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[Ghosts Of Gaming Past] A Review Of ‘Resident Evil 2’

Written by T. Blake Braddy, @blakebraddy

Resident Evil was not a total and complete surprise for the gaming public, in that it built on a stable of smaller, less ambitious and marketable games, but for the most part the hit that became a franchise knocked everyone sideways. It was a creepy, small, and moody bit of entertainment, a stake in the ground signifying that gaming was shifting to a more adult perspective.

Resident Evil 2 is interesting in part because of the weird path it took to release. A near-completed version of the game (now known as Resident Evil 1.5) was scrapped after an initial build was not up to the standards of the creator Shinji Mikami, and a redesign of the core experience was ordered. Some elements (like the police station) remained intact while others (the sidekicks) were altered or edited out completely. Such revamps are not atypical in the gaming industry, but they also do not bode particularly well for the final released version. Still, despite these concerns, RE2 was an out-and-out hit and became one of the best-selling games in history, as well as cementing the legacy of Resident Evil.

And Resident Evil 2 isn’t just ambitious by the standards of the series. It is ambitious by any metric applied to video game sequels. It grows the world, the fiction, and the gameplay in new and interesting ways, all while capturing the claustrophobia and weirdness that made the first game stand out. The question remains: does it hold up after all these years?

This time around, the zombie outbreak isn’t contained within a mansion on the hill. It has spread through Raccoon City with no sign of slowing down. Umbrella’s tampering with the human genome has had catastrophic results, and once again players assume the role of the uninitiated newcomer, here to contend with the zombie outbreak. People can choose between Leon Kennedy (for his first day on the job with the RCPD) or Claire Redfield (who is looking for her older brother, Chris), and though the game is only shades different for each character, the way the mirrored experiences reveal new story and areas gives players reasons to play and replay the game.

In fact, this two-disc beast offers both an A and B scenario for each player, and finishing the game with one means picking up the other character for a different experience. Completely beating the game is akin to playing it through four times, which says a lot in favor of its value. The game’s breadth dwarfs the previous entry’s by comparison without straying too far from what made it great.

Another note on story: even though the Resident Evil franchise is commonly referred to as survival horror, RE2 goes great lengths to explain how it is also a work of soft sci-fi. There are enough secret labs, robot arms, and experiments gone wrong to satisfy more than just the people jumping at monster closets. Furthermore, the latter portions of the game feel more in tune with Aliens than the ‘of the Living Dead’ universe.

It’s difficult to assess the sequel to Resident Evil without discussing its relationship to the first game, which had some problems: the dialogue was bad, the graphics were blocky, and the controls were somewhat unwieldy. The dialogue is still kind of clunky, but less so than in Resident Evil. (There are no ‘Jill Sandwich’ embarrassments here.) The voice acting is far better than the original’s, and the game is graphically superior is well. The textures are still blocky, but the graphics, overall, are much more refined this time around.

With the controls, improvement comes down mostly to the tank controls. It could be that I replayed both games within a week of one another, but Resident Evil 2 handles so much better than the first, and I was less likely to sprint into the arms of an oncoming enemy. Additionally, the auto-aim of the first game has been replaced with a free aiming system that, though largely superior, still feels awkward, especially from a distance. It is imprecise and even if it doesn’t matter all that much in a corridor with a single zombie, happening upon a powerful foe can be disastrous if the aiming isn’t performed correctly.

The puzzles that seemed almost on par with being in a haunted mansion really stretch the reality of the fiction in a police station, Resident Evil 2 uses a lot of the same puzzle types. You will continue to push statues and place medallions on fountains to unlock doors. (Who knew that a police station would have so many hidden passageways?)

There is still a sense of esoteric clunkiness to them, however, so it may take a few go-rounds to be able to solve each one. You’ll also spend the majority of your time traipsing back and forth across the landscape to find minuscule items, like jewels and chess piece-shaped plugs, but the game is far less opaque in denoting what exactly players need to find in order to solve the puzzles. It’s an improvement that still carries with it a ‘more of the same’ familiarity on level with the first game.

Players familiar with later games will recognize plenty of the key players in this volume: Leon Kennedy, Claire Redfield, William Birkin, and Ada Wong, most notably. These are really a few of the central figures in the whole fiction’s sordid and winding history, so it’s neat to see the inception of their storylines. Not only do a variety of NPCs appear, but RE2 takes a dramatic step in allowing players to commandeer and test drive them throughout the game. It is an unusual but surprisingly refreshing idea for a game that can feel plodding when players are left alone for too long.

But we don’t (necessarily) come to Resident Evil for the characters, do we? We come for the monsters, and RE2 improves upon the original’s scattershot and wide-ranging host of baddies. There are arguably fewer monster types, but they are utilized in much more interesting ways. For instance, zombies are a bit smarter, and the zombie lunge this time is a lot more insidious and harmful, so sneaking around the undead is not easily accomplished.

Moreover, the Licker, a dangerous, vicious addition to the monster gallery, provides a counter to slow, lumbering members of the undead at the heart of the universe, and though the first game seemed to be none too discriminating with regard to enemies, RE2 at least focuses its attention on a few key monster while also including the bizarre creatures associated with the Umbrella experiments. You’ll see upright plant creatures and oversized spiders, along with the Tyrant-type super-zombies, and since the enemies never really change locations or respawn, strategically clearing out high-traffic areas makes for a pretty smooth gaming experience.

This game is longer but not necessarily harder, and for those who, like me, could never seem to find a conveniently-placed safe room in the first game (except for the one underneath the stairs on the first floor), the save ribbons are more plentiful and save rooms more conveniently located, so there’s less of a chance that players will wander into a room with a boss without having recently saved.

Players will wind through the station and descend into a futuristic lab, and as the game reaches its final climax, it becomes clear that the development team learned plenty from the pitfalls of the original entry. To put a finer point on it, Resident Evil 2 not only gives a satisfying backstory to the Big Bad of the game but also teases his ultimate arrival through some memorable sequences, whereas in the first game, Tyrant’s entrance was preceded by literally minutes of ham-handed exposition about the nature of Umbrella and so forth. This, to me, is the great metaphor about the difference between the two and why the second game is superior.

Ultimately, Resident Evil 2 is a longer, more refined version of the first game, but with some great additions. It works to underline what made RE1 so cool. And even though Resident Evil established the franchise, Resident Evil 2 is where the series really hits its stride. The game plays well, looks cool, sounds creepy, and gives you plenty of playtime for your dollar, so have at it. You’ll not regret the decision.

The Final Word: Like with my recommendation for the first game, only pick up the PS1 version if you’re looking for the genuine experience. Otherwise, grab one of the many up-res versions of the game, and it will play similarly but will look substantially better.



  • wildgator25

    Great score Adam, I totally agree. For a LONG time, this was the greatest game I had ever played. The replay-ability was unbelievable and ahead of its time due to the fact that what you did with one character directly affected what happened to the other character when you played as him/her.

    I know the fans are working on a HD remake, but I really wish Capcom would give this the next gen treatment. This game was ahead of its time and would fit nicely into the “age of the zombie” we are going through now.

    • Adam Dodd

      This is Tyler’s review, but I’m sure he appreciates the compliment. 😉

      And I’m all for a next-gen RE2 remake.

    • T. Blake Braddy

      Hey, thanks, man! I’ve reviewed most of the Resident Evil games for the site, and RE2 holds a special place in my…brain? I’d really like to see a total revamp of the game, because graphically it doesn’t hold up as well as I wished. It’s unbelievably replayable, and I remember being astounded at being able to switch the discs and play through the B scenario. I couldn’t believe it!

  • EvilDead-Deuce

    Best in series with RE4 close behind it. Just for nostalgia sake and it was the first game that scared me on a console

    • T. Blake Braddy

      RE4 is a great game, but you can see where they were headed with 4 in RE3:Nemesis. It’s a total departure from what makes this series unique, and I definitely prefer RE2 and its haunted police station feel. There is something altogether unsettling about it, and yet it’s kind of a continuation of the mansion from RE1. Do you remember the hallway that was boarded up, the one where zombies would unceremoniously shove their arms through for a jump scare? Yeah, I played that through at 2 in the morning by myself in the dark. That moment had to have knocked three years off my life. How about you? What was scariest for you?

  • ThunderDragoon

    Great review, Blake. This is my favorite in the franchise so I’m happy to see the score you gave it. I’m curious if you’re going to do RE3 next. After replaying it last year, I didn’t like it near as much as I did when I first played it.

    • T. Blake Braddy

      Thanks! Yeah, I’m working through RE3 right now, and though I must have played it through five or six times back in ’99 when it came out, I can’t say it holds up the way I’d hoped it would. It abandons the kind of slow progression for the sake of action-y movement, and the set pieces are cool, but it feels rushed, and I feel rushed playing it (and not just because Nemesis is always hovering just out of view). I should have the review up in a week,

  • Pav

    Never been big RE fan but i was (always with pleasure) watching my girlfriend playing this game. So here is her comment: BADASS GAME!

    • T. Blake Braddy

      Yeah, totally. Badass game! Also, you lucked out finding a woman with such great taste in games. Hold on to her, my friend. She’s a keeper.

  • Shayne1972

    it was the endless moaning from the ZED”S that got me .. .. quiet one moment .. then that moan from off the screen .. and you wouldn’t know how many were there .. .. lol

    • T. Blake Braddy

      Also the squishy sound of…their feet? Something about the *squish*squish that accompanied the sound of the moans that made me feel queasy, especially when I wasn’t expecting it. Come to think of it, what IS that sound?

  • SaltSlasher

    I will die and be buried with Resident Evil in my hand….

    • T. Blake Braddy

      Consider yourself the Charlton Heston of survival horror video games. They’ll never pry it from your cold, undead hands…

  • 905Justin

    this game is the reason why i have an umbrella tattoo

    • T. Blake Braddy

      How do you feel about the rest of the series?

  • theedeadmau5

    another cool aspect of this game is if you complete the game under a certain time limit you can unlock a rocket launcher and gatling gun with unlimited ammo

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