While the Antstream Arcade team has much fondness for 1996’s Resident Evil, there’s no doubt in our minds that the sequel, released by Capcom two years later, represents the pinnacle of nineties survival horror. Taut and atmospheric, the broadening of the Biohazard tale to the undead-infested reaches of Raccoon city was an inspired choice by Capcom, and one that created a monster hit.
Resident Evil 2 continues the story of Umbrella and its deadly virus, now spread from the first game’s elegant mansion to the nearby city. Again, there are two playable characters: Leon S. Kennedy is a young police officer turning up for his first day of duty, while Claire Redfield is a college student searching for her brother, Chris. The focus of the game is the Raccoon City police department. After a short sequence on the ruined streets of the city, Leon and Claire are separated and must find refuge from the terrifying events that are unfolding before them. This is just the beginning of their worst nightmare…
Released in 1998, Resident Evil 2 is technically similar to its ground-breaking predecessor: detailed pre-rendered backgrounds shadow the polygonal 3D models, with a touch more graphical finesse this time around. Shambling around with a familiar gurgle, the undead never looked better at the time as Claire and Leon niftily dart through the zombie horde, and the gameplay mechanics remain essentially the same, with ammunition limited and a range of odd puzzles waiting to be solved. Inventory management is again a key factor, along with those monochrome herbs that can be helpfully combined to make powerful remedies to everything from gunshot wounds to zombie bites.
So Resident Evil 2 is fundamentally more of the same – not necessarily a bad thing – but what endears us to the sequel more than the first game? The answer is Capcom’s ingenious inclusion of its ‘zapping’ system, a mode which greatly increases the duration of the game, while also lending it a more realistic feel. As with Resident Evil, at the start of the game the player has a choice of character, Claire Redfield or Leon Kennedy, only this time, many of the actions of the character in the first scenario (game ‘A’) will influence the game with the other character in the second scenario (erm, game ‘B’). These differences range from the appearance (or not) of a wounded survivor in policeman Marvin Branagh, availability of certain weapons and even the access to certain areas. With each character available initially, this gives the player a whole four different scenarios to explore, along with a series of unlockable minigames and special bonuses should the main game be completed within a certain time limit – although much of this extra content was only available in the subsequent Dualshock edition.
But it’s not just the zapping system that we love. Resident Evil’s sheer breadth and size, from the labyrinthine streets to the cavernous police station, with its classical architecture and hidden horrors, cannot fail to draw you in to the potent tale of an evil drug company desperately trying to contain a calamitous accident. The devious and grisly storyline, encompassing a corrupt police department, corporate spies and another ugly tyrant super-zombie draws the player in to its world as they frantically search for health, ammunition and the vital clues that will help them escape. The sound design – an often underrated aspect of videogames – is also fantastic, as the character’s footsteps echo spookily across the police department’s main hall, or burbling moans emanate from just around the next corner, betraying the monsters that lurk beyond. The continued use of the tyrant is also vastly improved; now, the huge creature appears at key moments, without warning, shocking the player with the sort of jump scare that helped make the series famous and requiring nimble footwork in order to avoid becoming toast. And as with Resident Evil’s ornate mansion, the Raccoon City’s Police HQ is the game’s third main character, bringing each room to life with baroque stylings and an elaborate construction that aptly suits its former role as a museum.
Such is the enduring nature of the series, that a remake of the original game appeared on the Nintendo GameCube in 2002. Adding extra levels, subplots and puzzles, while vastly improving the game’s graphics, Resident Evil Remake was a huge success. Unfortunately, further GameCube ports of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 (both 2003) proved to be nothing more than that, mere copies of the PlayStation games, with mildly updated graphics and sound. Today, with the release of another proper remake in Resident Evil 2 on PC, Xbox and PS4, it looks like we may finally be getting the modern updated version of the classic survival horror. 21 years ago the horror began its spread across the world. Certainly at Antstream Arcade, we’ll never forget it!