Welcome To Raccoon City. Population: Undead
No more than a month after completing the original, Capcom was already back to the lab, hard at work on a sequel. Codenamed Resident Evil 1.5, the game was set to deliver more of the horror presented by the first game but on a larger scale. New characters, locations and improved gameplay; like more on screen enemies and character upgrades, were all in the works. Like many games in development though, things didn’t go as smoothly as expected. Internal disputes slowed down production and after reaching more than 70% completion, the game was scrapped, just mere months from release. As if given its own G-Virus dosing, the project quickly mutated into the Resident Evil 2 we know today.
Taking place two months after the mansion incident, unlucky newcomers Leon S. Kennedy, a rookie cop and Claire Redfield, sister of previous survivor Chris Redfield, make their way into the freshly flesh ravenous Raccoon City. No sooner than they meet do they find themselves separated after a quick escape turns to a near fatal car crash. Taking control, players now find themselves alone, surrounded by flames with the undead closing in. Right out the gate, that feeling of desperation sinks in. Equipped with nothing but a handgun, a few bullets and a knife, avoiding combat is the wisest choice. That’s because conservation is key since everything is in short supply, including inventory space and saves. Careful planning and thorough exploration of each room will be the best chance at survival.
After making it through the infested streets, our survivors find their way to the police precinct, but it’s not the safe haven they had hoped for. Zombies, tongue lashing terrors and other nightmare accessories, all lurk throughout; ready to viciously murder you at every chance. Some interesting but impractical puzzles are plotted along the way to mix up gameplay. Most of them are legitimately fun to figure out but a few feel like padding (stupid valve handle) more than anything. While a majority of the game will be spent at the station, you’ll eventually trek through the sewers, leading to… Big shocker-a secret underground lab. These may not be the most original locations for the horror genre, but impressive looking backgrounds mixed with cinematic angles, all put to a memorably chilling soundtrack, keep them engaging.
The sound as a whole, is fantastic. From the somber bells and piano in the main hall of the R.P.D to the marching snares heard out on the streets, each piece sets the tone for the given scenario. A sigh of relief will likely occur upon hearing the calming yet ominous melody played when reaching a save room, a welcome contrast compared to the brooding score just on the other side of the door. The constant choir of undead groans truly gives the feeling that you may be the only one left in the city with a pulse. Walking down any of the claustrophobic hallways only to hear the shuffling of a shambling corpse or the pattering of razor claws, invokes instant tension. One of the best buildups to an enemy reveal comes from the first appearance of the Licker, and that’s largely owed to smart sound ques leading up to it. The blood soaked surroundings and headless corpse help too.
Like any good monster tale, the creatures in RE2 also deserve mention. The zombies are properly bloodied up and come in a decent variety, ranging from civilian to police officer. The true highlights are the grotesque inside-out design of the Lickers and the equally horrifying mutations the bosses take form in that scale from large to Lovecraftien proportions. There are other monsters to be weary of but they are far more generic and were most likely included to keep encounters from becoming stale. The plant creature, for instance, always seemed like a last minute addition. There were originally plans to include infected apes but these were scrapped with the initial build, only to make their way into Resident Evil 0, years later.
If you survive the horror, waiting for you on the other side is an alternate scenario to play through. No matter who you completed the game with first, this mode will be from the perspective of the opposite character. The puzzles are largely the same give or take some arbitrary differences but some twists on item placements and navigation help keep things fresh. This gives the game four potential playthroughs, even if some of the changes are shallow at best. Decisions you made in the previous run will have an effect on gameplay, but these mainly pertain to items and have no bearing on the story. The biggest gameplay addition comes in the form of a new stalker monster, known as Mr. X. This lumbering, trench coat wearing figure now shows up throughout the game, leading to some of the best scares. An extended ending sequence awaits those who reach it and contains new bosses and cutscenes.
To further replay value even more, three other modes can be unlocked by meeting certain requirements. Two of these are fairly identical, the only differences being the character and items they come with. The last one, “Extreme Battle”, is likely an early concept for the now popular “Mercenaries” minigame included in later titles. You can choose different characters from the game, each with a unique loadout, then make your way through locations found in the base game while fighting off monsters and collecting anti-virus bombs. The bigger focus on action makes these modes a rewarding change of pace after narrowly avoiding confrontations.
There is more evil residing within the game, but this unfortunately comes in the form of awkward controls made worse by some of the camera angles. Often referred to as “tank controls”, characters can move back and forward but lack the ability to strafe left or right, severely limiting the ability to maneuver in combat. Shooting is also only possible when standing in place. This works out fine when facing the sluggish undead but agile enemies can be more of an issue because of this. The fixed camera serves as a double edged sword; it helps sell that cinematic approach, but also brings some of the weaker mechanics to the forefront. There is a good deal of backtracking involved but thankfully Capcom used these occasions to set up scares and surprises that helped mask the feeling of repetition. Environments are often highly detailed because of the prerendered graphics but the character models are a little rough around the edges and the animations can be stiff at times. The voice acting, while not as laughably bad as the original, isn’t particularly noteworthy, though that may largely stem from the poor dialogue. Voice performances from Paul Haddad (Leon) and Alyson Court (Claire) are the standouts and certainly give enough personality to the characters to make them likable. The story is riddled with clichés and some of the intertwining events don’t make too much sense but it’s presentation helps keep players invested until the end.
Overall, the game is still a prime example of survival horror done right. Drenched in atmosphere due to its moody soundtrack and well placed encounters, it consistently excels at keeping tension high at every turn. With multiple modes, unlockables and secrets to be found, there’s plenty to come back to. It may not be as groundbreaking as its predecessor but what it lacks in originality it makes up for with welcomed improvements in nearly every aspect. With news of a remake on the way, there’s no better time to experience the evil; be it the first time or a REvisit.