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Resident Evil 2's remake reveals its biggest star

New enemies, new details and more from an extended hands-on.

Resident Evil's best character? Maybe you believe it's Leon Kennedy, the floppy-haired fop, or perhaps you think it could be enigmatic badass Ada Wong. Well, I'm afraid you're entirely wrong. The best character from throughout Resident Evil's history is, without a single doubt, the Raccoon City Police Station.

Well, that's what I reckon anyway, and playing through a few hours of the remake of Resident Evil 2 only strengthens my belief. What a strange, strange place this is, a maddeningly illogical crash of styles and secrets, and what a pleasure it was to get lost in its many mysteries during Capcom's latest round of previews. Actually, what a pleasure it is to get properly lost in a video game again, having to constantly refer to the in-game map and my own dreadful sense of direction as I try to navigate from one side of the station to the other. This is gaming of a certain vintage.

Which is one of the most important things to note about this remake of Resident Evil 2. It's a dramatic overhaul in the way it adopts the over-the-shoulder style of later games in the series - which doesn't necessarily tip the flavour of this remake towards action, more that it makes the action that was always there a bit more palatable - yet in other ways it's extremely faithful. This is, beneath all the bells and whistles, still the Resident Evil 2 you remember, and quite likely the one that you still hold a place in your heart for.

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And so our hands-on is riddled with good old-fashioned confusion. We start with Leon, in one of Resident Evil 2's more linear sections that does a good job of showing the effectiveness of the visual makeover. The streets of Racoon City are slicked in rain (as is Leon's hair, in a particularly handsome effect), the neon lights of the Kendo gun shop reflected brilliantly in the pooled puddles and showing off the Blade Runner influence the developers of this remake have admitted to in the recent past. It looks outrageous, and just goes to show how impressive Capcom's RE Engine can be.

There's a new, charged and surprisingly powerful emotion that's found its way into Resident Evil 2's reimagined cutscenes - although I won't spoil any of the specifics here - but elsewhere it's as hammy as it's ever been, and deliciously so. This is schlock of the highest order, pulling on your heartstrings one second and then going all out to get your pulse racing in an action set-piece the next, all held together somehow by the silliness of it. And beneath that all, it's one of the gamiest games you'll ever come across, and somehow Capcom pulls off the juggling act. At one point early in our extended look at Claire's campaign, she's locked out from an encounter with one of the big bads. "Keycard first," she snarls, "then they'll get what's coming to 'em." I think I cheered at the joyful absurdity of it all.

And beneath all that, there are reminders that there are the foundations of a game that's over 20 years old, and those foundations are still very much in place - for better and for worse. To get to that keycard, you might first need to find the vintage box that houses the electronics which'll help you get the small gear for which you need to fix the panel that opens the room that the keycard is in. I think - after an hour of getting lost in the sprawl of the police station, and its many impossible appendages, I wasn't sure of anything anymore. But getting lost is kind of the point of proper old school Resident Evil, and in that regard this remake is a success.

It's a success in plenty of other ways, too. The action's refined, as are the characters, and the changes that have been made are definitely on the tasteful side. Ada Wong returns as a playable character (after she ditches the trench coat she's sported in promo materials for something more familiar - a shame, as I kind of liked the Brigitte Lin in Chungking Express look this new Ada had going on), and she introduces some new tricks such as a electric signal visualiser that allows her to open up new pathways by analysing wiring beneath the walls. It's a slightly hokey mechanic that feels like it's fresh from 1998 (made all the more frustrating by the presence of Mr. X, the hulking invincible bastard that chases you down as you're trying so solve basic puzzles), but it does at least feel honest to the period.

You'd probably be disappointed if a Resident Evil 2 remake wasn't a little bit hokey, but for all the dustiness of some of the puzzling the action's never been slicker. Playing as Leon, there are some electric encounters - we get to see the reimagined take on the giant alligator, a grislier, deformed William Birkin and even an all-new enemy waiting in the sewers, suggesting that as familiar as you might be with the original this remake will still have a trick or two up its sleeve.

Really, though, it's all about becoming reacquainted with that police station, and rediscovering its quirks all over again. Impossible, beautiful and - without doubt, I reckon - one of the stars of the Resident Evil series. I can't wait to go back there next month.

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