Well fuck me if this isn’t how you pull of a good sequel. Sorry if I’m putting the main point of this article right at the start, but Resident Evil 2 genuinely surprised me with just how much it went above and beyond its predecessor in both tone and technical achievement. As a modern gamer playing this entry in the series for the first time, I felt much more at home in this game than I did in the original.
At first I wasn’t really sure why that was the case, but the more I played it, the more two things began to dawn on me. The first being that Raccoon City’s police department must never get any bloody work done when the key to its interrogation room and evidence locker are hidden inside of a locked mechanical statue that needs a unicorn medal to open it. The second being the realisation that the first Resident Evil put its gameplay into its horror, while Resident Evil 2 put its horror into gameplay. In other words, while Resident Evil was designed to be slow and tense, Resident Evil 2 was designed to much more cinematic to the point that it plays more like an action-packed horror movie.
This is pretty much evident within the first 10 minutes or so of the game, with the intro cutscene hitting all of the zombie movie beats: set in a small town, seemingly crazy people biting at bystanders, protagonists discovering the zombies and getting away, finally ending with an explosive car crash that begins the gameplay. But even then, the game doesn’t calm down. Suddenly you’re surrounded by an entire town of zombies, forcing you to run down alleyways, through buildings and above-ground walkways as you try to fight and escape a relentless horde of zombies that crash through windows and break down chain-link fences to chow down on you. But even after the action-packed intro is all over and the game slows back down to the original Resident Evil’s puzzle-solving, exploration and zombie-killing gameplay, that doesn’t mean that the game is done with the action yet, as I foolishly thought it was.
Where the original Resident Evil saw you facing off against maybe two zombies at once, here you’ll be facing off against hordes of up to eight, acting as obstacles that you will need to fight through, as opposed to run around to save your precious ammo.
It would be foolish of me not to also mention the significantly more action-intense boss battles this entry has, including a Jaws-reminiscent fight against a giant Alligator that requires you to perform your very own “smile you son of a bitch” moment. Even the very last fight in the game has you facing off against a massive creature inspired by The Thing on the back of a speeding train.
Hell, the game even lets you play the originally unlockable arcade-style “Arrange Mode” from the first game right of the bat, which sticks you on Rookie difficulty and gives you an SMG, Rocket Launcher and a Gatling gun with unlimited ammo from the start. You have no idea how satisfying it was to put down the game’s Licker enemy with a rocket launcher after it gave me so much hassle in the normal game by needing to run away from it until I found the shotgun.
But that’s not the only change that has been made since the original Resident Evil. In fact, a lot of things have been significantly upgraded from the original. The most obvious of these upgrades from the start is the game’s introduction. This time around, the introductory FMV cutscene has been completely animated, as opposed to the original game’s use of live-action FMV for its opening and ending cutscenes. While the animation was pretty good looking in comparison to a lot of the FMV cutscenes I remember from Playstation’s past, I will admit that it was a bit disappointing to see the ham and cheese sandwich that was the original Resident Evil’s live-action acting.
But, as I had hoped in the previous part of this retrospective, Resident Evil 2 was able to cut a decent chunk of its predecessor’s distracting cheese, honestly making the overall experience better for it. In fact, I’d say that the game being able to legitimately scare and surprise me this time around is a testament to just how much better off the game is with less of it. Thankfully, however, that’s not to say there still isn’t some horrible voice acting for us all to enjoy.
Cheese aside, everything in terms of presentation has also been given a significant upgrade in Resident Evil 2. The most pleasing of these to me was the camera not allowing you walk into the loving arms of a zombie as much this time around. You may remember from the previous part that I hated the game’s use of the fixed, static camera because of how it never worked in your favour. In Resident Evil 2 the game’s camera is still fixed, but now it seems to be a placed further away. It’s even angled in such a way that not only lends to the tense atmosphere of the game, but actually shows you more in terms of what is ahead of your character or around the next corner. As a result, the amount of times I found myself getting caught off-guard by an enemy four pixels outside of the camera’s view was astonishingly less in this entry than the first game. Thankfully, when they did, the game now has a “get the fuck off me” button that can help you take much less damage from an enemy grab than normal.
The graphics also look pretty incredible for a game of its time. The environments look much clearer and more detailed, giving the game a necessary sense of scope in its early moments that reminds you that you’re only exploring in a single building located inside of a larger town being overrun by horrifying creatures.
Even the character models have been given an upgrade, not only looking more detailed but also more animated. Characters will now turn their heads towards points of interest, making hidden ammo and items a bit easier to find if you’re paying attention.
But most importantly, the models now reflect their health status to let you know just how badly they’ve been hurt, walking around normally if they were fine and slowing down to a struggling limp if they were close to death. This is an incredibly welcome change over Resident Evil’s approach to health monitoring, which could only be checked by looking at the item menu, making it difficult to tell when your character needed to heal during an enemy encounter and would often lead to an unexpected death. But in Resident Evil 2, the character model acts as the health bar, which gives a much better idea as to whether a character is in need of healing as a result.
Characters and Scenarios
The way Resident Evil 2 approaches its playable characters is a little different from the first game as well. Like before, you are able to play as two different characters, Leon and Claire, both of whom have a slightly different experience throughout the same story. But unlike the original, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference in the characters aside from what items they start with, what weapons and items they pick up through their story and the companion character that joins them. Both are just as adept at combat as the other, both characters move just as fast as the other and they both have the same amount of health as the other. This is ultimately done for the sake of the game’s new A and B scenario mechanic.
Where Resident Evil made its characters different for the sake of allowing players to get used to the game’s difficulty with Jill before giving them a more challenging experience with Chris, Resident Evil 2 instead allows its players to go through the easier A scenario first with either Leon or Claire before playing as the other character in the more challenging B scenario in order to get the game’s ending.
I feel like this method of storytelling is a lot more effective than how it was implemented in the original Resident Evil. In the first game, while you could play through the story as the two different characters if you wanted to, it never really felt like they were exploring the same location until the very end of the game when they met up. Despite being approximately in the same locations at the same time, it never felt like the actions of one character influenced what could happen to the other.
Resident Evil 2’s scenario mechanic, however, is designed in such a way that the actions of the character in scenario A can affect how the other character experiences scenario B. A perfect example of this can be seen during a moment in the Police Station level, in which you come across a weapons storage room that contains two items: An SMG and an item pouch that gives the character an additional 2 inventory slots.
This moment is designed so that once the character in scenario A picks one of these items up, the remaining item will be left for the character in scenario B when they reach the same room. While these moments only happen a few times throughout the game, they give the player an idea that the two characters are still working together to get through the situation they’ve found themselves in. Unlike the first game, Resident Evil 2 makes you feel as though the two playable protagonists are partners rather than completely separate entities.
Overall, I think that Resident Evil 2 may have become my new example of how to make a good sequel. It trims the fat of its original, keeps what worked about the game, improved on what didn’t, and experimented with something new that ultimately works to compliment the original’s existing mechanics. Like I said at the beginning of this part, the change to a slightly more action-oriented style of gameplay makes Reisdent Evil 2 feel more at home for a modern gamer, while also being able to get some genuine scares at the same time. I do find it a little odd that this entry isn’t talked about as much as the other PS1 entries in the series. But perhaps that’s because Resident Evil 3 improved upon this entry further? I guess I’ll just need to found out for myself in the next part.
Are you ready, players?