Resident Evil 2 was my launching point for the entire series. I’d never seen anything like it, especially not on the Nintendo 64 – and yes, I know! Whatever you’re going to say, I know!
Anger depleting…back to the review.
Inside the confines of the series itself, this is one of the best sequels a fan could ask for. In that frame, this is a far more welcoming platform to enter a series. The first entry of just about any property is still trying to find the footing, work out the customer-minded kinks, and create something new. That’s a perfectionists approach to trilogies. Let the first one speak to let the second one sing.
And sing does Resident Evil 2 as a groaning, moist roar into the blackest night of Raccoon City’s burning fall. It famously makes every small addition you’d ever want on top of a big ol’ tub of polish to the first RE. When speaking of timeless sequels, we’re tangoing with one of the biggest crabs in the yard with Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield as our dance instructors (what?).
Either of those protagonists are the cheesiest possible versions of themselves. Leon is a policeMAN who loves protecting others to an obsessive degree. He has a literal heart of gold that pumps purity through his veins. Claire is insanely loving and warm. She has a blanket dispenser for the shoulders of cold children and lost brothers alike. As you go on, you realize that the character himself isn’t what you’re supposed to feel attached to. Capcom’s intention this time around was to give you something to fight for beyond just your avatar.
For Leon, it’s his relationship with the mysterious-yet-obvious Ada Wong. For Claire, it’s her budding friendship with young Sherry Birkin. Resident Evil 2 is in a weird contextual space in gaming time with how these relationships ultimately feel. Looking from before the game released, the first Resident Evil was, frankly, horsesh*t with its story and performances. Looking back on RE2 today shows clearly that all of the topsoil has rushed away and left nothing. These are ultimately fairly vapid relationships, but from whence they came each shines a little more brightly.
The gameplay still has the infamous wiggles only at the cardinal directions but with some slight letting out at the seams. Both characters are quicker and more responsive than you might visually think. Feeling their movements in comparison to even the REmake has a much quicker set of animations and twirl speed. The reason is pretty simple in that the streets and hallways are far more crowded than the Spencer Estate. Zombies and other monsters take up the same ratio of available pathways, making the increased speed completely necessary for the bait-and-zoom strategy of avoiding hordes.
That being said, Resident Evil 2 still doesn’t have enough options to move through smoothly. Turns still take a nautical slant when you’re running. Zombie-dodging just doesn’t feel as smoothly without the dodges and quick turn from Nemesis. Hindsight can hurt or help, and for as great as Resident Evil2 is, it’s still a middle-step in grand leaps taken later.
What Resident Evil 2 does nail no matter the time or distance from that initial horror is in the monster design and the dual-playthrough system. The monsters are delightfully crooked slants on what anyone else was doing with the zombie conceit at the time. Bioweapons were in the first game in an unrefined, almost random way including sharks and plants. This’n deals with pace-setters such as Lickers and plodders such as the vine monsters and huge moths. In the weirdest of ways, they all fit as escapees of a hugely deranged psyche that our heroes shouldn’t survive against.
The best enemies that even puts Nemesis out to pasture are the bosses. Mr. X is an absolute terror of the hallways that quietly approaches with death in either hand. He can crash through doors and walls, breaking down established rules in much the same way. That, even for a moment, instills a sense of dynamism into a world that is often just the next hallway. The game changes when you feel him breathing down your neck for the first time, the whoosh of his fist barely missing your skull. Lickers and Birkin have their place in that buildup as well, creating a wondrous sense of increasing insanity to combat.
Many players will only ever see Mr. X on their second playthroughs of the game thanks to the fantastic cassette tape approach to Resident Evil 2. The basic conceit is that playing again after an initial victory will flip the script completely for the unlucky hero. You’ll have a different starting point, reshuffled items and enemies, and added bosses. There is no more a fascinating, terrifying, nor nerve-wracking approach to survival horror that I can think of.
Thriving off of the familiarity of the first game, this entire conceit basically doubles your content. I can only imagine the confused fear felt by those first few people that went through for round two. I’d love for more games and genres to have taken this concept to heart as it really feels like a transmutable concept. For now, it remains a golden scepter that Resident Evil 2 wields almost exclusively.
That integration of duality is most of what makes Resident Evil 2 a classic that’s yet to be replicated. Two worlds that seem to be completely separated speak to each other in ways both subtle and intense, widening your eyes to what Capcom is capable of bringing to the table. It’s a pity that this never updated and felt abandoned at the altar, but for all the other negatives time has seen fit to send Resident Evil 2, there’s an undoubted sweetness to this polygonal loaf.
Resident Evil 2 Score: