Canon Spike is a series of Articles examining undisputed classic Video Games that everyone should play and games underrated and unappreciated in their time that we deem worthy of reevaluation.
Resident Evil 2 is still my favorite Resident Evil, even though Resident Evil 4 is my favorite game of all time. It’s sort of like how The Dark Knight is one of my all time favorite movies but Batman Returns is my favorite Batman movie. There’s a certain quality when it comes to second installments of groundbreaking franchises, Street Fighter II and The Empire Strikes Back also come to mind, there’s palpable, joyous freedom to following up an unexpected success, like the creators are finally getting a chance to make what they really wanted to in the first place, and it comes shining through in the art on display. If Resident Evil blew the mid 90’s game industry’s zombified head off, RE2 completely liquefied it’s putrid body, but not before shooting a rocket launcher right into the giant bloodshot eyeball growing out of its shoulder.
Resident Evil 2 was initially released for the first Playstation on January 21st, 1998, just a day before my birthday. I can remember buying it at the Electronics Boutique at Cherry Hill Mall with birthday money that weekend, seeing it on the shelf and not even knowing it was out yet. Such things were possible before the ubiquity of the internet and our constant immediate access to all available information ever.
I had borrowed the first RE but never gotten far in it because my dumb ass didn’t have a memory card. I had one when I got RE2 though, so typewriters beware! RE2 shipped on two discs, one for each character, rookie cop on his first day at the new job Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, searching for her missing brother, co-protagonist Chris from RE1. You could tackle the discs in any order, each way offering small tweaks to the storyline, so it was imperative to beat the game at least four times to see most of what it had to offer.
Taking place two months after the events of RE1, RE2 finds the shambling horrors of the Spencer Mansion spread throughout the entirety of Raccoon City. Our heroes meet up just in time to be separated by a giant flaming tractor trailer on a collision course with a gas station. Taking separate paths through the zombie infested city they end up at the Raccoon Police Department, where things start to get really weird. You see, the Police Chief is a real piece of shit, taking bribes to allow the nefarious Umbrella Corporation to use the city as a testing ground for biological weapons, and outfitting the station with strange statues and paintings tied to puzzles and traps designed to stop anyone from getting too close. Our heroes manage to best him though and escape through sewers crawling with giant spiders in an attempt to evacuate the city through a connected Umbrella Research Facility, where the inventor of the virus has his own problems, namely that he’s given himself a dose and is slowly transforming into a giant mass of eyes and teeth, and he’s done the same to his poor, innocent young daughter Sherry.
What follows cemented the series as an undead institution in the hearts and minds of millions of fans. I was compelled to go back and purchase the “Director’s Cut” of the first game and also enjoyed that immensely, though it was in no way as much a masterpiece as its successor. RE2’s story was more elaborate but also seemed tighter, and had yet to stoop to the self referential ridiculousness that the series would go on to fall prey to. Graphics were improved in all aspects, with both the pre-rendered backgrounds and the polygonal character models appearing more sharp and polished. The music set the game’s creepy mood perfectly and the voice acting, while improved from the first game, still retained its goofy b-movie charm, some would argue intentionally. Notice I haven’t mentioned the gameplay yet? Yeeeeeeeeeeeah. Some were put off by the game’s “tank” controls, a necessary evil of the first two games being developed before Sony introduced analog controls for the PS. It took some getting used to but it was definitely serviceable, worth suffering through to enjoy the game’s atmosphere and story, though you WILL experience situations where some slimy beast is slashing into your back while you’re firing bullets into a wall.
The game’s puzzle solving elements were also an acquired taste, made all the more frustrating by the characters’ masochistically limited inventory space. You’ll be returning to the game’s magically connected item boxes often to retrieve certain keys and other puzzle items that need to be placed into the environments in order to proceed. I always found this aspect of the game charming though, especially the chess pieces needed to escape the Police Station, and the thousand and one uses of the gold cogwheel.
Like many a Japanese game franchise, Resident Evil has had its ups and downs over the years. After RE2 the series stagnated a bit with the too same-y Nemesis and the pretty but boring Code Veronica. RE4 burst onto the scene in 2005 and revolutionized the world of third person shooters but afterwards Capcom took that game’s perfect mix of action and horror and pretty much got rid of all the horror. True, in RE5 and 6 you’re still fighting sort-of zombies and giant ugly monsters but there’s no atmosphere. The puzzle solving is kept to a bare minimum and when it does show up it’s usually a retread of a classic puzzle from RE1 through 3. With the shape Capcom’s in now I doubt we’ll see RE return to its former glory any time soon, currently mired in the “just okay” Revelations series as we are. But no one’s taking our blood soaked memories away from us, and with Resident Evil 2 available on PSN a return trip to Raccoon City is just five bucks and a button press away…