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Resident Evil 2 Hands-On Preview

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Publisher Capcom is ending 2018 on a high note, with the recent debut of Mega Man 11 capping a year that involved shutting down Dead Rising developer Capcom Vancouver and began with the blockbuster success of Monster Hunter World. By the looks of things, the esteemed gaming company is gearing up for success in 2019 with one of their most ambitious titles to date, Resident Evil 2.

A full-fledged remake of the 1998 classic, RE2 aims to capture the essence of what made the original title so iconic while updating the gameplay and aesthetics to the current-gen standards of today's high-end machines. While purists may balk at the removal of pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles, our hands-on time with Resident Evil 2 prove that survival horror is still alive, or at least definitively undead.

Related: Resident Evil 2 Screenshots Compare Remake to Original

The original Resident Evil 2 remains one of Capcom's most beloved titles. Can this remake reach the lofty heights of its progenitor? It's certainly too early to tell for sure, but based on our hands-on time with the latest demo for the game at New York Comic Con 2018, they're certainly on the right track.

Resident Evil 2 Combines A Classic Scenario With Modern Sensibilities

Initially, there were fears that RE2 would mark a return to the action focus of the high-octane thrills from Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6. The over-the-shoulder camera does indeed bear a superficial resemblance to those titles, but make no mistake – Resident Evil 2 is picking up right where the series left off and is a sincere successor to 2017's Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.

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Even though this game is technically a remake of a previous title, it clearly has the budget, craftsmanship, and design philosophy of the next mainline chapter of the Resident Evil saga. The game runs on the same RE Engine that powered RE7, and the menus and interface resemble that title far more than any other Resident Evil game. Even though this remake plays from a third-person perspective, and the player's movement speed is increased compared to the VR-friendly corridors of Resident Evil 7, it's certainly not an action game like RE4. Undead zombies are bullet sponges, ammo is painfully scarce, and aiming requires precision, timing, and patience. Every monster poses a threat, and that goes double for boss enemies.

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Like the 2002 remake of the original Resident Evil for GameCube, RE2 isn't a throwback for the sake of a quick cash grab. This game revisits a classic setting and story with the benefit of twenty years of experience and hindsight. What was old is new again; it seems paradoxical, but with both of these (vastly different) remakes, the Resident Evil universe manages to move forward while simultaneously honoring its past.

Resident Evil 2 Features Claustrophobic And Intense Boss Battles

The demo at New York Comic Con starred Claire Redfield and began with a boss battle familiar to fans of the original; after briefly encountering young Sherry Birkin, Claire is ambushed by her father, William. Unfortunately, the Birkin patriarch is a horribly mutated monster, enhanced and deformed by the G-Virus, a dark science project of his own creation.

Claire is armed with a 9mm handgun with a slow rate of fire and a meager five-shot capacity. Fortunately, she's also equipped with a machine pistol, her signature grenade launcher – complete with acid and explosive rounds – and the environment is littered with additional ammo, hand grenades, and green herbs for healing. The setting, a labyrinthine maze of rusty pipes and narrow passages, makes for an excellent location for the battle, and Claire must run like mad away from the intimidating reach of Birkin, firing off potshots when she can.

After burning through all of her grenades and machine pistol ammo, targeting Birkin's infamously ghastly "shoulder eye" weak spot, a seemingly futile last-ditch pistol shot managed to end the battle, triggering a cutscene. A damaged Birkin stumbles and falls over a rail into the abyss below, just like in the original game. Claire retrieves Sherry and the two move forward into the Raccoon Police Department's parking garage.

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Resident Evil 2 Features Dramatic Storytelling Advances

RE2 isn't a straight remake of the original sequel, and to call it a mere remaster or port would be a disastrous disservice to the numerous and varied changes the game brings to the survival horror table. This is a brand new Resident Evil game, but it just happens to be retelling the story of one of the series' most iconic chapters. In all our time with both of the game's demos, this is never more evident than in a dramatic cutscene in the parking garage starring Claire, Sherry, and Chief Brandon Irons, who is even scarier here than he was in the original.

The 1998 version of Raccoon City's Chief of Police was a burly, barrel-chested psychopath who used his connections to the villainous Umbrella Corporation to facilitate his own dastardly ambitions. This new take on the character seems just as evil, but he looks older and chubbier, giving him more of an "evil grandpa" vibe, which, thanks to the photorealistic style of the new engine, makes him even scarier than before.

Related: Don't Call Resident Evil 2 A Remake

Chief Irons gets the drop on Claire and Sherry, holding them both at gunpoint, and forcing the young girl to zip-tie the wrists of her guardian. He then abducts the Birkin girl. The unhinged police captain, though just a man, and not a mutated hulking brute, is just as scary as any undead monster the game may throw at the player. His distinct psychosis adds a dangerously relatable terror to the otherwise fantastical fears players will encounter in the game.

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Though Claire is able to escape from her restraints, she is unable to rescue her young charge, and the demo ends with Ms. Redfield alone in the parking garage, defeated, but determined to survive, rescue the wayward child, and make Irons pay for his misdeeds.

The acting in this scene is top-notch, with Irons' combination of giddiness and desperation giving him an uncomfortable aura of unsettling danger. The animation is also incredibly lifelike; the look on Claire's face when she's pistol-whipped by Irons is wince-inducing, and Sherry's pained reaction to the palpable drama unfolding around her is downright heartbreaking.

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Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was a fresh start for the long-running survival horror franchise. At a glance, Resident Evil 2 may look to be ignoring the forward strides made by the latest entry in the decades-old video game soap opera, but it actually feels like a natural followup to the advances brought about by RE7.

While the action-packed boss battle against the mutated Dr. Birkin was a pulse-pounding exercise in fight-or-flight tactics and unbridled adrenaline, it was, above all else, scary. Likewise, the familiar hallways of the RPD building may be nostalgic to the RE faithful, but the game's design is nothing short of terrifying; unlike the well-lit original, the RPD's zombie-infested corridors are nearly pitch-black, and the only source of illumination is often the player's own flashlight, and the horror comes, not from an abundance of jump scares, but from the prospect of what fearsome monstrosities may or may not be waiting in the dark.

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More: 15 Things You Never Knew About Resident Evil

Resident Evil 2 hits stores on January 25, 2019, a full twenty-one years after the original game first released, way back on January 21, 1998. A lot has changed in the past two decades, but one thing that remains is Resident Evil's ability to adapt, innovate, surprise, and – most of all – terrify.

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