Resident Evil took horror games to a new level. They took the ideas of Alone in the Dark and turned them into something more engaging (and certainly more gory). The huge success of the first game meant a sequel was inevitable. Resident Evil 2 released in 1998, two years after the release of the original, and—oddly enough—the actual year in the Resident Evil timeline, with this game taking place a few months after the July 1998 “incident” at the mansion in Resident Evil.
Players are introduced to rookie cop, Leon S. Kennedy, who drives into town on his first day to discover the place is overrun with zombies. He meets a young woman, Claire Redfield, who is searching for her brother, Chris (one of the two protagonists from the first game).
When they get attacked and surrounded by zombies they flee, but are eventually separated when a tanker truck driven by a man who has succumb to a deadly bite smashes into Leon’s car. From there, you control either Leon or Claire as they attempt to reach the police station and find a way out of this mess.
You have once again stepped into the world of survival horror… Good luck.
Your Worst Fears Imagined
I hope you’re ready, because this game throws you into the fire immediately. As someone who understands (but still has not mastered) the controls of old Resident Evil games, I’ve always had one glaring inadequacy when it comes to my skill level: I can’t avoid the zombies. I’m not elusive in the slightest. If anything, I get confused and end up slow dancing with them until they give me an aggressive hickey.
Well, if you never learned how to avoid zombies in the first game, you’re gonna have to learn how to do it now because it’s the very first thing the game has you do.
As either Leon or Claire, you immediately get surrounded by zombies emerging from the flames and rubble in the streets. If you’re playing on Normal mode, you won’t want to spend any of your precious ammo on enemies you will never encounter again. The street section that opens the game is locked out forever once you reach the RCPD.
The best way to get through the streets is to move slowly, get a sense of which direction a zombie is going, turn away from them and try to find a straight path where you can safely run past them, without also running into one of the other undead shambling around.
Gun Shop Kendo
When you reach the gun shop, you are greeted by the owner, a friendly enough guy (once he realizes you’re a human–despite the way you oddly swing your arms) sporting a nasty bite on his own arm.
Despite locking the door, he makes the unfortunate mistake of standing near the glass walls and gets eaten alive by a pack of zombies. You can either collect some handgun ammo and split, or you can kill these zombies and take the owner’s cross bow.
Once you leave, you’ll have to either avoid or fight a decent number of zombies in the alleys, streets and b-ball courts of Raccoon City. Getting to the RCPD is no picnic and the game has no qualms about sending you back to the start screen. Toughen up.
Ol’ Chicken Heart
Yawl remember Brad Vickers, right? The helicopter pilot that took off the second things went sideways in the forest of Raccoon City? Well, he’s here in this game, but only if you play on Normal difficulty and you don’t pick up anything during your trip through the streets. He can be found down the stairway below the RCPD. He’s dead, and a little hard to put down, but he gives you a special key to a locker that holds special surprises for both players.
But that’s an Easter egg type thing, it’s irrelevant to the overall story of the game. I just like to point out the guy that bailed on everyone in the first game gets his comeuppance here, and I loved it. I’m kidding, he’s fine, he’s alive in the next one! I said he was in the first article.
Two Paths, Two Very Different Stories
Playing the game as Leon means you’ll be interacting with the mysterious Ada Wong, who is searching for her boyfriend, John. Having just replayed the original, I knew who not only Ada was (everyone knows Ada and her sleek red dress—she’s iconic), but also John, poor hapless, John. He was a fool for love, as the song goes.
You’ll travel through the parking garage and jail cells, eventually encountering Ben, the reporter, who has purposely locked himself inside a cell to protect himself from the undead. Along the way they encounter little Sherry Birkin, and her mom, Dr. Annette Birkin.
If you play Claire’s scenario, you’ll also interact with Sherry, who is being cruelly passed around by her mother and the skeevy Chief Irons. When you first meet Irons, he’s sitting at his desk with a young, dead, and scantily clad woman laid out on his desk. He doesn’t even act as if the scenario is strange in anyway. He luridly lingers over her, and makes grossly inappropriate comments. He’s the kind of bad guy you really like to see get a proper comeuppance. Maybe I’ve been too hard on old Brad Vickers all these years, he just panicked that one time, at least he wasn’t a sexual predator abusing his power to satiate his depraved desires. Great, now I gotta write a “Why Brad Vickers Doesn’t Deserve Your Hate” think-piece. Oh wait, no I don’t. Whew.
Upon completing the game, each character has a new scenario they can play through, and these are significantly different than the one that came before it. Let’s just say there’s a new guy in town, and he’s the strong, silent type.
The endings in the second scenario are more grandiose as well, with the true ending leading into a classic (and honestly catchy) ’90s meedly mew rock anthem as the end credits roll.
It’s Like the First One, Only Much Better in Every Way
In a lot of ways, RE2 is the perfect sequel. It takes what the first one did, and remakes it to a degree, but with more bells and whistles. Maybe a fresh coat of paint. It does a lot of little things really well.
Take the map for example. In RE your map would display rooms you had been in, and rooms you hadn’t been in. The game gave no indication which key (if any) was required to open any specific door. When inventory management is this important, you want to know what key you should be carrying around. RE2 fixes this, by having the doors on the map color-coded to match which key you need to open it. Since all the keys in your possession have a distinct color to them, you can match the color to the map. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference having just replayed the original, and the convenience is noticeable.
Unlike the first game, your item box will automatically condense items for you. That means if you throw typewriter ribbons in the item box and you’ve already got some of them in there, it puts them all together for you. So you don’t just have all these typewriter ribbons everywhere all willy nilly. It’s great. It’s the little things that make me so happy.
Good games, especially ones trying to build a world, will unfold more layers to a story as things move along. While RE2 stands on its own, there are necessary references to the previous game, but there are also some superfluous ones too.
I already mentioned you can find Brad Vickers early in the game. But there’s a few more as well. They both take place in the STARS office at the police station.
In the STARS office you come across this photo of the old gang in happier times. Before Joseph got mauled by Cerberus dogs. Before Enrique was assassinated. Before Forest was pecked to death by crows. Before Richard got messed up by a giant snake named Yawn. Before Wesker went with a more unnatural hair color. They were a team, cheerfully posing for a photograph.
“Is that you, Rebecca?”
I’m not sure if RCPD has a basketball team, and this is Rebecca Chambers’ rookie playing card, or what. I assume the fact it was so hard to find (I had to search someone’s desk 50 times to acquire the film this was on) means the person who had it did not have the best of intentions.
It’s grounds for firing at worst, and rookie hazing at best. Poor Rebecca Chambers, will she ever be taken seriously?
Paging Dr. Birkin, You Have a Telephone Call at the Front Desk
The plot (and this game has got a plot) revolves around a new virus that has been infecting the town. Its creator, Dr. William Birkin, knowing the whole operation is falling apart, injects himself with the G virus, causing this already deranged man to mutate into several different forms, each one larger than the last.
The fights with him will be the majority of the boss combat in the game. Each encounter is staged like an action set piece. The music swells suddenly, one version even having a certain Smash Bros. quality to the theme.
The FMV (full motion video) cutscenes and operatic music give the game a bombastic flair, and it’s in these (not all that challenging) boss fights that the game aims to be more than it’s predecessor.
In the original game, your final encounter was with the Tyrant, which consisted to two brief fights where the strategy was “Stay Away. Shoot. Run. Repeat.” Here there are three different Tyrant fights, and it shows that it was a product of 1998, because this was around the time movies started ramping up their endings, dragging them on past their natural conclusion. These boss fights do not drag on interminably, but they do show that Capcom was attempting to go bigger with this sequel, and leaning into the more cinematic elements that the first game only dabbled in.
Resident Evil: Tropes
This series is known for a lot of recurring things: those signature healing herbs, the typewriter and ink ribbon save system that lasted shockingly deep into the series, and the inventory management system where prioritizing what you needed, and when, is vital to your survival. Those are signature aspects of what makes a Resident Evil game unique. Those aren’t tropes. But the Resident Evil franchise has gotten a bit of a rep for recurring tropes, and in this game, they show up. Here’s a few just to illustrate my point:
- Just like in the first RE, there is a crashed helicopter.
- You have to find keys that have a specific theme to them instead of just being carved differently.
- Someone gives you a radio.
- Each playable character has a sidekick (One is good, and one is of questionable motive)
- Dying people give loads of vital exposition instead of asking you to shoot them in the head to stop the pain.
- A bunch of easy puzzles, and then one that just drives you batshit crazy.
- Crows are dicks, I mean, just total trash birds.
- It enforces that ugly stereotype that all female game protagonists are good with lock picks.
- Things smash through windows to elicit (effective) jump scares.
- A rocket launcher fixes everything.
Faster…Play Faster…Play Faster!
Resident Evil games are meant to be played, and then replayed. There is unlockable content in this game, and some of it is dependent on how well you played the game. How fast were you to complete it? How many times did you save? How often did you use first aid spray?
There are many ways you improve on your RE gameplay, and doing so will unlock some pretty fun rewards I won’t spoil here. See for yourself. The game successfully brought new energy into the franchise by adding new and exciting elements, and they weren’t about to rest on their laurels.
We catch up with none other than Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, and the innovation, nail biting tension, and challenging gameplay are bigger and better than ever.