Stalagmite's Resident Evil 2 Review
- Resident Evil 4
- Resident Evil: Outbreak File #2
- Resident Evil: Outbreak
- Resident Evil Code: Veronica X
Drab in-game storytelling backed up by terrible voice acting. Tank controls and fixed camera angles... let's just say we've stopped using this set up for a good reason. Puzzles tend to be easy more often than not, and some of them are just there because... why not? While it's tense at times, there's little pay off as the "horror" consists of predictable jump scares.
Originally released on the Playstation 1 in 1998 by Capcom and ported over to the Nintendo 64 in 1999 by Angel Studios, Resident Evil 2 continues the story from the first game (the whole T-virus zombie thing) while standing as its own thing, which is good for the sake of this port... being the only one that made it onto the Nintendo 64, and hey, if you're going to port just one old school Resident Evil game onto this beast, why not the best one? Yeah yeah, the third game had Nemesis and the first game had atrocious voice acting, but the definitive old school Resident Evil experience, to me, will always come in the form of the second game. That being said, the old school Resident Evil experience consists of a blend of excellent survival elements, hit and miss quality puzzles and crap controls.
If you were a cop and had to describe your first day, would you tell the truth or come up with a wild lie? Well, at first, it would seem like Leon Kennedy chose the latter, but when you go through this game, you'll believe him when he tells you that he spent his first day on the force trying to take down the Umbrella Corporation, with said corporation being the one behind the biological attack that infected Raccoon City and turned nearly everybody into zombies. Oh, and there's Claire Redfield, who Leon was with until they decided to split up after the policemen in the station died and learned that her brother, Chris Redfield, is in Europe to take down that branch of the Umbrella Corporation. What starts off as a simple "rescue the survivors" premise evolves into one full of conspiracies and whatnot as Umbrella are a pharmaceutical company, making you wonder why they'd want to start up a zombie apocalypse.
To make sense of the story are various files you'll find throughout the game, particularly the Nintendo 64 exclusive EX files (which have ties to the then-recently released Resident Evil 3 and just about to be dropped into stores Resident Evil: Code Veronica), which make for some nice reading material. Plus when you beat the game as Leon, you can play through it again, but from Claire's perspective, and given that both start with different items, there'll be different places within Raccoon City for them to go, meaning the stories will unfold differently, which I thought was a nice touch... which makes it hurt to say this - the in-game storytelling tries its best to be compelling and not just some B-grade horror flick like the first game was, but as expected for a non-RPG in this era, it doesn't quite do it justice, being bare boned in structure and basically forcing you to read the files in order to get more out of it. I won't dock the game too much for this, but I don't know, with a concept like this, I just expected a bit more...
The first Resident Evil game was the one that coined the term "survival horror" and I can see why - it really emphasizes survival above all else. Only being able to carry so much while only being able to find so much will force you to think about item management, like what to take and when to use items like herbs (healing items) and bullets (to shoot zombies). While you can find chests to store items, you may need to go a while without finding another, so it's best to carry what you need (usually guns, bullets, herbs and whatever key item is necessary - maybe ink ribbons if a typewriter, which is your method of saving, isn't near a chest). Keeping all of this in mind is what gives this game a lot of steam, as survival is about conservation, and Resident Evil is (or was) about surviving in a zombie infested environment. This can be seen as annoying at first as you'd probably be used to infinite storage (or at least being able to carry more than 6/8 items), but it's not all that hard to get the hang of it, and really, you'd sort of be missing the point of survival horror if you think this is a bad idea. Maybe the execution could be a bit better (and it does - look at Resident Evil 4), but I think it's fine in its current form too.
While zombie slaying may be the first thing on your mind (no thanks to the modern Resident Evil games), Resident Evil 2 is more about exploring Raccoon City and solving puzzles when they come by while trying to stay alive. A lot of the puzzles consist of pressing switches in the right order or finding items to fit inside slots, the latter of which will have you running around to find the appropriate items and maybe solving a puzzle in the former category. That, or you'll find yourself pushing things along. There are a few unique puzzles to be found as well, but for the most part, there's a fair amount of running around to find items. Thankfully, Raccoon City has a logical albeit a bit too unnaturally claustrophobic at times structure (or level design, if you will) that makes it possible to not miss too much if you look around, and the map makes it easier to check where you are. Eh, even if you get lost, you could find some cool stuff to make it worth your while. That being said, a lot of the puzzles are pretty easy when they revolve around finding items, and I wouldn't have minded some more complex stuff, but at least there's some variety and motivation to explore the city, so I can't complain too much. Puzzles are very hit and miss, really.
Just a quick heads up for modern Resident Evil fans - combat is NOT Resident Evil 2's forte. This is due to the unholy duo that are bad controls and bad camera angles. The controls consist of pushing up on the d-pad or control stick to go forward, down to go back, left to turn left and right to turn right - tank controls, basically. It doesn't make combat much harder, but it makes avoiding combat tricky when dealing with the claustrophobic level design and the need to get around zombies. While aiming with your gun, movement consists only of spinning around. So basically, you'll be standing there and aiming down your sights. While it does seem realistic, sometimes, you really, really wish that you could move and shoot, particularly against more mobile enemies. A lot of the camera angles have a bad habit of either obscuring your view of your character and/or the zombies, or just looking awkward enough to make combat harder than it really is. Auto aim becomes a real godsend, but what if you want to conserve your ammo? Whoops, I guess you'll need to wrestle with the controls and camera angles to get out of there. But hold on folks - it's boss time! What could be simple bosses are made annoying... pretty much due to the camera and the controls!
The graphics have taken a significant overhaul since the first game. There is still the use of pre-rendered backgrounds (hence the fixed camera angles) in an effort to make detailed environments without it being taxing on the system while the 3D models seem to be constructed with care... well, as much as expected on a fifth generation console, anyway. There are a good amount of polygons, allowing for some detail to be put into each of the models, as well as the ability to make the animations smoother. The zombies come in a sort of variety pack, each with their own details to separate the types from one another. Speaking of details, the health system has gone through a bit of an overhaul - now, you just check your character and it'll let you know how they're doing. They can go from standing up straight to looking like they're limping in pain. Oh... did I mention that with the expansion pak, the graphics will be even better? Because they most certainly do! If I have anything against the graphics, I'd probably say that some of the areas are a bit too bright for a horror game...
...but a horror game lives and dies by its sound design and payoff. Resident Evil 2's idea of spooky is to either have these small ambient tracks or - more often than not - have no music at all. It has that whole "calm before the storm" feeling going for it, which can work well if you actually know what you're doing with it. Sadly, Resident Evil is content with shouting "BOO", expecting you to have a heart attack rather than actually getting scared. Seriously, the music (or lack thereof) has the potential to be nerve racking... and here we are, just having zombies and other monsters jump out to say "hi". All the time. Every time. I actually think the voice acting is scarier than the zombies, if only because it's so bad. With few exceptions, it's just bad, with no care for the dialogue or anything besides their paycheck... and even those few exceptions are maybe average at best. Eh.
"But hold on Nat, I thought you said this was the definitive old school Resident Evil experience!!"
It is. The overall experience feels tighter than the first game and hits closer to home than both Nemesis and Code Veronica. That being said, these games are generally ambitious in their attempts to push survival gameplay further whilst adding sprinkles of horror because zombie invasions set to ambient synthesizer tracks are considered scary. However, they also tend to be very flawed, particularly whenever it comes to forced combat situations or trying to run away while wrestling with the controls. The sad part is that combat is really simple - it just has these ass backwards controls holding them back. Personally, I recommend getting Resident Evil 4 and then never, ever touching this series ever again as I felt that game got it right, but if you need your curiosity satisfied, I guess you could justify the purchase of this game.
Gameplay - 6/10 - It definitely nails survival and the puzzles aren't too bad either. Combat is simple enough...
Controls - 1/5 - ...if it wasn't for these damn tank controls! It always feels like you're battling the controls more than you're battling the zombies.
Story - 3/5 - The files make the story sound interesting; the in-game scenes do not.
Graphics - 5/5 - Smooth animation and detailed looking models and surroundings... this is about as good as fifth generation graphics get!
Sound - 3/5 - It's got a good sense of fear and tension going for it... with bad payoff, but at least the "journey" was good. Voice acting is pretty bad.
Overall - 6/10 - Ambitious in concept; flawed in design. Approach with caution like an area near a biohazard zone.