I remember when Capcom released the original trailer for Resident Evil 2 nearly a year before its street date, and the opening movie alone still gives me chills watching it. Today, Resident Evil couldn’t be anymore of a joke if it crashed its car and was found by the paparazzi drunk as a skunk, wearing nothing but a trucker hat and saying it was on its way to Ozzfest. The series’ shift to a linear action game evaporates any of the atmosphere that made Resident Evil the groundbreaking franchise that breathed life into survival horror in the first place. But back in 1998, this was the most anticipated sequel since Super Mario Brothers 3, and like said game, met and exceeded expectations.
The FMV allowed to set a new tone that probably could not have been done without some serious financial backing and probably better actors. The mood escalates into a crescendo as the rampage and carnage starts when we are introduced to our two protagonists, Leon and Claire. As the truck explodes and the two are split up by the wreckage, you are literally thrown into the fire as a maelstrom of zombies will overwhelm you immediately. Other games have tried to light that fire under you to get you geared to play it shortly after the introductory cinema (Crysis 2, Bio Shock, Devil May Cry, to name a few), but this is still probably the best on the market that is only rivaled by Metal Gear Solid.
VISUALS 10/10: Resident Evil 2 pushed some serious limits with its young console (okay, three years old isn’t very young in hardware development terms) with amazing graphics and detailed backgrounds. The first game kept you cooped up inside the mansion for a good majority of the run, but now you are thrust into the decaying ruins of Raccoon City. The static, hand-drawn layout is lush with detail, from scattered desktops, blood-stained walls, alleyways littered with garbage. In an age when seldom a game tried to boast real-time detailed environments (still looking at you, Ninja), this practicality was a part of Resident Evil’s early charm as well.
One of the more vital introductions in this game was visual damage. You on longer have to routinely open the menu to see how low your health is, Leon of Claire will clutch their side or limp badly. I can’t recall how many times I died in the first game because I thought I was fine. Leon or Claire will also look in the direction of on-coming monsters or stare at fallen zombies playing…uh..dead (that was unavoidable). A clever addition that helped out greatly when approaching a corner you couldn’t see around and kept you from walking blindly into a pack of undead or a Licker.
RE2 also introduced a wider variety of zombie models. Policemen, women (undead equality and all. Who said a lady can’t be a flesh-eating monster? Ask Katie Perry.), and cadavers from a morgue. The super popular Lickers make their debut here as well and these terrifying creatures are agile and deadly. I didn’t know that Voldo from Soul Calibur had offspring.
The camera doesn’t really block you view too often and cuts from scene to scene never leave you feeling disoriented as often as in the first game, and the locations never feel repetitive. Jump scare moments, like the hands reaching through the boarded up windows in the police station, are earned.
SOUND 9/10: Music production is top-notch and is sweet on the ears. Resident Evil’s eerie themes always keep you on your toes. Just as well, the game’s sound effects can also be greatly praised. Off screen enemies can be heard around corners and it’s easier to judge how far they are away as they approach. It is often a sigh of relief when entering a new room and discovering a safe spot and the safe room theme plays before the screen boots up. Voice acting is still a bit cheesy, but not because of the performers, but rather the script is littered with hokey lines. It’s far and few in between and a vast improvement over the previous game, whose cut scenes and dialogue are legendary for how goofy it is.
GAMEPLAY 8.5/10: The tank controls are polished and a little sped up in this game, making for a much-improved playing experience. Aiming is quicker and you have a wider variety of weapons to choose from. Not to keep harping on this fact, but dammit, I missed back when these games taught you how to rationalize your inventory. In my first couple of go-arounds with this game, I blew all of my ammo early and was stuck relying on the knife. It wasn’t until I properly learned tactical evasion and conservation that makes RE5 and 6 so damn stupid because when dealing with a survival horror concept is learning how intelligently utilize your ammunition. When branching into the B portions of your play through, do you leave Leon or Claire the extra item pack or the sub machine gun? This is why this game is so much fun to play after all these years, whereas the only reason I played through the last two games is because my brother would rather have a live person play with him instead the rock-stupid A.I.! (I’m not sure if the adjective or the noun should be offended)