The Resident Evil 2 Remake offers the high-end '90s nostalgia you deserve

Above: I only got to play Resi 2 on PS4, so check out Nvidia's footage of what it looks like on PC.

I remember just moments from 1998's Resident Evil 2 now: making my dad buy the CD-ROM version for me from Virgin Megastore back when that was a thing, because I wasn't old enough to do so myself yet. A grainy cutscene of a licker crawling over the ceiling. Unloading Leon's pitiful remaining three or four bullets into the Tyrant Mr X, while the creature strides towards me in his ludicrous jacket. Me and two mates crowding around a big CRT TV to play the later parts of the game on PlayStation, because we were too cowardly to do it alone. The ill-fated weapons shop guy at the start. 

This remake is a third-person shooter in the Resident Evil 4/5/6/Revelations mold, though the general spirit of the original game is here: you don't always have enough ammo to fight the enemies in front of you, and sometimes it's better to run. You might recognise a puzzle from the original version of Resident Evil 2, but how it's represented in the remake could be completely different. This means my three-or-so hours with the game offers a mix of nostalgia and light surprise, which I think is probably a better approach than a faithful recreation.

Playing the remake with my hazy memories is more satisfying than putting it side-by-side with the original, I figure. It lets me work out which parts left an impact that has lasted almost two decades. The cavernous Raccoon City PD building has, of course, as well as its two fitty protagonists, floppy-haired Leon S Kennedy and the crossbow-wielding Claire Redfield (she doesn't have one in what I've played). There is some tongue-in-cheek presentation here and there, but generally it's played more seriously. Two decades of advances in cutscene presentation pay off: as in Resi 7, the characters are photorealistic and the violence is truly nasty. 

"I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn." (Sorry.)

My demo is split across two areas of the game. Like Resident Evil 2, the remake has two campaigns starring each protagonist, and I've played about an hour with Leon, then two or so with Claire. Leon spends a little time in Raccoon City's streets then ends up in the sewers, while Claire is mostly exploring the RCPD building. 

It's a faithful remake in the areas that count—it still has Resi 2's idiosyncrasies, like a police station that requires absurd keys in the shapes of hearts and diamonds just to navigate the damn place. It's also lit and coloured like I remember. My muscle memory from playing the game almost 20 years ago tells me roughly where locations like the library and STARS office are. Even though this is the first time I'm seeing them in 3D, locations feel entirely familiar. 

The biggest change in this remake, aside from making the game into more of a third-person shooter, is how the developers have expanded on the story. I play one new section as Ada Wong, who dabbles in corporate espionage and is trying to get hold of the deadly G-virus. Her section gives you a Batman-style EMF visualiser, a device that lets you remotely activate objects through walls. 

One of the best sections of the demo requires Ada to activate a ladder to escape an area of the sewer, but the switch can only be reached by navigating about four or five zombies who stand in the way. This space is filled with slightly too many enemies to kill, even if you're constantly landing headshots, which means you have no choice but to avoid some of them.

I'm not used to having an actual ammo shortage in a recent Resident Evil game: even the seventh game ended with lots of gunfire unleashed upon identical goop monsters. 

I died a few times before I figured out combat wasn't going to be a winning strategy here. I use my bullets to slow the zombies down instead of killing them—and once the ladder is activated, after a nervous pause, I have to run back past them to get out of this area. Ada doesn't carry a knife like Leon or Claire, nor does she have any other weapons, which makes her section more challenging when it comes to combat.

Claire's section is more of a mixed experience. The opening, set in RCPD's parking lot, is fantastic. I encounter police officer zombies coming to life in the interrogation room, and have my first encounter with the original game's iconic enemy, the licker, which is even nastier to look at than it was in Resident Evil 5. The second part of the demo, though, set in the RCPD building, probably isn't how I'd like to have been reintroduced to this classic location. 

Capcom's chosen to show off a part of the game where you're constantly being pursued by Mr X, the Tyrant, which means I spend a lot of the demo sprinting through familiar rooms trying not to get beaten to death by him. I'm assuming the Tyrant's appearances in the game are scripted, but there is some suggestion that he'll turn up whenever you make a commotion. In this demo, he follows Claire everywhere, up and down stairs, into different parts of the RCPD. You can hear him stomping from rooms away. Hitting him with a few grenades or headshots will temporarily slow him down, but it's almost not worth wasting the ammo. 

I guess Capcom wanted to create some real peril and excitement, but given this is my first sample of the remake, I'm not overly fond of how the pace is dictated by this giant jerkwad chasing after me. Hopefully in the context of the game, it'll make more sense. I look forward to playing an earlier part of the game set in the police station where I'm not being chased all the time.

I love how Capcom has done zombies this time around. They're properly horrible, surviving headshots, often getting up when they should definitely be dead, and they pose a real threat in numbers. I also like how other elements from the original game have made the journey across. The RCPD is packed with items to find, including better weapons that are locked away behind smaller sidequests. Sometimes you have to examine an item in the menu screen to discover its true purpose, pressing a correct combination or opening a lid to obtain what you need, more like the original.

It's quite a tricky game, too. Alongside my deaths as Ada, I died a few more as Claire, sprinting away from Tyrant and straight into packs of enemies that populate the station's tight corridors. Strategic saving, via the returning typewriters, is a must. This is a refit of the third-person shooter Resi games, but it has a welcome sense of struggle to it. 

I finished the Resident Evil 2 Remake demo certain I want to play the full game. '90s nostalgia is on an upswing right now: the old C&C games are getting a refresh, Black Mesa's Xen levels are so elaborate they're taking years to make, and System Shock's been through a rough patch figuring out what should and shouldn't be part of a remake. 

Capcom, though, seems to have worked it out: keep the strange bits and iconic enemies that people love, bring characters and places back to life in serious detail, but change enough that they can still be surprised. I just hope I don't have to spend too much of the game running away from the Tyrant.

Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.