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Resident Evil 2 – Take Me Down to Raccoon City

Possible candidate for best sequel ever, or is it time to remove the nostalgia goggles? With a full remake on the way at the start of the new year, let FNGR GNS take you on a journey into what makes the 1998 original shine...

What is it, a monster?!

When the first Resident Evil launched in Europe, back in 1996, I’d never heard of it. It was one of the two PlayStation games I’d ever played, the first being the almighty Tekken 2. I was ten years old, so I had no right to complain when the dog corridor happened (you all know exactly which bit I mean). It was something different, something new, and to my tiny mind, just another game to watch as my friend’s dad completed it for us.

That was it, thought nothing more of it. It was a cool zombie game, didn’t really fully grasp the story, moved on to other games. Back in t’day, we didn’t have the up-to-date content available to us now (like you folks do from our humble writings), and I could never really afford gaming magazines. Trailers were only for those privileged few that could afford to go to shows, or sometimes came with a magazine on a VHS (hey, remember those?!). So I had no idea that a second one was even in development, or that it had been stopped, scrapped and restarted to become the game it is today.

That guy’s a maniac! Why’d he bite me?!

Now, full disclosure moment here: this isn’t going to be a retrospective on the history of the development of the game. That’s all readily available. This is, however, going to be my unabashed, slightly biased reminiscing spree on one of my favourite games, warts and all. The highs, the lows, the funky bits in between. So, if you’re still this far into the ride, buckle up for a trip down glorious memory lane…

My first playthrough was with Leon, purely because his was the first disc I took out of the case, having no idea about the whole dual scenario, A/B campaigns (but more on that later). After sitting wide-eyed at the introductory FMV (also, remember those?!), I died. My first experience with the game, and I died. I was so overwhelmed with the fire effects, the graphics, about what just happened to get us here, that I didn’t consider moving. So yeah, Leon Kennedy’s first day on the job, lasted about as long as chocolate fireguard.

It was such a polar opposite to the opening of the original, which let you explore the lobby at a sedate pace, that it blew my mind. So, pieces of brain matter reassembled, I knuckled down and made my way to the police station; the first meaty part of the game. Now, I’m not that stubborn that I will defend the puzzle logic of this area. The mansion was marginally plausible, George Trevor channeling his inner Bloody Stupid Johnson to safeguard some areas. But in a busy police station, it seems a bit bananas to have to hide a key through a logic puzzle to get through a door on the other side of the building. Also, who resets them every time?! But, at the same time, that is part of the endearing charm you’d expect from a sequel: same but different.

Puzzle logic aside, exploring the precinct was such an experience, and a tense one at that. You’ve got your standard zombie, in various shades of shamble. Dogs join the mix too, but now with less window shattering, thankfully. Gigantic spiders also took the bus trip from the Arklay mountains to add some terror, but there’s also the horribly apt-named Licker that gets its series debut. These things terrified me, from the corridor meeting of the first one, to the [literal] in your face encounter in the interrogation room. It became a much heated internal debate about which scared me more: Hunters or Lickers. The debate still rages on.

It’s when you start the opposing character’s B scenario campaign (Claire in this case, as I started as Leon) that you’re introduced to Mr X. Preceding the Nemesis, the man-mountain in a trenchcoat actually scared me so badly at one point, that I dropped the controller. Unless you’re feeling brave/suicidal, it was always wise to run. Unless you couldn’t run, but we’ll get to that a bit further on.

Storytelling in Resident Evil games has always been lauded as being a bit snooker loopy, more so in the later games. Not so much here, and it expands on the lore established in the first game. The introductory narration covers the mansion events, and how the rascally Umbrella corporation have made a whoopsie in central Raccoon City too. Primary antagonist William Birkin has his work stolen by Umbrella, which inadvertently causes the outbreak that poor ol’ Leon and Claire get caught up in. One of the biggest draws in the game was the dual narrative that the game offered. Instead of trying to shoehorn everything in one playthrough, picking one character’s disc had you playing their A campaign, whilst a clear save of that end game allowed you to play through the opposite player character’s B story. It created an interesting narrative, as some choices in the former play out ahead of the latter, adding new diversions or puzzles.

Let’s split up, and look for survivors…

It was a brilliant take on what could be seen as a new game plus, and adding more depth to the story. Leon’s campaign had you teaming up tentatively with Ada Wong, a vague femme fatale with unclear motives, uncovering more of Umbrella’s shenanigans as you delve deeper into the conspiracy, whilst Claire’s story had you looking for her brother, Chris Redfield, and meeting Birkin’s daughter, Sherry, along the way.

Now, those brief descriptions are both of their A campaigns, abridged. The B sees you following the other’s footsteps, sometimes entering areas that the A campaign hero has left moments before. It also added a rudimentary “partner zapping” system, in that you could take a weapon or inventory expanding item for yourself, or leave it for the B campaign, knowing they’ve got a slightly tougher challenge ahead of them. It added the dichotomy of being inherently greedy now, or having the foresight to leave it for your potentially struggling B campaign partner.

Whilst the story is engaging, it does unfortunately fall into what would become a corny trope of the series. The first game’s “level” structure was a sausage-string linear route of puzzle house, side hub, back to puzzle house, interim travel area, secret lab, timed escape/final boss fight, and RE2 follows that pretty much to a tee. Whilst that may not seem apparent on your first playthrough, you start to feel that “Hang on, I’ve done this malarkey before” feeling. Although, as mentioned, the B campaign adds a slight twist on the formula, with the aforementioned Mr X throwing the occasional progress-halting spanner in the works. Whilst initially exciting, the explosive deus ex machina to end his mission is a straight throwback to the original, which can be seen as a cool nod or rehash, depending on your outlook.

To say the whole game is a perfect example of outstanding gameplay would be, well…biased. Personally, I have no issue with tank controls, or fixed camera angles, and even embraced them when Devil May Cry followed suit. But I will concede that evasion can be a janky experience, unless you have enemy attack patterns sussed. Another gripe is not being able to see oncoming enemies/attacks if the camera doesn’t allow. Technical limitations of the time aside, it can be annoying. But that adds to the survival part of survival horror. You’re meant to be on edge, trying to conserve limited ammunition, or try and evade said beasties.

However, none of those points detract from what is essentially a great game, and a worthy sequel that established Resident Evil to what it is today (except the movies, just…no).

A significantly larger story across two discs, that helped establish the canon for upcoming games. Packed with adventure and suspense, twists and surprises, yet still retaining the tongue-in-cheek, corny voice acting of the first game that we all came to love. Wrapped up with some visceral combat and colourful gore, it created and cemented a game who’s legacy continues today. Without Resident Evil, we wouldn’t have Dead Space, Devil May Cry, or many other 3rd person survival horror titles.

I, for one, am beyond excited for the remake. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s looking to be faithful to its heritage, whilst incorporating more modern features (over the shoulder camera, free aiming et all), and I think we’re in for an absolute treat. It looks visceral, it looks gory, and it’s looking fantastic.

To the toxic naysayers that plague the industry, I simply implore you to wait. Take a breath and hold that spite until we get the game. I’m not psychic, but I am sure it’ll be just as brilliant as the original was twenty years ago.

Watch this space, as FNGR GNS will bring you more news as we get it.

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