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Resident Evil 2: The big differences between its 1998 & 2019 releases

Over three years after its initial video announcement, the remake of Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 is now out! Gamers young and old can now re-experience the beloved 32-bit survival horror classic with more than just a brand-new coat of paint. Those familiar with the original will surely find within the 2019 remake many parallels with the 1998 original, as well as some very stark differences. Here, we outline crucial differences between the 1998 and 2019 versions of Resident Evil 2. There are plenty of gameplay and story spoilers in this article, so only read on if you have beaten the game or do not mind finding things out ahead of time!

Leon and Claire’s first meeting

This key difference is immediately noticeable from the very beginning. In the 1998 game, Leon and Claire run into each other at a diner inside a seemingly deserted Raccoon City. In the 2019 remake, they encounter each other at a gas station right outside of town amidst a swarm of zombies. They steal a police car and evacuate to Raccoon City proper afterward. This gas station is a short, but brand-new playable area in the 2019 remake.

In both versions of Resident Evil 2, Leon is on his way to Raccoon City to prepare for his new job as an officer in the RPD. Claire is on her way to Raccoon City to find her lost brother, Chris, who famously starred in the original Resident Evil. Aside from some minor differences regarding Leon’s timing of arrival into Raccoon City, the protagonists’ motives have not changed at all.

Scenario variations

In the 1998 original, there were two pairs of scenarios: Leon A and Claire B, and Claire A and Leon B. They were very similar from a gameplay perspective, with some key differences regarding the bosses they encounter and important scenes involving Ada and Sherry. In the 2019 remake, there are once again two pairs of scenarios: Claire and Leon [2nd Run], and Leon and Claire [2nd Run]. However, the only major differences between the standard scenarios and their 2nd Run counterparts is the placement and availability of a small number of items, certain puzzle solutions and an extra boss at the end of the 2nd Run (the final form of the Birkin G-Type). Regardless of whether you control Claire and/or Leon first or second, they encounter the same bosses and plotlines (i.e. Sherry’s infection).

The general story flow is consistent between both the 1998 and 2019 titles. Claire and Leon arrive into Raccoon City, take refuge in the RPD, meet Ada, Sherry, Chief Irons and Ben Bertolucci, battle Mr. X and Birkin, head down into the sewers, reach the lab, save Sherry, lose Ada and escape before the lab explodes. There are new plot pieces in the 2019 remake, but the overall structure is the same. Many of the thematic elements of the original 1998 game, like the importance of family and romance, are intact in the 2019 version.

Enemy variations

The 1998 game was a dramatic improvement over the first Resident Evil in enemy variety. However, the 2019 remake, for reasons unclear, features only some of the enemies from the 1998 original. While zombies, Lickers, Cerberus, Birkin, Mr. X, the Giant Alligator and Cockroaches reprise their roles in the 2019 remake, the Moth, Giant Spider, Crows and Licker B are entirely absent. The Ivy plants from the 1998 original receive a makeover in the 2019 remake, instead being regular zombies that have been implanted with poisonous bulbs, giving them newfound resilience and the ability to poison the player. Meanwhile, the G-Imago creatures maintain a similar design, but are now numerous throughout the sewers, where they act more like strong enemies than a boss fight like the original.

Mr. X (The Tyrant)

The Tyrant receives a substantial changeover in the 2019 remake, in terms of its role in the story and its implementation in gameplay. Colloquially referred to as Mr. X, the mute, trench coat-donning, oversized creature appeared in the B scenarios of the 1998 original in a number of fixed locations, ostensibly as the series’ first stalker enemy (although canonically, that role now belongs to Lisa Trevor from the 2002 remake of Resident Evil). Mr. X wasn’t too dangerous, provided you had powerful weapons on hand, but he was certainly a creature to be feared. In the 1998 original, there is only one Mr. X, who eventually mutates into Super Tyrant after falling into a lava bowl at the end.

In the 2019 remake, there are two Mr. X Tyrants this time. The first is dropped into the RPD, just like the original, and it goes onto to stalk players from to room for the first third of the game, similar to Jack Baker from Resident Evil 7. Mr. X cannot be dropped permanently in this stage. Mr. X No.1 soon meets its gruesome end at the hands of another monster, the mutated William Birkin G-Type, who violently stabs Mr. X as it tries to attack Claire and Sherry, who are trapped in an elevator. Soon after, Annette Birkin releases another Mr. X (No. 2) from storage in the sewers in order to track Leon and Ada. Mr. X No. 2 eventually mutates into Super Tyrant form after being caught in a fiery blast furnace. Its mutated form has smaller claws than before; in fact, it somewhat resembles Nemesis from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Lastly, both Mr. Xs are out to eliminate witnesses in the 2019 remake, while the one in the 1998 original was after a sample of the G-Virus.

In contrast to Mr. X’s overhaul, the Birkin G-Type maintains its general design and motives. In both the 1998 and 2019 games, it assumes five different forms, each one bigger and more vicious than the last. The boss battles with the Birkin G-Type are somewhat different between the two games to account for the over-the-shoulder style of the remake, but his design is remarkably consistent.

Weapons and sub-weapons

The original 1998 game had nothing resembling sub-weapons. If you’re hit in that game, you sustain damage. In the 2019 remake, zombies are much tougher, faster and more durable. To balance this, characters can find and equip sub-weapons, which function similarly to the Defense Items in the 2002 remake of Resident Evil. The Combat Knife, Grenade and Flash Grenade can all be used to avoid taking damage while inflicting some damage on the enemy at the same time.

Overall, the weapon selection is mostly consistent between both versions of Resident Evil 2. There are variations of the standard Handgun, as well as the Combat Knife, Shotgun, Magnum, Grenade Launcher, Submachine Gun, Spark Shot, Flamethrower, Gatling Gun and Rocket Launcher. The only notable omission in the 2019 remake are Claire’s Bow Gun and regular Grenade Rounds (there are now only Incendiary Rounds and Acid Round).

Bonus modes

Extreme Battle Mode was an additional mini-game added into the Dual Shock, Dreamcast, PC and GameCube versions of the original Resident Evil 2. Players control Leon, Claire, Ada and Chris Redfield, whom players guide from the lab to the RPD in order to collect four bombs. The mode has, as of launch, been omitted from the 2019 remake.

Hunk, the star of “The 4th Survivor,” makes a return in the 2019 remake on largely the same premise as the original. He begins in the sewers, seeks his extraction point and then fights his way through hordes of monsters. While expanded over the original, the idea is still the same: Hunk’s only concern is survival. On that note, Tofu Survivor is, like the 1998 original, a derivative of “The 4th Survivor” featuring the legendary block of bean curd who only holds a Combat Knife.

The Sewers and Lab

The RPD has received a makeover in the 2019 remake. The overall layout is similar, with new rooms added and the third floor expanded. However, it’s still largely recognizable to fans of the 1998 original. Such changes are in line with what the Spencer Mansion saw in the 2002 remake of Resident Evil.

The middle third of both versions of Resident Evil 2 take place in a series of sewer tunnels below the RPD. In the 2019 remake, the tunnels are dramatically expanded. There are more rooms, tunnels and enemies. And whereas you needed to collect various chess pieces to exit the RPD and enter the sewers, this time those chess pieces (and more) are needed to help reach the exit of the sewers instead.

The laboratory receives a major overhaul as well. Now referred to as “Nest,” the lab has a largely different layout, with very few recognizable elements from the original other than the central shaft. In the original, players take a cable car to a marshaling yard, where they rode a giant freight elevator to the lab deep below underground. In the remake, that cable car leads straight to the lab, and the marshaling yard is moved to the very bottom of the lab. The train car on the freight elevator is re-purposed into the train Claire and Leon use to escape from the lab. The lab might somewhat resemble its appearance in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.

Ada’s Motives

In the 1998 version, Ada Wong poses as a civilian looking for her boyfriend, John, who worked at Umbrella. John was in fact a real person who worked at the laboratory beneath the mansion from the original Resident Evil. Given that Claire was also in town looking for a loved one, Ada’s cover story seemed believable to Leon, initially. In the 2019 remake, Ada is now posing as an FBI agent investigating Umbrella for the Raccoon City viral outbreak. She tells Leon she is after William Birkin’s G-Virus in order to take it to the feds and bring Umbrella to justice. Ada does not mention John at all in the 2019 remake.

In the 1998 original, we eventually discover that Ada is a spy working for an unknown organization out to retrieve the G-Virus. This is still true in the 2019 remake. Ada’s appearances throughout the Resident Evil series depict her her looking for some kind of virus or B.O.W. (bio-organic weapon) specimen; Resident Evil 6 is, so far, the only exception to this.

Claire’s next move

In the 1998 original, Claire and Leon discover a diary written by Chris Redfield, who carefully (and probably naively) details his plans to travel to Europe to investigate Umbrella’s main headquarters. In the 2019 remake, they mask their true intentions with a fake letter Chris writes to Jill and Barry, detailing his “amazing vacation” in a letter. Claire finds the letter’s tone uncharacteristic of Chris’ personality, but combined with a conversation she has with Marvin in her first scenario, Claire accepts the idea that Chris is on vacation in Europe (and therefore not amidst the viral outbreak). Claire is relieved, and she stops searching for Chris for the rest of the game.

This change is somewhat problematic because the 1998 original ends with Claire continuing her search for Chris, since she knows he’s in danger trying to go after Umbrella. This leads right into Resident Evil: Code Veronica. However, at the end of the 2019 remake, Claire seems concerned about taking down Umbrella with Leon than she is about finding Chris.

Leon’s next move

In the 1998 original, Leon is a fairly clueless, but goodhearted cop. When Annette reveals Ada’s treachery to him, Leon refuses to believe Annette until Ada ambushes him in an attempt to secure the G-Virus.

Leon is decidedly less naive in the 2019 remake. He doesn’t trust Ada’s FBI story, although for a 21-year-old rookie police officer, he hides that sentiment very well. He still falls for Ada and is highly protective of her, but by the end of the game, Leon sees through Ada’s rouse and confronts her, rather than the other way around like in the 1998 original. By the end of the 2019 remake, Leon is resolute in his desire to bring Umbrella to justice.

This new approach is somewhat problematic because, as Leon’s epilogues in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles show, Leon was actually blackmailed into joining the U.S. government as an agent to protect the world from bioweapons. In the 2019 remake, Leon expresses interest in joining the FBI to bring Umbrella to justice. Given his revised portrayal, Leon shouldn’t have to be blackmailed into joining the U.S. government under direct orders of the President. Rather, he should embrace the new responsibility.

Finally, in the 1998 original, we find out by way of the epilogues in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis that Claire and Leon went their separate ways. This might still happen in the 2019 remake, but if it does, it happens off-screen again. The 2019 remake’s true ending actually implies Leon and Claire stick together for a while, which doesn’t happen in the original storyline.

Resident Evil 2 is available now on Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4.

[Editor’s note: If you enjoy Alex’s Resident Evil writings, we encourage you to check out an excerpt from his upcoming book, ‘An Itchy, Tasty History of Resident Evil’ here on Polygon.]

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About the author

Alex Aniel

Alex Aniel is the author of the upcoming 'Itchy, Tasty: An Unofficial History of Resident Evil', due in 2021. He also acts as Business Development Manager at Brave Wave Productions, an award-winning video game soundtrack record label.