The Raccoon City Police Station is one of the most iconic locations in the Resident Evil series – let alone the entire survival horror genre. The echoing footsteps, the infamous entrance tune, the first encounter with a disgusting and fleshy Licker: all of these moments linger in the memories of anyone who played the 1998 classic Resident Evil 2. More than aware of this nightmarish nostalgia shared by so many players, the area is most lovingly recreated in the Resident Evil 2 remake now available more than 20 years later.
For any returning players, the Police Station is a delight – in spite of all the zombies roaming the corridors you’re cautiously creeping through once more as rookie Leon Kennedy or brother-searching Claire Redfield. Sure, there are some differences, but there’s also a familiarity to so many rooms that have survived the transition between multiple console generations with little more than a graphical touch-up. Capcom knows you want to get to the R.P.D building too, as they cut the majority of that opening slog through the city streets and place you just a short stroll away from the game’s opening.
And that’s where you get the first sense you’re not just playing a straightforward like-for-like remake of the original Resident Evil 2. This is a game that has gone through a great deal of refinement to reach this new form. There’s that now ubiquitous over-the-shoulder view from Resident Evil 4 so you can properly aim at targets, many puzzles have been cut or had their solutions simplified to save faffing about and the structure of both character’s scenarios has been re-plotted to throw in some new surprises.
For the most part, it’s clear to see many of these choices have made a marked improvement over the dated classic. There’s greater freedom in the shooting to aim for weak points but you still have to nervously plant your feet to take shots, while a selection of support weapons such as knives or grenades can help you get out of a jam if you’re grabbed or mobbed. The game is very, very stingy on ammo throughout, though, so dodging enemies is often the best strategy. It’s something that survival horror purists are sure to love.
Thankfully, that original oppressive tone is something the Resident Evil 2 remake sticks with, instead of leaning towards some of the more action-heavy outings in the recent history of the series. Nowhere really feels safe in the station, especially once the impossibly determined Mr.X appears to chase you through the building. He’s an ever-lingering threat who will have you panicking whenever you hear his pounding footsteps – much like Jack Baker in Resident Evil 7.
With all that and more, Resident Evil 2’s opening hours are immensely gripping – kitschy story and all. Almost to the point where you feel like this could now be the definitive version of the game and a new modern survival horror classic. But, unfortunately, the slump comes.
Much like Resident Evil 7, which dipped in quality once you left the Baker residence, so too does the remake of Resident Evil 2 once the police station is behind you. Nothing past that points feels anywhere near as masterfully remade, which is such an agonising shame. The story becomes jumbled, boss fights appear out of nowhere and enemies that can kill you in a single hit become an annoyance. It’s as if a great deal of the focus and attention went on to recreating the R.P.D building, meanwhile, the sewers and lab locations received far less care.
These other sections are massively underwhelming, the lab especially so with its short, linear and completely undramatic finale. Where it was good to see some of the excessive backtracking nonsense removed in the police station, there is so little to do here that you’re in and out within minutes before the game comes to an abrupt ending. It’s so disappointing when the early game showed so much promise.
Previous Resident Evil 2 players will know that completing the game with Leon or Claire is just half the story, though, and going back to run through the other path is vitally important to see everything. The remake retains this structure but cuts corners again with a clumsy intro and a lack of any real grounding for the second character’s story. They are just thrown in to explore the R.P.D building because that’s where they’ve ended up.
It’s understandable that to remake a game on this scale as Capcom has done requires some compromises. Many they have made work in the game’s favour terrifically well and the R.P.D station is impressively realised in its new form by including new ideas, mechanics and surprises while offering a truly brutal survival horror experience. That is a staggering achievement worthy of much praise and is undoubtedly the highlight of Resident Evil 2. That the rest of the remake cannot maintain such a high level of quality leaves a bitter taste – one that doesn’t come close to ruining the whole game, but it makes you wonder if it could have been so much more.
Release: 25 January
Formats: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Price (RRP): £39.99