Genre: Adventure / Survival Horror
Length: ~10 Hours
Extras: Vibration, Memory Card, Analog Control
ESRB Rating: M
My hot and cold experience with Capcom's infamous Survival Horror series, Resident Evil, has been something I've endured for years without the satisfaction of actually defeating any of the games. It's a group of games that makes it incredibly easy to become stuck, frustrated or cornered, and as a result give up altogether. Though I enjoyed the unique perspective of the first game, the integrated elements of past horror movies, and the whole premise of an underground city filled with zombies, I really had a hard time correctly rationing my ammo, my game-saving ink ribbons and my time. It's a strange marriage, a brainless, balls-out action title merged with a time consuming, brain teasing puzzle game. I suppose therein lies the problem I've always had with completing these suckers; it's quite hard to change gears that wildly. Capcom teases you into adopting a Final Fight mindset, then completely derails the player by halting the action altogether and throwing them coldly into a King's Quest style, item gathering and puzzle solving mission. That's like hopping into a Dodge Viper, pulling it out to the highway, and shifting from fifth to first without slowing down.
Yet, despite the odd mixture of genres, the abysmal voice acting and the numerous gameplays flaws, there remained something worthwhile about the first Resident Evil title. It maintained some sort of bizarre, twisted charm. If you looked closely enough, endured enough nearly unconquerable scenarios, and played long enough, there was the faint glimmer of a potential legacy shining through. Capcom saw this, as did the majority of the world's game players, and thus was spawned the game I've come here to discuss: Resident Evil 2.
As with any sequel, RE2 borrows a lot from its predecessor. The controls, the camera angles, the weapons, the enemies... everything is very close, if not the same. But, again as with any sequel, this second installment improves upon the original in every way. Perhaps the most notable improvement of them all lies in the storyline itself. Comparing the stories of the first game and the second is like pitting Sam Raimi's first "Evil Dead" against the recent blockbuster "The Ring." Sure, they're technically the same genre, but the differences in budget, acting talent and overall production quality aren't even in the same ballpark.
Chapter two is, for all intents and purposes, a true sequel, though perhaps this is a sequel where the filmmakers couldn't convince any of the original stars to return for a second run. It picks up three months after the storyline of the first game, and ties in closer and closer with the original plot as the story goes along. Put simply, the virus that created the zombies of Resident Evil 1 has spilled into the city streets and infected an entire town. As either Leon, a rookie police officer enduring his first day on the job, or Claire, the sister of RE1's Chris, you enter the horrific world of Raccoon City and attempt to save the world from the brink of disaster one more time. The two strangers meet thanks to a stroke of luck, agree that the Police station is the safest place to hold out, and are almost immediately separated before reaching their target. Once there, it's almost business as usual again... firing on monsters, uncovering an elaborate maze of tricks, gimmicks and puzzles, and shooting for the head of the evil Umbrella Corporation once again.
Though there remain several holes in the plot this time around (once again centering mainly on the question "why would someone go through all this trouble to lock doors?"), it's overall a much tighter package than the first title. Non-playable and temporarily playable characters become a more central aspect of the plot in RE2, where they were pretty much extraneous in the first game. Indeed, the player has a much easier time understanding the paranoia of the Chief of Police after meeting him, than they do after reading summaries of his actions in one of the multiple police reports found lying around the station. Where RE1 was overflowing with cheese, bad drama, unrealistic situations and horrendous acting, part two calms things down a bit and resembles more of a Hollywood blockbuster than it does an independent, low-budget student film.
The graphics of the second installment have taken a big step forward from the first game. Both the main characters and the creatures themselves move much more realistically this time around. Zombies will lunge when you get close, they'll stumble backwards when they take a couple bullets. Leon and Claire, as well, show the effects of the damage they've taken. Both have three different methods of walking; an uninjured trot, a mildly harmed walk with an arm around their midsection, and a nasty limp, dragging their weapon behind them as they go. The more damage you take, the slower you move and the more likely you are to take additional hits. It's a little cheap to lose that extra bit of life, just because Claire won't move her ass, but it's not like this is something that's going to make or break the game anyway. I'd rather they go all the way with the realism in this department, as it gives you an idea of when to use your healing items, so it didn't really bother me. Every character, human and zombie, now comes fully equipped with an independently moving head, which locks onto the nearest moving object and follows it, staring, as it moves around the room. This, however, serves as more of a comedic element than a realistic add-on, as the lead characters glare almost mockingly at non-playable characters... staring at them, and continuing to do so long after they've gone away. After you've killed a zombie, Leon or Claire will stare at the corpse, perhaps trash talking this defeated undead monster even after they've begun to walk away from it. The zombies, too, are often seen moving their heads to look at something they probably shouldn't. One particular instance springs to mind, as I entered a room full of what appeared to be dead zombies. Their bodies lay, scattered around the floor, but I knew they were still dangerous because they turned their heads to watch as I walked by. So, in reality, it looked like the room full of zombies were trying to sleep peacefully and I was merely disturbing their slumber.
The textures have been cleaned up significantly, and the modeling has also improved by leaps and bounds. Though there's still plenty of pixilation to be had, things look 110% better than the original zombie killer. For one, Leon and Claire actually have faces and somewhat detailed outfits, and the zombies themselves now come in a couple distinct flavors of dress and as both males and females. Capcom killed the idea of live actors in the cutscenes for RE2, instead choosing to go with pre-rendered CGI scenes created on the 3-D rendering program SoftImage. Though SoftImage is known as the program that brought the dinosaurs to life in Jurassic Park and the water onto the screen for Titanic, it wasn't in quite as able a set of hands in this instance. The scenes truly look dated when compared with today's games, no question, but they weren't entirely top of the line upon the date of their release, either. While Squaresoft was reinventing the wheel with their work on Final Fantasy VIII around this same time, Capcom wasn't on the same boat. In addition to that, the pre-renders were compressed horribly, with nasty fragments showing up all over the place.
If you've played the first Resident Evil, or any installment since, you understand the gameplay of this series. It really hasn't changed all that much in the last six years. You either love it or you can't stand it. The action is presented from a series of static camera shots, overlooking all the action and switching angles as you leave the plane of vision. This setup offers positives and negatives; for one, the backgrounds are much more detailed than they could have possibly been rendered in three dimensions. Unfortunately, the rapid changing of screens and immovable camera angles still make it easy for your enemies to get the drop on you. The zombies, lickers and evil plants can see you from down the hallway, but you can't see them until they're right on top of you.
You're still reliant upon the distribution of ink cartridges to save your progress, which is still a major gripe I've got with the series, and the ammunition seems to have become harder to come by. Your weaponry has expanded notably, however, including a grenade launcher, sub machine gun, magnum and rocket launcher, in addition to the returning shotgun and pistol. Gone are the days where one character can hold more items than the other; both Claire and Leon have the ability to hold six items on their own, and there's a hidden fanny pack midway through the game to boost that count up to eight. Both characters have two scenarios within which to play, an "A" and "B" scenario, respectively. Basically, you complete the game with one character, save a completion file on your memory card, and then play through a second scenario with the other character. The two storylines intertwine at several points, occasionally covering the same ground and occasionally going off onto their own. The items have moved, and actions you completed as Leon will affect your progress as Claire. If you choose to take the sub machine gun or fanny pack with your first character, those bonus items won't be available for the second. It's really a second playthrough of the same game, but with just enough new material to make things worth checking out.
RE2 offers a handful of secrets to unlock, as well, including alternate costumes for both characters, hidden items, two new characters (each with a unique new quest) and an entirely new scenario, titled "Extreme Battle," in which you must use a finite amount of ammo and ink ribbons to gather four bombs, scattered around the police station. All in all, they really broke their humps making this game not only playable but overly REplayable. No pun intended.
The audio is the only portion of chapter two that isn't a notable improvement over the first. It's still a strange, subpar performance of tense symphonic arrangements mixed with elevator music. It's quiet at the right moments, it crescendos at the right time, there's just something strange about it. Something that doesn't fit right. Many of the sound effects are carried over from the first game, but they've been joined by some all new samples. Zombies still make the same characteristic shuffle when they move, they still occupy themselves by mumbling incoherently, and it's still entertaining as hell. Leon, Claire, Ada, the Chief, and the other half dozen characters with speaking roles put on a notably better performance than the talent in the first game. This isn't emotional, professional-quality voice acting yet, but it's a world and a half better than Chris and Jill's boring, unenthusiastic delivery in the first title.
All accounted for, Resident Evil 2 is everything a sequel should be. It integrated many of the elements that made the first game successful, improved upon the areas in which the original was lacking, picked up the story and ran with it, and delivered an overly solid presentation. There are still some major flaws with both the gameplay and the story, but on the whole this is a big step in the right direction. Resident Evil 1 was an unexpected surprise, solid but not necessarily legendary. Part two really put the series on the map as a serious force.
On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.5