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REvisiting The City Of The Dead: Resident Evil 2 (1998)

By Yoamiwaii, Jan 17 2019 10:54PM

[Article by: Amiwaii]

We’re drawing ever closer to the highly anticipated release day of the Resident Evil 2 remake, and as fans are soaking up all the media, trailers and the 1-shot demo, I thought I’d take a little trip back down memory lane to look at the original Resident Evil 2, and delve into some classic survival horror goodness.

Rewind twenty years to 1998, both in terms of the game’s setting and development. In the case of the latter, it wasn’t a straightforward process to build the game everyone knows and loves today. Progress to create the game ended up hitting quite the bump in the road, and what was initially shown in the press footage and a playable demo early in development was not what we got in the end. What they’d set out to do in the first instance ended up being scrapped late in the process and started from scratch with only a few elements still being utilised towards the final product, which had to have its release date delayed so they could rework the game into a state they were happy with. The scrapped version of the game was around 70-80% complete when they decided to start over – quite a brave thing to do when a lot of time and money had been committed to the project. This version is nicknamed Resident Evil 1.5. This is something I’ve already discussed before, so head on over here if you want to read more about that version of the game. Despite the fraught process to bring the game together, needless to say it was worth the extra wait, as the reception for Resident Evil 2 on release was absolutely phenomenal. It was actually one of Capcom’s bestselling games for quite a number of years after the fact.

As mentioned, the game was set in 1998; in fact, events take place only a few months after the first game. The surviving S.T.A.R.S members return to Raccoon City, hoping to relay their horrific ordeal to the unsuspecting citizens and challenge Umbrella for its crimes. Unfortunately, their stories of zombies and viral monsters are practically dismissed outright, thus preventing further investigations to be carried out. Little did anybody know that the nightmare the S.T.A.R.S went through was merely a prelude of things to come. Soon, the unsuspecting populous is consumed by the devastating effects of the T-Virus…

Welcome to Raccoon City; Population: UNDEAD.

Resident Evil 2 upped its game from the first chapter in the saga by going citywide with a viral contamination, creating an even more deadly environment for the players to delve into; though, it wasn’t until Resident Evil 3 you really got to see and feel the full effects of the viral tragedy on the city. The second game gives you but a mere glimpse of the catastrophe, choosing instead to isolate you much like in the first game, where you navigate an intricate building filled with puzzles and unknown threats, looking for a means of escape while avoiding the greater calamity going on outside. While the first game kept the player trapped on the mansion grounds throughout – whatever the area you were exploring – Resident Evil 2 would eventually lead you away from the police station, through numerous environments, while you sought to find a safe way out of the city.

Resident Evil 2 introduces two brand new protagonists to the forefront of the horror: Leon S. Kennedy, a rookie police officer heading to Raccoon City for his first day on the job, and Claire Redfield, the younger sister of STARS member, Chris Redfield, who has headed into the city to try and find her brother after losing contact with him. Unfortunately for the pair, they have no idea what awaits them…

The opening of the game quickly brings the two protagonists into the thick of things. Leon and Claire manage to cross paths soon after their arrival while each are escaping the zombie hordes, managing to commandeer a police car to beat a quick retreat. If they’d had any sense, they should have just driven straight back out of town and not looked back, but that wouldn’t have made for much of a game now, would it? After introductions, Claire procures a gun from the glovebox, because heaven knows she’s going to need it! The brief moment of peace is disrupted by a zombie in the backseat attacking our heroes unexpectedly. They lose control of the car and crash into a pole, which ejects the unwanted zombified passenger unceremoniously. Before they have chance to recover, a truck bears down on them, its driver having succumbed to a zombie bite. The pair evacuate as the truck crashes and explodes, creating a wall of fire and carnage that separates them. Agreeing to meet at the police station, the two set off on their own journeys.

And that’s where the game begins, and boy oh boy, does it throw you right into the hornet’s nest. It’s very clear from the moment you pick up the controller that you need to get off the zombie-infested Raccoon City streets, with very little ammo at your disposal to repel the threat. It’s a very challenging gauntlet to undertake, especially for newer players, put it certainly puts you through your paces and prepares you – somewhat – for what’s to come.

You don’t spend a lot of time outside in the thick of it as you head for the relative safety of the police station. Of course, the police station is a whole other kettle of fish, and you quickly realise that nowhere in Raccoon City can be considered safe at that point.

The police station itself, where you spend the first half of the game, is Resident Evil 2’s version of the first game’s mansion, but with its own distinctive architecture. The building, as you find out, was an old museum and art gallery, so isn’t a conventional in design, though pieces of it have been suitably amalgamated to create a more modern – by a 90’s standard that is – functioning police station. The design of the station is quite memorable and imposing in both a grand and unnerving way. Leon and Claire soon realise they are combating the underlying eccentricity of the station itself, all the while trying to survive against the zombies and other creatures prowling about looking for their next meal. The goal for survival is finding and securing a means of escape, and if there are any other survivors, to work together with them to achieve that.

Looking at the lead characters debuting in this title, Leon and Claire are shown to be capable people trapped in an extraordinary situation. Leon maybe a rookie, but he shows that he’s an efficient cop, putting his training to full use, striving to serve and protect those around him. He seems to take the weight of responsibility on his shoulders as the last surviving officer and tries to be an authoritative figure that people can look up to and depend on. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really go as planned as nobody seems to take him all that seriously. Claire herself, while not having undergone formal training, seems to have picked quite a bit from badass brother, Chris, and isn’t afraid to tackle problems head on. She’s calm under pressure and fiercely determined in whatever she does. Despite her tough exterior, she shows that she is compassionate and patient, even getting to show her maternal side.

The pair each meet a secondary character on their travels, who are playable during a couple of segments of the game. Leon is joined by the mysterious Ada Wong, who seems to be out searching for her boyfriend, John. Despite this, there seems to be a lot more going on with her then she’s willing to tell. She’s initially cold with Leon, only really using him to her own end, before finally softening up to him and starts to work as a team. Claire finds twelve-year-old, Sherry Birkin, who was told to hide out at the police station by her mother. Despite her young age and clear vulnerability, she has managed to use her wits to survive up to that point. Unlike Ada, who is armed and ready to help Leon when she’s at his side, Sherry doesn’t have that luxury; she needs Claire to guide and protect her during the course of her game, and when playable, she is defenceless and relies on dodging to survive. The two different partner characters provide very different experiences for both main protagonists, and their story contributions lead the story for each character down somewhat different paths, effecting the gameplay in significant ways, especially for Sherry, who will go through some awful stuff that will require Claire to go the extra mile to save her.

Getting down to the nitty gritty in terms of the gameplay. Much like the previous game, you take control of either Leon or Claire to strategically tackle the viral monster threat through managing ammo and vital resources. You have to decide whether the best option is fight or flight when it comes to handling the onslaught of enemies, as your last bullet could be the one that saves you from certain death. As you explore the police station and the other areas of the game, you will have to locate key items and solve puzzles in order to progress. The controls are still very much the same as the first game, which are dubbed as ‘tank controls’. You can find out more about them in previous Resident Evil articles I’ve covered, just so I’m not repeating myself.

Updates were made to the health system that now showed the status of your character in the way they stood and moved. When the character is in caution status, they will have a hand clutched to their torso when stationary and in motion, indicating they are injured. More prominently in danger status, the character will start to limp, slowing down their walking and running speed exponentially, which can be a huge detriment if you are trying to get avoid or escape pursuing enemies. Once you heal, these effects will be removed.

There is also a system implemented called the ‘Zapping System’, which relates to the game having a ‘Scenario A’ and ‘Scenario B’ available to each character, which effectively gives the game four playable scenarios to complete. ‘A’ is the primary scenario, which you have to play through to unlock ‘B’. If you, for example, play as Claire in ‘A’, you can unlock ‘B’ for Leon upon completely her game. ‘A’ and ‘B’ are treated as occurring simultaneously, to show what each character is dealing with separately throughout the game.

The core of the ‘Zapping System’ is based on the effects of what happens in one scenario that crosses over into another. Basically, things done in ‘A’ will have some form of impact in ‘B’. Though, to be fair, the impact isn’t huge. You still have to find the same keys and do most of the same puzzles in both scenarios, though there is some item randomisation that mixes things up between the two. In fairness to the system, Leon and Claire still have a few unique events and areas to visit in their own scenarios that stops the game feeling too samey as you play with each character, but the overlap of the scenarios affecting each other is not extensive. Minor things include: Unlocking zombie Brad Vickers (the S.T.A.R.S pilot from RE1) in ‘A’ will also have him unlocked in ‘B’ – killing him nets you the special key so you change costumes and get an extra gun for Claire. If you leave certain enemies alive in ‘A’, like zombie Marvin Branagh or the giant alligator, these enemies will appear in ‘B’ scenario (though maybe the alligator is probably not a minor thing when you think about it!). Also, if a character beats the game in an alternative costume in ‘A’, they will appear in the ‘B’ game wearing that costume instead of their default one. More significant crossover effects to talk about include, the weapon/supplies in the armoury. There is a sub-machine gun and a side pack in the locker; you can take one, both or none if you so choose. Whatever items are taken in ‘A’ will not show up in the ‘B’ scenario, so you might want to consider what you actually need. Then there is the fingerprint machine scanner that allows access to one of the lab rooms. Both characters are required to register in the computer system with a fingerprint for this room to be entered, but this can only be done so in ‘B’ as the room requires two fingerprints to allow access. The ‘Zapping System’ is a pretty interesting concept, but it really wasn’t done enough to have that much of a significant impact over the gameplay. To be honest, all in all, ‘B’ should have felt more like ‘meanwhile, in the other story…’, and focused on doing its own thing moreover then going over too much of the same ground to actually work plausibly alongside ‘A’, with key points joining the two up. Some areas should have been accessible in ‘A’ only and vice versa with ‘B’. Though, this was probably asking way too much as something they could have possibly implemented in the game, especially in the timeframe from when they started again after the scrapping of 1.5 to the game’s release.

One of ‘Scenario B’s’ most notable inclusions is an exclusive enemy that turns up quite early on to keep you on your toes. This is the colossal ‘Tyrant’ monster, unofficially known as ‘Mr. X’. He is a trench coat clad behemoth who stomps around in pursuit of the player character at certain points in the game, instilling menace and unease as you try to figure out how to handle this seemingly unstoppable monster. It definitely kept ‘B’ feeling somewhat fresh by adding a new element of danger that you had to factor in as you ran about. While his appearances are scripted and he doesn’t follow you from room to room, him turning up out of the blue does still puts you on edge and make you rethink your strategy.

Speaking of enemies, aside the shuffling zombies and salivating ‘Cerberus’ dogs, Resident Evil 2 added in a new type of foe as a fairly regular, deadly enemy you encounter very early on in the game. This is the ‘Licker’. This undesirable beastie hangs out mostly on the ceiling until disturbed, indicating its presence with an airy hiss. It’s like a skinned humanoid with no eyes and protruding brain. It’s most distinctive feature is its elongated sharp tongue that it uses to stab at its prey. Though, you should watch out for the claws for the most part, as when it leaps at you, you know you’re in for a world of hurting! As they are blind, they rely on sound to seek out their prey, so if you move stealthily enough, you can avoid them altogether. If you’re lucky. If you remember the ‘Hunters’ from the first game, they are almost equivocal in some respects, though maybe not as deadly. Their earlier introduction brings in quite a jump in difficulty given that you won’t have the weapons and ammo to really deal with them, unless you got a hold of your second best weapon fairly early on from Kendo, the poor unfortunate gun shop owner who should have stayed away from his own window!

To tackle the array of nasty creatures out to get you, you need an arsenal suitable for each given situation. Both characters receive their own individual batches of weaponry, with Leon having the bonus of being able to upgrade his catchment. Out of the two, Claire does get slightly shafted in one particular case, but otherwise, they both have a nice array of guns to take to the fight. Aside the handgun (with Leon’s notably having slightly more capacity) that they both begin with, Leon also gets his hands on a shotgun and Desert Eagle (Magnum), which can all be pimped for even deadlier impact. Claire alternatively receives the bow gun and grenade launcher; while the latter is an awesome weapon with three types of ammo (standard grenade, flame and acid), which is handy to tailor to whatever enemy you’re fighting, the bow gun is actually a bit naff. While it might have the range to take out a spread of zombies easily, its power is nowhere near the levels of the shotgun and it wastes ammo like no tomorrow! Other extra weapons that the characters can pick up are the Flame Thrower for Leon, which gives him a fire based weapon as an alternative to Claire having access to flame rounds with her grenade launcher; and Claire gets access to an electricity-shooting cattle prod called the Spark Shot. Its range is short, but it’s quite a punchy bit of equipment to have on hand. I found it relatively useful in one of the Birkin boss fights, though how you choose to use it is up to you if you decide to pick it up.

When it comes to the game’s story, it builds on the foundations laid by its predecessor, interweaving deeper and disturbing plot elements that go on to build an even bigger saga beyond it. Umbrella is most certainly a harbinger of evil, who become even more diabolical the more you discover. Conspiracies, deception, betrayal… the story becomes a bubbling pot of deadly intention, with an entire city paying the price for a company’s power and greed. But even amongst the darker elements, there are plenty of heartfelt moments and acts of heroism to show that the good guys aren’t going to be crushed by circumstance. Overall, the story does have a B-Movie element to it, but it’s certainly a much more layered and interesting narrative experience compared to the first game. You can really invest in the storyline, engaging with the trials and tribulations of the characters involved.

The thing that makes Resident Evil 2 such a wonderful horror experience is the atmosphere it builds. You’re pitched into eerie environments, some steeped in the misery of desolation, while others are ravaged by blood and chaos. They try to catch you off guard with enemy placement and/or a well-timed jump scare, just so you don’t get too comfortable with your exploration. The orchestrated music perfectly befits the settings within the game, giving you a sense of loss and isolation, whether you’re trying to navigate a battle-scarred police station or the sterile laboratories, with nothing but your wits and meagre supplies in your inventory. The zombie moans and the scraping of boots in hollow, abandoned environments add to the ambiance, creating a deep level of foreboding. The game wouldn’t be what it is without its magnificent use of sound. Every individual sound effect becomes a significant part of the horror immersion.

Then we have the disturbingly delightful music permeating the game. The first time you hear those sorrowful piano keys tinkling on the first floor of the police station, like the sound of a chiming clock – as if time is running out for those left alive – you really get sucked into the hopelessness of the situation that has overtaken the city. One of the more memorable pieces is the theme to the main hall, with the echoing organ-based music that gives a sense of grandeur while still feeling disconcerting. The developers should pat themselves on the pack for creating such an engaging soundtrack, tailored perfectly to each particular environment, whether it was to build further tension, or give you a sense of melancholy. My personal favourites pieces in the game are ‘The Marshalling Yard (Latter Half)’ and ‘The Second Malformation of G’, two vastly different styles of music that are just a joy to listen to. The former is mournful and ponderous as you journey further into the unknown – being the last area of the game, while the latter is a stark and powerful piece, which befits the dangerous boss fight it’s attached to.

The game has a lot of content to offer to give you hours and hours of survival horror enjoyment. With the four main scenarios that will take a fair chunk of hours to complete altogether, you also get the mini game ‘The 4th Survivor’, where you play as Umbrella agent, HUNK, fighting his way from the sewers, all the way to the police station rooftop to escape the city with a sample of the G-Virus, an even deadlier counterpart to the T-Virus. There is also, ‘The Tofu Survivor’, which is a parody of the ‘The 4th Survivor’, where you play as a giant block of tofu, which is only armed with a combat knife, running the same gauntlet. It’s actually one of the hardest modes in the game because of the lack of weaponry. If you can master this mode, you really are a true Resident Evil legend! Lastly, in some versions of the game, you can unlock ‘Extreme Battle’, where you can play as Leon, Claire, Ada, and as a special guest star (heh, pun!), Chris Redfield! The mode challenges the player to survive against numerous enemies while you search for anti-virus bombs in the police department to wipe out a virus threat near the train in the lab area. With all these extra modes on top of the main game itself, there will be plenty to keep a keen player coming back for more!

Now, if I’m going to be critical about any aspects of the game, then my top two things to mention are the voice acting and the puzzles. In terms of the voice acting, while it’s certainly miles better than the infamously bad delivery and dialogue of the first game, it still leaves a lot to be desired in some areas. I think a lot of the issues draw from the scripting, which can be pretty hokey at times, meaning the characters are trying to put emotion and meaning into some pretty clunky, unnatural exchanges. To give credit to the voice actors, at least they fit their characters perfectly. All in all, it could have been worse, but it certainly could have been better. In terms of the puzzles, a lot of them seem a lot more forced then how they did in the mansion, which had been built with true eccentricity in mind. They try to get away with it behind the gallery/museum excuse; that an old building is going to hide secrets and have quirky set ups, but for the most part, I wasn’t sold on some on many of the puzzles and how they were implemented. The only thing that is really explained away is the weapon and ammo placement.

As I mentioned with the zapping system before, I felt like there could have done a lot more with it, particularly more situations that showed the connections between the ‘A’ and ‘B’ campaigns. As well, I think each scenario should have had its own exclusive puzzles without having to do the same thing twice, rather letting the characters go on much different explorations each time, giving a sense of them having to do their own things while having them still crossover. But yeah, this was probably a lot of ask for in 1998. Also, in terms of a minor niggle, I felt like there should have been more random encounters with people still alive, either to watch them die outright (kind of like the Kendo encounter), or have extended moments of them being around to at least break up some of the emptier moments of backtracking around the game alone, before they are killed off. I think I put too much into Marvin’s words of telling the character to rescue the survivors in the others rooms, thinking there would be more people to find and help, or even see die helplessly, but then again, in the context of the story, how would he know if other people were still around if he was isolated, badly injured? Then again, quite some time had passed since the viral outbreak, so the chance of finding more survivors was probably going to be incredibly slim at that point. But anyway, that’s less of an issue with the game itself really, and more of a personal preference

To draw things to a close, I want to say that Resident Evil 2 was the perfect direction for the series to take, giving you a taste of a larger scale disaster, while still keeping you isolated and vulnerable. Of course, you get to see more of Raccoon City beyond this, which shows you more of the devastation and ultimately its fate, but that’s another review for another day. The second game offers a more complex story experience that was left open to expand on as the series progressed (whether that’s a good or bad thing with the way the series has ended up, is up to you to decide!) It’s an extremely memorable game, cementing Raccoon City as an iconic location in the mainstream consciousness. The design work on all fronts was top notch; and you have to give them credit for building such a successful game in such a short time after canning their original plans. It’s not my personal favourite in the series, but I definitely think it’s a very strong addition to the series with plenty of replay value, likeable characters, and an engaging story. I would highly recommend that everyone play this classic game; you won’t be disappointed with the twists and turns that this old school survival horror has to offer.

Images © Capcom

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