As many of you found out from our Resident Evil 2 podcast we (well, me and Keith) can waffle on about it all day! What better way to kickstart our PlayStation section on the site. In the mid 1990s my video game collection was threadbare, propped up by some (ahem!) copied Amiga games and old Mega Drive hand-me-downs. I was still shy of working age so a lot of my video game education came from my younger cousin who had a PlayStation. When I first started playing Resi 2, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
In an ideal world I’d have checked the first instalment of Resident Evil before getting on to this but as we’re all finding out, this is hardly an ideal world in which we live. The world of survival horror provided a timely escape for young Dylan and still does to this day. For those of you who haven’t played it, Resident Evil 2 focuses on the struggles of Leon (a rookie cop) and Claire (sister of Chris Redfield from the first game), stuck in Raccoon City with a whole horde of zombies on their asses. And I don’t mean donkeys. A third person game with 3D movement within static 2D environments, in my opinion it’s one of those PS games that hasn’t really aged at all.
Hear me out. Released in 1998 it was (for console gamers at least) the pinnacle of anything cinematic we’d ever seen. From the jaw dropping intro sequence (that thankfully dispensed with FMV) to the first imaginings of the city and the police station, Resi 2 was out to impress. The game looks drastically different to its first imagining, the now notorious Resident Evil 1.5 that despite having quicker gameplay (due to fewer character polygons) was deemed “too boring” by producer Shinji Mikami and was scrapped in favour of the more character-polygon/smoother Resident Evil 2 loved by many. Leon and Claire move with a grace associated with ice skaters. Yup, even 99 himself. Zombies shuffle towards you, none of this running nonsense.
How does one move about 2D environments in 3D? Tank controls of course! Knocked by many but loved by all at Arcade Attack, even Rob! The depth of the environments is quite staggering and the static cameras work really well. Yes, there are times when you’re shooting things you can’t see but through the groans and thuds of your foe you’ll work out what’s happening.
In addition to the action, the game also has intriguing puzzles, which I thought were amazing at the time but now seemingly ripped off from the first Resi game. Collect key, open door, collect seal, insert seal, obtain item, run over there, no, not there, over there! Part and parcel in a lot of 2D games prior, they really work in this survival horror world. And also tie-in nicely to the plot although nothing is said of the clearly quite insane architect who designed the police station in particular.
Why should you play the game now? It’s one of the most important games ever made, that’s why. With one of the most enthralling plots in a game ever, still to this day. Leon and Claire’s stories intertwine beautifully through something Capcom monikered as the “zapping system”. Two CDs in the game case, one to start with Leon and the other to start with Claire. The game needs to be played both ways around to fully unlock everything. They found a way of playing the same game four times without a need for the gamer to question why!
The need for strategy is clear. Limited ammo, limited health power-ups (via the notorious herb system and also first-aid sprays), limited time (in certain situations), Resi 2 is a potential heart-attack from start to finish. Big bosses? You got em. Actually, that’s one of the few negative points of the game, they’re so massive it’s mostly impossible to run around them, meaning boss fights are a test against time as to how much ammo you can unload all at once. The only other negative point I can think of are the extra characters Ada Wong and Sherry Birkin. Ada is a mysterious lady who turns up in Leon’s scenarios who apparently is looking for her boyfriend… Sherry is a little girl who turns to Claire for help in escaping zombies. Yes, they add to the plot and yes you can play as them but the sections are so short they could have easily been avoided. And when you’re playing the game through again (which you will willingly do) you’ll feel they’re a bit of a drag.
Nonetheless, Resident Evil 2 is a masterpiece which should not be missed. It’s actually one of the few games where every port is spot on (even the CD-less N64 version!)! I’ve purposely left out the majority of the plot as I know many of you won’t have played the game. For those of you that haven’t, please play it first before listening to the podcast as it’s oh so full of spoilers! I haven’t even mentioned the music score and sound effects, both of which have been done with Capcom’s usual panache and professionalism.
Good luck and I’ll see you soon, if you ever get out of Raccoon City…