is at.
The horror in Resident Evil 2 comes from a mix of limited resources, flesh-eating zombies and at a certain point, an invincible, ever-present threat in the form of Tyrant. What look like dead bodies laying on the ground could suddenly lash out at the player if they’re not careful. Even if the player shoots a zombie in the head three times and it falls to the ground, it could still get up later. Unless the player scores a satisfying, but random, critical headshot that explodes the zombie’s head, of course.
One of the most horrifying moments I’ve ever experienced in a game occurred when I encountered a Licker for the first time. A Licker looks like it’s had all its skin flayed off and its brain is completely exposed. They can also climb up walls and stick to surfaces. They’re blind, so they rely on sound to locate their victims.
As Kennedy entered a long hallway, I heard an unusual growling sound. I slowly pointed my flashlight to the ceiling behind me, to reveal a Licker looking right at me. I attempted to slowly walk to the other end of the hallway, but the Licker crawled ahead and bumped into me from a blind spot. I quickly aimed my shotgun and put three shells of buckshot into its exposed brain and upper chest, but it wasn’t enough. It raced to the ceiling and pounced at me with its razor-sharp claws aimed at my throat. As it made contact, Kennedy stumbled back and the heart-rate monitor, which indicates health, began flashing orange and read “caution,” meaning I had lost half my health. I aimed my shotgun at the Licker, which was now directly in front of me. I put two more shots in its torso and it collapsed to the ground. It was like the scene was pulled straight out of a horror movie. It was harrowing, but an amazing experience.
The first time the player encounters Tyrant, he casually lifts up the wreckage of a crashed helicopter with one hand and doesn’t break a sweat. He’s an imposing presence. Tyrant is a good two feet taller than Kennedy and an amateur bodybuilder by the looks of it. His skin is pale blue and he wears a trench coat with leather straps on his wrist and a brimmed hat. You can’t say he doesn’t have style.
After this, he apparently becomes an ever-present threat that can’t be permanently stopped. I don’t know if that’s something I can mentally handle. Tyrant’s loud footsteps when he’s near, combined with the knowledge that he can’t be killed, resulted in me running straight back to the nearest safe room when I encountered him.
I’ve never played a game with an unstoppable threat, or if I have, I can’t remember. I’ve tried to avoid any game that has one, to be honest. I can deal with horror if I know I can fight back, but having an ever-present threat is absolutely terrifying. It’s like the feeling of having a nightmare where you’re constantly being chased. I can’t stand that intense panicked fear. That’s what I felt when I first encountered Tyrant and that’s why I’m wondering if I’ll be able to keep playing.
I’m not a huge fan of horror, likely because of a traumatic experience with a horror movie at a young age. The scariest game I’ve played until now was the original Dead Space. However, even in that game, you can easily fight back against threats. It leans way more toward action on the horror-action scale. There are jump scares, the enemies have terrifying designs and the setting is creepy, but the player can always kill whatever needs killing. With Tyrant in Resident Evil 2, that’s simply not the case.
Will I be playing more of Resident Evil 2 remake?
I hope so. I really want to continue exploring the Raccoon City Police Station with its strange museum relics and keep shooting zombies, but I just don’t know if I can handle Tyrant being unkillable. I need to be able to do something about it. To Resident Evil 2’s credit, I’ve read that it’s possible to shoot Tyrant enough that he drops to his knee and you can escape, but I’m not sure if that’s enough for me. The scarcity of ammo doesn’t guarantee I’m going to have enough for that fight and even if I do, it’s likely that I will run out and won’t be able to kill the normal zombies stumbling around the station. If you can handle Tyrant constantly hunting you, then Resident Evil 2 is a horrifyingly good time. I’ll be giving Resident Evil 2 a few more tries to see if Tyrant is something I can deal with since it’s the only hang-up about the game I currently have. I now realize that more than anything, I hate feeling helpless.
Want to suggest a video game for review? Contact John Novotny at [email protected]