Zombies have lurched their way into the mainstream invading many a contemporary game series; how often do we see downloadable content that had our undead friends causing chaos in their droves? A lot of credit could be given to Resident Evil for establishing zombies as big bucks in the gaming industry. Though most zombie experiences of this generation have been geared to full throttle with fast paced, bullet hungry gore fests, there is nothing quite like an old school scare with steadier pacing to test your wits and nerves in tandem.
So hold onto your hats as we throw ourselves back into 1998 – both in game and reality – and jump into the critically acclaimed Resident Evil 2 (Biohazard 2 in Japan).
The second game’s development, even to this day, has grown quite a following based on the changes from its initial conception. Its early form had numerous differences compared to the final product, including a smaller, modern police station design and a different female lead. Though the core of the project was relatively the same in set up and progression, there is plenty to be documented regarding the ideas, characters and visuals that never made it beyond the infamous beta, which would come to be known as: ‘Resident Evil 1.5’. But that’s for a whole other article! Needless to say, this version of the game was scrapped quite late into production for various reasons, and a few of its assets were recycled and implemented into the final complete version.
The released product was the perfect natural progression for the series – the big step up away from an isolated mansion to a thriving metropolis to create something especially effective. With a tighter story and a more serious production approach, the public got to soak up something quite superior to its predecessor, and further cemented Resident Evil as the one to go to for unadulterated zombie horror!
The scene is set in Raccoon City – the fictional Mid-Western town mentioned in passing during the first game – now an integral part of the story going forward, and a place that will forever become synonymous with death, destruction and the undead. Yeah… it’s definitely worth scratching this place off your holiday wish list. This and Silent Hill both!
Events in Resident Evil 2 take place 2 months after the S.T.A.R.S. ill-fated mission inside the mansion. The surviving team members return to civilisation, only for the case surrounding the incident to be swiftly closed. Nobody seems to want to believe their warnings of deadly viral experimentations and terrifying zombie creatures…
Oh, if only they had listened.
Strange occurrences begin casting a foreboding shadow in the wake of the mansion incident, and before the unsuspecting citizens can realise the truth, the outbreak occurs; Raccoon City is consumed by a living nightmare.
Now, we bring our two new, unlucky protagonists onto the scene:
Leon S. Kennedy, a rookie cop joining the Raccoon City Police Department (RPD), heads into town for his first day on the job. At the same time, college student Claire Redfield, the younger sister of S.T.A.R.S member, Chris Redfield, arrives hoping to find her brother after losing contact. But little do they know what’s awaiting them…
Within the eerily quiet Raccoon City, Leon soon happens upon a woman’s body in the middle of the road, and while investigating her unfortunate demise, is soon joined by a congregation of zombies. Not only that, the body at his feet reanimates to give him a less than warm welcome. Finding many of his shots barely phasing these shambling foes, he quickly beats a retreat. Meanwhile, not too far away, Claire enters a local diner. Expecting to find some helpful locals, instead she happens upon a zombie munching on an unlucky patron. Aforementioned zombie thinks Claire would make a wonderful dessert. Before she can truly absorb what is happening, she finds the front entrance blocked by a number of zombies outside, and she makes a beeline for the back exit with zombie in pursuit… and runs straight into Leon, who pops a bullet in her pursuers head. No dessert for zombie tonight.
Together, Leon and Claire escape to the security of a police car close by and take off further into the city. Might have been wiser to just skip town straight away, but you know… there’s a game to be played after all…
After brief introductions, Claire manages to obtain a gun from the glove box – a piece of good fortune in a dire situation. Though, pleasantries are quickly suspended as a zombie gatecrasher from the backseat decides to break up the party. They lose control of the vehicle and hit a pole, fatally ejecting the zombie, while thankfully managing to keep themselves intact. They have little chance to recover as they find a truck bearing down on them, its driver succumbing to a zombie bite received just a short while earlier. Leon and Claire abandon their vehicle post-haste, diving out of the way as the truck ploughs through the police car and explodes in a fireball. With a blazing wall of twisted debris now separating the two protagonists, it’s quickly decided they should rendezvous at the police station, and now must go it alone…
And so, the game begins.
Without ceremony, you are thrown into the deep end. With little ammo and the most basic weapons in your arsenal, you have to run the gauntlet of the infested streets to get to the police station. It’s a little bit sad that despite there being a city wide viral apocalypse, Resident Evil 2 only offers you the briefest outward glimpses of the catastrophe.
In fact, you spend a good portion of the game isolated within the police station and other contained areas, much in the same vein as the mansion and its surrounding grounds of the first game. Of course, it makes sense for the characters to seek the safety of four walls rather than run the risk on the streets.
The police station takes on a mansion-like essence with its distinct, grand post-modern architecture. The basis for the building was that it previously served as an art museum, adding to its design allure. It is a nice mix of old and new, with updated areas to befit police use. Though in its more recent state, the grandeur is somewhat muted by the desolation and destruction encased within. It is now far from a sanctum.
Leon and Claire’s objectives soon become clear. They need to locate any survivors – if there are any – and try to secure an escape route. Of course, it’s not going to be as straightforward as that. They cannot leave by conventional means, so will need to use some ingenuity to find an alternative path. And also, they have to contend with the ‘monsters’ that have taken up home within the RPD. They’re going to need strength and courage to overcome this adversity.
With the scene set, let’s get to know the main characters in a little more detail:
Leon is a rather brash young rookie, though clearly very capable and dedicated to serving and protecting those in need. As the last cop alive in the RPD, he tries to create some semblance of leadership, though you do end up sympathising with him, as nobody particularly respects his authority.
Claire is a bit of tomboy, adept at handling herself and not afraid to get into a fight where needs be. (She’s blessed with the Redfield badass gene. Chris would be proud!) Though, she does show a motherly side with patience and compassion for anyone more vulnerable than herself.
Along the way, Leon and Claire each meet an additional secondary character who becomes playable for a couple of portions of the game. For Leon, he meets the mysterious Ada Wong, who says she’s searching for her boyfriend, John. (Anyone remember the John and Ada username and password from the first game? It’s a nice little nod back with this.) At first, she is quite cold to Leon, and is very elusive; eventually though, she does soften and teams up with him, though maybe somewhat to her own benefit. But it also becomes clear that there is a little chemistry in their partnership, and Leon is more than willing to put himself in danger to protect her. Ada does prove useful to help Leon, as her skills with a gun are exceptional. Always recommendable to put her between Leon and an enemy, just to save some ammo! For Claire, she meets little Sherry Birkin, a twelve year old girl who went to police station under parental instruction when trouble arose. Despite her young age, she is clearly very capable despite the extraordinary circumstances. Unlike Ada, she is not equipped with a weapon, neither can she be given one, so will unfortunately be unarmed during her playable stints. Not only that, she runs slower than her adult counterparts, making her a rather vulnerable target. She does prove a bit of hindrance over the course of Claire’s game as she has to be protected, and at a later stage, catered for due to, uh, unfortunate circumstances occurring. Aside, both Ada and Sherry play fantastic supporting roles; and yes, despite Sherry not being too big a help, the dynamics that play between her and Claire compared to Leon and Ada’s relationship makes for two completely unique experiences.
Now onto the gameplay!
Nothing has really changed control wise (viva la tank controls!), though there has been some tweaks to the gameplay that are worthy of note. Firstly, the player now has the benefit of learning a character’s state of health based on their posture and movement. In caution status, the character will stand and move with a hand clutched to their side. In danger status, the character’s movements will be hampered as they will only be able to limp, vastly reducing their speed and putting them at risk of enemy attack. When in doubt, just go to the status screen and check the ECG monitor which will confirm the extent of a character’s wounding, and heal if possible with either a first aid spray or green herb.
Another update to the gameplay is what is known as the ‘zapping system’. With this you have two playable scenarios for each character, ‘Scenario A’ and ‘Scenario B’. ‘A’ is the first you start with, and could be considered the primary scenario. Choosing either Leon or Claire to take on ‘A’, once completed, you will unlock ‘B’ for the other character. These scenarios are treated as occurring simultaneously, and offer the player a chance to see what the other character is up to in ‘B’ as an opposite to the goings on in ‘A’.
Though, the success of this portrayal is in varying degrees. Does it actually work well? And are there enough significant differences between the two?
Well, yes and no. And, if I’m honest, ‘no’ is a little bit stronger – well, for me anyway!
First off, Leon and Claire do in some cases have expressly different areas to visit and objectives to complete which keeps some variety between the two, so it’s not completely unimaginable that they couldn’t be both happening simultaneously. To further add to the ‘yes’ side of things, there are certain little factors that you can do that will have cause and effect from ‘A’ to ‘B’ (not all that many really), though there is one particular part which showcases this when it gives the player the choice in ‘A’ to take one or both of two items in a storage room, questioning whether you should leave the other item for the other character. If you take one and leave the other (or even leave both!), then the item/s will be there for the other character in ‘B’, though if you take both, there will be nothing there to pick up. The little things do manage to keep it fresh enough to appreciate with each play.
BUT… saying that… At the heart of it, ‘B’ is just a rearrangement of important items, and you still have to solve a lot of same puzzles as you would in ‘A’ (though Claire and Leon do have a few specific puzzles that are restricted to each character individually). You even have to unlock the same doors, even though in theory, one character might have done so already. Okay, so it’s not so farfetched to believe there is more than one key for a door, but for one or more keys to be picked up from the exact same spot?! And why are doors locked again in ‘B’ scenario if they were unlocked in ‘A’? But ‘B’ seems to happen somewhat ahead of ‘A’ in some cases (as you get to the RPD quicker in that scenario), so really the same question applies!
Maybe I should just stop questioning game logic and make something up to fill in the gaps…
If anything, ‘B’ should have played up more as ‘the other story’ and focused on doing its own thing while making it work alongside ‘A’. They could have made some areas completely inaccessible in ‘A’ to be accessed in ‘B’ and vice versa.
Though I must mention one quite important ‘B’ only enemy who makes a nice addition to the game. The hulking ‘Tyrant’ monster called ‘Mr X’, a trench coat wearing leviathan whose presence brings immediate danger. Whoever you choose to control in ‘B’ will come across this death machine a number of times, though only in set areas. It’s truly unexpected and formidable, and a nice extra to give some difference to ‘B’.
With so many vicious creatures out for your flesh, your character needs to be armed and ready to take on all comers. The weapons picked up throughout the game are significantly different for each character. Though they both start out with a handgun, the weapons they each obtain during progression are a very one-sided affair, with Claire somewhat drawing the short straw.
Leon, undeniably, gets the best weapons throughout the game, with a shotgun and Desert Eagle (Magnum) to proudly boast in his collection; and not only that, he can also get upgraded parts for his arsenal for increased capacity and power! This, in some respects, makes his game a whole lot easier. Though poor Claire however, ends up with the awful Bow Gun, which is an absolutely poor substitute for the shotgun. Its effectiveness is questionable and it wastes ammo like no tomorrow. On the bright side, she does have access to the Grenade Launcher with its three types of rounds: Standard Grenade, Flame and Acid. (Leon alternately has access to the Flame Thrower for any situation that requires fire and lots of it!). One weapon I like to mention is the Spark Shot, a Claire only weapon, which is like a cattle prod that shoots electricity over a short distance. It’s a funky little weapon, which I found to be quite useful – not especially strong, but you can save on precious ammo while wasting this thing on enemies.
So, what are some of the creatures that inhabit Resident Evil 2?
Well of course you have the staple zombies, back and as creepy as ever, lumbering about demanding your flesh on a platter, as well as the salivating ‘Cerberus’ dogs; joining them is a skinned monstrosity known as the Licker. They are very freakish appearance with their skinned humanoid bodies and protruding brain! It hangs around on all fours on any surface, be it the floor, walls or ceilings. They will usually get the heart racing when you hear them off in the distance, clacking their claws and hissing breathily – a stark warning of their presence. Its nastiest weapon, its tongue, is elongated and razor sharp. It gives a whole new meaning to tongue lashing! Their downfall is their lack of eyes, so they can’t actually see their prey, so moving with caution means you have the chance to slip by them… unless they hear you, of course, and then you’re in for it! Though I do miss the hunters from the first game, the Licker is a perfectly diabolical creature that spices up the mix of enemies.
Resident Evil 2 does a fantastic job of creating a perilous and horror driven struggle. There are such sneaky little moments where the game tries to catch you out with jump scares, but it mostly focuses on creating a morbid, foreboding atmosphere by the use of its soundtrack and visuals to encapsulate the situation. While some areas depict lonely abandonment, others project blood splattered destruction and despair, to create so many memorable locations. The basement level, which includes the morgue, in particular should be praised for creating such a chilling ambience.
To address the soundtrack in more detail, it’s nothing less than perfect. The mournful zombie groans have such a drawn out creepiness, though its especially more poignant when you step into outside areas, those devoid physically of zombies, where you can still hear them gutturally on the wind, carrying in from the city streets. You just have to sit and listen to these individual sounds, like the shuffling of feet and clicking of claws, to appreciate how it all comes together to layer a scene. On top of that, you get wonderfully intense music, which I personally hold in high regard. There are some that are impassioned pieces, driving you into an encounter, while others do their utmost to get under your skin. A few pieces I’d like to highlight include the main hall’s grand, almost church-like organ music, with ambient piano accompaniment. The main hall itself is a very large space, and the music on top of this also compounds its size and gives it even more presence. Also to mention, there is a theme that plays in some of the corridors, which I find the most ominous; it starts with what sounds like a distant clock chiming, though it’s actually the uncanny tinkling of a piano. Its slow tones carry a disturbing dolefulness, flawlessly stating without words that terrible things have happened in these corridors. It’s especially made more spine-chilling where at one point in the music, it suddenly makes a door slamming sound. It’s enough to make you pause and wonder if something is actually happening in the scene around you and not just in the music. Though, I must say, my ultimate favourite piece has to be ‘The Second Malformation of G’ during a later boss fight – it absolutely psyches you up to fight. Kudos goes to the composer for getting it right the whole way through!
To round off my review, I give massive credit to the game for its fantastically paced progression and well layered story of despair, deceit and treachery amidst a citywide tragedy. What could have been so self-contained with the mansion incident of the first game grows into something more complicated and sinister. New, deadlier viruses emerge, while traitors are unearthed, all the while a city and its unfortunate citizens are destroyed without much consideration. Resident Evil 2 gave the series a push in the right direction, with more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at! It has memorable locations, earworm music and a fantastic cast of characters who propel the story with credible efficiency. If I had to be critical about any aspects of the game, it would be the voice acting and scripting, which is hokey in places – though, it’s still a massive improvement over its predecessor. Also, the puzzles, while decent enough, seem a little forced compared to the mansion-like puzzle traps inbuilt into the story. The weapon and ammo distribution is nicely explained away, but the puzzles, not so much – just because it used to be an art museum doesn’t give solid credence to the puzzle integration.
It might not be my personal favourite, but I can fully endorse that the game is an amazing horror experience, with a high degree of replay-ability with all the scenarios, including the ‘4th Survivor’ mini-game and the Extreme Battle Mode (available in certain editions). It succeeded in creating something profound and immersive for any zombie aficionado to get their teeth into.
Can you survive the horror in Raccoon City? Why not give it a try!
Images are © to Capcom.