Continuing the tradition of surprises for 2019, there’s no reason why I should have played the Resident Evil 2 remake. I had my time with the original, reveled in majesty of Resident Evil 4, and plodded through the slop until Resident Evil 7. Why would I want to return to something so arcane when Capcom had shown that new was the way to go, especially after the lackluster 2002 remake of the 1996 original?

Also, I’m a huge coward. It takes a lot for me to power through fear. Horror games generally take place across dozens and dozens of one-hour play sessions because that’s just about all my cold, dead, frightened heart can take. (I took a two-week break from Half-Life 2 the moment I reached Ravenholm, so, you know.)

But something about this RE2 remake managed to do everything right for me. Perhaps I’ve become more inured to the Raccoon City flavor of zombie, but everything about this is impossibly taut. The pacing most notably keeps you going along, every opportunity to stop acting more like an opportunity to poke your head above water just long enough to swim a little further.

Certainly, some of that is due to the return of Mr. X, the hulking stalker with a chic sense of enigmatic fashion. He propels you to keep moving for fear that he could always be right behind you. Whatever programming is going on that determines when he bursts through doors versus slowly stomping just forever one room away is perfect and is deserving of a Nobel Prize.

This ties into just broadly how well the game modernizes all of the ancient but staple horrors of the original game. The fixed camera angles, for instance, necessarily give way to a third-person perspective to bring in the actually pleasurable gameplay established in the franchise by Shinji Mikami. But they’ve still managed to find ways to bridge in the view-based scared.

Zombies tumbling through windows just out of frame. Blood trails leading the eye to some unknown, darkened corner. Sound pulling your paranoia up and down, left and right. Even the historically mind-rending moment in the interrogation room makes a comeback, still eliciting a yell out of me despite knowing full well what was going to happen.

Resident Evil 2

Even the thoroughly tired Resident Evil-style puzzles feel far from frustrating nor monotonous thanks to one of the year’s best in-game maps. It fully color-codes and labels all the doors and pathways available to you and whether they are accessible now or later without removing any of the mystery of what may happen next. It just removes any fruitless wandering or backtracking, which is what every game should do.

There truly is no reason this game should have worked. By all indications, this was a step backward from a tremendous step forward with the ambitious bottle episode of RE7. But here we are, another Resident Evil and another best of the year.