It’s been 18 years since Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield made their debut appearances in the Resident Evil franchise. Now, 18 years later, I summoned the courage to review one of the most beloved games in history: Resident Evil 2.
The recent Resident Evil titles have been on shaky ground ever since RE 5 came out, but with the release of the Beginning Hour demo and the announcement of RE 7, things may be looking bright again. One of the biggest hopes is that the new game “returns the series to its roots” and that’s what I wanted to see, the roots.
Hello Racoon City
The story kicks off a few months after the Mansion incident in Resident Evil. The city is overrun with zombies and even the safest of places is in danger. There are few survivors and not many places to turn to. Our first hero is Leon, a cop for the Racoon City Police. It’s his first day on the job and he has to deal with a zombie outbreak. Our second hero is Claire Redfield, who came to the city to find her missing brother, Chris Redfield. Instead of finding him, she finds a city full of zombies and, even worse, Sherry Birkin.
Just like the first game, Resident Evil 2 is divided into two sections: Leon’s campaign and Claire’s campaign. In order to fully understand the whole story, both campaigns need to be played and are both equally important. In Leon’s story you meet Ada Wong (an important character in later instalments of the series) and in Claire’s, you meet Sherry Birkin (who is related a lot of important characters in RE2).
The two stories complement each other nicely, and when the strings are tied, you get a really clear idea of the story. That is what I miss, multiple stories within one game that is completely cohesive, and I hope that we get to see some of this in RE 7.
Looking back on 90s horror
What I find quite surprising is how the game still manages to be a good horror title. It’s not as scary as I remember it baing, but I still had a few moments. For me, Resident Evil has always been the master of jump scares. Easing you into a safe location with soothing music, and BAM, a licker jumps through the window with a loud crash and tongue slurping sound.
That’s what makes this game so successful. It’s been 18 years and it can still jump scare you by using two vital elements: timing and sound. It can’t scare you on a visual level as the graphics are (good for the time though) seriously lacking in this day and age. There’s not a lot of music that goes on, but enough to give you a sense of what’s around the corner. It fiddles with mystery and lets your mind fill in what it wants to. Then, when you least expect it, the fright comes out.
What I love about the sound is the subtlety of the monsters, the lickers can be heard by a kind of dripping sound – quiet and menacing. The zombies have a sombre moan and the Cerberus dogs can be heard with their tell-tale paw sounds. None of it is over-the-top and contrived, and this restraint proves to be one of the best features in the game.
Don’t bring back tank controls
Another horror present in this game is tank controls. Now, I’m on “team hates tank controls” so getting used to this shitty control scheme was a pain. It took me roughly half of the game to get used to moving around and shooting accurately. In addition to tank controls, I really didn’t like going back to fixed camera angles. However, both of these were used as successful horror elements in the 90s. It’s not so successful now as we have come to expect it. Rather than causing panic, it actually just creates a lot of frustration. The fixed camera angles would usually work against you, hiding enemies in blind spots or around corners, whereas the tank controls would frustrate you while you were being chased by zombies. This was common in early horror games like Alone in the Dark, Silent Hill and Galerians.
Puzzles and cheese everywhere
There are two things that make a Resident Evil game, a Resident Evil game: weirdly located puzzles and cheesy dialogue. The bulk of the game is spent looking for items like keys and other “door opening items” (gems, cogs, plates, etc.) and most of them are found by solving puzzles. What I find weird is why there would be so many puzzles in a Police Station. They aren’t the brain bending kind you’ll find Silent Hill, but one or two may require you stretch your noodle. They’re not a highlight, but not a lowlight either. What is up for debate is the dialogue.
Good grief, I had trouble listening to the characters. Not only is the voice acting dreadful, but some of the lines are just as bad. Some might say that it’s part of the charm, but I’m not on that team either – and I watch straight to DVD horror movies.
As a whole, Resident Evil 2 lives up to its reputation. It has a good story to tell and provides a lot more context with regards to the motives of the evil Umbrella Corporation and what the T- and G-viruses are. Both Leon and Claire prove to be great hits with fans of the series, with both appearing in movies (live action and animated), as well as being the lead role in many more Resident Evil titles. Though it does show a lot of age, RE 2 is still worth playing regardless if you’ve played it before.