As the current Resi series juggernaut judders from one ill conceived game to another, its easier to forget how cutting edge the Resi series used to be – 15 years ago.
Back then in 1997, following the stellar success of Resident Evil on the PS1, the makers were planning their magnus opus of the series; – Resident Evil 2.
Resi 2 can be best summed up as one of those ‘lost summer’ gaming experiences, in part due to the many hours of game play achievable, the many differing endings amd unlockable extra content.
The game was split into a 2 disc, 2 character adventure which was different, depending on which character you played first; rookie officer – Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield (sister of part one’s – Chris).
Both adventures intertwined and Leon and Claire would meet occasionally throughout but in the most part; they were aided through their missions by other [sometimes playable] characters. For Leon, it was the undercover agent – Ada Wong (useful in a fight) and for Claire it was a young girl called Sherry Birkin (weaponless, but able to crawl through small spaces to access inaccessible areas!).
Their joint mission, was to escape the zombie outbreak in Racoon City, firstly stopping off at the Racoon Police Department (RPD) to : ‘split up, look for survivors and get out’. But due to an overturned truck, Leon and Claire would initially be split up.
The game was massive in scope and was spread over a huge police building and finally through the sewers to the lab where the G-Virus (stronger than Resi 1’s T-Virus) had escaped from.
The plot was suitably twisty and surprisingly varied for a PS1 game. It was something the poor Resi films could of followed but chose to discard in favour of an ill-judged seperate take on the series featuring a madeup superwoman – called Alice.
Along the way, you met a number of characters including Dr William Birkin – (inventor of the G-Virus) and guinea pig bio hazard (he forms the main boss throughout the game as he drops in on you in variously mire mutated forms), his Scientist wife and Sherri’s mother – Annette, corrupt RPD police chief – Brian Irons and local reporter Ben.
The controls were the usual clunky setup you encountered in Resi 1 – but they were slightly more refined and the characters moved slightly more fluidly. They were difficult to master (as in any Resi game) and with the difficult camera angles, you invariably found yourself running into a wall – or two.
Another twist in the game’s second mission was (depending on whether you played Claire and then Leon’s mission – or vice versa), the dropping in of a special bio-hazard called ‘The Tyrant’ who basically stalked the second mission character throughout the game and formed the secondary boss to William Birkin. It was a theme repeated in Resident Evil 3 with the Nemesis.
The game itself was a typically closed in Resi experience, viewing angle nightmare, with awkward fixed points, which always meant you could never quite see around the next corner as to what was coming.
It added to the suspense and challenge of course, especially when you’d be blasting away with the shotgun at mid level, bullets missing as your opponent was a decapitated zombie crawling across the floor, off camera.
The graphics (for the time) were pretty cutting edge and the raytraced detailed backgrounds gave Resi 2 a suitably ominous dark feel, punctuated by the familiar opening door/climbing stair cut-aways from the action. The later PC versions sharpened these graphics up further, making for a really polished look.
It was a tense experience playing Resi, especially on your own at night and there were seemingly innocuous bumps and groans in the background, the shuffling of corpses, or the dark ominous music.
Your varied opponents began with zombies, including later on, hilariously – naked zombies in the underground facility! The zombies in this were better rendered, than their predecessors, there was more varied looking undead and they moved more lumbering and less shuffly than in the first game.
There was also the tricky ‘lickers’ who were the upgraded equivilent of the Hunters from Resi 1, who would run up and down walls and attempt to kill you with their piercing tongue.
The hellhound zombie dogs were back, hunting in packs. Giant Spiders and a gaggle of undead crows and walking mutated plants – which spat poison at you.
Leon and Claire acquired different weapons throughout the game – both had handguns. Leon would later acquire a riot shotgun, a MAC machine gun, a Magnum and finally a missile launcher. Claire – a grenade launcher and crossbow. Other weapons included a flame thrower for dealing with plants and a experimental sparkshot – which hilariously electrocuted your plant foes.
The grenade launcher was interesting as it could be equipped with different rounds, including acid rounds or anti-bio-weapon poison. This meant a strategy element to combat. For instance, the widespread of the shotgun was good at taking out a close shambling group of corpses quicker than the handgun. It was also useful for a quick kill, such as when a ‘Licker’ dropped in!
The handgun, useful for lone or spreadout zombies, soon proved to be pretty useless against bigger enemies but could be upgraded into a automatic pistol with an auto 3 shot burst, great for the later tougher zombies, who seemed to hoover up your bullets without dropping.
Likewise, the shotgun and magnum could be upgraded with further attachments into more powerful boss stoppers.
Resi 2 followed the same tried and tested puzzle formula, trailblazed in the 1996 original. The puzzles weren’t particularly difficult but sometimes annoyingly time consuming, they did usually involved the collecting and transporting around of items, which invariably needed to be combined to progress.
You also felt a big dose of deja vu from the first game; pushing statues over pressure sensitive panels, manoveuring a set of steps to get another hand crank – or collecting wolf and eagle medals.
Saving the game was by means of using limited typesets on typewriters at fixed points throughout the game. You could also store your excess items in a series of storage boxes which were magically linked to one another, regardless of location. It definitely helped you manage limited storage on your character, to be able to pull a stored item from any box in the game.
Fighting undead hordes and bio-hazards had detrimental effects on your characters health, and first aid sprays were limited throughout the game. This could be compensated by collecting the green, red and blue herbs growing about the game. Mixing these herbs could create a variety of first aid potions and cures to poisoning.
There was also a few clever touches through the game, such as the need for one character in the first game to unlock a certain innocuous door in the police station. So the second character couldn’t proceed later on – which was a nice touch.
Or – the fleeting glimpse of a Licker passing the window in the police station, prior to you meeting the first one. Or meeting an undead Brad – (the Stars chopper pilot from the first game).
Interest was maintained way after completing Resi 2, with the promise of the secret mini games involving Umbrella Agent Hunk or bizarrely a giant piece of Tofu called – ‘Tofu’.
The mini games were indurance tests against the clock with minimum weapons to see how quick the player could get from one side of the game to the other. Each location or room was packed with various combinations of enemies.
On the PC version only, there was an additional mini game featuring Chris Redfield in a similar dash against the clock-type-game.
There were also unlockable outfits for Leon and Claire, if no spare bullets were acquired prior to first reaching the RPD building, there you would meet zombie Stars Member – Brad; and killing him would provide a key; which unlocked a cupboard in the RPD building.
Within, Leon could acquire a cool jeans/leather jacket combo or a vest/baseball cap gangster looking ensemble complete with sideways holding [and quicker discharge] of the handgun. Claire’s lone option was a single denim cowboy number which was improved by the acquisition of a colt pistol six-shooter.
Resident Evil 2 was the near enough the pinnacle of the series, before a slow decline (with a brief resurgence during Code Veronica and Resi 4).
I lost the whole summer of 1998 locked away in my bedroom playing this game to death (no pun) to try and achieve the ‘A’ rating to unlock the ‘Hunk’ game. This was achieved by only 1 saved game and a time of under 3 hours.
Indeed, it was possible to become something of a Resi pacifist by learning the ‘run at an opponent, quick turn – side step move’ to avoid almost every enemy in the game (bar the bosses) but it was much more fun pointing the shotgun upwards and blowing a head (or two) clean off or backstepping a lunging zombie, before crushing its skull on the floor underfoot!
Bizarrely, the thing I remember most about Resi 2 was that distinctive Resi bleeping noise as you traversed the menu’s screens!
You can get a pretty good version of Resi 2 on PS3’s Playstation store, which comes as part of a bundle with parts 1 & 3.
For those without a PS3, lookout for a bootleg version with souped up graphics and Chris Redfield minigame.