Resident Evil 2, now on Game Pass, gets better as you replay it

Resident Evil 2 was a masterpiece when it was originally released more than 25 years ago on the original PlayStation, and it was a masterpiece when it was gorgeously remade in 2019. Capcom’s remake is now on Xbox Game Pass for the first time, and it’s one of the easiest recommendations I can make. It sets the standard for a modern-day remake of a groundbreaking video game, and helped inspire last year’s similarly great Dead Space remake.

For the horror-averse, Resident Evil 2 is not for the faint of heart. The remake is bloody and gory. The game is full of shocking moments and well-earned jump scares. The realistic casting of shadows from a character’s flashlight has spooked me more times than I’d like to admit. But as zombie games go, Resident Evil 2 is immensely enjoyable, with clever puzzles to solve and a satisfying, only slightly cheesy story.

But don’t just play the Resident Evil 2 remake to completion; I recommend playing it through to its end again. And again. And then five more times. Resident Evil 2 is worth replaying until all the meat has been picked clean from the bone, figuratively speaking, as subsequent playthroughs offer new challenges, powerful unlockables, and fresh perspectives on how to survive Capcom’s brand of horror.

Claire Redfield fires her pistol at a flashlight-illuminated Tyrant while a Licker scurries along the ceiling of the Raccoon City Police Department in a screenshot from Resident Evil 2 (remake) Image: Capcom

Resident Evil 2 warrants multiple playthroughs based on its structure. Players have the option of starting the game as either Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield, and then, after beating it, playing through a more condensed version of the story as the other character. These “Second Run” playthroughs let you visit new areas, encounter different characters, and fill in gaps in the game’s story.

After beating the game at least once, I suggest the following: Beat it again in under three and a half hours to achieve an S rank, unlocking a gun that gives you infinite ammo. Then take Resident Evil 2 for another spin, this time without the tension of ammunition scarcity and with a newfound familiarity of the game’s map and puzzles.

Revisiting the game this week, I cozied up with my Samurai Edge pistol — the one with endless bullets — an unbreakable knife, and Polygon’s guide to puzzles and safe combinations in an attempt to complete an S+ rank runthrough of RE2 on hardcore mode. That means I can only save the game a total of three times, and enemies are much tougher to take down.

Leon Kenney aims his flamethrower at William Birkin in his final form in a screenshot from Resident Evil 2 (remake) Image: Capcom

But despite the tension of playing on a higher difficulty level, taking the game in hourlong chunks between saves turns RE2 into something more akin to a roguelike. I see how far I can make it, in this now-familiar place, before I must save again (or die trying). I’m still plugging my way through it, in pursuit of securing its Platinum trophy, and looking forward to yet another runthrough when I’m done (next, I’ll go for the “A Small Carbon Footprint” challenge, which requires less than 14,000 steps total).

It’s a strange flavor of comfort food, perhaps, playing through a scary game over and over. It’s like a Saturday afternoon rewatch of The Shawshank Redemption or The Hunt for Red October on TBS; I know the beats, I’m still captivated by the deaths and the drama, but I walk away satisfied, happy to revisit it again later.

When you’re done with Resident Evil 2, from a story and replay perspective, there’s even more. For another replayable, shorter, but more challenging experience, there are multiple Survivors modes. They’re worth playing too, if only to experience the thrill of battling zombies as a large block of tofu.