Can you remember the last time you were filled with so much fear that your heart pounded in your chest? Your eyesight grew blurry and your hands trembled? You prayed for the moment to pass so you could release the breath that ached in your lungs?
It was during a stormy night in the once-peaceful town of Raccoon City.
With the last medallion in hand, I rushed to the exit of the crowded storage room. I could hear the groaning of zombies struggling to catch up to me as they responded to the C4 blast that cleared my path just moments ago. By now, I had grown used to their guttural growls.
What my mind still had trouble processing was the clicking that promptly followed an unfamiliar snarl. I only briefly met (and evaded) a Licker in the hall outside of the S.T.A.R.S. office and hadn't had the chance to process the alarming noise.
Thanks to Capcom and the team’s impeccable sound design, it was one that I heard in my sleep that night.
Capcom’s return to Resident Evil 2 is a success on many levels. I could take you step-by-step through the many gameplay and story notes that the development team touched on to make this the near perfect remake Resident Evil fans have been begging for, but instead, I want to focus on the game’s most important feat: Being the true return to survival horror.
Many (like myself) had rewarded Resident Evil VII for bringing the series back to its roots, but I realize now that’s because we had yet to lay hands (or eyes) on the Resident Evil 2 remake. Ethan Winters’s exploits in the dreary Louisiana bayou were no doubt a survival horror title, but it was missing key aspects to match that first experience of exploring the Spencer Mansion.
Having grown up playing the original series, I can recall, without pause, moments that became iconic in the gaming industry. I remember vividly the zombie chowing down on Kenneth J. Sullivan, the first time a Cerberus burst through a window, Mr. X’s initial reveal, our introduction to the Licker, and Nemesis slaughtering Brad Vickers. They're impactful moments that stick with the fanbase. Little from Resident Evil VII, as good as it was, embedded into our brains as those scenes did. The remake of the 1998 classic, on the other hand, is one long string of memorable moments.
They may not be as intentional as the aforementioned cutscenes, but I won’t forget the time Mr. X chased me into a hallway full of zombies or how my neglect to use wooden boards allowed the undead to crowd a once-empty office. Resident Evil 2 gives us reason to scroll through droves of YouTube videos to see what terrors other gamers are facing. We can gather with friends and excitedly recall our exploits in the RCPD. They're the qualities of horror gaming that have been missing from the Resident Evil series for quite some time.
With Resident Evil 2, Capcom perfected the art of keeping gamers on edge without having to create scripted scares and risk breaking up the tension. Surprise zombies breaking through doors isn’t reserved for pre-rendered cutscenes or jerky scene changes. They’re chasing after you every moment in the Raccoon City Police Department, and at no point is it not a strain on your heart. My entire trek through the sprawling hallways of the RCPD has left me anxious, something the original series succeeded with back in its heyday, but Resident Evil VII failed to touch on.
The atmosphere for the last canonical entry was spot-on to the series norm, but rarely did I feel a sense of unknown danger. If I thought I was going to die, I knew exactly what was going to kill me. It was staring me in the face. In Resident Evil 2, death comes from every direction—even from broken ceiling tiles and through open windows. It could be a Licker lingering above my unsuspecting head or the very persistent Mr. X lumbering through the too-tight halls of the police department. All of these elements surprise on a whim. Like the first introduction to the Licker, just far more consistent and twice as horrifying.
Resident Evil 2 may not be the perfect game, but there is an argument to be made that it may be the perfect survival horror game. Clearly, Capcom took great pains to perfect the sound design and lighting, which capture every terrifying aspect of the police station. Shadows move outside boarded up windows, the groans of zombies carry from rooms you’re not even in, and at any given point the station’s own creaks will keep you on edge.
I’ve played dozens of games within the genre, I’ve praised Dead Space 1 and 2 for their grasp of horror, but never have I thrown my controller in fright. By the end of Resident Evil 2, I fear I’ll have burned through two or three.
Capcom has accomplished many things with Resident Evil 2, but it’s most outstanding feat was making zombies, the shambling undead we’ve grown accustomed to battling for more than 20 years, scary again.