The best horror in popular culture holds a grotesque mirror to our contemporary fears. With that in mind, Resident Evil 2, with its old-school zombies jerking towards an unspecified apocalypse, driven not by a grand, unified plan but a mindless desire to see the world burn, feels like the perfect reaction to our current political climate.
This bottom-up remake of the 1998 classic now resides within the same engine as last year’s Resident Evil 7, its once-static screens replaced by fully explorable spaces that make terrifying use of cutting-edge lighting effects. Most of the game is spent creeping through pitch-black corridors using a flashlight to illuminate a narrow pathway ahead, ever aware that some unseen horror could burst from the shadows at any time.
The neo-gothic police station in which it’s set hasn’t just been remade – it’s been totally reimagined, with whole new sections and fiendish twists on recognisable areas; 20-year-old muscle memory won’t get you far here, my friend.
Things are made more unpleasant still by the expanded role of the Tyrant, a vast, unstoppable menace who stalks you through the game in much the same way Jack Baker did in Resi 7. A decent pair of headphones are highly recommended, not just for the heightened atmosphere, but for the ability to locate the direction of his ominous footsteps so you can run headlong in the opposite direction.
It’s not all mindless dashing, however – beneath the veneer of survival horror, Resi 2 was always a puzzle game. You must find things to use on other things, crack codes, rearrange blocks. The station is opened up piece-by-piece like a Chinese puzzle box, each new key or set of bolt cutters allowing you to move deeper into the inscrutable, hostile pile of bricks and mortar. None of the puzzles are overly taxing, but having a bloke taking bites out of your shins while you’re doing it doesn’t help.
The tension comes not only from the constant threat of being mauled, but from the minute-to-minute decisions you’re forced to make. Resources are limited and every bullet ploughed into a squelchy face is one you won’t be able to fire later. There’s also the issue of inventory management, a favourite Resident Evil pastime; you could pick up gunpowder to craft more ammunition, but it might come at the expense of carrying wooden boards used to patch up windows and stem the zombie invasion.
These decisions count most when you enter a boss fight – woe betide the player who’s used all their ammo on mall-cop zombies when one of the real bullet-sponges drops by.
Once you’ve played through the first campaign as either rookie cop Leon or student Claire, you can do it all over again with the other, or unlock a second, more difficult scenario for each. These variations feature remixed puzzles and new enemy placement, and while they’re not radically different, they’re a welcome excuse to spend more time in this wonderful, awful place.
Because for all its perspiration-inducing horror, Resi 2 is great fun. Experienced players will revel in the nostalgia – being back in the Racoon City Police Department feels like taking a trip back to your zombie-infested youth. Neophytes, meanwhile, will be terrified and shocked and appalled and frustrated and entranced by one of the greatest video game locations ever dreamed up, remastered and repackaged to eke every ounce of power from modern gaming machines.