If I close my eyes, I can visualize young Chaws, walking through the front doors of Northlake mall with my grandma. It was one of those visits where she decided to spoil me, and spoil meant a new video game. I walked into the store, pacing the aisles while taking in that familiar smell that lingers in a video game store. Finally, after a few minutes of browsing, I picked up a copy of Resident Evil 2 and the game guide from the shelf and walked to the counter. Back then, I needed a guide because YouTube was nonexistent. I left the store, excited about my new adventure. Except I never beat the game. Resident Evil 2 is one of those games that I never finished. I would always become frustrated with the lack of action and having enough bullets to kill things. Last year, Capcom released the remake, which gave me an opportunity to complete a mission years in the making.
The Good Stuff – Level Design and Horror
The first half of Resident Evil 2 is some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing video games. The game’s early level design should be a required review for those aspiring designers. Dark corridors, mixed with various audio cues from unseen areas, have you on heightened alert. Are the growls and snarls you hear coming from a zombie that’s down the hall, or maybe right around the corner? You never feel truly safe unless you’ve found a save room, but even then, you dread leaving the safety of a quiet place. The game adds to the tension with well-placed jump scares. After spending an hour exploring the police precinct, everything scared me. I opened doors slowly, peeking through the crack for any sign of trouble. But I was hooked.
The game’s audio and visuals are not the only sources of fear. Stress in RE2 layers itself like an onion, forcing you to prioritize all while keeping your wits. Because Resident Evil 2 is a survival-horror game, bullets are as precious as gold. It’s not uncommon to find yourself scrambling for health and ammo. Adding to that stress is inventory management. Do you bring more ammo and herbs with you, or do you leave the herbs and bring a key that will keep you from backtracking? Even as you expand your carrying capacity, tough choices must be made. And just when you feel comfortable, the game throws you a curveball.
Enter the Tyrant, one of the scariest enemies I’ve ever encountered in a video game. The Tyrant doesn’t speak but stalks. It moves at a pace that similar to the killers of yesteryear – Jaws, Jason Vorhees, and Micheal Myers. While your common enemies only engage when you’re in their vicinity, Tyrant is constantly moving around the precinct looking for you. You never know exactly where he is, even when you hear his heavy footsteps thumping through your speakers. When does he find you, he gives chase, not relenting until he kills you or you manage to lose him. When you add the stress of Tyrant, inventory management, a horror-filled atmosphere, it’s the closet thing you’ll get to starring in a horror movie. It’s nuts, and I loved every minute of it until I didn’t.
What makes the first half of RE2 work is item placement. Just when you need that green herb or box of ammo, you happen to find it. Now was that luck, or just the dev looking out? You never know, but you’re happy to have it. Where the devs decide to place items is important because the enemies in this game are ridiculously strong. It’s common knowledge that a headshot will drop a zombie. Except in this game, a bullet to the head isn’t enough. A zombie can take four shots to the head, fall and get up again. It’s absolutely infuriating because you never have enough ammo. And that lack of ammo means you must choose when to fight and when to flee. Even running away comes with its own set of problems. Leon lacks a roll or dash mechanic, and zombies can easily close the gap with a lunge. Stronger enemies, like lickers, will jump out of view then lunge at you without enough time for you to move out of the way. Fighting or running from a licker feels like its own boss battle.
These frustrations are only tolerable because the game blends them perfectly to fit the theme of survival. Each of these elements – low ammo, high damage-resistant enemies, and limited carrying capacity are needed to create a perfect horror game. Wasting ammo on a zombie, but finding a box immediately afterward is similar to eating a Sour Patch Kid. The problems arise once you leave the station—the game shifts from a well-built sandbox to a war of attrition. That feeling of ‘luck’ that you carried with you in the police station feels nonexistent. Even after you’ve modified your weapons, zombies still require too many bullets to put down. Those tolerable faults slowly become unbearable, and then there’s the second G boss battle.
The Not So Good Stuff
When a player has limited movement, boss battles must have a sense of balance and fairness. Your first fight with the G monster takes place in a boiler room. You’re surrounded by tight walkways and sharp turns. It’s hectic, but there is room to create distance to attack and avoid damage. Your second fight against G happens on a small platform. There is hardly any room to move, and the G’s range of attack feels unfair. My first attempt at the second battle was absolutely terrible. I had no ammo, which is something that had never happened before. There was only one box of ammo lying around, and that wasn’t enough to get the job done. After multiple attempts, I said: “fuck it.” My frustration had reached an all-time high, and I couldn’t take it anymore. It felt like I was being punished for playing the game the “wrong way”. It’s as if the designers abandoned me. There was always enough ammo or health until it wasn’t.
I put the controller down swearing to write this review without completing the campaign. If the game was going to treat me like this, I was out. But the next day I was back, determined to finish. And for the first time, I did something I didn’t think I would have to do. I loaded an earlier save and proceeded to run through the game again, this time persevering ammo. This time I beat the boss, but the damage was done. I just wanted this game over with. Everything that I overlooked became a glaring fault of bad design. “Why the hell wasn’t I stronger at the end of the game?” “Why on God’s earth don’t I have the ability to roll?! “Leon is a cop! He must have some type of training to get away!” These thoughts flooded my mind as I fought the last two bosses, finishing a campaign years in the making.
It wouldn’t be a Capcom game if they didn’t grade your performance. I received a B for efforts and a message to play the game a second time to experience the true ending and scenes that I missed from the first playthrough. Thanks, but no thanks. As much as I would like to play through the game with Claire, I’m burnt out. Not only burn out but let down. How could a game that did everything right, pull a 180, and do everything so wrong? I will always cherish my first hours with the game and would tell anyone who enjoys video games to play that section. But that second half…