Late to the Party: Resident Evil 2

When Capcom first announced Resident Evil 6 earlier this year I was already in the mood for a dark, classic-style adventure game, and resolved to finally buy and finish what I consider to be the gaping hole in my perception of the franchise before it came out – Resident Evil 2.

Playing it for the first time after 14 years has me experiencing it from at least three backwards perspectives. First, I’m of course getting into this after having played almost every other game in the main RE story (except 3), and RE6 is supposed to call back to this game a lot. Second, I’m also now experiencing Hideki Kamiya’s directorial debut after having played all his other games (except the first Devil May Cry). Lastly, RE2 was one of the major games all the PlayStation fanboys wouldn’t shut up about back in middle school while I only owned an N64, so playing it now means another bridge crossed on my journey through classic PlayStation (my first Sony hardware was a PS2 in 2005)… despite choosing the Dreamcast version of this game.

There’s a lot of debate regarding which version of RE2 is actually the definitive one. The game’s Wikipedia article is detailed on this subject. You’ve got the original PS1 version, the PS1 version with added analog and vibration support, the Windows 9x PC version which added a bunch of extras, the Japan-exclusive Windows XP version with higher quality FMVs, the Dreamcast version, the Gamecube version, and finally the N64 version. From what I understand, the Dreamcast edition is based on Windows 9x version’s content and is the only one that runs at 60 frames per second on a console – probably making it the second-best one next to the XP version. The Gamecube version is supposedly unaltered from the PS1 Dual Shock edition and way too expensive for what it’s worth today. The N64 version has content unique from all other ones, but its art assets suffer from the small cartridge size (despite that edition being a technical marvel compared to other N64 games). For whatever that’s worth, the Dreamcast version is the most sought-after.

Anyway, as for the actual game, I’ll start with how strangely Capcom decided to organize the storyline, basically creating four “campaigns” across two scenarios. The first Resident Evil game conveyed a slightly different turn of events depending on who you played as, and I guess RE2 decided to double up on this, creating two character stories that can each be played two ways. The strangest part is figuring out which one the series actually moves forward with as canon.

According to the RE wiki, it’s none of them and all of them. As of this writing I’ve only completed the Leon A and Claire B scenarios – playing one story starting as Leon and continuing as Claire. From what I understand, playing the game in the opposite orientation creates what Capcom generally considers to be the canon, which includes some elements of what I just played. Actually experiencing this, it feels like Capcom just took one set of level design, weapons, and items, and mixed it up four different times, sort of like reverse tracks in racing games but squared. On paper that sounds like a draconian challenge to design and test.

This, along with a healthy amount of secrets, gives RE2 probably more replayability than any classic RE game, which might be a reason why it’s the most celebrated game in the series. I remember getting hints of this when I would read articles about RE2 back in the day, and experiencing it now the game actually feels at least as content-rich as a lot of what I’m playing today. The content of the story itself is pretty straightforward – people probably just look back to it because it contains a lot of the franchise’s major events and introduces most of RE6’s major players.

The actual game of RE2 I would have to say is the easiest of the classic games that I’ve played. It definitely doesn’t feel as difficult as the Gamecube remake of RE1. I’ve only died a handful of times and only felt truly stumped on the puzzles maybe twice because I overlooked something in the environment.

The combat was definitely the easiest thing to deal with compared to the other games. RE games are generally about avoiding conflict, using your head, and conserving resources. Not only does RE2 give you a lot of ammo and health, but it generally uses wider spaces than its brethren, making it easier to dodge the slow zombies, even with its ancient tank controls.

Part of that though is on purpose by Kamiya’s own hand. Even recently on twitter the man has likened RE2’s relationship with the first game to that of Aliens compared to Alien. He admits that he’s kind of a wimp when it comes to horror, so he stocked RE2 with more ammo than the first game and generally made it more action-oriented.

As for RE2 in relation to Kamiya’s later work, I don’t think it’s similar at all to what I encountered in Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and Bayonetta. Though, of Kamiya’s games, the one probably closest to RE2 is the only one I still haven’t played – the original Devil May Cry, which started out as RE4’s first draft. Later games in the genre DMC kickstarted feature hack n’ slash action combined with mild puzzle and item negotiation (God of War being the ultimate example) – elements I imagine come from RE roots.

For a long time people agreed that RE2 was the best classic-style RE, and I would say that this was probably true… until the RE1 remake came out. RE2 is a great game that I could definitely see myself replaying several times, but I think that with the RE1 remake Capcom just nailed the perfect balance of level design, challenge, and extra content while adding much more attractive production values.

BULLETS:

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Stephanie Carmichael

Freelance writer and copyeditor / games journalist / blogger extraordinaire

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