Resident Evil 2 (2019) Review
Control, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Resident Evil 2 have sparked the surprising resurgence of metroidvania-style exploration in AAA 3D games. It's a trend that I'd love to see more of.
Technically, RE2 features some of the very best facial models, hair, and animations this generation. Particularly impressive is how it runs at 60 fps on the pro consoles, albeit at a lower resolution. The cinematic rendering means it looks pretty good even on 4K displays, though.
Of course, good graphics are not worth much without good art and design. Fortunately, RE2 features exceptional level design. There are broadly three locations in the game, starting off with the police station. Each location is crafted with meticulous detail, and really invites you to explore every nook and cranny. Like any good metroidvania, the entire police station is open, though at first it's locked behind multiple doors. You explore, solve puzzles, discover keys as you go, to explore further, so on and so forth. It's a time and tested gameplay loop, and is delivered to near-perfection in RE2. Surprisingly, while the three locations feel distinct, they are interconnected, so essentially, RE2 is one pseudo open world, all played out in real-time over one night.
Of course, between this exploration lies enemies. Most are slow, resilient zombies, but you do have some rather terrifying special creatures. The animations for the enemies are as good as it gets. Every step is smooth and organic, every bullet hit triggers a complex reaction. It all looks and feels great, and significantly enhances the already solid gunplay.
Speaking of enemies, the most popular of them is, of course, Mr. X. His slow burn, constant stalking is truly chilling, as his is exaggerated footsteps. At the same time, it's always fair - there's always a way to get out of the Mr. X mire. In addition to the detailed world, it's the lighting that's truly creates atmosphere, further enhanced by the excellent sound design. The RE2 developers know exactly what it takes to build a chilling atmosphere - it's a combination of all of the above. Each element may be subtle enough, but combined, it'll keep you on the edge of your seat.
I never played the original Resident Evil 2, though I do remember there was a lot of hype about it at the time. I can see why. Over two decades later, the narrative holds up remarkably well. I'm sure there have been modern embellishments, but the core concepts remain the same. It's quite a journey, traversing through Raccoon City. There are some surprising character beats, and the game works well as a real-time coming-of-age story too.
There are two playable protagonists in RE2, with a second playthrough available for the other protagonist, after you finish one playthrough. I was skeptical at first, but I found myself breezing through the second playthrough as well. Though optional, I'd recommend playing as the other character as well. While a lot of the general game progression is similar, the other character goes through a different narrative that's well worth the playthrough. The two character's narratives criss-cross each other, and offers each other perspective. At the same time, some bits are cut from the second playthrough, so it's definitely significantly shorter. They have put a lot of thought into this, and It's essential to play both to get a full picture of RE2. Both combined took me about 16 hours to finish, though I did explore pretty much every corner of the world.
On that note, the game is paced immaculately. By its very nature, its a slow burn, but there's a new event at just the right moments - whether it be an important discovery or unlock, a story cutscene, a boss battle, or a new location, everything seems to move along at just the right moments. There are some moments that at first feel a little bit frustrating, but somehow it builds up tension even further, once its over. I suppose this is why the second playthrough felt just as good, even though I was repeating some of the actions.
Resident Evil 2 is definitely not the most ambitious game. Its core concepts and narrative are definitely a couple of decades old, and the scope of the game is limited and focused. What it does deliver, is a fine-tuned, nearly-perfect narrative horror experience with compelling metroidvania-style exploration.