Hey guys, it’s Kernook here, back with another review for one of my favorite franchises, Resident Evil, and this time we’re looking at the second game in the series, Resident Evil 2.
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As I said in my Resident Evil 1.5 review, the series had a rocky footing when it came to making the squeal for the smash hit that the first Resident Evil became.
After only a month of the first game’s release they knew they’d need to make another. Production began, but the prototype was scrapped, and this failed prototype is known by fans as Resident Evil 1.5 You can read my review of that prototype here…
In spite of the failure, the staff working on the team picked up the pieces and set to work again. This time, they ended up creating a game that they knew fans would absolutely love. So much attention to detail was poured into every aspect of this game, and Resident Evil 2 stands as a fan favorite for several very good reasons.
It was everything we could have asked for in a sequel to the franchise. Literally, it was by far everything we loved cranked up and polished to the max. It deified logic now that I think about it. This game was full to bursting with great content, almost like a gift to the fans. A labor of love that without a doubt many people recall fondly.
There were more weapons, new characters with compelling narratives, better graphics and core improvements to game design. Ultimately this made Resident Evil 2 a much beefier gameplay experience than its predecessor, and it blew fans right out of the water.
So, lets dive into this game and take a look. There is a lot to unpack here, and I really want to do this masterful game justice. First, we should begin with a bit of history…
It might not look like much by today’s standard, but don’t let that fool you. It was truly a landmark title for it’s time. Making it’s way to the PlayStation here in america in 1998, later it hit the Nintendo 64. Over time, several other ports followed. A lot of people were able to get their hands on it, and this likely had a lot to do with its popularity.\.
For younger fans of the series who may not recall those days, you need to remember that survival horror was a fairly new genre to console gamers. Resident Evil had given us fans this rare taste of what a horror game could be, and it had become nearly iconic among us as a result.
So, when Resident Evil 2 entered the scene, we gobbled up copies like a zombie horde after fresh meat. We were clamoring for more, and it delivered in spades. It’s no surprise that the game topped the charts when it came to sales, because it was fresh, and new. There was so little competition when it came to strong horror titles, this gave the game a distinct edge in the market.
The game beat out Super Mario 64, and Final Fantasy 7 when it came to gross profit margins and sales. That’s how popular this game was. Then again, survival horror was a scarce thing. There were platformers and role-playing games aplenty.
At the time, there weren’t many games like the Resident Evil franchise. I attribute these sales to that fact alone. The fact that Resident Evil 2 was just a good game comes secondarily in my personal opinion. It’s certainly a key factor, but let’s face it. That wasn’t the only thing going for it.
It’s easy to beat out other games if you can do the following:
- Have one good game in the franchise that’s well known already.
- Appeal to a mass and under served audience.
- Have absolutely little in the way of solid competition for the genre of game you’re selling.
Resident Evil 2 had all of these factors at play, and that can’t be overlooked. On to of that, the game just looked awesome, and for graphic fanatics you really couldn’t do better than this in the horror genre at the time.
This is a zombie from the opening scene is a great example. It freaked me out for sure.
When fan saw this thing come shuffling out of an alleyway, it was amazing. The upgrades to the zombies and new additional enemies proved to make the hype for the series reach a new all-time high.
To make a very bold statement, Resident Evil 2 was a nearly perfect game, and a therefore a solid addition to the franchise.
Nearly Perfect, Really? Yeah, It Really Was…
Resident Evil 2 improved on the standard formula of the first game, but it didn’t forget what made it so well loved in the first place. It changed nothing that would hinder the experience, only enhance it.
Director Hideki Kamiya and producer Shinji Mikami, hadn’t been able to see eye-to-eye on the original prototype, and this lead to a falling out of sorts. Hideki Kamiya took full creative control of the game after that, and this was ultimately the right choice if the popularity and sales are any metric to go by.
Plus, when it comes to Shinji Mikami, the man has interesting visions and all around bad execution when it comes to the Resident Evil series sometimes. It just isn’t his forte, but that’s a side rant. I’ll get to in other games, when that actually matters.
Anyway, with Hideki Kamiya at the helm the team got focused and things got done. A masterful story was crafted, and the world of Resident Evil stepped outside of the confines of a mansion, and out into the city.
The Plot Thickens. Coagulated Blood, Anyone?
Resident Evil 2 takes place about two months after the events at the mansion. The surviving S.T.A.R.S. members have done all they can, but the city can’t be saved. It’s come down with a bit of an infestation, and these buggers mean business. No exterminators are going to get rid of this viral mess.
Zombies have overtaken the city. Most of the residents are doomed to die in this hell, but if you’re lucky you’ll survive. You get to play as one of two characters.
The first is Leon Kennedy, a rookie police officer suffering his first day on the job. Today is just not a good day for him at all. The Second is Claire Redfield, a young woman in search of her older brother, Chris Redfield of the first game. To see the full game, you’ll have to play both of them.
These two characters have just arrived in the city, only to be greeted by carnage and zombie hordes. They meet entirely by chance, but they’re both happy to see a friendly face that isn’t trying to eat them. Choosing to stay together, they plan to head to the police station.
Leon gives Claire a gun to protect herself and things are going good. Well, everything except for the zombie in the back seat of a car, and a bitten truck driver losing control of his vehicle. This, of course, ends in the typical explosion you’d expect.
They still make it to the station, though how you get there depends on the character your playing. Once meting up again, they decide it’s best to just leave the city. Chris isn’t there anyway, and by the looks of it the little matter of the zombie horde isn’t going away any time soon.
The story is simple, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. The concept of escaping the city is enough on its own.
We’ve seen it in horror films time and time again, but getting to play through that concept in a game was an exciting addition to the format. It fits all of the typical troupes we’ve come to love.
Added to this are the characters themselves. Again, most of them have simple stories, nothing too complicated. The survivors are few and far between. Some are terrified, others are deranged, and a few have plans that go beyond the narrative scope of the game itself. Obviously, this leaves more questions than answers. However, a good horror title isn’t going to coddle you.
Resident Evil 2 certainly doesn’t hold your hand when it comes to these characters or their personal stories. There are some things you’ll just have to figure out on your own. Occasionally you will have control of two of the side characters, but those moments are carefully planned out.
Sherry Birkin and Ada Wong are wonderful additions to the game. They never seemed out of place, and their inclusions help to enrich the greater Resident Evil universe. Now, a nice thing about Ada Wong is that there are files in the first game to compliment her entry here.
It’s nice to have characters that are establish in the narrative, and Ada fills this role wonderfully.
Furthermore, the characters are edged up a notch by their voice actors. The acting is the game can still be hokey at times, but it’s a leap above what it used to be. It never takes itself too seriously, but it no longer feels like a campy horror movie made with bad actors and comedy that feels like it was written by a five year old.
Instead, this game finds levity in hopeful optimism, well placed snarky comments, and the occasional bad joke to lighten the mood.
When I think of great story telling and narrative clarity, I look no further than Resident Evil 2 as the benchmark for this series. It’s by far one of the best in this regard, it certainly feels satisfying even if it doesn’t entirely flesh out every conclusion, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
I never felt cheated out of an ending, or key character moments. I never felt as though the game refused to give me something meaningful just due to pure laziness. Every unanswered question felt like the correct choice. Either because we didn’t need to have it, or because the answer wouldn’t have been fulfilling anyway.
Some things are just better left unsaid. The game understood where the line was, never crossing it.
One last thing I want to mention, Leon and Clare have two scenarios each, and they take place basically right on top of each other.
Gameplay: A Mixed Bag
A great story isn’t the only thing that matters in a game. It needs to have good mechanics to back it up. There is a reason I say the game was almost perfect, or nearly perfect. Perfection is an impossible standard, and this game did have a few flaws.
Disregarding this would just be idiocy. The game is wonderful, and I’m a huge fan. However, setting down the fan goggles is absolutely required for a proper review. So, I’m about to do that. Don’t chase me with your pitchforks. I love the game too, but there are a few situational problems. No matter how slight they may be, it’s worth talking about them.
One of my small complaints is the lack of differences between the two main characters. They may have entirely different stories, but they feel the same to play. In the first game there were differences in gameplay based on Jill’s ability to pick locks, and Chris’s ability to carry a lighter and take more hits from enemies.
I feel none of that between Leon and Claire. The character specific weapons are nice, but this aspect is shallow when compared to it’s predecessor. It’s the story that makes up for this lack of gameplay.
While we’re still on the topic of characters, let’s discuss a new addition to the game.
Referencing back to the back to the scenarios I mentioned above, if you pick up certain items on an “A” scenario, you may not be able to get that item on a play through of the opposite character’s “B” scenario. You need to play both to get the real ending.
Depending on what scenario you play, and in what order, your starting location changes. Key items will be switched around. Enemy placement will dramatically be altered. There will be unique cut scenes to watch, and a new enemy to face. This adds replay value and a bit of added strategy.
Sadly, it’s not as much as you might think…
Fans praise this aspect of the game. I do as well, but I think we often over hype it. At the time it was genuinely a great addition, and a lot of fun. Still though, I think we place this aspect on a pustule far too often. It was good, but the popularity of this addition is almost legendary. That’s almost a bridge too far.
The new enemy added is okay, but he’s stupidly easy to outsmart. He’s all brawn, no brains. Intimidating when he first comes on screen, and then flat out annoying after you have an idea of how he works. He’s also the base idea for another enemy that shows up in the next Resident Evil title, and in my opinion the concept was done way better in that one. However, I’ll speak about that when I get to it.
All in all, the changes are solid here. They’re good choices, and you can tell they were made with care. They don’t hinder the standard Resident Evil format we all came to love from the first game. This was a boon for us. We could dive right into the game without any issue whatsoever.
All of the old mechanics we’ve come to know make a complete return. This includes fixed camera angles, tank controls, puzzle solving, exploration, healing and item management. This is the mixed bag part…
If you think tank controls absolutely suck, you’re in for a bit of bad news. They’re just as clunky as you recall them to be. Now, I’ve never had an issue with tank controls myself. For my personal situation, tank controls actually make the games easier to play, not harder.
There is a very direct reason for that. Given my Dyspraxia, which is a motor skill disorder, having limited movement allowed me to have better control over the character. I didn’t need to be careful of subtle movement, because the characters only move in very particular ways. When it comes to my thumb being clumsy, the game just didn’t pick that up. This meant I could pay closer attention to my environment, and not what my hands did of their own accord without my noticing. While I love tank controls, I do understand that most people hate them.
For me personally, it’s not a downside. Objectively speaking though, it very well could be. I won’t overlook that just because of my nostalgia or personal situation.
There is a ton of backtracking as well. If you hate that sorry, you’re stuck with it. Thankfully the game got really creative with backdrops and surprise zombies, so it’s not nearly as mindless as it was in the first game.
Puzzles are incredibly elaborate and diverse. Some are super easy, like this one. You just push statues. It’s almost a no brainier. Not all of them are this easy though.
In some places they’re insanely hard, and this is one of my favorite things. That said, they can be even more unforgiving than in the first game. I know many people who complained about some of the puzzles being too obtuse, and I can understand why some people would think that.
Although I loved the puzzles, some of them felt very out of place then, and still do to this day. That detail took me out of the atmosphere more than once, and ripped me out of horror I was trying to experience.
Item management is just as much a pain in the neck as always. This is to ramp up tension of course, and to make you think strategically. This was one of my greatest downfalls in the first game, and it was my downfall in this game too. As a new player deaths were attributed to my lack of item management in key places. Nowadays, I have it down to a science.
All-in-all, the gameplay was everything we needed it to be. It didn’t add an insane amount of new things, and that’s fine. Too much would have taken away from the simplicity of just enjoying a zombie title. Since there wasn’t a huge learning curve, we could enjoy the story which was spectacular.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics were a step above it’s predecessor, which is why it was impressive to look at for its time. The rendered backdrops were more detailed, even once compressed onto a disk. While the Nintendo 64 port couldn’t live up to its PlayStation counterpart in terms of visual aesthetic the pure novelty of playing the game on the system alone was enough to be noteworthy.
Nowadays unless you like retro graphics, it will likely look like crap. The only thing to do is blame the flow of time and pure advancement.
I’ve said this many times, but the sound design on any retro Resident Evil game is paramount to gameplay in a very important way that other games don’t suffer from. Due to the fixed camera angles and zombies loitering around just off screen, it is absolutely paramount that monsters give sound cues.
The enemies need to highlight where they might be. If you can’t see them, you’re as good as dead. This is the key to that new enemy I mentioned above, and this aspect is even more important for him.
He will chase you through certain places. Knowing where he is, and what he’s doing is fundamental. It’s going to be the difference between life and death during hard mode on your first play through. Even if you’ve played the remake, don’t underestimate him. With ammo conservation still playing a heavy role, new players are better left to just leave this thing alone.
Thankfully the sound engineers working on the game understood this, and the sound quality is top notch.
The Nintendo 64 port actually had a better sound quality, which is an odd little quirk. It’s a neat little claim to fame, though. At least that made up for the lacking visuals of the system’s hardware and the need for even more compression than was on the disk.
Resident Evil 2 is a very solid entry to the series, and arguably the best of the first three named titles out there. Now, as I mentioned in passing in recent years we received a remake of the game, complete with high definition graphics, great atmosphere, and all the gore you could hope for in a zombie game.
That being said, fans shouldn’t abandon the retro version of the title. The remake is wonderful, and it will receive its own review. However, it lacks one thing that I find fundamental to the franchise.
Charm… Yeah, you read that correctly. It lacks charm. All of the older games, and the remake of the first game all have something charming about them. There are these the little moments that make you smile, even if it’s for stupid reasons.
As games become more realistic we gain a lot in the horror factor, but we lose a bit of that charming, and sometimes silly, poetic atmosphere. That’s the trade off for horror of the current era, and it is to be expected.
The Resident Evil 2 remake is more gritty, not just in the realistic look of the zombies, but in every single way. That’s amazing if you just want horror, but if you want the far more optimistic story telling found in the retro titles you won’t find it in the remake. Instead, you’re going to get a lot of cursing, and darker dialogue.
To me, this is why the remake cannot fundamentally be held on the same sort of stage that it’s retro equivalent stands upon. They’re very different experiences, and they have to be treated that way.
I love the original Resident Evil 2 because of the characters, they have such optimism. With an almost foolish desire to save people and a near gentleness especially when it comes to Claire. To me, that’s what makes this game so beloved in the first place.
It’s not just the horror, it’s the heart. To me that defining factor makes this version of the game the definitive Resident Evil 2 experience.
If you call yourself a fan of this series at all, you should play this version at least once…
This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.
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