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Resident Evil 2 is a scary, stressful reimagining of the PlayStation classic

I thought I wanted a modern Resident Evil 2 remake, but I don’t need this stress in my life

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Capcom

The zombie fad of the new millennium may have come, died, resurrected and shambled off into the sunset -- but you never forget your first undead apocalypse. Resident Evil not only brought the living dead to millions of gamers, it practically invented the survival horror genre on consoles. Now, one of the franchise's formative games is being entirely reimagined for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, complete with a deeper, revised story, a modern control scheme and production values players of the original Resident Evil 2 could only dream of.

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But like all highly anticipated remakes of classic games, the shadow of doubt hangs heavy over this Resident Evil 2 remake. RE2 may not be the first game in the Biohazard (as the series is known in Japan) franchise, but it could easily be considered the most iconic of the series' original PS1 trilogy. Could a modern reimagining really live up to its legacy?

After spending a few hours with the game at Capcom's San Francisco office, I can say that yes, it probably can. Resident Evil 2 is more than just a HD remake of a classic game, it's a complete overhaul. Gone are the clunky "tank" controls and terrible voice acting that defined early Resident Evil titles. This is a modern PS4 game through and through, complete with AAA graphics and the excellent third-person gameplay Capcom has been building upon since Resident Evil 4. This game is the embodiment of everything Capcom has learned over the course of Resident Evil's 22 year history.

And that's why I may never play it again.

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Capcom

That's not to say it's a bad remake, just one that surpasses my personal tolerance for stress. Resident Evil was always a franchise that leaned heavily on tension -- threatening players with a foreboding atmosphere, lurking enemies and limited resources. It's game design that keeps you on your toes, and it helped define the original PS1 classics. If players weren't scared by the scenario, they were almost certainly afraid they might run out of bullets.

The new version of Resident Evil 2 still has that gameplay-driven tension, challenging players to conserve ammo and make do with limited inventory space -- but now, the entire game's facade matches it. The original RE2 was good, and its gameplay kept me alert, but I was never really scared of the zombies. The new version? I was on edge almost all the time.

This is a partially because of the game's improved graphics -- Raccoon City has never looked better (or more grim) -- but it's mostly an evolution in Capcom's ability to stoke fear in its players. The best example of how it's changed is the Tyrant encounters. In the original game, this hulking monster would appear at specific points in the game, but always return after being defeated. More often than not, the best tactic was to run. Now, that's the only tactic.

When I encountered the Tyrant (sometimes called Mr. X) for the first time in my demo of the remake, he never stopped chasing me. No matter where I went, I could hear the spatial audio of his footsteps searching for me. Sometimes I would cower in a room and wait for him to pass. Other times I would run from him. Either way, it didn't matter what I did -- the monster always found me.

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Capcom

The Tyrant's relentless pursuit almost sets the tone for what the Resident Evil 2 remake is — a game where you can never really relax. When the Tyrant wasn't stalking me, I was worried about running out of ammo. When I had enough bullets to feel safe, I was agonizing over which item to drop to make room in my inventory for a puzzle piece or healing herb. This masterfully-executed tense atmosphere sets the experience apart from the original game.

The game's atmosphere is very intentional, but there are some rough edges. Resident Evil 2 may be one of the most dimly lit games I've ever played. Deep shadows may be perfect for a spooky zombie outbreak, but the game is dark enough that I often found myself missing stairwells I was supposed to walk up, or walking past open doorways that led to the next section of the game. It became frustrating enough that I had to dial up the brightness well beyond the recommended settings to get through certain sections of the game. There's dark, and then there's too dark.

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Capcom

Players should also be warned that the game is incredibly, intentionally difficult -- to the end that, after failing to pass a section nearly a dozen times, I asked a Capcom employee if I was doing something wrong. I wasn't, I was told. The game embraces a punishing difficulty. Expect to fail over and over and over again.

That level of stress, difficulty and darkness may be exactly what survival horror fans are looking for, but I'm not so proud as to avoid the truth -- it's something I can't handle. I spent my entire time at the Capcom office on alert, worried about a stalking Tyrant, a monster in the darkness and my lack of ammo. I thought I'd enjoyed my time with the game, but when I got home that night, I found myself in a painfully sour mood. Who wouldn't be grumpy if they spent most of their day on edge?

The new Resident Evil 2 seems to be almost exactly what I thought I wanted in an RE2 remake. It takes the concept of my favorite Biohazard game, and drags it into the modern era, wrapping it in the over-the-shoulder gameplay I loved in Resident Evil 4 and the genuinely terrifying atmosphere of Resident Evil 7. It might be the best reimagining of the original games made to date, but I'm not going to play it when it comes out on Jan. 25.

I just don't need that stress in my life.

CNET's Sean Keane contributed to this first take.