Even five years after release, Resident Evil 2 Remake remains the gold standard video game remake.
And it’s not just one of the best video game remakes, but one of the best Xbox One games/one of the best PS4 games, full stop. What’s more, now that it’s available on both Game Pass and PlayStation Plus (not to mention just being cheap because it’s somehow half a decade old), it’s more accessible than ever.
And access is the key word here, because, if you couldn’t tell already, Resident Evil 2 Remake is a very special game for me. As an only child I never had an older sibling to help my smooth young brain through the hard parts of games (or buy them for me from the shop when I wasn’t old enough), so I don’t have any nostalgia for the 1998 version, or any of the other legendary horror series’ for that matter.
This meant that until Resident Evil 2 Remake I hated zombies, monsters, and anything scary; Bioshock was about my limit. But despite that, back in 2019 I was tasked with writing a full walkthrough of the game – front to back.
Because of the way it’s structured – you can play different versions of the campaign for dual-protagonists Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, both of which will then affect the other based on which you played first – this meant rolling the credits probably about six times in a couple of weeks.
It’s disgraceful to admit, but I started my first run-through with the sound muted. By the last completion I was fully converted to the cause.
Even within its own Remake series, Resident Evil 2 Remake is a rare triple-threat: it manages to successfully incorporate the modern mechanics it borrows from Resident Evil 7, make them its own in a way that delivers a standout experience in its own right, while also preserving the spirit of the original game in terms of scope and direction.
Resident Evil 2 is the perfect haunted house thriller, mostly taking place within the confines of the Raccoon City police station, forsaken and overrun by the walking dead.
Like the original, the gameplay is a cross between a high-budget escape room and vocabulary test. You solve complicated item puzzles, slotting seemingly random pieces of kipple into wherever it’ll fit, and run through your full gamut of swear words as Leon dozily reloads his weapon in the face of whatever stumbling nightmare pops out from behind the next corner. What’s his excuse; he’s not even made of mold!
But crucially, in true early-Resi tradition, the actual encounters are relatively few-and-far-between, instead focusing on a smaller number of tougher enemies that heighten the sense of dread in their absence and demand your full attention when they finally do appear.
Emblematic of this is Resident Evil 2’s standout character and best-remembered mechanic: Mr X, the hulking, fedora-sporting behemoth who stalks the halls of the police station, ducking under doors and power-punching people to pieces like an R-rated Captain Falcon.
The tech for a single, ultra-powered antagonist chasing you around to add an incredible element of panic and impetus to the puzzle-solving sections is genius, but wasn’t new for Resident Evil 2 Remake. While it had already appeared in smaller sections of the soft reboot, Resident Evil 7, it took on a new iconic edge in Remake, augmenting a classic character with new ideas to make something familiar feel both different and memorable.
When it comes to ranking Resident Evil 2 within the pantheon of best video game remakes, there is, naturally, some stiff competition.
Resident Evil 3 Remake couldn’t match 2’s density and focus, so it’s not really a contender. And, for me, Resident Evil 4 Remake was a brilliant game, but fell short in one vital area: memes.
Some of the hokey moments I’d absorbed through osmosis and by watching friends and let’s plays survived, but I will forever mourn the loss of Salazar’s little hat and “No way, BRO”. The Resident Evil 4 Remake felt slick in a way the dorky and lovable original didn’t, and was less characterful as a result.
So while it was still awesome overall (with the intricate, interconnected puzzles around the lake area and the intense spectacle boss fights both particular highlights), in that small way it was disappointing. It’s a fascinating example of how legendary, memeable moments can be perceived differently by a player base that’s attached to them and a development team who’re slightly embarrassed by people laughing at their work.
In a wider sense though, I still think Resident Evil 2 Remake has pretty much everything beat. When you look at something like Demon’s Souls on PS5, can you really say it feels as good to play as subsequent FromSoftware games? Can you say that Link’s Awakening delivers much original energy outside of its artstyle? And can you say the sprawling, divergent, two-part epic that Square is calling Final Fantasy 7 is really even a remake of the 1997 game anymore?
Resident Evil 2 Remake is a tight, focused, perfectly formed game which is reverent of the past, without being overly deferent to it, pushing the whole series forward as well as revisiting an old favourite. For me it was an incredible gateway into playing not just the Resident Evil series, but horror games in general. So since, when I’ve stumped up the courage to tick tons of the best horror games off my list, and now when I can actually call Kojima’s upcoming OD one of my most anticipated games, I have Resident Evil 2 Remake to thank.
Resident Evil 2 Remake is available via PS+ and Xbox Game Pass now. If you’re playing it, you can find all the essential Resi 2 key codes and locker codes here.